'For now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord….'

Archive for gospel

The death of religion…

A very interesting article published today by the BBC.

I, for one, long for the demise of religion. It stinks!


A pastor’s toil (joy!)…

If you believe that the local church is God’s agent for reaching cities & communities with the gospel (we do at CCK), then you’ll also recognise the gifts that are given to the local church to accomplish this task.  Pastoring is one of them.

My tongue is firmly in my cheek as I use the word ‘toil’ in the title of this post………because I actually mean ‘joy’.

If you are a busy pastor (paid or unpaid) there is a reality that flocks need shepherding…… and it’s hard work!  So in one sense it certainly is toil.

But the joy I speak of (or satisfaction, thrill, pleasure) is the reward of hard labour (toil).  It’s the fruit of helping people to apply the gospel to their lives in an atmosphere of grace and accountability (Christian community).

The pastors joy comes when you see men & women :

~ allowing the truth of the gospel to shape their attitude & perspective on life

~ leaning on truth (of who they actually are in Christ) rather than lies that suggest otherwise

~ turning from consumers into cultivators & producers in the context of local church

Ok, for those of you ‘toiling away’, here are some great tips for practical pastoring.  Not originally my own, but nonetheless appreciated and implemented appropriately :

  • Beware ministry stereotypes
  • Be yourself
  • Remember the goal of pastoral ministry
  • Be full of the word and full of the spirit
  • Relate to people primarily on the basis of what you have personally seen, heard or discerned
  • Set boundaries when appropriate
  • Never make a vow of secrecy
  • Help people to take responsibility
  • Help people to take action
  • Check out the basics
  • Make use of resources
  • Know when you are getting out of your depth
  • Recognise there is rarely one key to a complex situation
  • Do not make promises you cannot keep, but keep the ones you do
  • Always take a suicide threat seriously
  • Do not see women alone

Credit goes to Steve Walford (fellow CCK elder). Check him out here…

Shame reduction…

I listened to a very interesting (poor choice of word….) radio discussion the other week about a chap (formerly 32 stone in weight, now down to 25 stone) who had opted for radical stomach surgery in an effort to combat obesity.

Along with his weight reduction (physical) he was also having to deal with shame (emotional).  How to reduce it, that is.  He couldn’t completely remove it himself, so ‘reduction’ was worth a try.

In our Western world we don’t ‘do’ shame…….. not like the African or Asian cultures.  Why?  Arrogance?  Issues of shame remain untouched by our modern cover-up jobs.  In our pride we call it ‘low self-esteem’.

The bible is huge on this issue, right from the start…….. ‘They were naked and without shame…’   A few verses later they are ‘covered’ with shame.

Low self-esteem is the modern language for it, because our culture cannot stomach (no pun intended) the word and its appalling connotations.

Someone once said that ‘the Gospel is like a medicine cabinet for every ill’ (flawed, like every analogy) and that must include shame.  We will all ask at one time or another, ‘What do I do with my shame?’   It’s a big question.  Being exposed, shown to be unclean (outcast, rejected etc.) is our fear.  The gospel not only forgives, it cleanses.

Weakness is also the bible language for shame.  Paul says in 2 Corinthians 12:9 ‘I boast in my weaknesses’ (no human would do that naturally), because he knew that Jesus (at the cross) exchanged it for strength.  Quite an exchange!

When you see the bible theme of shame more vividly, it will deepen your appreciation of the gospel.  Our culture is great at spotting it, calling it low self-esteem and attempting to ‘reduce’ it, but removing it?  Clueless.

In his first bible letter, Peter writes to those suffering Christians (the dregs of society, outcasts).  He reminds them that depsite their position, everything gets righted at the cross of Christ, the most shameful moment in human history.  He then goes on to remind them who they now are.  ‘A chosen people, royal priesthood….received mercy’.

Allow the gospel (Jesus taking our shame) to not just reduce but wipe away all shame. Only Jesus can do that.

David, a man flawed…

In 1501, 25 year old Michelangelo began working on his colossal masterpiece, the 17 foot tall marble ‘David’.  From a huge block of marble that had been abandoned decades earlier by another sculptor, Michelangelo took on the challenge of David, portrayed in the Bible as the young shepherd boy who slew the giant Goliath, and went on to become the valiant, just and God-appointed Hebrew King.

Michaelangelo's David

Michelangelo's David

Michelangelo was painter, sculptor, and architect.  In his era, all three forms of art were thought to be based on an artistic discipline built on knowledge of the male human form.  Sculpture was considered the finest of art forms, because it mimics divine creation; the sculptural image found within the block of stone, much as the human soul is found within the physical body.

The ‘David’ is considered a masterpiece, an ideal male form combining heroic strength and human uncertainty.  It was erected in 1504 in the public plaza of Florence, the Piazza della Signoria.

All a bit high brow, granted.  But the story of how Michelangelo sourced the block of marble is fascinating.  As an up and coming sculptor, renowned for remarkable skill, the quarry owners were falling over themselves to supply him with the purest marble block for the commissioned project.

But the artist was looking for something special, something that really did suggest human soul and human uncertainty.  A pure white block was not what he wanted, but he set about seeking a block that was flawed in some way, cast aside and abandoned, deemed unfit purpose.

And this is what he did.  He sourced a block that has been cut decades before but never used because of its percieved low quality.  But Michelangelo’s understanding of the bible David (his triumphs & failures) had to be represented in the sculpture.  The block was flawed.  It had numerous discolourations and was far from pure.  Just like the man David, just as Michelangelo saw him, magnificent yet flawed.  A noble ruin.

I have no idea of where Michelangelo’s understanding of the gospel or bible truth lay, but when you hear a story like that, it’s gets you chomping at the bit to include it in a preach!  It’s possible that he came to understand David (from boy to King) as he studied his character and life in preparation to sculpt him.  Seeing him in his triumphs and failures, under the hand of God’s mercy and favour, perhaps caused the artist to think.

Michaelangelo, self-portrait

Michelangelo, self-portrait

Here’s the deal.  We are image bearers of creator God (noble, and very good), yet fallen in rebellion (ruin).  David was a great leader, example and King, yet ruined by error (ie. adultery & murder).  Not much hope, eh?

But Jesus came to put right every flaw, every error, all that ever ruined us.  He was flawed for us, took them upon himself, that we might regain nobility.  Perhaps Michelangelo knew this and put real soul and uncertainty into his David for that very reason.


On a recent day off, Ali and I decided to go and see Ricky Gervais’ latest cinematic offering, ‘The Invention of Lying’.  Oh dear.  I cant lie to you……..whilst it had it’s moments (amusing & poignant), it was generally low quality viewing.

For fans of Gervais’ wry humour (famously the Office & Extras), it certainly had the cleverness of wit and observational comedy throughout, but the plot line was pretty weak.  As one critic puts it, ‘the film deserves high marks for cleverness, but low ones for humanity and warmth’.  And that is about right.

But more interestingly for me, as a Christian I was challenged on all sorts of levels.  Some of the content was unnecessarily crass (as is quite a lot of Gervais’ humour!), and this guts me because he doesnt need to be.

A few years ago, the standup comedian Frank Skinner decided to do all his shows without one blasphemas utterance or profanity, and was acclaimed for it!  I dont want to come across as a freakish ascetic but some of it is really not necessary.  I’m often stunned at the certificates awarded by the BBFC, and for this to be a 12A did surprise me a bit (or did it?  Uh oh, I’m sounding old!).

But the moments of offence were counteracted by some observationally funny ones, and I found myself laughing out loud in the darkened room (cinema).  However, the power of the film (of what there is of it) comes from staring plain in the face the desperation and futility of the human condition without God.  But of course, I’m observing it from my gospel world-view, seeing how Jesus and the cross are the remedy for all these failings.

The premise of the film is this.  Nobody tells lies – everyone must tell the truth.  One day, Mark (the Gervais character), tells a lie and finds that he is believed without question!  It becomes an incredible power which he uses to his personal gain.

But things come to a head when he visits his mother on her deathbed and, in an attempt to console her fears of passing on into a void of eternal nothingness, he tells her of the beautiful afterlife awaiting her that he claims to have been told of by an otherworldly presence that he refers to as ‘the Man in the Sky’.  However, word of his story gets out and suddenly the entire world is eagerly lapping up his every utterance, even the seemingly contradictory ones, about the afterlife, morality and why the person responsible for such much happiness in the next world can also be responsible for so much misery in this one.

Mark (Ricky) lies to his dying mum

Mark (Ricky) lies to his dying mum

Most folks understanding of Christianity in our culture, is a misunderstanding.   And Gervais’ understanding of gospel truth is certainly that.  He has a terrific grasp of worthless religion though, and his swipe at it (having initially made my blood boil) is spot on.  What a terrible existence it must be, to feel you must earn points with creator God and be tossed into hell for not performing to the standards of ‘the Man in the Sky’ (as He is dubbed in the film).

Funny that.  A film about lying, and there is Gervais perpetuating the big lie that we must earn favour with God to have any hope of ‘a mansion in heaven’.

I discovered that Gervais studied philosophy as a younger man, and is a fierce atheist.  He is actually an Honorary Associate of the Secular Society.  He self-confesses his atheism in a ‘5 mins with…’ interview which you can watch here, and of course it’s his blatant swipe at religion that makes this film interesting if you hold a gospel world-view.

My conclusion?  Possibly worth seeing on DVD, but dont rush to rent it.  But thanks are due…….

Thanks God that I’m free from the chains of religion.  Thanks Ricky for reminding me.  Thanks Jesus for pleasing ‘the Man in the Sky’ for me….

Great value…

I really appreciated the considered comments made by Dave Bish (of Frontiers Exeter) on the value of building effective Small Groups in our churches.

Like Dave, I totally believe in Small Groups as the essential fabric of church life.  Being in community is not our made up scheme, but actually God’s design.  He exists in community, and the model is there for us to observe and draw from.  We also see it outworked by the early church in Acts 2:42-47.

Small Groups are one way the church carrys out effective pastoring.  If you are actively engaged in a Small Group, then you are ‘known’.  When you are known, you can enjoy the spiritual, physical, emotional and practical care of skilful shepherds whom Jesus has given the church.

I also believe in preaching, and the power of God to change people in their seats through it.  The challenge for us is connecting ‘preached truth’ (pulpit-pastoring) with real life outside of Sunday.  Small Groups need to be the context for making this happen, and seeing moments in God truly outworked in an atmosphere of grace and accountability.

When we dont think hard about or neglect the Small Group element of building church (in whatever form it takes), we fail to create sanctifying, gospel-centered communities that strengthen our foundations.

Here are Dave’s helpful thoughts (paraphrased a bit by me!) that argue for the value of robust community-building frameworks :

~ The impulse to avoid painful growth by disappearing safely into the crowd in corporate worship is very strong

~ The tendency toward passivity in listening to a sermon (ie. being provoked but taking no action) is part of our human weakness

~ Listeners in a Sunday crowd can more easily evade redemptive crises.  If tears well up in your eyes in a Small Group, wise friends will gently find out why, but in a large gathering, you can just walk away from it

~ Listeners in a Sunday crowd tend to neglect efforts of personal application.  The preach may touch a nerve of conviction, but without someone to press in (like a Small Group pal), it can easily be avoided

~ Opportunity for questions leading to growth are missing.  Sermons are not dialogue……nor should they be.  But asking questions is a key to understanding and to growth.  Small groups are great occasions for this

~ Accountability for follow-through on good resolves is missing.  But if someone knows what you intended to do, the resolve is stronger

~ Prayer support for a specific need, conviction or resolve goes wanting.  How many blessings do we not have because we are not surrounded by a band of friends who pray for us?

Small Groups provide great value and build strong church communities……..