Jul 7, 2011
neil

Where’s the cup-holder? A 360 view of the Discovery flight deck

Jul 6, 2011
neil

‘He’s not with us’ – The atheists embarrassed to be associated with Dawkins

Prof. H. Allen Orr is an evolutionary geneticist. He is University Professor and Shirley Cox Kearns Professor of Biology at the University of Rochester. He was one of only thirteen winners (alongside Stephen Jay Gould and John Maynard Smith) of the Darwin-Wallace medal presented every 50 years by the Linnean Society of London for “major advances in evolutionary biology“. He’s also an agnostic.

Surely he’s exactly the kind of guy you’d want reviewing your book if your name was Ricahrd Dawkins.  Wrong. Writing in The New York Review of Books Orr is scathing about Richard Dawkins;

The God Delusion seems to me badly flawed. Though I once labelled Dawkins a professional atheist, I’m forced, after reading his new book, to conclude he’s actually more an amateur…his book makes a far from convincing case. The most disappointing feature of The God Delusion is Dawkin’s failure to engage religious thought in any serious way…One reason for the lack of extended argument in The God Delusion is clear: Dawkins doesn’t seem very good at it.

Peter S Williams who’s book A Sceptic’s Guide to atheism is a treasure-trove of quotes and links draws attention to Peter Steinfels’ article in the New York Times;

The criticism [of  The God Delusion] is not primarily, it should be pointed out, from the pious, which would hardly be noteworthy, but from avowed atheists as well as scientists and philosophers writing in publications like The New Republic and The New York Review of Books, not known as cells in the cast God-fearing conspiracy.

On the back of Dawkins book it reads ‘The God Delusion – timely, impassioned and brilliantly argued‘. It would appear that a growing list of philosophers and scientists who share his skepticism when it comes to religion are not persuaded, they’re just a little embarrassed.

Jul 5, 2011
neil

Maybe THIS is the perfect job for a Christian

A recent poll invited people to suggest their perfect job. The results probably won’t surprise anyone. In reverse order they were as follows;

5. Interior designer

4. Scuba diver

3. Ski Instructor

2. A hotel proprietor in a far off place

1. A bar owner in a far off place

Where on the list do you imagine caring for needy relatives would come?

In an excellent book If its not too much trouble: The Challenge of the Aged Parent Ann Benton offers a Christian perspective on caring for an elderly relative.

Just maybe she argues this is the perfect job for a Christian because it is in such a life of giving that we find ourselves most likely to imitate Christ. It is a huge challenge to offer full-on care for someone in need whether new-born baby or elderly relative. As Christians very few jobs call for such an understanding of what it means to work in God’s strength allowing God’s gospel to transform our thinking and empower our living. But perhaps the greatest challenge provides for the greatest opportunities.

In chapter 2 of the book Benton presents six gospel mindsets that can help us be better carers. They help us serve precisely because they each remind us of how God has served us in the Lord Jesus Christ. We can care because the God who has cared for us is at work transforming us into his likeness.

Whilst Ann Benton is focusing on caring for elderly relatives in the chapter each of the applications seem to work well when it comes to caring for babies and young children too.

1. Money cannot buy it

How easy it is for us to only value the things we can put a price on. We quickly translate the words ‘what is my work worth’ into ‘how much will you pay me?’ Caring for those we love offers no financial reward and thus robs many of any incentive. But for the Christian it presents a perfect opportunity to learn;

the principle of self-interest does not have to rule our lives…the lives of all of us are enriched by something which will not appear on any bank statement.

And so it is with the gospel. We have been freely served by our God.

Come, all you who are thirst come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! – Isaiah 55:1-3

Money cannot buy peace with God, forgiveness of sins, entry to heaven or everlasting life but God freely offers these things. He so loved the world.

2. It cannot be reciprocated

How much of life is an ‘I’ll scratch your back, you scratch mine’ relationship. We feel an obligation to return the favour when others have been generous to us. We are disappointed when we have given much and feel taken for granted.

No wonder it is hard to keep on giving when caring for a needy person who cannot give back in return.

But the gospel of Jesus Christi is a non-reciprocal arrangement. We do nothing, Jesus has done everything; he gives, we receive.

When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous. – Luke 14:14

3. It is lowly work

It is lowly work to clean and replace dentures, wipe a dribble from a chin, scrub at a stain on the carpet. Especially to those whose hands are more accustomed to tapping at a computer or turning the pages of a book.

Yet no task that we may be called on to perform for the sake of another can possibly compare to that of our Lord and master. If we call ourselves Christians then this perhaps is how we learn that

‘Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus; Who, being in very nature God, Did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing.’ Phil. 2:6

4. It is hidden work

How many carers work with little or know recognition let alone reward. It can seem so utterly insignificant. How easy for resentment to build and for life to seem a wasted life.

But now the gospel challenges and changes that mindset.

Most of us will not make a name for ourselves; we will not be remembered on earth one generation on. But our secret deeds will have made a difference and our Father will have seen them and smiled.

When you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. – Matthew 6:4

5. It uses our gifts

Benton begins this point with a striking example.

‘I’m a teacher, not a nurse,’ I sometimes muttered to myself as I emptied urine out of a catheter bag.

But there is a much more significant gift which all Christians have received. That gift is the love of God the Father lavished on us through our Lord Jesus Christ.

It is this gift of love that we are to pass on.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. – 2 Cor. 1:3-4

6. It respects the image of God

In a culture where we discriminate against all sorts of people on the basis of education, ability, age, gender or colour the Christian gospel calls on us to view everyman with every dignity.

The motive for care and concern for elderly people is that each one is made in the image of God. And though time and wear and tear has made some of these folks unattractive or cantankerous, they still are worthy of respect because they remain God’s creation and bear his image.

Thank God I’m a Christian

It’s not that it’s impossible for non-Christians to care for the needy it’s just that we have so many more reasons to care and we have a divine power at work in us resourcing us for the task.

Of all the jobs you could chose would you ever chose the role of a carer. And yet as Benton concludes

What job is more suitable to those who follow the one who died for them?

 

Jul 3, 2011
neil

Dear Mr Ahmed why does the BBC protect Islam but attack Christianity?

When the BBC decided it was time to broadcast another attack at the foundations of Christianity in the form of Bible’s buried secrets I wrote a letter to Mr Aaqil Ahmed the Commissioning Editor Religion and Head of Religion & Ethics at the BBC. My concern was not that Christianity should enjoy a protected or privileged status beyond contradiction but rather that Christianity should not be singled out for such critique when other religions, at their foundation, are free from critique. I received a reply from someone at BBC Audience Services which was far from satisfactory. Here is my second letter to Mr. Ahmed.

 

Dear Mr Ahmed

I am sorry that you were not able to reply personally to my letter sent regarding the concerns of many over the BBC’s ‘Bible’s Buried secrets’ broadcast on BBC2 earlier this year.  Having now received a reply from a Mr Roberts of the BBC Audience Services it is important that I write again in light of the errors contained within his letter.

The programme ‘Bible’s Buried secrets’ was a deliberate attempt to challenge the credibility of the Christian holy book and sacred text. As the review in the Daily Telegraph highlighted;

The programme’s findings, said Dr Francesca Stavrakopoulou, would “rock the foundation” of Christianity and Judaism. She must have been very keen to press home this point, because she used the phrase again and again, although, perhaps worried we were tiring of it, she did once switch to “undermine the basis”

Michael Deacon goes on;

If you hadn’t already guessed from its subtitle, “Did God Have a Wife?”, you could tell this programme was trying hard to shock the moment you heard the music its producers had chosen to play in the background.

I very much want to make clear that I believe that programmes that question the origins and basis of religious traditions have a place in public broadcasting. I am in no way seeking a privileged place for religious belief and am certainly not seeking to exempt Christianity from critique on the grounds of personal offence. That the series was frustrating in both the manner in which the claims were sensationalised and perhaps more importantly in the way the views of a few on the fringe of academia were singled out for such a high profile is something perhaps I simply have to accept. Sensationalist claims boost viewing figures after all.

My original complaint, as Mr Roberts summarises accurately, is ‘that you felt this programme was biased against Christianity, and feel there should be other similar programmes exploring other religious beliefs’.

Given that he clearly understands my concerns it is Mr Roberts’ defence of the BBC’s position that cause great concern and warrants the need for a second letter. As a public service broadcaster the BBC must not only value, but be seen to value equality and fairness in its broadcasting and Christians ask for nothing more and nothing less. All we seek is a level playing field when it comes to world religions. Mr Roberts offers little if no assurance that the BBC is seeking to provide this.

He makes three responses to my letter.

Firstly he writes, ‘The BBC delivers a range of content that reflects, celebrates and debates Christianity across TV and radio’. I’m sure it does and that is not at all at issue so let us move on.

Secondly, he argues ‘It’s simply not correct to say there are no programmes on Islam or that the BBC would not address issues about Islam’. Again this is not in dispute and not a matter I raise in my letter. That the BBC has made programmes critical of radical interpretations of the Quran is neither here nor there.

The key issue, and my chief complaint, does receive the briefest of answers in Mr Roberts’ third point and it is here that the bias at the BBC seems to surface again.

In response to my complaint ‘why does the BBC attack the foundations of Christianity in programmes that rubbish the Bible in a way that it would never do to Islam in programmes that question the very authenticity of the Qur’an’ his reply makes a strange defence.

He argues that Channel 4 have already made that programme! It’s strange because firstly it’s not true and secondly it’s strange because Channel 4 is not the BBC!

In my earlier correspondence I pointed out various academic studies that if given the same sensationalising treatment as the ‘Bible’s buried secrets’ received would also ‘rock the foundation’ of Islam. Mr Roberts’ seems to think that these studies were reflected in a Channel 4 programme which he says ‘question(s) the conventional reading of the authenticity of the Qur’an’.

As Commissioning Editor for Religion and Head of Multicultural Programming at Channel 4 when this programme was made no doubt you share my concerns that Mr Roberts should have made, no doubt mistakenly, misleading claims as to the nature and content of the programme.

The Channel 4 documentary, entitled The Quran and broadcast in July 2008, categorically does not do what your correspondent maintains it does. It emphatically does not address the issue of the authenticity of the Qur’an.  As you know its concern was to focus on the issues surrounding the diverse interpretations of the book not the book itself. At no point did the programme criticise the Qur’an or mention any academic work that suggests the Qur’an is based on pre-Islamic texts. In other words, the programme at no point suggests in any way at all that the Qur’an might be merely a human book full of errors in the way that the BBC’s ‘Bible’s Buried Secrets’ does of the Bible.

So when Mr Roberts wrote in reply to my letter ‘This programme was only transmitted two years ago and no new academic work exists to warrant another film at present’ he is either ignorant of the Channel 4 programme or ignorant of the academic work or both.

The reality is, as I’m sure the forthcoming BBC series on the life of the prophet Mohammed will demonstrate, that Islam enjoys a privileged status at the BBC in being protected from criticism at its foundation. The BBC has never broadcast a programme questioning the behaviour of the prophet Mohammed nor critiquing the origins of the Qur’an. No such privilege is given to Christianity. In fact it’s quite the reverse. The corporation is quite ready to spend licence payers money on mocking and ridiculing Christianity, whether in light entertainment programmes such as Vicar of Dibley, and it’s indefensible airing of Jerry Springer the Opera or in sensationalist programmes undermining the credibility of the Bible but there is no level playing field and I suspect we all know why.

Should the BBC be free to mock Christianity? Yes. Should the BBC provoke our thinking and challenge our assumptions? In the name of education, absolutely. But should it single out Christianity for attack whilst protecting Islam? This is the big question and on this matter I look forward to receiving your answer.

 

Yours sincerely

 

Jul 1, 2011
neil

God cannot be happy until you are with him in heaven – why we ignore the doctrine of election at our peril

Wherever we find the doctrine of election in the Bible we find worship. For men and women of the Scriptures election is a doctrine not for debate or disagreement, nor even awkward embarrassment but profound and heartfelt gratitude.

Because in it we find a great assurance and a certain hope that the God who has of his own freewill set his love upon us cannot be happy until we are with him.

God always gets what he wants and what he wants are his people to share his glory, every last one of them. Whilst our troubles may threaten to overwhelm us and whilst we find the future to be so uncertain and unsure we know that He cannot be happy until all those who know and love him are with him forever.

Jim Packer in Knowing God writes.

If a father continues cheerful and carefree while his son is getting into trouble, we wonder at once how much love there can be in their relationship, for we know that those who truly love are happy only when those whom they love are truly happy also. So it is with God in his love for us. God’s happiness is not complete till all his beloved ones are finally out of trouble – in William Cowper’s words,

Till all the ransomed church of God, Be saved to sin no more

God has set his love on particular sinners, and he will not know perfect and unmixed happiness again till he has brought every one of them to heaven. Thus God saves not only for his glory but also for his gladness. The thought passes understanding and almost beggars belief, but there is no doubt that, according to Scripture, such is the love of God.

The Lord you God is with you, He will rejoice over you with singing – Zephaniah 3:17

Let us learn to rejoice in the sovereign love of a God who chose us in Christ, before the world began, all for His glory.

Jun 30, 2011
neil

The must buy app. for every 1-2-1 meeting

Do you talk too much? Do you not say enough?

When I meet pastorally with people I sometimes wonder whether they have come seeking advice or merely someone to talk at. I also wonder whether at times I’ve said too much and not asked enough.

This app. might at least help assess just who’s doing all the talking! Quite simply it shows, how much everybody is talking, You can set it for 1, 2 or 5 minutes and track the conversation. Sadly it’s no good for elders meetings, just yet, as it only works for two people.


He who answers before listening— that is his folly and his shame – Proverbs 18:13

Listen to advice and accept instruction, and in the end you will be wise – Proverbs 19:20

 

Jun 29, 2011
neil

Dawkins and the empty chair

William Lane Craig has two doctoral degrees, has published over 30 books, debated the world’s leading atheists including Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens, but STILL Richard Dawkins will not debate him!



 

With thanks to Tony Watkins for this.

Jun 28, 2011
neil

Captain, commander, caregiver or recluse – what kind of leader are you and what is it doing to your church?

More from Thom Rainer and his book High Expectations.

Leaders come in all shapes and sizes but Rainer argues that four leadership styles can be identified that impact a church in different ways. I’ve turned his comments into the following diagram;

Rainer argues that in growing churches the dominant leadership style is high task/ high relationship. In other words what churches need are leaders who are ‘very goal-orientated‘ and also ‘good people-person(s)‘.

Without a goal it is easy for the church to drift but ‘high relationship‘ is crucial in terms of bringing the congregation with you. In his research into growing churches it was these leaders who

cared deeply about people as they attempted to lead the church to change. Though the pastors had an ambitious desire to reach a goal or accomplish a task, they were unwilling to disregard the concerns of others in the process.

A few personal reflections;

1. Look for captains to lead your church. Commanders are likely, in attempting to force change, to cause damage and caregivers will never bring about the change a church needs.

2. Recognize yourself in the table and where possible compensate for your weaknesses.

3. Keep recluses out of leadership! The last thing a church needs is someone who has no vision and no interest in people.

4. Recluses tend to end up working for the denomination! They are maintenance people.

5. Team leadership helps compensate for the fact that it is hard to find high task/ high relationship people. Captains, commanders and caregivers each have something distinctive to bring to the leadership of a church. Caregivers stop commanders racing ahead, commanders ensure that necessary change happens.

6. Build in structures in your churches that facilitate both vision and good communication of that vision. Create a culture in which both change and consultation are expected and embraced.

7. Consult early and expect things to take longer to action.

One minister commented;

I am tempted just to move ahead without a broad consensus, but I realize that would be a big mistake. So I consult with church leaders and take the time to seek input from the members. The process takes a lot longer, but the end result is healthier.

Jun 27, 2011
neil

8 marks of Pastors in growing churches – which ones surprise you?

Have I got what it takes to pastor a growing church?

Thom Rainer after 10 years of working alongside churches in the States and studying their trends has this to say about the Pastor.

Acknowledging that if God is sovereign he can and will use whoever he wants, Rainer maintains that

In his sovereignty, God chooses certain means, methods, and persons to accomplish his purpose. I am convinced that one of His primary means of accomplishing His will is through the words, deeds and leadership of pastors. So much does rise and fall on pastoral leaders.

And when it comes to growing churches here are the 8 qualities he identifies in Pastors.

1. They are theologically conservative.

2. They have longer-than-average tenure in the church they presently serve

3. They are more likely to have attended seminary than not

4. They are usually full-time at their churches

5. They love to preach

6. Their preferred preaching style is expository

7. They detest committee meetings

8. They are more visionary than reactionary

Whilst there are no real surprises in this list, I was struck by 5, 6 and 7 in particular. Godly men, who guard the gospel, love the word and love the people to whom they preach it are the hope for the church.

Having just finished preaching through 1 Timothy we find that it is the qualities that Paul sees in Timothy that continue to grow churches today.

 

Jun 26, 2011
neil

How to eat an elephant

The danger of attending conferences (I’ve just come back from the Evangelical Ministry Assembly in London) is that you  return home in awe of certain leaders.  You wish you had the ability, the insight, the godliness and the gifting of those who were invited to speak  and the conclusion you are tempted to reach is that there really are a very few people capable of achieving great things for God.

Thom Rainer studied the growth of nearly 300 churches and set out his conclusions in High Expectations: The remarkable secret for keeping people in your church.  His conclusions challenge the assumption that only exceptionally gifted leaders grow exceptional churches.

Rainer argues that it is true that we should recognise that there really are some exception leaders out there. But we also need to celebrate the fact that God grows his church through the faithful leadership of ordinary pastors willing to persevere in their situations and grow their churches one small step at a time.

Here is the big take home for me:

Most successful leaders have learned to eat elephants.

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. You are willing to make incremental gains which result in long-term blessings.

From the inside the growth and progress can look painfully slow. But for ministers who are faithful and are willing to persevere their ministries can be very fruitful.

The secret then is not to try and be something you’re not or to spend your time wishing you were other than the leader God has gifted you to be but to be faithful and persevere because it is God who gives the growth!

In the study of growing churches Rainer comments of their leaders;

They had a long-term perspective of their ministries where they presently served. Though they were always open to the will of God, they did not try to leave every time a problem developed. They did not suffer from the “greener-grass syndrome.”

These leaders were persistent. They did not give up easily. They were willing to take two steps backward to go three steps forward.

We may not be able to expound the Scriptures like Vaughan Roberts or have the insights of Tim Keller but as the apostle Paul writes

Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential.

Why so? Because that is the way God delights to work, therefore;

“Let him who boasts boast in the Lord”

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