Showing posts from 2013

December Magazine Article

It's time to start thinking about Christmas.  Here's my attempt at for our December church magazine.


“Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:11 NIV)
It's nearly Christmas. No really it is! We're in December and in no time at all it'll be Christmas Day. I don't know about you, but I'm not ready yet. I haven't done the cards. I haven't bought the presents and I've no idea about Christmas lunch. But of course, that's not what Christmas is all about.
Christmas is about a virgin who became miraculously pregnant. A baby born miles from home in less than hygienic circumstances. Angels making announcements all over the place. Visitors from the fields and from far away. It's an amazing story and right at the centre is Jesus. Who is this baby who arrived in such a dramatic way? Why are we still remembering his birth 2000 years later and 2000 miles from where it happened?
I think the an…

A Future Church of England: Being Missional with Respect to Women Bishops and Homosexuality

So the Pilling report is out and is suggesting the possibility of blessing same-sex partnerships in the Church of England and the General Synod has voted for a proposal on Women Bishops.  Lots of people will draw lots of links, but I have been thinking about one in particular.  Both proposals are often argued for on the basis of mission.  I.e. we must have women bishops and bless same-sex relationships because it is good for the mission of the church, stops it being out of step and looking weird.

Conservative Evangelicals, such as myself, naturally turn to the Bible and argue that by falling short of God's standards for the church it undermines the mission.  But I want to consider the argument a little differently.  The missional argument takes a rather one-dimensional view of our society.  I minister in Muslim-majority parishes, where, if I understand it correctly, the majority would oppose gay marriage and women in religious leadership would at least be a significant issue.

For …

Humble Servants: November's Magazine Article

This coming month's article for the church magazine.
“If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all” Mark 9:35 (NIV)
Humility is not a common characteristic of people in our media and in our culture.  We live in a culture obsessed with the importance of self, whether it's self-confidence, self-help, or self-esteem.  For the Christian, Jesus turns this attitude on it's head.  If you want to be great in his eyes then you need to be a servant of all.
In the past I've done school assemblies focussing on Jesus' attitude to children in Mark.  I wanted to show the children how much Jesus cared for them, but I was struck by the challenges for adults.  In this passage in Mark 9, where Jesus is teaching his disciples the principle of humble service, he brings a child in front of them as a kind of visual aid.  To be a servant of all, you need to be willing to serve even this child.  Perhaps that is not as radical today as it was then.  We …

Review: The Faith We Confess

What does the Church of England believe?  The frustrating lack of an answer to that question was one part of an earlier post.  However, despite the practical evidence on the ground, the Church of England is a confessional church and its position is found in the historic formularies, i.e. the 39 Articles, the Book of Common Prayer and the Ordinal.

In recent times, less and less attention has been paid to these formularies, which is sad, particularly for those in the Church of England who identify with the Reformed faith which they represent.

In The Faith We Confess, Gerald Bray has provided an excellent introduction to the 39 Articles, which in particular focus on the doctrine to be believed in the church.  Anyone who reads the Articles will see how incongruous much Church of England belief and practice is with them.  Bray skillfully and engagingly takes us through the Articles reflecting on history, theology and the contemporary situation.

The main substance of the book is 39 chapter…

A Future Church of England: Doctrine

I heard a story recently of a family who came to a Church of England church children's holiday club.  One of the ministers was talking to them afterwards and they were shocked to find out it was actually a C of E church.  Why?  Because they thought the Church of England was for people who didn't believe anything!  Clearly there had been some content in the holiday club.

But I think that is a common perception of the C of E.  It seems that pretty much any view within the C of E is tolerated.  Although the irony is that traditional views are perhaps the least tolerated!  You may have seen the reports in 2002 about the belief of ministers in the C of E, which disclosed that around a third of ministers doubted the physical resurrection of Jesus, around half doubted the virgin birth and half don't believe Jesus is the only way to salvation.

Certainly, anyone who's been on the inside of the C of E for any time knows that the sheer variety of what people (perhaps especially …

Urban Ministry: People I

In my last urban ministry article, I suggested that it was important to separate the principles (valid in all ministry situations), from the application.  I think this really helps us when we come to thinking about people.

One of the big buzzwords in mission and evangelism at the moment is contextualization.  At it's best, this is thinking as clearly as possible about how to present the unchanging gospel to different cultures and people groups.  However, I think it's possible to jump too quickly down the contextualization route - especially because it's quite interesting.

A Reader in my previous church often used to say when he came to the application section of his sermons that although the particular Bible passage was written X number of years ago, that people are basically the same now as they were then.  I think that's an important point to grasp when reaching urban people groups, especially if they are very different in lots of external ways to the people group w…

A Future Church of England

There's undoubtedly quite a lot of debate about the future of the Church of England, particularly on the issues of gender and sexuality. These are undoubtedly significant issues. They are issues that may well destroy the denomination.

There's also quite a lot of debate about some more practical issues.  There are problems with finances, buildings and numbers of clergy, which could also lead to the collapse of the denomination depending on how they are addressed.

And of course there are the political issues.  How does an established church fit in with a largely secular society?  What about church schools?  What about bishops and the House of Lords?

However, with or without the Church of England, i.e. by reformation or by collapses, the Lord will build his church (Matthew 16:18).  With that in mind, I wanted to write a series of blogs reflecting on the Church of England now and what I think it should be aiming for in the future and even how it might get there.  Clearly that will…

Overflowing Faith

Here's my next magazine article.  I'm currently reading and enjoying David Jackman's Understanding the Church, which it appears is now out of print.  That's a shame, because it's very helpful and is providing the stimulus for my current articles for the magazine for the churches I serve.
See what you think if the next article.
On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink.Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him." (John 7:37-38 NIV)
It seems that everyone has a strategy, or a plan, or a technique for getting churches to grow. Yet many individual churches are in fact declining and the overall picture in the UK is a picture of decline. I suspect the underlying issue is not that church leaders are using the wrong techniques or strategies (however useful some may be!). I suspect the problem is spiritual.

Resources on Ruth

Over the last few weeks we've been preaching through the book of Ruth in church.  It's been a great joy as we've seen God's sovereign kindness in his plan of redemption both for Ruth and Naomi and for us.
As I've been studying to preach, I've used a number of really helpful resources. More for the preacher, I found Barry Webb's chapter in Five Festal Garments to be really helpful at the literary and biblical theology end. Leon Morris in TOTC was useful at the background and verse-by-verse end.
At a more popular level, but extremely useful still for the preacher were Iain Duguid's sermons, which are free from the Preach the Word website. I found careful attention to the text, clear explanation and thought-provoking application. I also read John Piper's A Sweet and Bitter Providence, which is from a set of sermons on Ruth. It's excellent. Faithful to the text. Theological. Applied. Passionate. All the things you would expect from Piper. It is also f…

Urban Ministry

In recent times, conservative evangelicals in the UK seem to have been beginning to switch on to the need to reach out with the gospel to those in urban priority areas in the UK.

Currently, Tim Challies is doing a series of blogs on the 20Schemes project in Scotland.  Tim Chester has recently written a book called Reaching the Unreached and there is a regular conference of the same name.

This is a good thing.  It addresses the fact that the evangelical church and perhaps especially the conservative evangelicals, have tended to be rather middle-class.  This wasn't always the case if we think back to the Wesley and Whitefield revivals.  However, it would probably be fair to say that most conservative evangelical churches are middle-class, most seeking training for full-time ministry are middle-class and most of the money (not surprisingly!) resides in middle-class congregations.  To be fair, those things are probably true outside conservative evangelicalism.  Certainly within the C…

Mission Possible

New churches and a new magazine to write for.

Here's my article for September.  Comments welcome.

Mission Possible?
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20a NIV).
Do you remember watching Mission Impossible (the TV series or the films)? In each episode a hidden tape recorder would provide all sorts of details about corrupt politicians, spies and so on and would end with, “Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to...This message will self destruct in 5 seconds.” Followed by a puff of smoke.
Well these verses from Matthew are the Mission Impossible moment in the Bible. This is the mission that Jesus leaves to his disciples and in turn to us. The heart of that mission is making disciples. Disciples are people who follow Jesus, i.e. who trust in Jesus as their Lord and Saviour. Our mission is to tell people abo…

Preaching with Clarity

There seems to me to be a backlash in the world of preaching.  A rebellion against those sermons which had three points all beginning with P.  I don't know really if there was a time when there was lots of preaching like that - I don't remember it if there was.  Similarly there are those who don't like points at all, or outlines, or use of powerpoint and so on.  There are also those who want us to preach narratively and so on.
I wonder if it's just me, but increasingly I listen to preachers and I can't make head-nor-tail of what the point is.  It's not that there's not good stuff in the talks - there is.  It's not that they haven't thought about the Bible passage or that they haven't thought about how to communicate.  It's not even that they haven't thought about the application.  It's that I can't, ultimately, make out what they're trying to say.  I can't follow the train of thought.  It becomes words, words, words.
At …

Review: The Glory of the Cross

Each Easter, I try to read a book, or part of a book, on the cross.  This year I confess to feeling a little tired, and so I went for the booklet, The Glory of the Cross by James Philip.  It is based on sermons that Philip gave as minister of Holyrood Abbey Church in Edinburgh and has been published as part of the Didasko Files series from IFES and the Lausanne Movement.

The booklet starts by reviewing the last 24 hours of Jesus' life, with sections on the Last Supper, the Garden of Gethsemane and the Trial.  Philip then looks at some of the theological significance of the cross: the Just for the Unjust, Justification and Sacrifice (including penal substitution) and Redemption.  In the final section, The Glory of the Cross, he looks at the cross and evangelism and returns to the gospel accounts to look at Calvary.

The content is solidly evangelical, engaging and easy to read.  Philip covers a lot of important material in a relatively short space and he has the preacher's eye …

A Priority to Preach

This is my final article for the church magazine before I leave Blackburn for Rochdale.  It's a reflection on the priorities of a church minister.

 “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge:Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction.” (2 Timothy 4:1-2 NIV)
This is my final month as curate before we move to Rochdale and so I have the opportunity to write this article for the final time. The verses above are the apostle Paul's charge to his young trainee Timothy on doing his ministry. They are good words for any minister to have in front of them perhaps especially a young(-ish) trainee leaving one post to start a new one.
For a minister, they are solemn words. They remind us that what we do is in the presence of God and Jesus who will come again to judge. A minister's work h…

Review: The Sixty Minute Father

Rob Parsons is the founder of Care for the Family which describes itself as a charity "working to strengthen family life" and "motivated by Christian compassion" but whose "resources and support are available to everyone, of any faith or none."  (For more information see their online booklet Because Family Life Matters).  The book the The Sixty Minute Father by Parsons is published under the Care for the Family banner.  That background is important, in case you come to the book thinking this is explicitly Christian or Biblical teaching on being a father - it's not, although you may be able to discern some Christian principles behind it.

The book is written on the premise that dads need to be more intentional both in making time for their children and in using that time fruitfully, especially in the light of the overly busy lives of many dads in our current society (Parsons starts with the illustration of the dad in the film Hook).

He outlines 10 goal…

Review: The Purpose Driven Life

So I'm slightly over ten years behind the rest of the world, but I have finally read The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren.  This is probably the biggest selling Christian book ever (after the Bible of course) and Warren is Pastor of one of the biggest churches in America.

The book is designed as a 40 day discipleship devotional and is structured around 5 purposes:

You were planned for God's pleasureYou were formed for God's familyYou were created to become like ChristYou were shaped for serving GodYou were made for mission For various reasons it has been criticised and Warren has often been lumped in with other megachurch pastors who have watered down the gospel.  I think this is probably unfair.  It's worth listening to John Piper interview Rick Warren to get a feel for where Warren is coming from.  For myself, from reading what he has written and listening to this interview, he seems a solid evangelical pastor doing good work for the Lord.
So, some observations abo…

What Would We Ask God? - Why Do We Fail and Yet You Keep Forgiving Us?

The last of my magazine articles on the top questions people in our congregations wanted to ask God.


It's the final question of our series on questions we would ask God and it's a great one to finish on: Why do we fail and yet you keep forgiving us?
First, this question is very realistic about what we're like as Christians. Although, in God's strength, we do make progress in our holiness, this side of heaven we will continue to sin. Paul describes the battle within us: “For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want” (Galatians 5:17 NIV). Similarly John writes to Christians: “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8 NIV). Christians continue to sin.
Second, this question describes God's gracious nature very well. He does keep forgiving us, despite our failures. Joh…

Questions we Would Ask God: Help!

Another of my articles for the church magazine, which attempts to answer questions people have for God.


We are up to our ninth question from the congregation survey I did (back in 2011!) to find the top ten questions we would like to ask God. In answering them, I'm not trying to be God (obviously!), but to look at what we can know of the answers from what God has told us in the Bible.
This time, the question is simply: Help? A number of the questions you wrote down were requests for God to help, whether with situations in our lives, or perhaps for help to live a better life. The instinct of the question is absolutely right. In Philippians 4:6 Paul writes: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (NIV). This reminds us that God is the person to bring everything before in prayer, including asking him for help (although we mustn't forget to say thank you to him as well!). The Psalms, the…

The Church and Gay Marriage

The debate and vote on the Gay Marriage Bill are obviously hot topics, both in the media and in the church at the moment.  Evangelical Christians will rightly largely be very disappointed to be seeing this going through parliament.  Adrian Reynolds has written a good article in responding as preachers and in general as Christians.
I had a couple of thoughts seeing the vote and the debate that led up to it.  I think the crucial one is simply that we can't surprised that a country of people who don't share our evangelical Christianity (and consequent commitment to Biblical authority) don't follow a Christian and Biblical ethic.  In many ways it's interesting to see within the Conservative party in particular some residual Christian-ethic, but, as evangelical Christians, we know that in many ways we have been losing these battles in society for some time now.  The reason, at it's simplest, is that most people are not evangelical Christians.  Martin Salter has helpful…

A Useful Blog on the Abba/Daddy Question

I've wondered for a while about whether it's really right to thing of Daddy as the right sort of translation for Abba.

This blog gives a useful summary of why it may not be right.

Book Review: Every One A Winner

I decided I wanted a bit of lighter reading over Christmas and being someone who enjoys sport and hearing Christian testimonies, I picked Every One A Winner by Jonathan Carswell and Emma Newrick off my shelf.

Roger and Jonathan Carswell have published quite a few books of testimonies now and this one has a specific focus on sports people.  Some quite well-known internationals, such as Jason Robinson (Rugby) or Debbie Flood (Rowing) and some less well known.  This variation in "fame" is itself really helpful, because it helps to see that it's not just a celebrity Christian book, but a book about real people and their commitment to Christ.  In the light of sad stories of no longer Christians like Jonathan Edwards, this is wise I think.

In the book there are eighteen short, well-written and easy-to-read chapters, which give the Christian testimonies of these sports people and relate their Christian faith to their lives in sport.  It's interesting to see common themes c…