Apr 23, 2011
neil

The God who hides himself – how Ecclesiastes answers Easter Saturday

Did they even sleep that night? How can we ever think ourselves into the situation of those first disciples on Easter Saturday.  How can we begin to even imagine what it must have felt like to see every hope evaporate and every confidence in God shattered. Was their decision to leave everything to follow this man of God nothing but a huge mistake. Was their conviction that this man Jesus was God’s Messiah and that the Kingdom lay just around the corner nothing but a demonstration of their own collective god delusion.

Like a spiritual tsunami everything was swept away by the savage crucifixion of the very one they called ‘Lord and Master’.  Easter Saturday was a day of utter bewilderment.  It turns out that it was not only Jesus who felt abandoned by God.

The book of Ecclesiastes is a book written for Easter Saturday experiences. It speaks into those situations and circumstances in life that have the potential to rob us of every confidence that God is good and that he is ruling. The book is a book for those times when God’s providence is dark indeed and life makes no sense at all.

JI Packer in his book Knowing God writes;

What the preacher wants to show him [his younger disciple] is that the real basis of wisdom is a frank acknowledgement that this world’s course is enigmatic, that much of what happens is quite inexplicable to us, and that most occurrences ‘under the sun’ bear no outward sign of a rational, moral God ordering them at all.

Rarely does this world look as if a beneficent Providence were running it. Rarely does it appear that there is a rational power behind it at all. Often and often what is worthless survives, while what is valuable perishes. Be realistic says the preacher; face these facts; see life as it is. You will have no true wisdom till you do.

God is at work in the darkness. The promises of God assure us that he is working out his purposes. Peter would one day stand before the crowds in Jerusalem and with conviction declare;

This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.

No more so than on Easter Saturday are we reminded that

the truth is that God in His wisdom, to make and keep us humble, and to teach us to walk by faith, has hidden from us almost everything that we should like to know about the providential purposes which He is working out in the churches and in our own lives.

This is the way of wisdom. Clearly, it is just one facet of the life of faith. For what underlies and sustains it? Why the conviction that the inscrutable God of providence is the wise and gracious God of creation and redemption.

And Easter Sunday would prove how sure that conviction is.

Apr 22, 2011
neil

What Ricky Gervais knows about Easter

What is it about being famous that means you get given a platform to speak your mind on issues you don’t even understand. Journalism might reasonably be regarded as 80 per cent entertainment and 20 per cent information but if Ricky Gervais’s blog on Easter is any thing to go by I’d suggest it’s more like 95 per cent entertainment and 5 per cent information.

The blog is called  An (Atheist) Easter Message from Ricky Gervais.  But I struggled to find any reference to Easter in it at all. There’s no attempt to explain or interpret the Easter story, no mention of the cross or the resurrection just a rant about religion.

The most striking thing about the article is Gervais’s claim to have kept the law of God. Seriously. Here is a man who seems to genuinely believe he has kept the 10 commandments.  He claims to like the teachings of Jesus and yet one wonders how anyone who has ever read the sermon on the mount could think that they have kept the law. If ‘do not commit adultery’ includes as Jesus insists never even to have looked at a woman lustfully then it’s remarkable that Gervais would claim to have kept it.

The 10 commandments are really a call to perfection as Jesus insists, Matthew 5:48, ‘Be perfect as your father in heaven is perfect.’

No wonder Paul argues that the very purpose of the law for those who will see it is to make us conscious of sin and to prepare us to receive Christ.

If you think you’re able to keep God’s standards, if you can make it on your own, well there can never be anything good about a good friday.

Apr 21, 2011
neil

New Statesman discovers why 30 leading thinkers believe in God

Here’s a great article from the New Statesman that introduces us to 30 leading thinkers including eminent scientists and philosophers and asks for their reasons for faith in God.



In a follow-up article the author Andrew Zak Williams assesses their reasons for belief.

Apr 19, 2011
neil

Loving your city to life

The 2020birmingham initiative to see 20 churches planted in the city of Birmingham by the year 2020 would never have happened without the vision and generosity of Redeemer City to City. If the work of Redeemer is new to you then take a look at the video and join me in thanking God for its ministry.

What Is Redeemer City to City? from Redeemer City to City on Vimeo.

Apr 18, 2011
neil

In the end ‘Liberal’ Christianity kills everything it has ever touched.

The figures are truly dire. While non-Christian faiths have grown stronger and the evangelical Christian churches flourish, the story in the Church of England has been one of almost continuous decline since the war.

So concludes The Independent newspaper in an article today.

It’s hardly surprising when a newspaper features another article on the tragic decline in church attendance in the UK. This time it’s the turn of The Independent to question whether there is a future for the church. The author of the article is certainly no friend of evangelicals (inside or outside the C of E) and prefers to use the disparaging language of ‘sects’ and ‘fundamentalism’ when referring to Christians who hold to the faith and beliefs of the 39 articles of the Church of England. The author recognises that evangelical Christianity is growing at a time when liberal, ‘doubting’, Christianity is emptying churches but chooses not to focus on that fact nor does he devote any time to the many evangelical parishes in the Church of England where the building is full on a Sunday.

Some of the stats are certainly questionable. The report claims that only 1.7 million, or 3 percent of the population, attend church once a month. In reality the figure is much higher. A 2007 study has the figure at 15 percent.

It’s clear that the sympathies of the author lie with a vague liberal Christianity when he writes

Having an established religion on the side not just of moderation, but tentativeness, gives this strand some extra strength. But it’s not the way faith is going at the moment.’

What he doesn’t seem to understand is that what he calls ‘moderation’ and precisely what the public recognise as a gospel devoid of any real substance and a spirituality that mirrors the world. If that is what people are seeking then they also recognise that there are plenty of other places able to offer it without the need to ever set foot through the doors of a church building. In the end Liberal Christianity kills everything it has ever touched.

Apr 17, 2011
neil

Sometimes it’s not what you say it’s the way that you say it.

A great short video designed to show that how we say things often matters as much as what we say.

Apr 16, 2011
neil

‘Train them for God, train them for Christ, and train them for eternity’ – JC Ryle’s 17 duties of Parents

Train well for this life, and train well for the life to come; train well for earth, and train well for heaven; train them for God, train them for Christ, and train them for eternity. Amen.’ So concludes JC Ryle’s sermon Duties of Parents based on Proverbs 22:6 ‘Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.’

The sermon is a must read for all who are parents or god-parents and for all who train or teach children at church and for all who wish to pray for parents in their responsibilities. But if you want the headings for all 17 points of this sermon then here is how JC Ryle urges you to train your children rightly:

1.train them in the way they should go, and not in the way that they would

2. train up your child with all tenderness, affection, and patience

3. train your children with an abiding persuasion on your mind that much depends upon you

4. train with this thought continually before your eyes that the sould of your child is the first thing to be considered

5. train your child to a knowledge of the Bible

6. train them to a habit of prayer

7. train them to a habits of diligence, and regularity about public means of grace

8. train them to a habit of faith

9. train them to a habit of obedience

10. train them to a habit of always speaking the truth

11. train them to a habit of always redeeming the time

12. train them with  a constant fear of over-indulgence

13. train them remembering continually how God trains his children

14. train them remembering continually the influence of your own example

15. train them remembering continually the power of sin

16. train them remembering continually the promises of Scripture

17. train them, lastly, with continual prayer for a blessing on all you do

Thanks to Richard Underhill who introduced me to this sermon at New Word Alive 2011.

Apr 14, 2011
neil

Its official secularism makes you sad

Britons have become miserable because we are selfish, unfit and anti-social begins an article in yesterday’s Telegraph.

The article continues Experts say that unless we undergo a ‘radical cultural change’, the population will slide into unprecedented depths of despair and that rates of depression and suicide will rise.

We are according to the paper in a psychological decline.

So what is causing this bad state of mental health? According to experts the answer is that we do not give enough to others, have lost the art of connecting with those around us, and no longer possess a sense of belonging in society.’

Dr. Anthony Seldon  comments;

“Young people now are being brought up grasping for what they don’t have rather than appreciating everything they already do.

“For everything we have gained in material wealth and sophistication in recent years, we have lost in happiness and the overall richness of the fabric of society.

“If we don’t act now, in the future we are likely to see increased levels of adolescent suicide and mental illness, and a culture in which taking anti-depressant drugs is the norm.”

What the research demonstrates is what happens when life turns in on itself. When we live for ourselves and are concerned only for ourselves it will have a profoundly negative

What about solutions?

So what answers does our society have to such a crisis? Well if the answers proposed by actionforhappiness.org are anything to go by, pretty much none!  When you read down the list of suggestions they are nothing but a list of ideas on how to try and manufacture happiness in the absence of any meaning, purpose, value or direction to life.

How do you find happiness in a life devoid of hope!

Joseph Addison once said ‘the grand essential to happiness in this life are; something to do, someone to love, and something to hope for’

True and lasting happiness, the joy in life that we seek, are all rooted not in thinking positive thoughts about ourselves but through a knowledge that we are loved. Our joy is a joy derived from a relationship with the living God.

CS Lewis has so helpfully said:

God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.

You can’t make yourself happy! You can’t manufacture joy. It comes from a source outside of yourself. Our happiness is a gift borne out of a relationship with a God who is supremely happy in himself and so desires that we share our joy in him.

Lewis again: Affection is responsible for nine-tenths of whatever solid and durable happiness there is in our lives.

The 10 suggestions for happiness put forward by a think-tank actionforhappiness.org  show how desperate our desire for happiness has become and yet how even more desperate our search has become.

1. Giving. Do things for others – volunteer to work for a charity in your spare time.

2. Relating. Connect with people – get in touch with friends with whom you had lost contact.

3. Exercising. Take care of your body – go for a run.

4. Appreciating. Notice the world around – take time to appreciate wildlife in your area.

Worship. Notice the world around and thank God for his goodness

5. Trying out. Keep learning new things – learn a new language.

6. Direction. Have goals to look forward to – make resolutions and stick to them.

Hope. Realise that

7. Resilience. Find ways to bounce back – learn from defeats to do things better in the future.

8. Emotion. Take a positive approach – focus on the happy moments of your life rather than the sad.

9. Acceptance. Be comfortable with who you are – do not dwell on your flaws.

10.Meaning. Be part of something bigger – join a society or club.

Surely at no point in human history in the western world have we so manifestly demonstrated our need for God. We cannot make it alone. We need God more than ever for life now and for life eternal.

Final thought from CS Lewis. ‘Happiness is never in our power and pleasure rarely is. I doubt whether anyone who has tasted joy would ever, if both were in his power, exchange it for all the pleasure in the world.’

Apr 11, 2011
neil

Russell Brand on why Dawkins is the best advert for God

A remarkable article in this week’s New Stateman magazine (thanks for the link, Lucy).

In which Brand attacks evangelical atheism, discusses his own faith and considers the design inherent in the universe. Well worth a look at the article in full but here’s a great quote.

There was a time when the universe did not exist, this we know. We also know that energy cannot be created or destroyed, only transformed. This means that something, not nothing, existed before the universe. We do not know what but there is wonder and intelligence enough to suggest that design may have been a component.

Apr 10, 2011
neil

Because evangelism isn’t enough

A church works hard in making visitors welcome in their meetings, ensuring that the gospel is preached faithfully and engagingly and putting on events and programmes to give everyone an opportunity to hear the gospel of Christ.

And yet, despite the prayers of many and the faithful witness it is harder than ever to get people into our buildings. Maybe evangelism isn’t enough? Are we really being all things to all people if all we offer are our services in our buildings in our language on our terms?

A growing number of churches are looking for ways to reach outside the church.  Whether we prefer the name ‘missional church’, ‘fresh expressions’, or anything else the goal is to take the gospel to those who don’t do church or at least wouldn’t get church doing it in the way we’ve always done it.

At New Word Alive 2011 I’m heading up a track called ‘Reaching outside the church’ and our aim is to think creatively about how we do exactly that – reach the majority of the British population who are asking no spiritual questions and see no relevance to the church and the message of the gospel to their lives.

So here are 8 questions and reflections to help us assess whether our church thinks evangelism is enough;

1. Are we about evangelism or mission in our church life? Evangelism is about bringing in. Mission is about going out.

2. Do we think we’ve done our job as a witnessing community if we have offered evangelism training and are putting on evangelistic programmes? If we run a mission week or leaflet drop the local houses?

3. Do we think it’s the fault of the unbeliever if he doesn’t come to our events or do we feel that the responsibility lies with us, at least in part, to think of new ways to get the gospel out.

4. Do we seek to identify individuals in our churches who are gifted evangelists & missionaries to our own communities?  Are we willing to let this work be their main ministry. Do we seek to train them and to send them into our neighbourhoods and communities?

5. Are we ready to orientate ministries of the church around new ideas for outreach? For example meetings in different locations to reach different people?

6. Do we give people permission and positive encouragement to develop ministries and outreach strategies that reach outside the church.

7. Have we even identified those people  in our communities who are as yet not reaching with hte gospel. Do we know what makes them tick, what they think of church, what might be the most effective way of reaching them?

8. Do we look to other churches for ideas, information, training in reaching outside the church. Are we ready to make time to think this through.

Perhaps its time to move from evangelistic programmes to missional communities

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