Monday, December 29, 2008

J.C. Ryle on Preaching

Some quotes from "Christian Leaders of the 18th Century by J.C. Ryle.

No-one can be a good preacher to the people who is not willing to preach in a manner that seems childish and vulgar to some.
(Attributed to Martin Luther)

You must speak from the heart if you wish to speak to the heart.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas, Elephants and Symmetry-Breaking

There's a well known story that seems to have seeped deep into the modern British consciousness, about a group of men trying to understand what an elephant is like by touch alone (they are either blindfolded or blind, depending on the variant of the story). So one man has the trunk, and he declares that the elephant is like a snake. Another has the tail, and he declares the elephant is like a rope. Another has a leg, and he says the elephant is like a tree. Yet another the side, and he says the elephant is like a wall. And so on...

And that is very much like people trying to find out what God is like. We can tell something about him/her through the world she/he has made, but we also observe that other people can come to very different conclusions about God, because they look from different perspectives. But we are also fallible and some of our conclusions are wrong, just we can't tell which ones. In more mathematical language, we see that our position is essentially symmetrical to someone else's, except that we disagree on what God is like, which means that we should not be too certain about what we believe. So we look on people who are certain as being highly suspect.

But Christmas changes all of that, or it should do. Because the message we proclaim at Christmas is that the symmetry is broken. It isn't just different people coming up with different ideas about what God is like because they are coming from different places and looking at different bits of the evidence. It isn't just different groups of people each claiming that God has given them a different book. At Christmas, God himself came into the world in the person of Jesus, and showed us what he was like. So in a world of so much uncertainty, we can really know him. That's something worth getting excited about!

Happy Christmas!

Bizarre Retail Practices

I was looking for Christmas cards for family in a well-known high street shop the other day. They had some really beautiful cards. But all the best cards were in boxes of 10 identical cards for £4.99 or £6.99, which just seems totally bizarre to me.

People buy the nicest Christmas cards for the people they are closest to. And the people they are closest to often know the other people they are closest to and spend time in their houses. So I don't want the same design of Christmas card for my parents (for example) as for my sisters. I want to show that individual thought has gone into it.

Had these cards been selling at £1.50 each, I'd probably have bought quite a few. If they'd been in boxes of 10 mixed cards, I'd have been delighted. But when the smallest quantity buyable was a box of 10, and they were all identical, I'm not going to do it, and it wasn't surprising that there were so many of these boxes of nice Christmas cards still on the shelves a few days before Christmas.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Jesus and Christmas

This isn't a Christmas post - that will come later in the week. This is a quote from Rod Liddle in the Spectator, dated 20/27th December 2008...

In the north of England a boy was not allowed to attend his school's Christmas party because his parents had insisted, ever since he joined the school, that he should not be required to attend lessons in Religious Education. The school presumably thought that they were being scrupulous in abiding by the wishes of the parents - but apparently not. The boy's mum, a Ms Dawn Riddell, was incandescent at the 'cruelty' inflicted upon her poor son. Christmas parties, she said, have got 'absolutely nothing to do with Jesus'. I think that's one of my favourite quotes of this year or any year. And that's where we are now, too.

George Herbert - Love

This poem - Love by George Herbert is a favourite of a fair few people I know. It's well worth some thought...

LOVE bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lack'd anything.

'A guest,' I answer'd, 'worthy to be here:'
Love said, 'You shall be he.'
'I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,
I cannot look on Thee.'
Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
'Who made the eyes but I?'

'Truth, Lord; but I have marr'd them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.'
'And know you not,' says Love, 'Who bore the blame?'
'My dear, then I will serve.'
'You must sit down,' says Love, 'and taste my meat.'
So I did sit and eat.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Qualifying Annihilationism

Overview of my stuff about Hell.

This is part of a spate of posts I'm writing on the topic of Hell. I might put some kind of structure in later. I'm not writing these because I like to talk about Hell - I don't. I'm writing them because there's a lot of confusion about Hell..

There's a growing movement in some evangelical bits of the church towards annihilationism - the idea that Hell is actually a state of non-existence - that people who aren't saved by Jesus eventually just cease to exist rather than the traditional idea that they suffer consciously in hell forever. (As I've posted recently, I think it's a better expression of the full teaching of Scripture to talk about some form of ruin than about people as they are now being tormented.)

There's quite a lot that could be said about annihilationism. As I've already mentioned, I don't go along with it because I think the case for eternal ruined existence is better. But even for those who do go along with annihilationism, if they take the Bible as authoritative, there are still some qualifications that need to be put on their belief from what the Bible teaches clearly.

  • What matters is not what we feel to be preferable, but what is actually the case.
  • The saved and the unsaved will all be raised from the dead (Daniel 12:2) and judged.
  • There needs to be some form of suffering after the final judgment. What does it mean for the judge of all the Earth to do right when the rich unsaved oppresses the poor unsaved and both die in that state? Or if Heinrich Himmler and Mahatma Gandhi are both unsaved, how can it be fair that they get the same punishment? This is also strongly implied by passages such as Matthew 11:21-24 and Luke 12:47-48.
  • Satan does indeed seem to suffer eternal conscious torment (Rev 20:10).

Redirecting the Message of the Gospel

As long as I can discover no connection between the Gospel and the problems of my life, then it has nothing to say to me and I am not interested. And that is precisely why the Gospel must be preached afresh and told anew in every generation, since every generation has its own unique questions. This is why the Gospel must constantly be forwarded to a new address, because the recipient is repeatedly changing his place of residence... In short, if the basic questions of life have shifted, then I must redirect the message of the Gospel. Otherwise I am answering questions that have never been asked. And, upon hearing such answers, my opposite number will just shake his head and say 'that's no concern of mine. It has nothing to do with me.
Thielecke, How Modern Should Theology Be?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

What are People Like in Hell?

Overview of my stuff about Hell.

I've finished my essay on hell now. It turned out that one of the key questions was what people were like in hell. Here are some quotes on that which I found helpful.

To enter hell is to be banished from humanity. What is cast (or casts itself) into hell is not a man: it is ‘remains’.
C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

When human beings give their heartfelt allegiance and worship to that which is not God, they progressively cease to reflect the image of God... it is possible for human beings to so continue down this road.. that after death they become at last, by their own effective choice, beings that once were human but now are not, creatures that have ceased to bear the divine image at all... they pass simultaneously not only beyond hope but also beyond pity.
Tom Wright, Surprised by Hope

Sometimes people ask me: "In heaven how can I be happy, knowing that my fellow human-beings - maybe the people I love best - are in hell?" And the answer is simple. No human being will be in hell. The creatures in hell are not human beings any longer... The person you knew and loved will not be in hell. That person had so many lovable qualities - the remnants of the image of God - but now, the image of God has been obliterated... You could not love the creature in hell if you tried - God cannot love that creature - there is nothing there to love.
Stephen Rees

Wright - Lectionaries

Whenever you see, in an official lectionary, the command to omit two or three verses, you can normally be sure that they contain words of judgment. Unless, of course, they are about sex.
Tom Wright, Surprised by Hope, p.190

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Immigration Law

I should confess a slight personal interest in this rant - my sister and aunt both married Americans. At college, two students have already been forced to leave the country (one of them came back), another one got refused entry, one staff member nearly got refused entry and another student currently has 7 days left to appeal or leave.

British immigration law is stupid.

The Biblical perspective on it is that Jesus was a refugee in Egypt for a bit, thereby massively dignifying the status of refugees, and meaning we should treat them well. In addition, in the Old Testament, Israel's law stresses the importance of treating foreigners who come to live in the land well, as long as they don't do stuff like inciting people to worship false gods or anything.

In fact, that seems like a good model. What's happened in Britain of course is that we've got scared of immigrants as a result of international terrorism and so on, and so have massively tightened up the law, without massively tightening up on enforcement. So now any terrorists wanting to come and live in the UK have to do it illegally rather than legally, which I'm sure will put most of them off because terrorists are good, law-abiding folk.

Although I've heard people annoyed or scared about immigrants from countries such as Pakistan (some of which is fear of terrorism, some of which is racism) and Poland (but they're citizens of an EU country, we can't really keep them out), I haven't heard anyone annoyed or scared about immigrants from countries where the culture and population are essentially descended from Brits.

You don't see scare stories on the news about Australian or American immigrants, whatever their ethnic background. You don't find people being all worried about the Canadians or New Zealanders who just moved in next door.

But the British government, in their infinite wisdom, seem to have managed to make life difficult for the very large number of immigrants from former colonies, who no-one is worried about. And that is the main substance of this rant, because it looks like incompetence rather than partially justified fear.

I don't know exactly what the forms ask or how the system works, but it seems to me sensible on a purely human level, without even bothering to do theological reflection on it, to partially filter applicants according to the country they are from. Do nationals from their country have any history of causing social problems in the UK or similar countries? If no, I don't see the problem with granting them indefinite leave to remain. Under the current system, Barack Obama might find difficulty in getting permission to work in the UK long term. I don't see any reason whatsoever why that should be the case.

And nor am I saying that people with Pakistani nationality, for example, should all be kept out, just that if we're worried about terrorism, maybe we should stop putting so much effort keeping out people who aren't going to be a problem, start genuinely welcoming immigrants who need out help and spending all the extra time concentrating on discerning which of the people from potentially problematic countries will cause trouble, and keeping them out.

Proposal: give automatic leave to remain indefinitely to all citizens of stable friendly countries with sufficiently similar cultures, and welcome genuine refugees.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Optical Illusions

There are some great optical illusions here. I used quite a few of them when I was teaching A-level physics. It's a great reminder that we actually do a lot of processing between our eyes and the bit of the brain that thinks it's seeing.

In this image, squares A and B are actually the same colour; our brain just processes them differently - it often took using a computer graphics program to move them next to each other to convince people it really worked.

This image is actually static. Lots of people see that it's moving, and which bits are moving keeps changing. It's actually because of how our eyes focus - the bits at the edge aren't in exactly the right position, and also our eyes tend to be drawn to movement, which means that when we focus on one bit, the other bits look like they move as which bit of our eye we are using to focus on them changes.

From a spiritual point of view, they are also great reminders that what we see isn't the ultimate level of reality, because Jesus has been raised from the dead, which means that the "real us" is who we will be one day when we too have been raised from the dead, which changes our perspective on suffering in this life and so on.

For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.

Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. We live by faith, not by sight.

2 Corinthians 4:17-5:7, NIV

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Jesus and Amos 8

I was preaching on Amos 8 the other day. At first sight, it's a really dark and bleak passage, with lots of judgement and not much else. What really struck me, although this doesn't appear heavily in any of the commentaries I looked at, is that the chapter is all about Jesus. Here's the big judgement section from Amos 8.

The LORD has sworn by the Pride of Jacob: "I will never forget anything they have done.

"Will not the land tremble for this,
and all who live in it mourn?
The whole land will rise like the Nile;
it will be stirred up and then sink
like the river of Egypt.

"In that day," declares the Sovereign LORD,
"I will make the sun go down at noon
and darken the earth in broad daylight.

I will turn your religious feasts into mourning
and all your singing into weeping.
I will make all of you wear sackcloth
and shave your heads.
I will make that time like mourning for an only son
and the end of it like a bitter day.

"The days are coming," declares the Sovereign LORD,
"when I will send a famine through the land—
not a famine of food or a thirst for water,
but a famine of hearing the words of the LORD.

Men will stagger from sea to sea
and wander from north to east,
searching for the word of the LORD,
but they will not find it.

"In that day
"the lovely young women and strong young men
will faint because of thirst.
They who swear by the shame of Samaria,
or say, 'As surely as your god lives, O Dan,'
or, 'As surely as the god of Beersheba lives'—
they will fall,
never to rise again."

Amos 8:8-14, NIV

Several things strike me. On a minor theology note, for example, according to most liberal scholars this is one of the earliest written passages in the entire Bible, but it still has a lot of features of the apocalyptic prophecy which isn't meant to be invented for another few hundred years...

But more importantly, here are the main features of God's judgement in the passage:

  • Earth shaking
  • Sky going dark at midday
  • Religious feasts turned into mourning for an only son
  • Famine of hearing the words of the Lord
  • Strong young people fainting because of thirst

All of those happened when Jesus was on the cross. Jesus truly is the one who bears God's judgement for us.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

A Christian Perspective on the Financial Crisis

Last week, we had some high-flying financial chap who is also a committed Christian come in and give us a talk about a Christian perspective on the financial crisis. You can read a rough summary of what he said here.

I want to give a different perspective...

After this I saw another angel coming down from heaven. He had great authority, and the earth was illuminated by his splendor. With a mighty voice he shouted:
" 'Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great!'
She has become a dwelling for demons
and a haunt for every evil spirit,
a haunt for every unclean bird,
a haunt for every unclean and detestable animal.
For all the nations have drunk
the maddening wine of her adulteries.
The kings of the earth committed adultery with her,
and the merchants of the earth grew rich from her excessive luxuries."

Then I heard another voice from heaven say:
" 'Come out of her, my people,'
so that you will not share in her sins,
so that you will not receive any of her plagues;
for her sins are piled up to heaven,
and God has remembered her crimes."


"The merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over her because no one buys their cargoes anymore — cargoes of gold, silver, precious stones and pearls; fine linen, purple, silk and scarlet cloth; every sort of citron wood, and articles of every kind made of ivory, costly wood, bronze, iron and marble; cargoes of cinnamon and spice, of incense, myrrh and frankincense, of wine and olive oil, of fine flour and wheat; cattle and sheep; horses and carriages; and human beings sold as slaves.


In one hour such great wealth has been brought to ruin!'


"Rejoice over her, you heavens!
Rejoice, you people of God!
Rejoice, apostles and prophets!
For God has judged her
with the judgment she imposed on you."

from Revelation 18, TNIV

Without going too deeply into how to interpret Revelation, an eschatological Christian perspective on the financial crisis might look something like this:

  • Financial markets and so on will be destroyed, therefore we should not find security in them.
  • At the end (or maybe even in the present), it will be clear that what exists as a world trading system is hostile to the Church.
  • It will be destroyed by God.
  • The Church's response should be to rejoice at the destruction of Babylon because of the hostility Babylon has shown to the Church.

This all somewhat raises the question of why it's so different now. I suspect it's partly that the Church is hugely compromised with society and with the world's view of money...

Thursday, December 04, 2008


According to Typealyzer (for which thanks to Bishop Alan, my blog suggests it is written in the style of a Myers-Briggs INTP. This is comforting, as I am an INTP, and like it that way.

The logical and analytical type. They are especialy attuned to difficult creative and intellectual challenges and always look for something more complex to dig into. They are great at finding subtle connections between things and imagine far-reaching implications.

They enjoy working with complex things using a lot of concepts and imaginative models of reality. Since they are not very good at seeing and understanding the needs of other people, they might come across as arrogant, impatient and insensitive to people that need some time to understand what they are talking about.



What is concerning to me is a) that they seem to have mis-spelt especially and b) that the person in the picture is clearly using a Mac, which I don't like as I find them harder to reconfigure...

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Head First Physics

Head First Physics is a physics textbook written by a friend of mine.

It's a really helpful way into thinking about mechanics (and it is pretty much all mechanics), especially for people who aren't that good at maths. It's aimed at an American audience, but it covers mechanics roughly up to the British A-level.

Amusingly, the first and last words in the book are by me! Here they are:

If you want to learn some Physics, but you think it's too difficult, buy this book! It will probably help, and if it doesn't, you can always use it as a doorstop or hamster bedding or something.

This is a truly remarkable book. The physics is taught clearly and without too much mathematics by looking at a series of well-chosen real-life or comedy tasks. If math really doesn't turn you on, this is a great way to learn Physics! I didn't think it was possible to do some of this stuff without calculus, but Head First Physics has done it.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Secular Academia and the Bible

There's an interesting discussion around my last post. The question is essentially whether Christians should read the Bible in the same way that secular academics tell them to. So here's my perspective on that.

I think it's important for some Christians to understand how and why secular academics approach the Bible. It's important for them to be able to speak the language of secular academic study, and to learn what they can from it. I hope I've done a bit of that myself.

It's also important that they don't accept all of secular academic conclusions about the Bible without critically examining them. There is no such thing as a neutral viewpoint when it comes to human academic endeavour, especially in theology. Some of the conclusions are helpful and valid. For example, recognising that a large section of the book of Joshua is in the same genre as a lot of Ancient Near Eastern victory lists, and therefore it doesn't necessarily all need to have happened at the same time or in that order, is important and helpful for understanding the book and its relation to history.

But a large portion of secular academic study of the Bible rests on the presupposition that God does not act directly in this world, and God does not speak in the way that Jesus (for example) claims that he does. I disagree with that presupposition on philosophical and experiential grounds, and therefore I feel at liberty to disagree with those conclusions of secular academia that rest on that presupposition. There are other bad presuppositions too, but that's the biggest one.

Because of that, and because Christianity is not fundamentally about getting a first at Oxford in Theology (though it's nice when that happens, it's really not very important!) but about being in a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, the priority of the Christian minister should be to teach what is true rather than just what the academics say.

That doesn't mean that what we do is at all academically irresponsible. The quotation I cited last time can be read as answering the simple question "Given the Christian understanding of Jesus as God, and the Apostles as inspired by God's Spirit, how should we read the Old Testament?" It was written by the former professor of Old Testament and hermeneutics at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia...

As a comment for my previous post, Speaker for the Dead made this good point.

If Jesus is the Son of God, our reading of the Old Testament should center around that fact... But if a Christian can demonstrate that the NT is an inspired document quite unlike any other, he is entirely justified in using it to analyze other inspired texts.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Understanding the Old Testament

A Christian understanding of the OT should begin with what God revealed to the Apostles and what they model for us: the centrality of the death and resurrection of Christ for OT interpretation... The reality of the crucified and risen Christ is both the goal and font of Christian biblical interpretation.
Peter Enns, Apostolic Hermeneutics

Friday, November 28, 2008


Paganism... is also a sort of permanent and natural magnetic pole of religion, and in this sense a constant threat for every religion. Christianity demands unceasing effort, continual filling of its forms with content, self-testing, and a "trial of the spirit". Any divergence between form and content, or the emergence of form as a value and goal in itself, is paganism. It is a return to natural religion, to belief in form, ceremony, and sacred objects without regard to their content and spiritual meaning. In this sense even Christian rites and sacred objects may themselves become centers of pagan veneration and may overshadow what they solely exist for: the liberating force of truth.
Alexander Schmemann, The Historical Road of Eastern Orthodoxy

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

God and Free Market Capitalism

There seems to be an assumption in many Christian circles, especially in the US, that God would be a free-market capitalist. (In the UK, people assume that God would be some kind of moderate socialist. Both seem to be completely wrong.) Here's a bit of Amos 8...

Hear this, you who trample the needy
and do away with the poor of the land,
"When will the New Moon be over
that we may sell grain,
and the Sabbath be ended
that we may market wheat?"—
skimping the measure,
boosting the price
and cheating with dishonest scales,
buying the poor with silver
and the needy for a pair of sandals,
selling even the sweepings with the wheat.

The LORD has sworn by the Pride of Jacob: "I will never forget anything they have done.

Amos 8:4-7, NIV

Isn't it interesting that Amos condemns in the same breath practices we would agree are immoral, like cheating with dishonest scales, and practices we would assume are perfectly legitimate, like boosting the price and looking forwards for opportunities to make more money?

Of course, I'm fairly sure that God wouldn't go down the statist redistributive route either - it quite clearly encourages laziness.

The sort of economic model God seems to be encouraging here is one driven by the priority of worship and rest (New Moons, Sabbaths) as well as hard work, and one driven more by love and concern for others (especially the poor) than by desire for profit and growth of the economy.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Quotes on Hell

My next essay is on the whole hell debate - eternal conscious torment v anihilationism and so on. Here are some quotes on hell that I've come across...

If any human beings find themselves in hell, they will have no-one but themselves to blame. If any find themselves in heaven, they will have no-one but the Lord to praise.
David Pawson

Our friends who long to get rid of the eternal punishment should cease to argue against God and instead obey God's commands while there is still time.
Augustine of Hippo

The principal danger of the 20th century will be: a religion without the Holy Spirit, Christians without Christ, forgiveness without repentance, salvation without regeneration, politics without God and a heaven without a hell.
William Booth

The road to hell is paved with good intentions.
Richard Baxter (I was surprised by who originally said it...)

It is safer for the evangelist to have hell more frequently in his heart than on his lips.
David Pawson

To remember hell prevents our falling into hell.
John Chrysostom, Homilies on Romans

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

J. John - Time Management

I heard J. John speak the other day. In my past experience, he's not a great writer (though he's certainly ok), nor a sharp exegete (or indeed a good ballet dancer). This was, however, the first time I'd heard him speak, and he really impressed me. Michael Green described him as "the best evangelist in England". One thing he said really hit me. It was something like this...

Do we have enough time to do everything God has for us to do?

If so, then why don't we have enough time?

The conclusion, of course, being that we do lots of things which aren't what God has for us to do, and to manage time better we need to avoid doing those things...

Monday, November 17, 2008

Quantum of Solace

I quite like James Bond films. Cheerful, escapist, random gadgets, most people acting heavily in stereotype, etc. In some ways, The World is Not Enough and Die Another Day were the archetypal Bond films - taking all the normal devices to such extremes it became self-parodying. I certainly laughed...

Like its predecessor, Casino Royale, only more so, this is not a classic Bond film. It is a well-made action film - more Bourne than Bond, but almost all the stereotypes are gone. Many would say it is darker for that. But is it?

I think that is actually a theme running through the film - who is the darker Bond - the violent, injured, over-tired Daniel Craig, or the calm, sophisticated Sean Connery or Pierce Brosnan? At the very end of Quantum of Solace, Craig steps into the role of the calm, professional Bond, but when he does it, he has become a calm, professional killer, who does not feel for the women he seduces and unintentionally leads to their deaths, and who no longer seems motivated by revenge, because he feels nothing for his victims. Which is colder, a man who kills out of anger and revenge, or a man who feels nothing as he does it? Who is more heartless, the man who is torn apart by wanting to kill those responsible for the death of the woman he loves, or the man who doesn't care what happens to the women he sleeps with?

Maybe Craig is actually the warmest and most likeable Bond yet, even if on the surface it seems the opposite...

More Quotes

We must not talk to our congregations as if we were half asleep. Our preaching must not be articulate snoring.
C.H. Spurgeon

So right! If we are not interested and engaged in what we are saying, how can we expect our congregations to be? (And why is that so rarely taught?)

The task of every generation is to discover in which direction the Sovereign Redeemer is moving, then move in that direction.
Jonathan Edwards

Edwards sounding remarkably charismatic there...

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Quotes from R.T. Kendall

Both from his wonderful little book Jonah.

If the Holy Spirit were completely withdrawn from the church today, the church would go right on as if nothing had happened. This is why men outside see the church as being no different from the world.

We just say 'Isn't it awful what the young people are doing today?' We don't realise that the young people have been asking questions and we are not giving the answers.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Charismatic Experience 3

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

7. Where possible, there should be follow-up after prayer ministry to encourage the working through of decisions made into the wider life of the individual.

8. “False” experience should be discouraged, since we do not want people's faith to rest on something that is not truly of God.

9. “True” experience should not be hyped, as this encourages false experience and also runs the risk of making such experience a badge of spirituality. While there is a slight tension here with my point 3, it is mostly resolved when it is realised that much of the effect of the Holy Spirit on the emotions does not result in strongly visible or audible signs.

10. Preaching should focus on the proclamation of Christ, not the proclamation either of the speaker or of experiences. While the style of the preaching should be appropriate to the content and therefore affective, the persuasiveness should come from the Holy Spirit and from the content of the message, not the style of the preaching. This is superbly exemplified by George Whitfield.

Interestingly enough, were these guidelines to be embraced, a large proportion of the criticisms both by the “conservatives” of the charismatic movement and of the “conservatives” by “charismatics” would vanish.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Funny Quotes

Some people say that there is a God; others say that there is no God. The truth probably lies somewhere in between.
W.B. Yeats

The Bible tells us to love our neighbours, and also to love our enemies - probably because they are generally the same people.
G.K. Chesterton

Both are from "If My Preaching's Bad, Try My Jokes" by David Pytches.

Charismatic Experience 2

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

And here are points 4-6...

4. Similarly, people within any given meetings should be equally open to the possibility that God will not overwhelm anyone at the meeting in this way. God is not a mechanistic process.

5. Discernment of the type outlined by both Jonathan Edwards and 1 John 4, should be regularly taught and strongly encouraged, especially in churches where such experiences are common and there is the danger of experience becoming theologically primary. It should especially be a core part of the training of prayer ministry teams, where such exist. The Scriptures must retain theological priority.

6. Leaders and those responsible for prayer ministry should be aware of and careful of physiological and other factors that might cause “false” experience, and should be careful concerning them, as well as praying against them, particularly ones created by deceits of Satan. There are occasions where it may be wiser to continue with prayer ministry when people are exhausted, but there are many others where it is wiser not to.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Charismatic Experience 1

I recently finished writing an essay on true and false charismatic experience, which finished with 10 recommendations. Here are the first three.

Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good.
1 Thessalonians 5:19-21, ESV

1. The structure of meetings should be such that when it is clear that God, through his Holy Spirit, is bringing conviction of sin, righteousness and judgement, then there should be a good opportunity to respond and to spend time allowing him to do his work rather than being distracted by the next thing happening. This might be via a structured and pre-prepared time of “prayer ministry” (for example); it might be via having the flexibility in the structure of the service to allow such a time to be introduced at short notice.

2. Since God gives gifts for the building up of the church, and there is no convincing argument that gifts of prophecy and tongues (for example – see 1 Cor 14:39 and 1 Thes 5:20) have ceased, there should be opportunity to use them within church gatherings, but when this is done it should be done in accordance with 1 Cor 14:26-33. [The precise nature of those gifts is a different matter...]

3. Likewise, both meetings structurally and individuals within the meetings should be open to the possibility of being overwhelmed by God in such a way that there are strong physical and emotional effects. Our praising of God and hearing about God should be of such a type to stir the affections. Indeed, if there is a long period without any perceived effect of the Holy Spirit on the emotions of an individual Christian, especially when they are focusing their attention on God, this should be cause for concern. The expectation of the possibility of emotional overwhelming includes the leaders of such meetings. Whitfield was overwhelmed in this way while preaching at least once, and situations where a distinction exists in expectations of experience between the leader and Christians in the congregation are, from my point of view at least, deeply suspicious.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Quotes on Preaching

To expound a Scripture is to bring out of a text what is there and expose it to view... The opposite of exposition is imposition, which is to impose on the text what is not there.
Stott, I Believe in Preaching.

My endeavour is to bring out of Scripture what is there and not to thrust in what I think might be there. I have a great jealousy on this head: never to speak more or less than I believe to be the mind of the Spirit in the passage I am expounding.
Charles Simeon.

Jesus taught profound truths in very simple ways, sadly today we do the exact opposite. We teach simple truths in profound ways, and a lot of the time we think we are being deep but we are just being muddy. Spurgeon wrote, 'A sermon is like a well. If there is anything in it, it appears bright and reflecting and luminous. But if there is nothing in it, it's deep and dark and mysterious...
J. John, Preach the Word

Preaching is not the proclamation of a theory, or the discussion of a doubt. A man has a perfect right to proclaim a theory of any sort, or to discuss his doubts. But that is not preaching. “Give me the benefit of your convictions, if you have any” said Goethe. We are never preaching when we are hazarding speculations. Of course we do so. We are bound to speculate sometimes. (but) ... Preaching is the proclamation of the Word, the truth and the truth has been revealed.
Campbell Morgan


How lightly expressions like "God-forsaken" are used! They are part of the terminology of casual blasphemy in cultures where religious formalism prevails or where the mass of the population is in a post-religious phase.
Alec Motyer, The Message of Amos

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Kingdom of Heaven

This is a surprisingly good film (when it came out, I heard that it was rubbish) about the Crusades, specifically the fall of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem. Typically, they've messed around with history a bit... Orlando Bloom plays Balian the blacksmith-turned-knight who realises the futility of it all.

Here's one of the best dialogues in the film (from about 1 hour 40 mins in):

[Bishop] How are we to defend Jerusalem without knights? We have no knights.
[Balian] Truly
(Balian looks around, and finds a teenage lad.)
[Balian] What is your condition?
[lad] I am servant to the Patriarch.
[Bishop] He's one of my servants

[Balian] Is he?
[Balian] You were born a servant. Kneel.
[Balian] Every man at arms or capable of bearing them, kneel! On your knees!
[Balian] Be without fear in the face of your enemies. Be brave and upright, that God may love thee. Speak the truth, even if it leads to your death. Safeguard the helpless. That is your oath.... Rise a knight. Rise a knight.
[Bishop] Who do you think you are? Will you alter the world? Does making a man a knight make him a better fighter?
[Balian] Yes.

That dialogue has great potential for talking about what the priesthood of all believers (for example) means...

There's lots of other interesting stuff in the film, like questions about who is a Christian and who isn't, and what it means for an earthly place to be called the "Kingdom of Heaven", as well as the importance or otherwise of the earthly Jerusalem. Can't say I agree with them on everything of course, though there are some good points made and it's interesting nevertheless...

In terms of the politics, people generally seem to agree that it's fair to everyone. There are good and bad people on the "Christian" side, there are wise and stupid Muslims (though I can't think of any Muslim characters who were bad in the way that some of the "Christian" nobles were, but on the other hand there are only a few Muslim characters who really get developed...).

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

U.S. Presidential Election

I asked this last time too...

With the US being over so many time zones, and with the exit polls and results from the East Coast having the potential to affect stuff on the West Coast and in Hawaii, why don't they just do the obvious thing, and have all polling stations open for the same 24 hours, so that in Maine it might be 5am Tuesday to 5am Wednesday, but in California it might be midnight Tuesday to midnight Wednesday or whatever. That way, all the polls would close at the same time, and results from one coast wouldn't influence those from the other.

A Common Word

This seems to be important. A group of Muslim scholars have produced a common statement of belief, with the aim of trying to get some kind of peace with the Roman Catholics.

However, the problems are all in the detail, and the BBC really don't get it... I'll just mention a few.

Significantly the letter acknowledged that the Prophet Muhammad was told only the same truths that had already been revealed to Jewish and Christian prophets, including Jesus himself.

Yes, but Muslims claim that the reason the beliefs are so different now is that the Christians and the Jews corrupted theirs, but the Muslims kept theirs the same. Incidentally, there is quite a lot of evidence for what the early Christians believed, and there is absolutely none that they believed the same as Muslims do today.

Or this, from the letter itself:

Non-combatants are not permitted or legitimate targets.

Well, quite. The question is over who isn't a combatant. Personally, I don't think that British civilians in London count, but others seem to disagree. And I don't think I've ever seen any Muslim in a position of authority arguing that Israeli women and children weren't combatants and that those who attack them are wrong.

Don't get me wrong, I think it's good to work with Muslims and that it is helpful to agree on some important ethical issues. But the BBC's:

The document examined fundamental doctrine and stressed what it said were key similarities - such as the belief in one God and the requirement for believers to "love their neighbours as themselves".

once again misses the point. For Christians, this is a response to God's salvation. Christianity is not about obeying ethical precepts. It is about a relationship with Jesus Christ, which then leads to us seeking to follow him.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Richard Dawkins (again)

An interesting quote from Richard Dawkins here, in which he casts doubt on the value of fairy tales.

Do not ever call a child a Muslim child or a Christian child – that is a form of child abuse because a young child is too young to know what its views are about the cosmos or morality.

It is evil to describe a child as a Muslim child or a Christian child. I think labelling children is child abuse and I think there is a very heavy issue, for example, about teaching about hell and torturing their minds with hell.

It's a form of child abuse, even worse than physical child abuse. I wouldn't want to teach a young child, a terrifyingly young child, about hell when he dies, as it's as bad as many forms of physical abuse.

High-standard invective and good understanding of how the media works with the repeated mentions of child abuse. However, if Christianity or indeed Islam actually are in some sense true, then it would seem to be abuse not to teach children to believe in them. Like failing to teach a child that crossing a road in front of a big lorry is dangerous. Is that child abuse, by terrifying them with the prospect of death?

Meanwhile, Melanie Phillips has written a very interesting piece about Dawkins, after the Dawkins v Lennox debate in Oxford last week.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Pearl of Great Price

No, this isn't about the Mormon book of that title - it's about Jesus' parable.

"The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.

"Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.

Matthew 13:44-46, TNIV

A few thoughts:

1. Isn't it interesting that the man sells everything that he has "in his joy"? He gives up everything he has and sells it and does so joyfully, because he is overwhelmed with joy at the value of the treasure.

2. We'd probably say the merchant was dangerously obsessive. After all, what good is it to gain a great pearl, but to have lost everything else, including any way to protect it, anywhere to keep it, even anywhere to live. But surely that is the point. The kingdom of heaven really is valuable enough to lose everything for. And we don't need anywhere to keep it.

3. When preaching on this, we tend to say that you don't really have to give everything up, but you have to be willing to give anything up. I think that's watering it down too much. I think we have to go through the psychological process of counting everything else as lost, so that we no longer claim anything as truly our own except Jesus. Only once we have lost our hold on everything else are we truly free to serve Jesus with them. Only once we have lost everything are we truly free from the things we thought we owned.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Bonhoeffer - Not Speaking

Often we combat our evil thoughts most effectively if we absolutely refuse to allow them to be expressed in words... It must be a decisive role of every Christian fellowship that each individual is prohibited from saying much that occurs to him.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Atheist Buses

This is a wonderful story... Well, I thought it was moderately interesting when I saw it on the BBC, but the way the Guardian do it is priceless.

Richard Dawkins:

This campaign to put alternative slogans on London buses will make people think – and thinking is anathema to religion.

Here's a picture of the proposed atheist slogan:

In case you can't read it, it says "There's probably no God, now stop worrying and enjoy your life."

Alpha's current tagline is "If God did exist, what would you ask?" Past ones include "Who Cares?" and "Is there more to life?" One of the features of the current Alpha campaign, just in case you hadn't noticed where this was going, is that the posters tend to ask questions.

So Alpha posters ask questions. The atheist poster says that there probably isn't a God, so we should stop worrying and enjoy life. Richard Dawkins, noted atheist, when commenting on this says that thinking is anathema to religion. The Alpha posters make people think. The atheist ones say not to. Hmmmmm....

Friday, October 10, 2008

Jack Deere - Surprised by the Power of the Spirit

This is a remarkable book. Usually, when I hear charismatics (as Jack Deere is) trying to persuade non-charismatics, they say silly things along the lines of it being important not to be scared of the work of the Holy Spirit. That's silly because the non-charismatics by and large aren't scared of the work of the Spirit - they just disagree over what the Spirit does and doesn't do. Nor does it help when charismatics tell them that God is bigger than their box - usually the question isn't whether God can do things, but whether he does.

Jack Deere, however, used to be a cessationist, and this book is different because it is a charismatic ex-cessationist writing to try to persuade cessationists, and doing a fairly good job of it.

Deere's basic argument is that cessationism is inconsistent because it claims to disallow arguments from experience, while at the same time cessationism itself is an argument from experience (or lack of it). He argues that the natural reading of the Bible is charismatic rather than cessationist, and dismantles the classic cessationist argument that miracles occur in three periods to authenticate revelation.

I have to say that on balance I think he does a good job. But then, for me the question isn't over the existence or continuation of the so-called charismatic gifts, but about how they are used.

Saturday, October 04, 2008


I've spent most of the last week thinking about death, funerals, etc.

One of the things that struck me most was when thinking through the doctrine of the Resurrection (the general one - us all being raised from the dead at the end), I realised that the vast vast majority of Christians seem to live specifically as if it were not true, except when confronted with the death of someone close to them. We invest far too much in this world, and our heart follows our treasure.

The church today denies the practical reality of the General Resurrection because it denies the practical reality of death by joining our culture in its conspiracy of silence. If we are genuinely to think and live correctly in the light of the General Resurrection, we need to be decidedly counter-cultural in the time and emphasis we give to death.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Fractal Revelation

Lots of stuff written about how to understand the Bible, especially the Old Testament, is written quite badly. It (the stuff, not the OT) is unclear and uninteresting and often repeats the same obvious points. I think it is because they don't tend to realise that there are a lot of good analogies between the way that the Bible works or the way that preaching works and the way that a lot of the rest of life works. [Dale Ralph Davis seems to be a major exception to this rule because he applies everything so well and keeps it relevant.]

This is an attempt to explain what sometimes gets called "multiple horizons" (a bad title) in a way someone like me would understand easily...

Back when I was a maths geek, I used to like patterns called fractals. Here's a picture of one:

What is special about fractals is that you can zoom in on them as much as you like, and they still look the same. With that fractal, if you picked any of the little circle things and zoomed in on it, you'd get exactly the same pattern as you do with the big picture.

You get the same sort of idea in lots of other fields besides maths - sometimes in a piece of music, one little bit of it shows you something of the pattern for the whole. Or in a book, one scene or action represents the pattern of a much larger section.

Well, it's pretty much the same in the Bible. Often we get little episodes that have the same pattern as much bigger ones. For example, 1 Samuel 2, God has mercy on Hannah, who is sad because she can't have children. Hannah sees that as a pattern of how God has mercy on Israel, which is barren, by giving them a king, which is what Hannah is part of. But we can now see that that itself is part of a much bigger pattern - God having mercy on a spiritually barren world by giving us Jesus. It's the same pattern at lots of different levels, like a fractal.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Thoughts from Psalm 10

This is a rough outline for a sermon I haven't been asked to preach (that being by far the most common type).

When we look at the world, it is hard to ignore the injustice, the suffering, the inhumanity of humans to other humans. And we rightly cry out to God for justice. And the message of this Psalm is that God will hear the cries of the oppressed, the victims. He will hold the Hitlers and the Pol Pots and the perpertrators of genocides and the paedophiles to account. He sees. He hears. He listens. And he will act.

But that is only part of the story. You see, we love to think that there are good people and there are evil people, and that there's something seriously wrong with the evil people, but we're ok. But actually, when you look at it and think about it, that's rubbish. Hitler was democratically elected in Germany. If we had been German in the early 1930s, half of us would probably have voted for Hitler. The Hutus in Rwanda were people, just like us, and yet so many of them were driven by their situation to kill and main their neighbours. As GK Chesterton wrote in his Father Brown stories, we are each capable of pretty much any crime, it just depends on our background and the situation. That is why there is an increasing emphasis on restorative justice, on trying to help people break cycles of criminality and so on. Now, I'm not saying for one minute that we shouldn't condemn people who do wicked things. I think we all know that we have to condemn them. I'm saying that when we do condemn them, we also condemn ourselves.

God is ready, willing and able to act against the criminals of this world. So why hasn't he done it yet? Because when he does, it will mean utterly destroying humanity, which is of this earth.

And yet, instead of that, he comes to earth himself as a man and suffers injustice. He becomes the victim of the oppressor as well as their judge. And because he is the victim, he can then forgive the oppressors. He suffers at our hands the punishment we ourselves deserve, so that we - the wicked - need no longer stand under his judgement if only we will put our trust in him and be born again.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

True and False Needs

All true needs - such as food, drink and companionship - are satiable. Illegitimate wants - pride, envy, greed - are insatiable... Enough is never enough... That is the horror of the giant in John Bunyan and the wicked witch in C.S. Lewis who gave their victims food that causes greater hunger.
Herbert Schlossberg, Idols for Destruction

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Stone the Builders Rejected...

Isn't it interesting that people's number one problem with God as depicted in the Bible (or pretty much anywhere else) is that innocent people suffer?

And isn't it interesting that the way God solves people's real number one problem - the fact that we all reject God and ignore him and deserve to be separated from him - is by the suffering of the one truly innocent man - Jesus? That God takes what people see as the greatest problem of divine existence onto himself, and uses it to solve what he knows is the greatest problem of human existence?

Truly, as it is written:

The stone the builders rejected
has become the capstone;
the LORD has done this,
and it is marvelous in our eyes.
Psalm 118:22-23, NIV

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Why We Need Humble Preachers

Over the years, I have observed that the majority of what Christians believe is not derived from their own patient and careful study of the Scriptures. The majority of Christians believe what they believe because godly and respected teachers told them it was correct.
Jack Deere, Surprised by the Power of the Spirit

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Quotes on charismatic manifestations

I'm currently on holiday and doing some reading on charismatic manifestations - I'm aiming to write an essay on their use and abuse...

Both in Scripture and in church history godly preachers, far from being manipulative, have sought to suppress manifestations, which sometimes persist in spite of the preachers' attempts to stop them.
John White, When the Spirit comes with Power

There is one basic reason why Bible-believing Christians do not believe in the miraculous gifts of the Spirit today. It is simply this: they have not seen them.
Jack Deere, Surprised by the Power of the Spirit

Whitfield - Preaching with the Pope

If the pope himself would lend me his pulipit, I would gladly proclaim the righteousness of Christ therein.
George Whitfield

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Sin and Woundedness

There are two very different ways of describing what is wrong with the human condition that are common among Christians. (Actually there are more, but I want to focus on these two.)

Many, especially doctrinal traditionalists (e.g. traditional Catholics, conservative evangelicals) say the problem is sin - that we do things wrong and the attitude of our hearts is naturally away from God. This finds one of its clearest expressions in the Reformation doctrine of Total Depravity, which says that every aspect of who we are is tainted by sin. It doesn't say we are as wicked as we can possibly be (that's a bad caricature). In this case, our fundamental need is forgiveness / reconciliation. The root of that belief goes back at least to Augustine in the 400s.

Many others, especially those who are less scared of doctrinal innovation (e.g. charismatics) prefer to say that our main problem is fundamentally our woundedness or brokenness - it stems from the ways we have been treated by those around us who in turn are acting as they do because of their woundedness. We are then unable to relate to God as Father properly, for example, because we have had difficulty trusting our own human fathers because they were only human. In this case, our fundamental need is for healing / restoration. This belief seems to date back at least to Rogerian psychology.

Of course, what I have written above is a vast over-simplification. Traditionalists would not deny the importance of healing for abuse and charismatics would not deny the importance of forgiveness for sin. What I am discussing is primary emphases, and even then many whom I have said fall in one camp actually fall in the other.

Both of these descriptions are actually models - they simplify reality to make it easier to talk about. Both of them are popular, I suspect because they are actually Scriptural models - they are ways that the Bible talks about the human condition. Jesus is the one who forgives sins and who binds up the broken-hearted, and who proclaims release for the prisoners. And I think both are in some ways helpful and in some ways unhelpful - if we only use one model in our own thinking, we will get drawn into thought patterns that are not so Biblical.

For example, if we only think about sin, there is the implicit assumption that we are all free agents, whereas actually we are slaves to sin and our sinfulness is bound up with the sinfulness of others. This tends to lead to a lack of love and compassion for sinners. I suspect, for example, this lies behind why charismatics are much better than conservatives at prison ministry. I think the more that we see sin as something corporate rather than just individual, the more this model becomes helpful.

On the other hand, if we only think about the need for healing and restoration, we tend to forget about notions of guilt and wrath, which are very much there in the Bible. Jesus's death becomes less meaningful. Hell becomes merely our normal destiny which some people fail to escape. And the question of how the first people came to become wounded becomes more pertinent. We lose track of precisely what Genesis 3 is doing there. There is the implicit assumption that we are born good, but it is society that has made us sinful, which is straight out of Rousseau, not the Bible.

The same could of course be said about other conceptions of the problem with the human condition - Irenaeus's idea of immaturity, for example, which is especially popular among the Orthodox. It is a Biblical model which is often helpful and sometimes dangerously incomplete on its own.

We need to remember that our sinfulness leads other people into sin too, that we often need healing from the wounds of others' sin as well as forgiveness for our own. But we also need to remember that many of our wounds are self-inflicted and self-worsened, and that we are culpable for many of them and for the consequences of them.

Against this background, Jesus stands alone. He is the one who was sinned against and wounded, but those wounds did not lead him into sin, and yet he kept on loving and showing compassion for those who were wounded and enslaved themselves. He is the one whose perfection shows up something of the depth of our imperfection.

We need to stop thinking like our models are actually exhaustively true.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


Ah, this brings back so many memories. If I was still teaching, I'd make the upper 6th kids watch this...

Saturday, September 06, 2008

John Eldredge - Wild at Heart

This is meant to be a book about men and what a man should look like psychologically. It's kind of like a Christianised version of a cross between half of Men are from Mars... and a self-help book. Except that the 'Christianisation' is very clearly American and very clearly charismatic, with some of the weaknesses of both.

It's worth saying at the outset that I think there may well be qualitative psychological difference between men and women as well as quantitative ones; the question is what they are. Although Eldredge is an experiences counsellor, I have yet to find any men who think that Wild at Heart is a good explanation of what it is to be a man. (I have, however, found quite a few women who think that the 'sequel', Captivating is a good explanation of what it is to be a woman.) And of course, when I judge a book like this, all I have to judge it against is myself and male friends of mine. I suspect that the book may well work better for 'average' men living in the Western US - I suspect that's who Eldredge knows and has counselled.

Of course, there are some good insights. Probably the best one is the idea that men benefit from being given permission to do what they think they ought to do. However, this seems to get slightly confused with Eldredge seeing what people think they ought to do as being what they are called to do by God, which is crazy. He does backtrack on it a little in the final chapter where he clarifies that it's true of people who are sufficiently spiritually mature (for which read that if it's not true of you, you just aren't mature enough yet).

Eldredge sees the three fundamental desires of men as being to fight a battle, to have an adventure, and to rescue a beauty. Of the three, I think it is the idea of having an adventure as a fundamental desire that I am most sceptical about. If he allowed it to become a metaphorical adventure, then that would probably be better, but his language remains pretty heavily literal on that one. Linked in with this is the whole idea of 'wildness'. In one story he recounts, he describes his young son as a 'wild man', and the son asks him if he really means it. Now without tones of voice, I wouldn't know what answer the son would want to hear (but Eldredge assumes it has to be 'yes'). Wildness, which Eldredge very strongly associates with the outdoorsy aspects of US culture, has implications of strength and freedom, but also of lack of civilisation and inability to relate - kind of like Crocodile Dundee, only more so. Would a wild man live in a house, or outside? Would he use cutlery at a nice restaurant? And so on. I think there probably is something under all the rubbish, but I wish he'd made a better job of explaining it.

The area I find most interesting / disturbing is Eldredge's conception of 'the Wound'. According to Eldredge, boys at some stage receive a single put down, usually from their fathers, which makes them think they cannot be real men. What is needed is then for them to discover that and overcome it. All sorts of questions arise:

  • Why is it 'wound' (singular)?
  • Does that imply that they would be better (in some way even sinless?) if their father had not done that? - I think it seems to stem from a Rogerian conception that says that sin is all about us not feeling good enough about ourselves (which doesn't work).
  • Eldredge is right in his (eventual) insistence that we need God's approval not man's, but I don't think his message has anything to hold out to the man who is already well-adjusted.
  • Why is it so programmatic?

All in all, there are some interesting insights here, but a lot of muck as well. If he thought through questions like "Why has the Church said for over 1000 years that men's fundamental problem is their pride?" and "Do these patterns manifest themselves in the same way in every man?", the book could be a lot better.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Sheep and Goats

On a website I visit from time to time, someone asked the perennial question about Matthew 25:31-46 and what it means about salvation. Here's my answer...

Things to note in the passage:

1) Matthew often has very strong and stark divisions of humanity into two groups.

2) This is judgement on the basis of how people treat the disciples, which has consistently been linked in Matthew to how people treat Jesus (e.g. 10:40). "These brothers of mine" is a clear reference back to 12:50, where it is "whoever does the will of God".

3) This is judgement of who is in which category, not how people get into each category - they're already sheep and goats here, the question is how the judge tells which is which. Getting to be a sheep is by grace, through faith. Staying a sheep is by grace, through faith. Distinguishing between sheep and goats is here done by their attitude to other sheep.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

12 Angry Men

For a very low-budget film that flopped when it was released in 1957, it's amazing that it is currently ranked 10th in the IMDB list of greatest films of all time. It's the top black-and-white film on the list, unless you count Schindler's List.

Apart from a very brief scene at the start and the end, the film is entirely set inside the jury room at a murder trial which requires a unanimous verdict and carries a compulsory death penalty, with the 12 men being the jury. In the jury room, there are no names given; and we only find out the occupations of a few of the men.

Obviously based on a play, lots of very clever lines, a good few twists, as each piece of evidence comes more and more under scrutiny.

The acting is excellent, there's good character development, it's very very good for thinking through how and why people think what they think or change their minds. Great film. Top 10 of all time? Maybe. But certainly the sort of film that people doing a job where the truth matters would do well to watch.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

A Healthy Church?

Back once again to the Purpose-Driven Church movement. They give out awards for having a healthy church, which seem to be assessed entirely on their standard criteria - does the church have an explicit and deliberate emphasis on worship, discipleship, fellowship, evangelism and service? Problem is, plenty of churches can have that and be chronically unhealthy.

Here are some extra questions...

  • Is the preaching normally preaching systematically through the Bible rather than just whatever the preacher wants to say that week?
  • Are Christians there excited about Jesus?
  • Do visitors actually feel welcome?
  • What is the drop-out rate through the youth work, right up until they are fully integrated into the main body of the church? Ideally, it should be negative.
  • How well are different social groups integrated? Do people primarily love and mix with other people like them or do all members of the church genuinely learn from people from different social, economic, age backgrounds?
  • If the church stopped being all about God, how long would people take to notice?
  • Does the worship reflect well on the worship band or on God?
  • Does the preaching reflect well on the preacher or on God?

Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Good Shepherd

I was visiting an old Catholic church in Olinda, Brazil with a Brazillian pastor friend of mine. On the roof of one of the rooms was a painting of a bloke with a beard (presumably meant to be Jesus) and the words "EGO SUM PASTOR BONUS". My initial reaction was surprise that I could understand it so easily, before realising that was because it was Latin, not Portuguese. I was then slightly surprised at how similar it is to the Portuguese "Eu sou o bom pastor", whereas it translates into English as "I am the good shepherd", from John 10:11 (and 10:14). And yes, I know, Latin-derived languages and all.

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
John 10:11, TNIV

And that got me thinking. We're so familiar with those words and the ideas behind them we think "yeah, yeah". Bad shepherds - run away when wolves come or whatever (as in v12-13). Only in it for themselves (as in v13 and v8). Jesus isn't like the bad shepherds in Ezekiel 34 or whatever, because they didn't look after the flock, but Jesus will. But we miss the huge force of what Jesus is saying.

The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
No he doesn't. Sure, a good shepherd will try to protect the flock from wolves or whatever, and he will care about the sheep rather than just his wage packet, but a good shepherd wouldn't seriously endanger his own life for a bunch of stupid wooly grass-eating dimwit quasi-suicidal animals. That would be utterly stupid. The shepherd should know that at the end of the day, he is still far more important than his stupid sheep. Yes, a good shepherd cares for his sheep but what sort of shepherd lays down his life for the sheep? A crazy one. One who has his sense of value all mixed up. What would the funeral be like? "What a great guy, he died so these sheep we're going to eat for lunch could last another couple of days." Mad.

But I think that's closer to the point. The point isn't so much that Jesus is being a good shepherd and looking after his flock well in comparison to the other shepherds, who didn't look after the sheep and were in it for themselves, though that of course is in there. But Jesus is going crazily overboard in the other direction - he is the shepherd who of course is worth far far more than the sheep (us) but who loves us so much he dies for us anyway.

Jesus is such a good shepherd that he goes beyond our notion of what good means into what seems to us to be totally crazy love for us. That is how much he cares for us, that shows us how he leads us. What a contrast to the way even the world's idea of what a good leader is and does!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Luther on Apologetics and God's Love

Rather than ask why God permits men to be hardened and fall into everlasting perdition, ask why God did not spare his only Son, but gave him for us all, to die the ignominious death of the cross, a more certain sign of His love towards us poor people than of his wrath against us. Such questions cannot be better solved and answered than by converse questions...

It seems best not to inquire why God sometimes, our of his divine counsels, wonderfully wise and unsearchable to human reason and understanding, has mercy on this man. We should know without doubt that he does nothing without certain cause and counsel. Truly, if God were to give an account to every one of his works and actions, he would be but a poor, simple God.

Martin Luther, Table Talk

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Brazil 18 - Some of What I've Learnt

An old friend asked me if I'd learnt anything in Brazil. This was my reply...

I suppose the biggest thing has been something of what it means to trust God without holding onto any material things. But also a lot about people - about how women are still house-proud when all they have is a one-room shack, how ugly society can get when material advancement is prioritised at the expense of everything else, the way that corruption can lead to so much suffering and yet the people who own virtually nothing and live in an illegally-erected shack which is semi-permanently a foot deep in dirty water are often happier than those who are working 70 or 80 hour weeks with the luxury beachside appartments. Except when they've watched one or both of their parents be murdered - that seems to upset people quite a lot, but I've even seen hope for them.

I've seen the difference that one woman can make to individual lives and to an area by planting a church on a rubbish dump where the human life expectancy is 26 and where people thought of themselves as little more than cockroaches. I've seen the way that witchcraft always seems to take hold in the lowest places, and something of the way that Jesus can break that hold.

So yes, I've learnt quite a bit. ;o)

Returning and Blog Networks

I'm leaving Brazil tomorrow (hopefully), and should be back in the UK soon. Still lots to say, about all sorts of things.

I've also started using the Facebook blog network application. If you're on facebook, and you read this blog, feel free to add it on the blog network thing. Or not.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Brazil 17 - Andressa Duarte

I've been in Brazil for 5 and a half weeks now, and I think I've been shown this video 5 times. It's well worth watching, and it's only 5 minutes or so.

For those who don't speak Portuguese (like me!), here's a translation:

Life is a countdown...

Hope, framed in the smile

the mission, engraved in the heart


Sunday - Public Evangelism

And on Sundays, the radio, I start with the devotional.

there's some time for the children, where I tell them some stories,

then later, there are prizes,

and this is the schedule for every Sunday.

Monday - Witnessing

[Andressa Duarte Barragana - 14 years old] Monday, I study in the morning...

and in the afternoon we do a lot of missionary work.

Tuesday - Humanitarian Help and Bible Class

Tuesday, I visit the nursing home.

There we sing, pray, we play...

There are some people, that are so lonely, you know?

they really open their hearts to us.

Wednesday - Social Work

Wednesday we get together at my house,

to work with the community co-op.

We do decoupage, roofing tile decoration,

We do... glass work, picture-framing, we decorate refrigerator magnets,

lots of arts and crafts

'cause the families that work at the co-op are very poor families.

Friday - Intercessory Prayer

Friday, I started a group for intercessory prayer.

So each kid gets these prayer requests, that comes from several churches,

and pray for the name they get on that little piece of paper.

The intercessory prayer, it's very interesting, because

many requests were already answered through our prayers, you know?

Because there is power in prayer.

Sabbath - Personal Evangelism

On Sabbath I wake up a little earlier and invite some kids to go to church

So, that's what my week is like.


On that Sabbath, the same week, I was baptized, then next Thursday I started the small group.

The first person that I went to was Robert. I told him,

Robert, you're going to be very important for this small Group, Robert.

One would take the roll call, the other was a deacon, the other a receptionist, the other a deaconess,

the other would distribute the handouts,

but, every one that had a position there,

they had to bring 2 friends.

So, the number of children was increasing.

From 10 to 20, then 25... today there are about 45 kids there.

The interesting thing is that through my small group it was possible to do all these missionary work.

I'm a normal kid, because

I study, I play, when I have time. I enjoy my parents,

Hang out with my sisters...

Jesus give us 24 hours.

If we take 1 hour to do missionary work,

distribute a pamphlet, a bible study course,

...because... Jesus is coming,

He is showing the signs, the prophecies.

All that is being fulfilled

If we don't do our part now,

If we want to do it tomorrow, maybe there will be no time.

and there was no more time

March 22th, 2008. 7:15 am, Sabbath - Pelotas/RS/Brazil. Last day of Easter Week.

While Andressa was on her way to preach at her church, her car crashed into a truck.

At that automobile tragedy, 4 women passed away.

Including Andressa, 14 years old.

In the little time she lived, she did much.

More than 100 people were baptized, and innumerable others were influenced by her example.

She did all she could, while she could.

How about you?

"If we don't do our part now, If we want to do it tomorrow, maybe there will be no time."

"If we don't do our part now, If we want to do it tomorrow, maybe there will be no time." Andressa Barragana (1994 - 2008)

I live for Jesus

Transcription from here, which seems to use a Creative Commons license.

Brazil 16 - Weddings

I had the privilege of attending a Brazillian wedding the other day (and even some of the reception). I hardly knew the bride or groom, so it all felt a bit odd, but thank you very much to them and the others who made that possible. Here are a few quick reflections on major differences from English weddings. Well, the ones I've been to anyway...

  • Timing - Brazillian weddings are normally in the evenings. This meant that the starters at the reception (buffet) were at about 11:30pm. I left shortly before midnight, so I don't know what time the main course was.
  • Dress - men were in suits and ties (which are as smart as Brazillians get - apparently it's what they wear for university graduations, but not for work). As a result, many of the suits probably fit the wearers better a few years before... Women were mostly in evening wear / ballgowns, which created a bit of an odd mix. The groom was in a smart jacket, white shirt and silver tie. Close friends of the groom were also in suits, with a matching buttonhole.
  • Children - it is normal in Brazil to have a young boy dressed as the groom and a young girl dressed as the bride. They come down the aisle together and feature in some of the traditional Brazillian wedding photos. And no, they weren't the couple's kids.
  • Parents - the groom enters the church with his mother before the bride enters with her father. Both sets of parents had throne-type seats on the stage, facing sideways and just behind where the bride and groom were standing. At one point all four parents gathered round the couple to pray for them.
  • Photographers - I think I counted 4 official-looking photographers, and three video recordists, one of whom had a very bright light he shone at people when recording them. They were swarming all over the place, often being almost in the faces of people taking part in the service. It was not unusual to have a very restricted view of the bride and groom because of photographers.
  • Official photographs - there were quite a few (including groups) taken in the church immediately after the service, but before the bride and groom processed out. The congregation sat quietly and watched.
  • At one point, the bridesmaid processed up the aisle with a single rose with a ribbon tied round it. But she seemed to keep the flower and ribbon afterwards - I don't know what the point of that was.

Brazil 15 - Politics 2 - The Force of Madness

Well, it seems as if good old Nilton has pretty much stopped with the noisy vans and the flag wavers and so on, which leaves the main person doing the campaigning as being Andre Campos. In the interests of equal-opportunity blogging, I thought I'd give you some reasons not to vote for Andre "The Force of Madness" Campos...

  • He is incapable of smiling (see above picture), and yet his face seems to be better than any of his policies, which aren't mentioned.
  • He can't count either. There are clearly two people named on the election poster (his proposed vice-prefeito is in the small print at the bottom), but three faces. Or maybe him or his vice-prefeito is just very two-faced.
  • He has the biggest and the loudest loudspeaker vans. If an Andre Campos van is driving past your block, and you have the misfortune to be on the ground floor, you can't hear loud rock music. He is therefore the least considerate of all the candidates.
  • He appears to be some kind of communist (see above picture).
  • As well as the forms of campaigning which never should have been legal, he still uses some of the forms of campaigning which are no longer legal, like painting on walls, which is apparently Officially Naughty now. All the people I've seen actually painting political stuff on walls (rather than political stuff that was already painted) have been painting Campos.
  • In common with the other candidates, he is reported to have offered assistance to several church groups, but only if they agree to endorse him.
  • The poorest area I have been to in this city had all the walls plastered with Campos slogans, which suggested he is the buyer-in-chief of the votes of the poor.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Purpose-Driven Movement - A Reassessment

My initial reaction to much of the Purpose-Driven movement was that there is a fair bit of wisdom there, but little that is distinctively Christian. There is little emphasis on doctrine, and actually the book Purpose-Driven Church would work pretty much just as well for a mosque, synagogue or health club. And quite a few of the organisations that subscribe to the Purpose-Driven philosophy seem somewhat batty.

Over the last few weeks, I've seen some more of the movement. I've read bits of Doug Fields' book Purpose Driven Youth Ministry, and I've met and heard talks by some of the Purpose Driven Worship team from Highlands Fellowship, whose website includes this rather strong recommendation of Rick Warren's work:

God had given Pastor Rick Warren his plan for our generation, and now Jimmie knew that God had the same in mind for the church in Abingdon. [That's Abingdon, Virginia, USA, not the original one.]

And I have to say (despite the above quote) that I have been generally very impressed by what I have seen. Both groups - both Doug Fields and the folk from Highlands have stressed the importance and priority of the youth worker / music group member's relationship with and dependence upon God even above their skill as a youth leader or musician. Both of them seem to be using the "purpose-driven" approach simply to mean the importance of thinking through what you are doing and the way you are doing it beforehand, and aiming it all to God's glory.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Brazil 14 - You Might be Brazillian If...

All anecdotal...

  • The "sweet biscuits" section in your local supermarket is larger than the tinned / processed vegetable section and the pasta section put together, and you think this is normal.
  • If you are trying to get to sleep, and there is a loud and not-especially efficient fan in the room, you would turn it on.
  • You think that an acceptable way of reserving your parking space on the pavement is surrounding it with ankle-high black chains, ready for some unsuspecting numpty (me, for example) to trip over them while walking at night.
  • You think that a postal service which might deliver to your house / flat every 10 days or so is normal.
  • You are surprised if anyone maintains the building they live in.
  • Most people you know have both black and white recent ancestry (Brazil has almost total mixing, in large part because it was founded on mixed marriages).
  • Given that, you do not remark on the fact that most people on Brazillian TV programs are whiter than average, and most people in the slums are blacker than average.
  • You see lots of skyscrapers every day, but have never seen a crane that builds them. (The Brazillians seem to do without, and don't seem to have the big girders in theirs. My guess is that makes them much harder to maintain, and it's much harder to tell how safe they are.)
  • Faced with a choice between doing something the labour intensive way and using a machine to do it, you employ people to do it the labour-intensive way. Labour here is very cheap.
  • You think that cheap plastic garden furniture is completely normal for use indoors.
  • You think that the main function of canals is to dump "used water" into.
  • You think that the Falklands War is really interesting, and you aren't British. (My guess - it's because Argentina lost, and the Brazillians like that).
  • On entering a shared dormitory where people are already asleep, you carry on talking in a loud voice.
  • Regardless of physical and financial conditions, you stay cheerful.
  • You think the main purpose of fire escapes is storage.


Ah, the Olympics. Which raises my question about swimming...

I can understand why swimming is an Olympic sport. But a simple analogy with running demonstrates the injustice. If swimming in different styles is considered a separate discipline, why not running in different styles? If someone can get medals at swimming in backstroke, breaststroke, freestyle, etc, why isn't there a medal for 100m running backwards or 100m running with hands in pockets? Given that, it's hardly surprising that there's always some swimming bloke up for winning a ridiculous number of medals.

And, for that matter, if there are different weight classes in weighlifting, so you can have a medal for the weedy guy who can lift the most, why aren't there weight classes in the shot-put or height classes in the long-jump?

It just seems unfair. It looks as if the athletics, which after all is the really headline-grabbing Olympic stuff, is being deliberately discriminated against when it comes to awarding medals.

My preference? Scrap weight classes and swimming styles and everything. Have medals for mens and womens swimming, at 100m, 200m, etc. And they can swim however they want to, same as with the running. Or with the weightlifting or fighting or whatever, they can be whatever weight they want.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Sermon on Matthew 14:22-33

Yesterday I found myself preaching twice, with translation into Portuguese. This is roughly what I said... The passage was Jesus walking on water from Matthew 14:22-33 because I don't think it's right for the preacher to choose the passage, and that was what the C of E lectionary said...

Today is Fathers' Day. I wonder what your memories of your fathers are like. Maybe they are bad and painful, maybe they are good. Maybe you don't remember your father. Maybe today is happy for you or maybe it is sad. But wherever we are, I think today's passage has something important to tell us about what it means for God to be our perfect Father.

I want to tell you about one memory I have of my father. I was only a boy then, and I was learning to ride a bicycle, but I was very scared of falling off. So we went to somewhere where there were not many cars, and my dad made me practice. I would try to ride the bicycle, and he would run along behind, holding it. After we had been going for a while, he told me that he often let go – that I had been riding the bicycle on my own, without him holding it.

That is one of the most important things that fathers do – they teach us how to do things and then help us feel that we can do them.

In some ways, that is very like what God does for his people in this passage, and in some ways it is very different.

To help us understand this passage more clearly, we will think about it as four events – four moments in the life of Jesus.

The first moment is that Jesus prayed. Jesus prayed. I want you to picture the scene. It is evening, the sun is setting, Jesus has sent the disciples and the crowds away, and he goes up a mountain to pray. It would be easy for me to talk here about how important prayer is – that even Jesus, God himself in human flesh, saw the need to pray to God for a long time, even until three or four o'clock in the morning. That means he was praying for about 9 hours. Jesus saw that praying was so important that he was willing to spend 9 hours praying when he could have been with his friends or sleeping. And it is critically important that we understand that, but that isn't where I would like to focus our attention this afternoon.

You see, Jesus had climbed a mountain, and was praying, while his disciples were in a storm on the lake. The Sea of Galilee, where they were, is a big lake, maybe 30 kilometers across, with a ring of mountains all around it. When Jesus was up the mountain, he would have known what the weather was like on the lake. He would have known that the disciples were in a storm, and he was praying. Quite possibly, there was a storm up on the mountain too – mountains tend to get very stormy, and yet he kept praying.

Jesus sent his disciples into a storm, and they did not know where he was. And yet he knew where they were, and he remained where he was, praying.

Is this what we feel like sometimes? Do we sometimes feel as if Jesus has sent us into a situation, and things have turned difficult, and we do not know where he is. Because that is what we see here.

It is like me as a boy riding the bike, if the first time I had been riding the bike, I turned round and suddenly could not see my father, I would have been terrified. But my father did not let go to start with, and when he did let go he kept running behind the bike so that if I looked round he would be there. He only let me ride off on my own once I felt more confident doing it.

And this is not the first time the disciples had been in a storm on the lake. In chapter 8, Jesus was with the disciples in a storm like this, but he was asleep in the boat. They woke Jesus up, he told the storm to calm down, and it was calm. They already knew that Jesus could defeat storms on the lake. But this time Jesus pushes them a bit further – it is a storm when they cannot see Jesus with them. And that is often how Jesus deals with us. He teaches us to trust him through difficult situations, then when we learn to trust him there, he teaches us to trust him in situations that are a bit more difficult. He is gentle with us – he does not give us more than we can bear.

But there is a big difference between Jesus and my father as well. When I was learning to ride a bike, the aim was that eventually I would be able to ride my bike without my father around – good earthly fathers teach us to be more and more independent from them.

But that is not what God is like, because God is not an earthly father. With earthly fathers, eventually we need to learn to be totally independent of them, and though we might still love them and respect them, we do not rely on them for everything. But with God, it is the opposite. As we grow up as Christians, we need to learn more and more to trust him in everything. We need to learn to become like little children in the way we rely on God.

So what the disciples need to learn here is that even when they cannot see Jesus with them, even when they cannot feel him with them, he is still in control and they can still trust him.

And the same is true for us. Even when it feels as if Jesus is not there, he is still in control, he still loves us, he does not abandon us, he is still praying for us – yes, Jesus, the one who made the universe by his powerful word is now praying for us with his words. He has promised always to be with us by his Spirit.

The second moment in this passage is when Jesus walks on the water. Jesus walks on the water. In the Bible, seas and lakes always represent chaos and uncertainty, especially when there is a storm. And this time, Jesus shows his complete control over the sea by just walking over it. It's far better than what the Israelites did when they came out of Egypt, when God sent a wind to make a path through the sea. Here, the wind is making the sea worse, and Jesus just walks on over it. He shows that he is totally in control. Whatever the situation is, however chaotic it is, Jesus is Lord over it.

But the disciples' first reaction is fear. They don't know what's going on, they don't understand it. And so they are afraid. And Jesus speaks to them immediately. He tells them not to be afraid, but the reason that they shouldn't be afraid isn't anything to do with his power. Jesus isn't safe. He is terrifyingly powerful, but the reason that the disciples should not be afraid is that “It is I”. The reason we should not be afraid of God is that we know what he is like. We know that he loves us. But more than that, the words Jesus uses to say “It is I” are the same words God used when he appeared to Moses in the burning bush. Jesus is saying that the disciples should not be afraid because he is the God of Israel – he is the God who has shown for centuries his love for his people and the way that he keeps his promises. We can trust God because we know what he is like, and we know that he loves us, and that he always sticks with his people.

The third moment is when Peter walks on the water. Peter walks on the water. And this is wonderful.

verse 28 “Lord, if it is you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.” Peter sees Jesus' power. Peter knows that God is the sort of God who wants us to rely on him, who wants to get us out of places where we are comfortable so that we rely on him only. But at the same time, he is not mad. He does not just think that all that matters is trusting that God will help us – he knows that what matters is trusting that God will help us when we obey him. He does not just step out of the boat – he asks Jesus to tell him to step out of the boat, because when God commands us to do something, God's word is powerful and he enables us to do what he has commanded.

When I see pictures of this, or imagine it, it is almost always a lovely calm day, with still water. But this is in the middle of a storm. Peter trusts Jesus, he trusts the power of his words, that if Jesus tells him to walk on water in a storm, he can do it. What wonderful faith! What wonderful longing to be with Jesus, to lose everything that makes him comfortable!

Where are we comfortable? What is it that makes us feel that we are safe, that everything is ok? Because Jesus wants us to learn to trust him without any of that. We have to be willing to let go of it and step out on the water, trusting only Jesus.

Of course, it may well be that God sends us back to where we are comfortable, but the key is learning to trust him.

I do not know you. I don't know what you trust apart from Jesus. But I can tell you about what God has done for me over these last few weeks in Brazil.

In England, I used to be a science teacher in high school. I gave that up to go to seminary, and moved from a house to one room. But I was still comfortable there, with a lot of books and a car and a wonderful girlfriend. When I came here, I had to leave all of that behind. Normally, I love speaking in English and listening to people speak. I like to sit down and talk for a long time. But now I am in Brazil, where not many people speak much English. Almost all the things I brought with me from England have either broken or been lost for a while while I am in Brazil. There have been times when I have not been able to speak to my girlfriend, or have not been able to eat food. I am here in Brazil for 40 days, which is the length of time that Jesus spent in the desert before his ministry, and I have been learning, like Israel learnt in their 40 years in the desert, that man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God, and that that word is Jesus – that the bread I need to eat and the water I need to drink, that is Jesus. Jesus is what I need to survive, and nothing else.

Jesus calls us to step out, like Peter did, from where we are comfortable, and to rely on him only. But more than that, Jesus wants us to ask to step out of the boat.

Peter asks Jesus to tell him to come out of the boat. Jesus says “come”, and Peter comes out. He leaves where he felt safe, where he felt secure, where he felt comfortable, and goes to Jesus on the water. That is what the Christian faith is. That is what it means to follow Jesus.

For Peter, it is impossible. But Jesus calls him to do it and he does it, because Jesus gives us power to do the impossible.

For many of you, it will be much easier than it is for me. One of the many dangers of living somewhere like England, where people have so much, is that we have so much that we must leave and let go of before turning to Jesus.

What might we have to leave? Maybe it will be how we are comfortable in our friendships – that people think we are just like everyone else, and we need to talk about our relationship with Jesus. Maybe it will be the language we use, or the way we think about other people, or the way we treat others. Maybe what we must leave behind will be the way we think about Jesus – the way that we imagine him to be, or that we think he only loves people like us, or that he does not love people like us. I cannot tell you which area of life it is where Jesus is telling you to leave where you are comfortable and come to him – to him as he really is, as we see him in the Bible.

But the story does not end there. Peter is looking to Jesus, he is trusting Jesus, and he walks on the sea. But then he looks at the waves and the wind and he gets afraid, and he begins to sink. And in the same way, it is so easy sometimes to be distracted by how difficult it is to follow Jesus, that we stop looking at him, and we start failing. Maybe that is where some of us are today. We have been trying to follow Jesus, but we have taken our eyes off him and are sinking.

If that is us, then do as Peter did. Cry out to Jesus “save me”, and fix our eyes on Jesus, as it says in Hebrews 12:1-2
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Fourth moment – the disciples worship Jesus. The disciples worship Jesus. This is the first time in Matthew that they call Jesus the “Son of God”. Jesus has led them out of where they were comfortable, by the storm and for Peter, by walking on the water. And as a result, they see Jesus better, they know him better, they see his power more clearly, they understand more about who he is. And when it is all over, when he is in the boat, the storm dies down, they know that Jesus is with them, when it is all over, they worship Jesus.

My father let go of the bike because he knew that even though it would be difficult for me, I would need to be able to ride the bike in the future, that I would enjoy life more and could travel around more easily if I could ride a bike.

In the same way, Jesus does not just call us out of where we are comfortable and to trust him because he can. He calls us to trust him more because that way we can see him better and worship him more, and that is what we were made for. That is where we can find true joy, that is where we can live life as it was meant to be lived. knowing and worshipping the one true God through his son Jesus Christ.

So what are we going to have to let go of? What areas of comfort is God going to lead us out of? How are we going to have to ask Jesus to lead us away from where we feel comfortable, away from where we feel like we know how to live and what to do, and how to trust in him and him only?