May 30, 2011
neil

Is this man worth $32.17 an hour? Lessons in evangelism from Joshua Bell

I’m reading a great book called Bringing the gospel home by Randy Newman (just one chapter to go and I’ll be blogging on it later this week).

At one point in the book Newman tells the story of how Joshua Bell, the virtuoso violinist, was persuaded by the Washington Post to busk in a metro station in Washington DC.

Newman writes:

More than a thousand people walked by without glancing in his direction. A few paused for a moment, and several people tossed  loose change into his open violin case. ( He collected a total of $32.17. Yes, some people gave him pennies!) Only one person recognized the star who, just a few nights later, would accept the Avery Fisher Prize for being the best classical musician in America.

Joshua Bell’s reflected in the Washington Post feature

“I’m surprised at the number of people who don’t pay attention at all, as if I’m invisible. Because, you know what? I’m makin’ a lot of noise!”

Four possible lessons for the church

1. Feeling invisible?

We’re not exactly world-renowned violinists but I dare say we feel like Bell when we know that what is being offered is a glorious and beautiful gospel. Surely people will stop and listen. Surely people will recognise that this message is something to stop and consider.

2. Avoidance

The Washington Post adds:

Bell wonders whether their inattention may be deliberate: If you don’t take visible note of the musician, you don’t have to feel guilty about not forking over money.

Theologically speaking we shouldn’t be surprised that many people cross the road to avoid Christians! It’s noteable that the Washington Post called the feature ‘Pearls before breakfast’ invoking those words of Jesus ‘do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces’ (Matthew 7:6).

3. Context is as important as content

There are reasons why classical musicians don’t perform concerts in subway stations. The context is all wrong. It’s not a place conducive to stopping and listening it’s a place for passing through as you get to A to B.

So how about our meetings? How do we create space where people can be encouraged to stop and listen? And does that space invite contemplation and consideration of the beauty of the gospel?

Might that suggest we need to create new settings in which to ‘play our music’?

4. A context that doesn’t contradict our message

Imagine a situation in which Joshua Bell is playing but the music is drowned out by ‘musac’ playing over the Tannoy speakers, competing and drowning out his playing. You can’t even stop and listen to him play even if you wanted to.

Do we as churches compete with and contradict the music of the gospel creating a confusing cacophony of noise that no-one in their right mind would want to stop for? Newman suggests that’s what we might be doing.

We speak of measureless love, unmerited grace, and infinite goodness but our tone of voice, demeanor, and lifestyles convey the exact opposite. We want people to quiet their hearts so they can hear the music of the gospel, but we’re performing in a context of judgementalism. We want them to feel loved by God, but they fell unloved by us. We want then to be amazed by grace but they can’t get past the smell of condemnation.

Do our gatherings seem to say more ‘hey, come and listen to this – it’s incredible’ or do they say ‘why haven’t you given anything to this’?

May 28, 2011
neil

The New Statesman on why Dawkins disappoints and the man who ‘eats atheists for breakfast’

‘There has never been a really convincing philosophical argument for the non-existence of God’

I don’t agree with all of it’s conclusions but an interesting read not least for recognising the failure of new atheism to defend their cause with any great ability.

May 27, 2011
neil

The one thing Barack Obama and David Cameron didn’t talk about

Never mind ‘the Beast’ Christine Odone spots an elephant in the room.

May 26, 2011
neil

Innovation comes at a price but what if that price is a piece of ourselves?

A fascinating article on digital media and what it is doing to us in the New York Times.

Bill Keller, Executive editor of the Times, declares himself to be no luddite but in a week in which he introduced his 13 year old daughter to Facebook he writes of the unforeseen, unintended consequences of pursuing digital technology;

My inner worrywart wonders whether the new technologies overtaking us may be eroding characteristics that are essentially human: our ability to reflect, our pursuit of meaning, genuine empathy, a sense of community connected by something deeper than snark or political affinity.’

The shortcomings of social media would not bother me awfully if I did not suspect that Facebook friendship and Twitter chatter are displacing real rapport and real conversation, just as Gutenberg’s device displaced remembering. The things we may be unlearning, tweet by tweet — complexity, acuity, patience, wisdom, intimacy — are things that matter.’

May 25, 2011
neil

The cost of being controversial. Godly advice from John Newton

John Newton wrote a short but compelling letter to a fellow minister who was about to write a publication criticising a minister for his unorthodox beliefs. The letter is a masterly treatment on the theme of controversy and in just a few lines brings the gospel to bear on how to argue in so many ways. Reading it got me thinking about what it means to contend for the faith and how to argue well along with the hidden dangers of entering into controversy.

I’m preaching through 1 Timothy on Sunday evenings and am reminded of Paul’s opening appeal to Timothy to fight the good fight but with a real warning not to be like those who have ‘an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels and words that result in envy, strife’

Paul charges Timothy (6:11) ‘But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.’

So how do you contend for the truth of the gospel and fight the good fight with love and gentleness?

How do you argue with gospel motives and gospel motivations?

Here are some gems from John Newton’s letter as to how the gospel informs our interaction with others whether in church, in an e-mail, on a blog, etc..

A. Arguing with a fellow-believer

1. Argue with gentleness out of love

The Lord loves him and bears with him; therefore you must not despise him, or treat him harshly.

2. Argue remembering you WILL be reconciled if not now then in heaven

In a little while you will meet in heaven; he will then be dearer to you than the nearest friend you have upon earth is to you now.

B. Arguing with an unbeliever

1. Argue with great compassion because of your great privilege over him

He is a more proper object of your compassion than of your anger. Alas! “He knows not what he does.”

2. Argue remembering that apart from God’s grace you too would have held his views!

If God, in his sovereign pleasure, had so appointed, you might have been as he is now; and he, instead of you, might have been set for the defense of the gospel. You were both equally blind by nature.

C. Remembering the reading public

When we argue, publically, in a blog or through a publication we have a second, sometimes forgotten, audience. John Newton highlights three readers and offers his advice.

1. The reader who disagrees with you in principle

Newton urges you to remember them in the same way as your recipient above.

2. The reader who is naturally sympathetic to your point of view but who have little knowledge

These are very incompetent judges of doctrine; but they can form a tolerable judgment of a writer’s spirit. They know that meekness, humility, and love are the characteristics of a Christian temper.

From us, who profess these principles, they always expect such dispositions as correspond with the precepts of the gospel. They are quick-sighted to discern when we deviate from such a spirit, and avail themselves of it to justify their contempt of our arguments.

3. The reader who shares your view

You may be instrumental to their edification if the law of kindness as well as of truth regulates your pen, otherwise you may do them harm. There is a principle of self, which disposes us to despise those who differ from us; and we are often under its influence, when we think we are only showing a becoming zeal in the cause of God.

D. Watch out and pray for your own heart

Most striking of all in Newton’s letter is his concern for what controversy can do to us and the natural temptation to a self-righteous heart. It is sobering when Newton writes

We find but very few writers of controversy who have not been manifestly hurt by it….If the service is honorable, it is dangerous.

Pray for your own soul that you will not be corrupted by your own defence of the gospel!

E. Pursue God’s glory and your fellow mans good in how you write

If we act in a wrong spirit, we shall bring little glory to God, do little good to our fellow creatures, and procure neither honour nor comfort to ourselves.

Go forth, therefore, in the name and strength of the Lord of hosts, speaking the truth in love; and may he give you a witness in many hearts that you are taught of God, and favoured with the unction of his Holy Spirit.

May 24, 2011
neil

Why your church is doing too much (probably)

The old adage ‘aim at nothing and you’re sure to hit it’ has always been true in my experience and there is good reason to think that churches drift because of a lack of vision.

Rick Warren’s Purpose-Driven Church makes a strong appeal for churches to have and hold on to clear biblical vision. Here are some edited highlights from chapter 4: The Foundation for a Healthy Church.

The need for a clear purpose

Nothing precedes purpose. The starting point for every church should be the question, “Why do we exist?” Until you know what your church exists for, you have no foundation, no motivation, and no direction for ministry. If you are helping a new church get started, your first task is to define your purpose. It’s far easier to set the right foundation at the start of a new church than it is to reset it after a church has existed for years.

However if you serve in an existing church that has plateaued, is declining, or is simply discouraged, your most important task is to redefine your purpose. Forget everything else until you have established it in the minds of your members. Recapture a clear vision of what God wants to do in and through your church family. Absolutely nothing will revitalize a discouraged church faster than rediscovering its purpose.

Unless the driving force behind a church is biblical, the health and growth of the church will never be what God intended. Strong churches are not built on programs, personalities, or gimmicks. They are built on the eternal purposes of God.

The benefits of a clear purpose

Warren suggests at least five.

1. A clear purpose builds morale

People working together for a great purpose don’t have time to argue over trivial issues. When you’re helping to row the boat, you don’t have time to rock it.

I believe it is also true that where there is no vision, people leave for another parish! Many churches are barely surviving because they have no vision.

2. A clear purpose reduces frustration

A purpose statement reduces frustration because it allows us to forget about things that don’t really matter.

A clear purpose not only defines what we do, it defines what we do not do.

The secret of effectiveness is to know what really counts, then do what really counts, and not to worry about all the rest.

How do we respond to all of those suggestions that come our way as leaders as to how to improve church?

The filter must always be: Does this activity fulfil one of the purposes for which God established the church?

When a church forgets its purpose, it has a difficult time deciding what’s important. It will vacillate between priorities, purposes and programs.

3. A clear purpose allows concentration

One of the common temptations I see many churches falling for today is the trap of majoring in the minors. They become distracted by good, but less important agendas, crusades, and purposes. The energy of the church is diffused and dissipated; the power is lost.

In my opinion, most churches try to do too much. This is one of the most overlooked barriers to building a healthy church: We wear people out.

The older a church gets, the truer this becomes. Programs and events continue to be added to the agenda without ever cutting anything out. Remember, no program is meant to last forever. A good question to keep in mind when dealing with programs in your church is, “Would we begin this today if we were not already doing it?”

Being efficient is not the same as being effective. Peter Drucker says, ‘Efficiency is doing things right. Effectiveness is doing the right things.’

God wants churches to be effective. Those few churches that are really effective concentrate on their purpose.

4. A clear purpose attracts cooperation

People want to join a church that knows where it’s going. When a church clearly communicates its destination, people are eager to get on board.

Tell people up front where your church is headed, and it will attract cooperation. Spell out your church’s purposes and priorities in a membership class. Clearly explain your strategy and structure. This will keep people from joining the membership with false assumptions.

5. A clear purpose assists evaluation

How does a church evaluate itself? Not by comparing itself to other churches, but by asking, “Are we doing what God intends for us to do?” and “How well are we doing it?”

The important issue is this: Your church will be stronger and healthier by being purpose driven.

How do you get there?

First, you must define your purposes. Next, you must communicate those purposes to everyone in your church – on a regular basis. Third, you must organize your church around your purposes. Finally, you must apply your purposes to every part of your church.

May 22, 2011
neil

The Bible…it’s not about you

May 21, 2011
neil

When does porn disqualify me from ministry?

Tomorrow evening I preach 1 Timothy 3 including v.2 ‘the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife.’

As Ryken notes in his commentary this phrase is not limited to a discussion on polygamy and how many wives you can have (!) but that ‘elders must be morally accountable for their sexuality

So it was useful to stumble across this from Mark Driscoll in the week leading up to my sermon.

May 20, 2011
neil

Should women teach in the church

Should women teach in the church?

Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness.  I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. – 1 Timothy 2:11-12 (ESV)

Let’s just get straight to the point. Some of you are pretty offended by these words. They sound outrageous to modern ears. For many they simply reveal the most shameful gender discrimination from someone who can only be described as a misogynist.

But as with any Bible verse it has a context and it certainly won’t help us if we take this verse out of context of the bigger story of the Bible.

We know that these verses, to be consistent with what we read elsewhere, cannot be declaring women to be second-class citizens or in any way less than men.

We know that God created men and women in his image. In Genesis chapter 1 we read;

So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.

So whatever Paul is saying in the controversial verses of 1 Timothy, Genesis 1 along with some of Paul’s own words eg 1 Cor. 11:11, Gal.3:28 demonstrate that there is something much more sophisticated than a slur on women or a desire to suppress women and relegate their role and place in the church and society.

Women are to learn

It’s remarkably easy for us to gloss over the fact that Paul says in v.11 that women are to learn at all. In many cultures, then and now, women are given little if any opportunity to learn.

Commentators point out that in orthodox Judaism of Paul’s day there was little or no place for women learning and some strands of Islam, by their refusal to offer education to girls alongside boys, demonstrate a same degradation of women even to this day.

Women are to learn but Paul does want them to lean but in quietness. The context is most likely that  of a Christian meeting where the congregation is learning together. The word quietness in this context means ‘listening quietly with deference and attentiveness to the one teaching..ie not speaking out of turn and thereby interrupting the lesson.’ It is the language of respect.

We don’t know exactly what was going on in Ephesus, the church context into which Paul is writing.  Was it simply that the women were distracted, or had a divided attention, or maybe they didn’t have a particularly teachable spirit? We don’t know. But it suggests a situation in which the teaching of the word was up against distraction or interruption.

There is maybe something to be learned from the story of Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42) in which Martha is distracted from listening to Jesus whilst Mary demonstrates the very thing that is pleasing to him, adopting the position of a disciple by humbly listening to his word.

But what about the ‘s’ word!

Whatever else Paul may be saying some of us we can’t get beyond the ‘s’ word submission.

Women according to v.12 are not to teach or have authority over men.

To call upon women to submit seems exploitative and dangerous and contrary to good sense. Does it not rob women of their dignity and value?

Well, firstly, this is not a call for all women to submit to all men. This is rather a call for the women of this church to join the majority of the men in submitting to the leadership of the church.

But even then should women submit to anybody?

The Bible’s answer is that submission is a good thing for at least two reasons.

1) All Christians submit. And every Christian by virtue of their submission to God submits to others as an expression of their commitment to God. A Christian is by definition then someone who submits. We all submit to God, we submit to the ruling authorities, whilst we are children we submit to our parents, we are to submit to our boss at work, and so on.

For different people in different stages of life and in different situations we submit in different ways.

God’s ordering in the church and the family includes the principle of submission. The relationship between a husband and a wife in Ephesians 5 and the relationship between the women of the church and male leadership (see also 1 Cor. 14:33-34) is one in which God calls for an ordering of relationships.

2) Jesus submitted. Submission is a good thing only if you think you might want to be like Jesus. For as one commentator as put it ‘he knew the beauty of submission’.

God the Father and God the Son fully God are both fully God. They are fully equal in status and yet throughout the Bible we find the Son submitting to the Father and never the Father to the Son. So even in the God-head we find the principle of order amongst equals.

We shouldn’t therefore regard it as an insult to submit to our equal if we find Jesus willing to do the very same.

Prince William and Prince Harry

In 1 Timothy 3 Paul says that male leadership is rooted in creation ‘for Adam was formed first, then Eve.’ It is not that Adam is better than Eve but perhaps jsut as the Son comes from teh Father so the woman came from teh man and they are to live out at church and in the family that ordering of relationship.

We know that Prince William will one day be King and not Prince Harry. Is it because William is better? More intelligent? More deserving? No. Just that he came first. And so it is within the church.

So should women ever teach?

Again the broader context of the Bible clearly suggests that women can and will teach as they play a full role in church life.

In Titus 2:3-5 we find that they are to teach younger women and children.

We know from Acts 2:17-18 ‘your sons and daughters will prophesy’ and 1 Cor. 11:4-5 that women prayed in the gathered church and prophesied.

We know that women were deacons in the local church from Romans 16v1.

We also find in the book of Acts that Priscilla (a woman) and Aquilla (her husband) taught Apollos together, Acts 18:26.

There were many prominent women in Jesus’ own ministry. They were his disciples and we’re told that ‘these women were helping to support them out of their own means.’

In God’s plan the first to witness the resurrection and to meet the risen Lord Jesus were women.

Peter and the other apostles took their wives with them in ministry, 1 Cor. 9:5.

But there is no evidence at all for women in either the Old Testament or the New Testament holding a teaching office.

Jesus chose to appoint men and only men to the role of Apostles and nowhere do we find Paul or the other apostles appointing women to overall leadership in the local church.

Women are not to lead the church through the preaching of God’s word and nor are most of the men.

Paul isn’t saying that all men are to teach all women, nor that all women are to submit to all men.

No all women and the vast majority of men are to submit to the (male) eldership of the church.

The kind of teaching that Paul limits to a few men here is a teaching with authority

Philip Graham Ryken writes ‘Women and men may teach on a wide variety of biblical historical, and practical subjects.’

Women can write great blogs and books. They can write Bible commentaries and teach at Bible Colleges.

But where teaching is an expression of leadership ie where it is an indicator of authority it is there that God’s order within the church is to be recognised.

How does that work out at my own church

Women exercise a teaching role that stops short of a preaching with authority role.

So women regularly teach on a variety of issues eg parenting, marriage enrichment and so on.

They teach practical seminars, lead services, administer the Lord’s supper.

Conclusion

The Bible does not sit comfortably in any community in the world. At some point sooner or later the bible will critique the culture in which we live. In our western world the role of women is one of those clash of culture points. It is at times like this that we need to continue to humbly listen to scripture and be ready to face the challenge of the world as we witness to the God of the Bible.

May the very situations in which we submit for the sake of God to his word and his will point us all to the Christ who chose to submit even to death and death on a cross.

May 19, 2011
neil

Mark Driscoll in conversation on city-wide church planting partnerships

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