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.
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.
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.
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.
A great short video designed to show that how we say things often matters as much as what we say.
‘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.
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.’
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.
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
1. Know and interact with the three best arguments against the Christian position
2. Pray hard
1. Refer to the Bible, maybe use a passage from the Bible. Demonstrate that it is your authority. Show that you are not speaking on your own behalf but seeking to represent Christ.
2. Take people to the cross
3. Don’t try and say too much and introduce too many ideas. What you have to leave out have ready to introduce, in condensed form, in the question-time
4. Work hard on the introduction – engaging and demonstrating an ability to resonate with the ‘problem’ being addressed. Show them that you ‘feel’ the problem.
5. If there is an ‘authority’ on an issue try to cite him (as long as you understand him). e.g. Dawkins on atheism, Singer on ethics,
6. Don’t cite Christian authorities by name who would be unknown to a non-Christian audience e.g. Stott, Keller, Schaeffer…
7. Don’t be defensive about Biblical truth – our role is not to defend God but rather to show the truthfulness and reasonableness of what God says.
8. Never apologise for what the Bible says but do admit to personal struggle in accepting what the Bible says e.g. gay friends,….
9. Always admit what we do not know because the Bible does not tell us
10. Always admit what you don’t know because you haven’t thought about it.
11. Trust the Lord by speaking clearly of what we do know even if you think it will push people away from the gospel.
12. Expect to be misunderstood and be patient
13. Have in mind a variety of listener
1. Show why this is a necessary and important issue for them to resolve for themselves not just an issue to see Christians squirm over.
2. Make clear the limitations a 20-25 minute talk place on addressing the issue at hand. Tell them what you do hope to achieve in a single talk.
3. Watch out for the crunch of gears between ‘prosecution’ and ‘invitation’ – we don’t want an apologetic talk with 2 ways to live bolted on the end
4. Show them that you love them, however you can.
5. Help your hearer to see that they need the gospel to be true if they are to make sense of life. Show them from practical examples why that is so.
6. Don’t be aggressive, antagonistic or hostile to your audience even if they are all of those things to you.
7. Don’t attack the man eg insult Richard Dawkins but do show the folly of his thinking
8. Don’t give them reason to dislike you – only the gospel
9. Invitation needs to be clear – exactly what do you want them to do in response and why.
We must learn the language of our audience. And let me say at the outset that it is no use laying down a priori what the ‘plain man’ does or does not understand. You have to find out by experience…You must translate every bit of your theology into the vernacular. This is very troublesome…but it is essential. It is also of the greatest service to your own thought. I have come to the conclusion that if you cannot translate your own thoughts into uneducated language, then your thoughts are confused. Power to translate is the test of having really understood your own meaning.
C.S. Lewis – God in the Dock
1. Listen well to the question: thank them for it (no matter how stupid)
2. Take your time in answering a question, if necessary ask for clarification
3. Be prepared to offer a challenge back to the questioner. E.g. Our answer may leave us with unanswered questions but what alternative explanation are they putting forward
4. Don’t enter into a to-and-fro with a single questioner but invite them to talk with you on your own afterwards.
5. Have a clear finish time and stick to it, but stay around as long as you can afterwards
6. Always have literature available and plenty of it. Explain which would be helpful for who, Try not to have too many different books that would overwhelm or confuse.
7. Don’t let the questions set an entirely new agenda – try and draw Q&A back to the topic under consideration as set out in the title.
8. Remind people of what you said, briefly, in the talk as you answer questions.
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