Friday, 30 April 2010

Lots Of Words, Now Time To Decide

Last night we had our hustings evening in Stranraer.

Thanks to the High Kirk for the use of their hall and to Ian Munro for setting up the PA.

We had more questions submitted this year than in any of the previous two hustings events I've organised. There was a good turn out of interested voters and I hope the evening was helpful for them.

Four of our five candidates were present, the fifth (a UKIP candidate) was on holdiay (or so I was told), make of that what you will.

I think the candidates from the two bigger parties did better, Russell Brown (Lab) and Peter Duncan (Con), but then both have been MP for our constituency and that gives you an experience and confidence in responding to questions.
Andrew Wood (SNP) did well, but I think suffered because the SNP are not really seen as a major player in Westminster elections. Richard Brodie (Lib/Dem) did ok on some of the questions, but the time for thinking about ethical/moral issues like euthanasia is before you run for election, not after.

John awarded Richard best response of the night, when on a question about expenses Richard said, "When I go into the local pub I always get asked Is that going on your expensies? I always say, 'Yes'".

I hope that the turn out in Stranraer and district will be good, and also across the nation. It is important for us to vote and take part in the political process.

Sell Half, Demolish The Rest

Interesting, and unusually accurate, report in The Herald today.

We have too many buildings in the Church of Scotland today. It is a scandal that we allow congregations to spend £500,000 on repairs that do not in any way affect the shape or structure of the building, when for the same price a new building could have been constructed. It is wicked of Presbyteries to give priority status to buildings in the middle of a field, surrounded by a community of sheep, while giving lower status to buildings in a village serving a needy community.

Most of our buildings were built 100+ years ago on a model of church architecture that was, at that time 100+ years old. The buildings we are using today largely do not communicate anything of the gospel to our generation. What they do communicate is old fashioned, uncomfortable, cold and alien.

New people decide about the gospel by their experience of our buildings, and for most the decision is not positive.

We should dispose of all church buildings more than 30 years old and replace our present building stock with about 800 new, purpose built properties on the understanding that they will need replaced to serve a new generation in about 50 years.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Risk or die

We had a very good meeting of the EA Scotland executive. I always enjoy being at these meetings and sharing in what God is doing in Scotland. I find it refreshing having been at too many other meetings where the gospel doesn't get a look in.

Fred Drummond was talking about a movement of prayer sweeping our nation, about church and individuals steping out from the safety of the usual and well known in the risky place of the new and uncertain. God has shown himself faithful and the God who goes ahead of the risk takers for the gospel. Fred spoke of a kairos moment, a significant time in God's purposes when the Spirit is moving.

Churches, congregations who refuse to take risks for the gospel are congregations and chruches that are choosing to die. Risk is setting your sail to catch the wind of the Spirit, is losing everything to gain Christ. I'm weary of living in the 'safety' of no-risk which is the tied up in the harbour way of not following Christ.
There's an Ian White song I like, 'A ship that's in the harbour, is still and safe from strom, but it was not made to be there, it was made for wind and storm.'

Father, where you are at work show us and give us courage to risk all for you.

Last Post on Alpha Day

It was just a week ago today that I was at the Alpha Day for Church of Scotland ministers. Here is my final post on themes from that day.

Further to an earlier post on evangelism and Alpha - here. I turned the page and found another very helpful note of the final point, evangelism as community.

The new community into which evangelism welcomes us, and others, welcomes us into a set of new relationships:
with God > > > > Adoration
with others > > > Belonging
with creation > > Compassion
with self > > > > Discipleship
with words > > > Evangelism
One of the great and highly visible signs of human sin is our broken relationships. Only through reconciliation with God and the renewal of our lives in the likeness of Christ can we enter into the joy of new relationships.

Graham Tomlin finished off the day by speaking of his present work at HTB in the St Paul's Theological Centre and the St Mellitus College in London. St Paul's was started as a theological centre within HTB offering biblical and theological resources to members of the congregation and others. Having proved successful the centre united with St Mellitus and is offering ordination training within the Church of England which is focused upon keeping those being trained within the local church.
Graham, having spent 16 years teaching theology in Oxford recognised the disjunction between training in a secular university and service in local church.
To prepare candidates for ordination the vision is that they be prepared within the church and by the church for service through the church to the world. What a wonderful vision for ministry preparation and formation.
The one question I have is why do we not have something similar in the Church of Scotland? Why do we continue sending candidates for ministry to be trained by non Christians in godless universities? This is a time for radical change - well here's one I think is long over due.

Tearfund Scotland - Exciting Times

I was at my first meeting of the National Advisory Committee for Tearfund Scotland last night.

I feel honoured to be able to be part of the work of Tearfund in this way and look forward to our work together serving the poorest and most needy peoples of the world in years to come.

We heard news of the work of Self Help Groups within the Kale Heywet Church in Ethiopia, more than 3,000 of these 20 member groups established in 3 years. Initially providing a means of saving small amounts and then offering small loans these groups have seen a growth in community and love for the members of the group and community among those touched by this exciting project.
Read more about this here.

Please do pray for Lynne, Jo and Fiona in the office in Glasgow. Please do come along to the lunch event on Thu 19 May at the Augustine United Church in Edinburgh, 12.45 for 1, to hear of Tearfund's response to the earthquake in Haiti.

Sin and hypocricy

John 8:7 When they kept on questioning him [Jesus], he straightened up and said to them, "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her."

I've got some questions on Gordon Brown's being caught on a live mic calling a voter a bigot:

1. Was Gordon Brown wrong to do this? - Yes.

2. Should he apologise to the nation? - Yes.

3. Is Gordon Brown the only party leader to have made such comments in private? - I can't believe he is.

4. Have the journalists presently crucifying Gordon Brown never spoken, in private, unkindly or in a rude and offensive way about someone? - What do you think?

5. Have you, and I, never come home from work, a church meeting, a chance encounter and complained long and loudly in very inappropriate ways? - I won't believe it if I'm the only one.

6. Will the two other, presumeably sinless, party leaders try to make much of Gordon Brown's failure in the debate this evening? - I can already imagine their smug faces as they try to convince us they have never done and would never do this.

Lord, open our eyes to our own sin. Lord, give us humility to deal with others when they fall. Lead us in paths of repentance to the place of forgiveness and renewal.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Evangelism is sharing our faith

In his second address at the Alpha Day on 22/4, Graham Tomlin spoke about the theology of Alpha.

Graham joined the Alpha team just 4 years ago, which is perhaps 10 or 12 years after the first Alpha courses were held. It was interesting to see that his theological analysis of Alpha as a means of evangelism was systematic, historical and biblical.

Evangelism is, I think, sharing our faith with the aim that the person we are sharing our faith with will come to know Jesus for themselves as Lord and Saviour.

Lesslie Newbigin wrote, 'The test of our real belief is our readiness to share it with all peoples.'
How many of us prefer to study, to read, to write, to reflect, to think about our faith? Do we really believe if we never engage in evangelism?
How many of us choose only to share our faith with people 'like us'? Where do we draw boundaries? I won't share my faith with her, I don't want to end up sitting next to her in church. I won't share my faith with him, I've already decided he will never believe? If we don't share our faith with all peoples do we really believe it?

1. Evangelism as hospitality.
A key theme in Alpha is welcome and relationships, this is also true of the gospel. Graham reflected this theme found in the Incarnation and the Trinity. He shared this icon of Abraham at Mamre with us:

2. Evangelism as cenounter.
This is about more than an intellectual encounter, the idea is that our encounter with God should be emotional, heart felt, physical (worship, sacraments).

3. Evangelism as catechesis.
ok forgive the big word but Graham used it first!
As those not Christians are taught they become Christians. But what is taught? Doctrine, behaviour (how to live as a Christian), spiritual practices (worship, prayer, bible reading, meditation).

4. Evangelism as community.
No one is evangelised and then sent out on their own to follow Jesus. We are all evangelised into the new community of the church.

Lot's to think about here. How does our evangelism compare?

Make the gospel attractive

Here is some more from Graham Tomlin's first address at the Alpha day last week.

A response to the crisis facing the church - see earlier post here - has been:
1960's/70's - a liberal response - let's change the gospel. Robinson and Hick and others.
1980's/90's - let's change our technique - music and power point.

Niether of these help address the crisis.

Many today would echo the words of the late John Diamond, 'I'm happy not believing'.

The challenge to the church is well framed by Blaise Pascal, 'Make it attractive, make good men wish it were true and then show that it is.' How do we make the gospel attractive? Can we do this without treating those who don't believe disrespectfully? Is the only way to evangelise to first create dissatisfaction with a present way of life?

The charge of hypocricy against Christians bites because often our words about the gospel promise much, but what is promised is not delivered in changed lives. We need to learn how to live different lives that commend the gospel and provoke the question, 'What does this mean?' Acts 2.

Monday, 26 April 2010

A Colourful Garden

I'm not a great word for gardening, I think garden is an alternative spelling for Sheol! But it was time to change my desktop after Easter so I've gone for some Van Gogh this year. What a splash of colours, vibrant images of a garden. If mine could look like this, without me having to slave away in it, perhaps I'd be more keen on gardens.
Enjoy this image, I know I will.

A Church in Crisis

This post isn't about the present state of the Church of Scotland, although we clearly are a church in crisis!

Following up on comments by Graham Tomlin from last week's Alpha day, the church in crisis is the church in Northern and Western Europe and North America. That is not to say the church elsewhere is not in crisis, it's just that their's is a different crisis.

Graham identified two problems:
1) There is a cultural aversion to evangelism.
A fragmenting society prizes tolerance above all else and despises conversions and converts. The pluralistic nature of our contemporary society creates a built in bias against anyone trying to convert or change anyone else to their point of view.

2) There is a cultural aversion to Christianity.
Many in our communities believe that they know what Christianity is all about, that it has been tried and has been found wanting. They may be willing to try out other lifestyle or worldview choices but are hard wired against Christianity.

I think (1) is correct, we encounter this all around. This cannot be allowed to keep us from the work of evangelism. In a world of drowning people who don't want to be saved we are called by the King who loves the world to keep on throwing out life jackets and showing others how to put them on.

(2) is also correct, and wrong at the same time. What people think of as Christianity isn't. Even those with some memory of a childhood knowledge of Christianity have got it wrong. And many more don't even have a childhood memory of the gospel any more. The challenge then is to display Christianity in new ways, angular ways, subversive ways that will get under the radar and impact lives for the gospel.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Krish Kandiah has a new book Just Politics, well worth a look. He has posted this excert from his book on his blog, check the post here.

Krish encourages sharing so here are his ten reasons why Christians should go out and vote at the General Election on 6 May.

Thanks for a great Alpha Day

The Alpha for Church of Scotland ministers day yesterday was really great. It was good to meet up with some old CWW friends, some UNO friends and hopefully some new friends.

Graham Tomlin, Principal of St Paul’s Theological Centre and Dean of St Mellitus College in London was the key note speaker, and he was excellent. One of the best conference speakers I've heard in a long while. During the day he spoke on 1) developing a provocative church; 2) the theology of alpha, and 3) the work of St Paul's centre/St Mellitus college and the training of lay people and ordinands that has developed in these institutions. Watch out for other posts on these themes.

After too many weeks with too many meetings about managing the church and managing decline it is good to be at a meeting where the focus was upon meeting and communicating the gospel with non-Christians, if only we all did more of this.

Friday, 23 April 2010

Reimagining Westminster

I'm not sure if the campaign can be described as heating up, after the second PM debate the opinion seems to be that two out of the three are focusing upon substance, not airbrushing!

There's a lot of talk about a hung parliament, who else remembers 1974? What changes need to happen to bring about a new kind of election, a new kind of politics and a new kind of government?

1. We could have two polls on the day of a general election: one for a PM, the other for a constituency MP.
2. The PM candidate with the largest vote is invited to form a government, and is expected to choose the best people from whichever part to serve in that government.
3. Once all the ministerial posts are filled, the PM plus his ministers form 'the government'.
4. All the other non-governmental MPs form 'the parliament', specifically not the opposition.
5. Party whips are banned, outlawed, forbidden to operate in this new system.
6. The role of the government is to bring forward policies and to persuade a majority of MPs to vote for those policies.
7. In the absence of party whips MPs have the responsibility to vote for policies they think are best for the country.

I don't suppose it will ever happen, but imagine what it would be like if it did? What do you think?

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

An alternative manifesto

Getting into General Election fever at the corner, or we're going even further round the bend.

There is an alternative manifesto published on line by which you can read here. I've copied the introduction here, it's well worth going over and having a look ...

One Vote 2010: A Manifesto for International Development lays out the 5 areas One wants the next Government to take action on in the fight against extreme poverty.

It focuses on:
•Important international events that will influence efforts to reduce poverty such as the G8/G20 meetings and September’s UN Summit on the Millennium Development Goals.
•How the UK can best promote economic and social development in Africa in terms of supporting better governance, health and education.
•Developed country policies beyond aid that affect the world's poor from climate change, to agriculture, to trade.

We wrote it to influence the political parties’ manifestos, to let all political leaders and candidates know what we’d like them to do if elected and to provide guidance for our supporters as they meet their local candidates during the election campaign.

After the election our manifesto will also form the basis for what we want the next Parliament to do in the fight against poverty.

Monday, 12 April 2010

History is better than nonsense

I'm giving thanks to God that when Philip Pullman published his latest attack upon the gospel I'm reading a really good work of biblical history.

Pullman repeats the old lie that Jesus of Nazareth was a good man who has been manipulated and abused by the church and turned into the Christ - a title he neither claimed nor wanted for himself.

Hurtado in a work of careful historical study shows, among other things, that devotion to Jesus predates the writtings of the apostle Paul.

By devotion to Jesus what Hurtado is describing is the worship of Jesus as God and the ascription to him of titles like Christ, Son of God and Lord (kurios). In Paul's letters, from the 40's and 50's AD we find repeated comments in passing recognising the divine worship being given to the Lord Jesus. That such comments are made in passing tells us that they are not considered controversial by Paul and would be readily accepted by the churches.

Within 10 to 20 years of the resurrection of the body of the Lord Jesus he is being worshipped as God. If only Philip Pullman and others understood history rather than attacking the church and the gospel.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

A Smooth Gem

Thanks to Jeol Willits at Euangelion for a quote from NT Wright on Christ being applied very early to Jesus as a title appropriate to him.

Here's the quote:
But, as I say, even if this is not so, it merely tightens the screw of the argument even tighter, because clearly it would mean that the very early Christians used the word so frequently for Jesus that it had worn smooth (557, The Resurrection of the Son of God, N T Wright).

Read Joel post here.

Easter Day

Today we celebrate the glorious resurrection from the dead of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Now has Christ been raised from the dead, and become the first-fruits of them that are asleep.
He is risen, as he said. Come, let us offer our sacrifice of thanksgiving to Almight God and pay him our vows.

Mark 16:1-8

Sorry, I don't have any good images for the resurrection, having said that I'm not apologising for the Gruenwald.

His body is not in the tomb,
is not now and has not been since he rose from the dead.

The resurrection has begun, Christ is raised.
All things are made new at Easter time,
new creation, re-creation,
and we in union with Christ are made new.

A new life to live,
New creation to live it in,
New hope to fill our lives,
New joy to strengthen our lives,
New peace to secure our lives.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

Friday, 2 April 2010

I've been listening to this EST album today, Live at Hamburg.

EST = Esbjörn Svensson Trio, a Swedish Jazz trio who were one of the great Jazz trio's of the period 1993 to 2008 when Esbjörn Svensson tragically was killed in a scuba diving accident.

This is the Trio's second last album release, as the title suggests recorded live in Hamburg, only to be followed by their final recording Leucocyte.

The Trio have played together for a long time and that really pays dividends in their live work. Dan Berglund's bass is at times pounding, at others mellow and Magnus Öström's drumming is a wonderful thing of beauty. Esbjörn Svensson leads the Trio from the piano with wonderfully inventive runs and jumps around the key board.

If you want to listen to contemporary European Jazz I can't think of anywhere better to start. If you are just getting into Jazz try the Trio's 1996 disc EST Plays Monk, an easier way in.
On this day our Lord was tried before the High Priest, Pilate and Herod; was scourged, mocked, and condemned to death. He was led out to Calvary.

At the third hour He was crucified.

At the sixth hour the sky became dark.

At the ninth hour, crying out, 'It is finished', He died.

Mark 14:53-15:47

A trial that wasn't a trial, because the 'judges' had already made up their minds - he must die.
Pilate knows the right thing but won't do it, and Herod just wants to be entertained.
The soldiers do their job well, beaten and bloody he bears his cross until the nail him to it.

The darkness is not only covering the sun in the sky, but covers our understanding. We know it happened, we know that Christ died for our sins - he took our place and bore our penalty. But there is the limit of what we know.
Why did the Father choose this way?
How does it work that Christ's suffering secures my freedom?
     I don't know, and I'm pretty sure you don't either.

'But this I know, He heals the broken-hearted,
and stays our sin, and calms our lurking fear,
and lifts the burden from the heavy laden,
for yet the Saviour, Saviour of the world, is here.'

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Holy Week - Thursday

On this day our Lord went to the Upper Room in Jerusalem, He washed His disciples’ feet; instituted the sacrament of His Body and Blood. He spoke to His disciples words of comfort and peace, gave the promise of the coming of the Holy Spirit, and offered the prayer of the Great High Priest. He endured the trial of the garden of Gethsemane; was betrayed by Judas and arrested.

Mark 14:12-52

Events now tumble, one after another.
Seemingly out of control, inevitable and terrible.

Yet one character in this drama is calm and focused,
the centre around which all else moves.
(Except perhaps when he prays in the garden,
filled with the sorrow of death, troubled by a weak flesh,
and then sustained and strengthened by prayer.)

The Passover sacrifice always meant Jesus,
now he makes this clear.
His body broken, his blood poured out,
not for himself, but for us.

He attracts betrayal and denial,
like a servant with no beauty to be desired,
one from whom we all hide our faces.

All happens under the titlos
'Let the Scriptures be fulfilled' (v. 49)
The God who has the whole world in his hand
will not let his one-of-a-kind Son slip through his fingers.
Tumble as they may,
nothing is out of His control,
nothing is out of His purpose.