May 16, 2011
neil

Hawking says ‘there is no heaven’

In an interview in the Guardian yesterday Stephen Hawking confirmed his belief that ‘There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark

Hawking also argues that ‘Science predicts that many different kinds of universe will be spontaneously created out of nothing‘ a claim that is widely disputed within the scientific community.

For a Christian response to the idea of an uncaused universe see William Lane Craig’s Cosmological argument

May 15, 2011
neil

Why one Oxford Univ. atheist suggests Dawkins is a coward

An Oxford University Philosopher and atheist has written an open letter suggesting that Richard Dawkins might be running scared for refusing to debate Dr. William Lane Craig, arguably the greatest Christian apologist and debater of our time.

Dawkins has consistently refused to debate Craig even though Craig has debated just about every atheist debater out there. Why when Dawkins will debate lesser men without any hesitation does he continue to avoid Craig? It certainly looks as if he is trying to dodge a debate!

In his letter Dr Daniel Came from Worcester College writes,

The absence of a debate with the foremost apologist for Christian theism is a glaring omission on your CV and is of course apt to be interpreted as cowardice on your part.

“I notice that, by contrast, you are happy to discuss theological matters with television and radio presenters and other intellectual heavyweights like Pastor Ted Haggard of the National Association of Evangelicals and Pastor Keenan Roberts of the Colorado Hell House.”

For the full story see the Telegraph report.

For a great expose on Dawkins His Grace has some very interesting insights.

May 14, 2011
neil

Driscoll, Timmis, Powell/Bell – church planting audio now on line

Last Thursday and Friday 400 people gathered in Birmingham, UK, for a  church planting bootcamp for all seasons hosted by Acts29 Western Europe and 2020birmingham.

Speakers included Mark Driscoll, Steve Timmis, Neil Powell and Jonathan Bell.

The audio is now available to download and enjoy.

May 13, 2011
neil

Maybe we should be glad that people don’t go to church

May 12, 2011
neil

How your attitude to the poor is a measure of your grasp of the gospel

Generous Justice by Tim Keller is subtitled ‘How God’s Grace makes us just’ and the subtitle is itself very telling because the book is not just a biblical defence of the idea that Christians should be concerned to uphold justice in our communities by sharing God’s concern for the needy or  vulnerable. The book is also written to measure our grasp of the gospel and our desire to live in obedience to it.

The main argument of the book can be summarised in the following statement;

A life poured out in doing justice for the poor is the inevitable sign of any real, true gospel faith.

For Keller the gospel both shows that Christians have unique motivations for social justice and also that Christians alone have unique power to demonstrate this justice in a radical way that is made possible by the gospel. Keller comments;

The Bible gives us not just a naked call to care about justice, but gives us everything we need – motivation, guidance, inner joy and power – to live a just life.

Elsewhere he comments

We can see what an important and powerful resource the Bible gives us when it provides not merely the bare ethical obligation for doing justice, but a revolutionary new inner power and dynamism to do so. The Bible gives believers two basic motivations  – joyful awe before the goodness of God’s creation, and the experience of God’s grace in redemption.

If Keller is right it seems inevitable that the Christian ought to be more engaged in Generous Justice than his non-Christian neighbour because he has both unique motives and a unique power.

My goal in this post is not to rehearse all of Keller’s arguments. But I would like to highlight a few examples of what it looks like when the gospel is applied to our attitudes to the poor and to matters of justice.

Keller says that Micah 6:8 as ‘a summary of how God wants us to live’. The Chrsitian is ‘to do justice (mishpat) and love mercy (chesedh).’

Justice is at it’s most basic meaning ‘to treat people equitably’. And God is concerned to defend those for whom justice is hard to come by. So

if believers in God don’t honor the cries and claims of the poor, we don’t honor him, whatever we profess, because we hide his beauty from the eyes of the world.’

But justice also calls for radical generosity.

Keller cites Matthew 6 and Jesus description of giving alms as ‘acts of righteousness’.

Not giving generously, then, is not stinginess, but unrighteousness, a violation of God’s law.’

How does the gospel dynamic work to renew our minds and transform our lives so that the gospel leads to generous justice. I want us to briefly look at five examples from the book.

1. The gospel empowers us to be radical neighbours.

If we are to be committed to our communities we need our care and concern to be motivated not by pity for the poor or guilt because we’re more affluent but we need our compassion to be motivated by the conviction that we ourselves have received from Jesus the love that we are seeking to share. As Tim Keller writes reflecting on Jesus’ parable of the good Samaritan

According to the Bible, we are all like that man, dying in the road. Spiritually, we are ‘dead in trespasses and sins’ (Ephesians 2:5). But when Jesus came into our dangerous world, he came down our road. And thought we had been his enemies, he was moved with compassion by our plight (Romans 5:10). He came to us and saved us, not merely at the risk of his life, as in the case of the Samaritan, but at the cost of his life. On the cross he paid a debt we could never pay ourselves. Jesus is the Great Samaritan to whom the Good Samaritan points.

Before you can give this neighbour-love, you need to receive it. Once we receive this ultimate, radical neighbour-love through Jesus, we can start to be the neighbours that the Bible calls us to be.’

2. The gospel changes the identity of the well-off so they have a new respect and love for the poor.

Again a powerful motivator for compassion and respect is that the gospel teaches us to identify ourselves with the poor as Jesus did. We share not just a common humanity but we share even the status ‘the undeserving’ poor.

Keller notes:

My experience as a pastor has been that those who are middle-class in spirit tend to be indifferent to the poor, but people who come to grasp the gospel of grace and become spiritually poor find their hearts gravitating toward the materially poor.

And what this means is

To the degree that the gospel shapes your self-image, you will identify with those in need.

When we see that we too have bankrupted ourselves spiritually if not financially and we recognise that it was our own fault and that we too are in need of great mercy it will lead to Generous Justice.

3. The gospel declares that God identifies with the poor.

Where would we be if God had not identified himself with the poor? Physically he choose to become  poor and marginalized in that he came as a working-class Palestinian Jew not a King or a Lord. He chose not to own a home or to seek the comforts of life.

He stood in the place of us all when he recognised our own spiritual poverty and bankruptcy (Matthew 5:3) and paid our debt.

4. The gospel enables the Christian to sacrifice, take risks and even disadvantage themselves to the advantage of others.

Keller reminds us that the real love that we have received in Christ entailed risk and sacrifice. For the Christian it is a Christ-like love that we offer in return.

The Christian is ready to give not out of his riches but even out of his poverty. He quotes a section from a sermon by the great Jonathan Edwards to demonstrate;

We in many cases may, by the rule of the gospel, be obliged to give to others when we can’t without suffering ourselves…If our neighbour’s difficulties and necessities are much greater than ours and we see that they are not like to be relieved, we should be willing to suffer with them and to take part of their burden upon ourselves.

5. The gospel enables us to overcome racial bias.

The Bible provides deep resources for racial rapprochement. Its depiction of creation cuts the nerve of racism at its source.

And the gospel of grace also serves to kill off any racist instinct.

Racial prejudice is wrong because it is a denial of the very principle that all human beings are equally sinful and saved by only the grace of God. A deep grasp of the gospel of grace, Paul says, should erode our racial biases.

What is at stake?

1. The glory of the gospel in transformed lives

What should we conclude when Christians fails to engage in acts of social justice? Keller would argue we should conclude that Christians have failed to grasp the gospel in all its dimensions and that we need to relearn and reapply the gospel in our attitude to the poor.

I would like to believe that a heart for the poor ‘sleeps’ down in a Christian’s soul until it is awakened.

2. Our witness to the world

Surely the gospel would have a much greater impact if the world saw the power of the gospel at work in the lives of Christians who are motivated to do justice?  An awakened heart is a powerful witness.

Deeds of justice give credibility for the preaching of the gospel. When our deeds contradict our words, our words have no power.

Conclusion

The book Generous Justice is a great example of what happens when we allow the gospel free reign to do its work into all of our lives and every aspect of our thinking.

A true experience of the grace of Jesus Christ inevitably motivates a man or woman to seek justice in the world.

May 11, 2011
neil

How do a couple cope with losing a child? An extraordinary testimony

This very honest and deeply moving account of losing a child and yet refusing to blame God is a story to read. Holding onto hope in the most severe trial is a testimony to the power of Christ in us.

‘The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.’ Job. 1:21

May 9, 2011
neil

8 lessons in church planting from the forallseasons conference

On Thursday and Friday of last week ‘for all seasons’ church planting conference took place in Birmingham co-hosted by Acts29 Western Europe and 2020birmingham. Audio and video from the conference will be available soon. But here are eight take homes for me from the two days.

1. God is doing amazing things in our nation(s). To have 400 people all seriously thinking about church planting (and a further 220 at a London based conference on planting the day before) highlights a transformation in the church scene in the UK and Western Europe.

2. The atmosphere at the conference was just fantastic.  A real unity was evident and the whole time was remarkably free of tribalism and suspicions of others. There was just a huge desire, borne out of a spirit-filled generosity, to bless others. The attitude was one of ‘how can I help you? How can I bless you?’ By passing on freely anything and everything we really wanted to help others be better planters!  At a dinner with Mark Driscoll on the Thursday evening we had representatives of New Frontiers, FIEC, the Anglican Diocese and Elim Pentecostal all sitting down together thinking how we might work together to get the gospel to the city of Birmingham!

3. Our failure to attempt great things for God is often borne out of fear of men. That means we need to recognise that ‘it is a sin to take too much of a risk in planting but it is as much of a sin not to take a risk out of fear.’ Mark Driscoll

4. On a similar theme it’s not enough for a small church to think we can’t do anything when it comes to church planting. True a small church may not be able to plant itself but it can contribute to a bigger vision (prayer, finances, wisdom and knowledge of a community or city).

A church planting conference should not just be full of church planters any more than a missions conference should be full of people about to head off overseas. As Rick Warren has said elsewhere ‘it is not a sin to be a small church but it is a sin to be a small church with a small vision’.

5. It really does matter what motivates us in church planting. To have a healthy church plant we need a healthy church planter and the gospel at the heart of our motivates is essential.

Steve Timmis challenged us with the question ‘Are we looking to church planting for our justification? Looking to church planting for our place in the world?’ And when that is a danger the antidote to that is remembering ‘church planter, our identity is ‘in Christ’’. And that has huge implications because succeed or fail (humanly speaking) I am secure in who I am.  ‘My church plant can break up into a 100 different pieces but nothing can change the fact that I am ‘in Christ’ Steve Timmis.

6. ‘Every year you plant your church again’. Mark Driscoll reminded us that the way to grow your church plant and be effective in leadership is never to stop being a church planter but to look to the same mindset to keep growing.

7. The 2020birmingham initiative reminded us all that it takes a big vision to impact a big city. If our vision is to plant a church, even a large church, it has to give way to God’s vision which is nothing less than his global fame. If our vision is to reach our cities for Christ rather than plant a church that requires a paradigm shift in our thinking. In the past 10 to 15 years we have undergone one important shift from accidental planting to intentional planting. Now we need the second shift from intentional planting to intentional partnerships in church planting. Working together to fulfil a vision that no one church is equipped to make on its own.

8. Finally, church planting must, if it is to be true to the gospel, never be about empire building. ‘How do I live out my identity? By being a lover of God and a lover of others. Whoever it is about it is never about me.’ Steve Timmis

May 8, 2011
neil

Five words to guide you in any conversation

Justin Taylor‘s blog is one to follow especially for news about good books. His post yesterday included this short extract from Elyse Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson’s new book Give them grace to be published soon. The book is a look at grace-filled and grace-fueled parenting. But as you will see from the extract below this advice transcends parenting to discipleship more generally and especially to discipleship of children at church.

Here are five simple words for you to take with you every day: Manage, Nurture, Train, Correct, and Promise. The beginning letters of these five categories are MNTCP. You probably know how making an acrostic can help you remember certain important facts. This is one that will help you remember these categories and will also remind you of one more very important aspect of your parenting—prayer . . . . The acrostic can also stand for Moms Need To Constantly Pray.

  • Does this circumstance simply call for management?
  • Now that the situation has calmed down, do I have an opportunity to nurture his soul with the gospel?
  • Is this the time to train him in how to apply what Jesus has already done for him?
  • Do I need to correct her attitudes or actions so that they are more in line with the good news?
  • Should I remind him of God’s promises, either of blessing for faith or of punishment for unbelief?
  • Finally, is this just a time for me to pray and ask the Lord to show me how the gospel applies to my own heart? Do I need clarity to understand why my child is struggling or resisting right now? Do I need clarity into my heart’s responses so that I am not sucked down into her unbelief, anger, and despair? What is it that bothers me about his attitude? Why?
May 6, 2011
neil

The City Limits

Beautiful. Profound. Inspiring. Time-lapse video of 5 great cities of the world.

With thanks to Andy Shudall for pointing me to this.

May 4, 2011
neil

14 reasons to pray for your pastor this weekend from Richard Baxter

Richard Baxter may have written  The Reformed Pastor in a very different age and time but it’s hard to find a better description of what is involved in the preaching of God’s word Sunday by Sunday. And in his definition of preaching he gives us 14 different reasons to pray that this Sunday the Pastor, in preaching God’s word, would achieve the very end for which it was written.

We are seeking to uphold the world, to save it from the curse of God, to perfect the creation, to attain the ends of Christ’s death, to save ourselves and others from damnation, to overcome the devil, and demolish his kingdom, to set up the kingdom of Christ, and to attain and help others to the kingdom of glory. And are these works to be done with a careless mind, or a lazy hand? O, see, then that this work be done with all your might!

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