Monthly Archives: January 2011

Permission To Struggle With God In Prayer

Today, I attended for the first time a Leaders’ Forum at Waverley Abbey House, home of CWR. These days (free, gratis and otherwise at no cost) had been recommended by a new ministerial friend here. The theme was The Leader’s Vital Breath – Prayer. I thought I would share one insight that came in this afternoon’s session led by Philip Greenslade.

Giving us an extended treatment of Psalm 73, he contrasted Islamic treatment of the Abraham story with the Jewish and Christian approaches. Referring to the incident where Abraham bargains with God for the salvation of the righteous in Sodom, he noted that the Qu’ran deletes the bargaining and Abraham is basically told to shut up. In other words, it’s pure Islam: ‘submission’ (which is what the word ‘Islam’ means). On the contrary, both the Jewish and Christian approaches allow for honest struggle with God in prayer (hence Psalm 73). Quoting Abraham Heschel, who said that for the Jewish prophets, ‘Thy will be done’ involved effectively praying ‘Thy will be changed’, he said that any proper understanding of ‘Thy will be done’ has to include Gethsemane.

Does not all true prayer involve struggle, he asked? If prayer is only submission (and some Christian traditions are guilty of this, too), then is it true prayer? Good question.

I think we are learning this lesson of being able to be honest with God in prayer more and more in today’s church, but it was good to have such a thought-provoking underlining of it.

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Sermon: Unwrapping Discipleship

This Sunday, I get to preach at one of my colleagues’ churches. So I’m reverting to the Lectionary for one week only. There are a few things in this sermon that have appeared before, notably in the first point. Please excuse that if the odd bit is something you’ve read from me before.

Matthew 4:12-23

Both Debbie and I had our main Christmas presents after the big day. I had asked people for money or vouchers that I could put together so I could buy an Amazon Kindle e-reader. Debbie followed a similar route, and when she had finally weighed up the options and dismissed the idea of a new phone, she ordered a new camera. Like me, she ordered her present online from Amazon.

Being cheapskates – or as we like to think of it, good stewards – we ordered both products on Amazon’s free Super Saver Delivery. Effectively, that means second class post. Amazon gives you an estimated date by which your order should be with you.

I had ordered my e-reader first. I memorised the due date. I counted down, like a child. The due date came. And went. I phoned the local sorting office to see whether it was there and got a jobsworth who really couldn’t be bothered. Eventually, it turned up two days late, left outside the front door by the postie, even though we weren’t in. Debbie’s camera was a similar story. Apparently it was all down to a backlog they were still trying to clear since the snow of November and December.

We waited for the time of fulfilment and were disappointed. In that respect, we were like the people to whom Jesus came. Matthew tells us that his house move from Nazareth to Capernaum was fulfilment of the prophetic hope (verses 12-16). Just as Debbie and I (OK, particularly I) were wondering when our packages would come from Amazon, so God’s people were wondering when the Messiah would come and inaugurate God’s kingdom. Now, at last, the package arrives, and he’s called Jesus.

So – if the package has arrived, if Jesus the Messiah has come, bringing the kingdom of heaven – what do we do when we unwrap him?

The first action is repentance. The opening tone of Jesus’ message is,

Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near. (Verse 17)

What is repentance? We know it has to do with being sorry for our wrongdoings, but there is more to it than that. If it were only feeling sorry but without any change of heart or change of lifestyle, it would only be remorse. And remorse doesn’t change anything – apart from maybe persuading a judge to give a more lenient sentence in response to mitigation.

Repentance is bigger than that. In the Greek of the New Testament and even in English it means ‘a change of mind’. It means to ‘rethink’. Those of you who know French will recognise where the English word ‘repentance’ comes from. Remember penser, to think, so repenser is to rethink, to change your mind. The Greek metanoia is similar. When we repent, we change our minds about the way we live.

It’s like doing a u-turn in a car. We know we are going the wrong way, so we change our minds and our direction. Repentance, then, means a change of mind, so much so that we are sorry enough to change our actions.

So that unpacks one problem we have in understanding repentance. It is not simply being sorry, it is a change of mind that leads to a change in our actions. That is why it is also not the same as condemnation, which simply tells us how terrible we are but leaves us desperate and desolate about ourselves. Repentance brings positive change and hope.

Another problem we have with repentance is that we associate it with conversion and the beginnings of Christian faith, but not always with the ongoing life of Christian discipleship. Yet we do not make all the changes we need to make in our lives all at once, when we first encounter Jesus Christ. We don’t even make all the essential changes before we die.

My point is this: repentance is not a one-off change of direction, it is an ongoing process in our lives. One of my favourite stories to tell about this involves the Local Preacher who was always the most popular preacher among my youth group in the church where I grew up. John Evill was born in Wales in 1902, two years before the Welsh Revival. He preached like the revival was still going on. In one sermon, he asked the congregation: “Have you been converted?” Then he added, “I’ve been converted – many times.” His point wasn’t that he’d regularly slipped back and denied Christ, it was that time and time again Christ had to call him to change.

So it is with repentance. It is a change of mind that leads not simply to one change of action, but to repeated changes of action in our lives, until our dying day. Paul tells the Philippians that God who began a good work in them will complete it on the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6). Or, as the t-shirt slogan puts it:

Please be patient with me. God hasn’t finished with me yet.

When we unwrap the kingdom Jesus brings, then, the first thing it involves is a lifestyle of ongoing change, reorientating ourselves to the ways of God from our selfish ways.

The second thing we do when we unwrap the Jesus package is we follow. Having turned around, we now start positively and actively going in our new direction, the direction in which Jesus is travelling. To Simon Peter and Andrew, he says,

Follow me, and I will make you fish for people. (Verse 19)

Then he calls James and John and we read,

Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him. (Verse 22)

I find the nature of Jesus calling these fishermen to follow him utterly amazing. For one thing, I am staggered by their immediate decision to leave their family businesses and go with him. Some people have said that they may already have known Jesus in the area, but it’s still quite a decision to go off like that. Why would they do it?

Here’s one theory. As I’m sure you know, it was common practice for Jewish rabbis to call certain young men to follow them, learn their teaching and emulate their lifestyles. However, they tended to pick the cream of the crop, those who showed promise from a young age. If you got as far as getting into regular work – as Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John had – then you certainly weren’t among the elite. You were among the rejected. You were among those who were not considered up to the task of following a religious master.

But Jesus sees it differently. He calls these men. To him, they are not rejects, they are people who are every bit as capable of following him as anybody else. Why? Because – as the old catchphrase puts it – it’s not your ability that matters, it’s your availability. You don’t need great gifts and talents in order to follow Jesus, you just need to be willing to say ‘yes’ to him. And that’s what these four guys do.

So imagine you are one of them. Imagine you have been passed over by other rabbis as not good enough. Now this one comes along when you are at an age when you no longer think such an opportunity exists and he says to you, “Follow me.” What does that do for your self-esteem? I like to imagine the four young men striding off from their boats with their heads held high and their chests puffed out.

Translate that into our church context. One of the things that saddens me as a minister is the time many church members speak of how inferior they feel to ministers. “You can do {X, Y, Z] because you’re more learned than me,” some say. However, in Jesus’ eyes, it’s not the alphabet soup I have after my name because I spent six years studying Theology that matters. It’s whether I say ‘yes’ to Jesus. I hope I can bring benefits to people by sharing my learning. But what matters in the end is one simple matter that puts everybody on an equal following, regardless of gifts, talents, opportunities, wealth or privilege. It’s this: will we say ‘yes’ to Jesus? All we need to be concerned about today is whether we are saying ‘yes’ to him in the places where he is calling us to follow him.

The third way we unwrap Jesus is by imitation. Hear again the final verse in the reading:

Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people. (Verse 23)

The playwright Murray Watts tells a yarn that might explain how some of us feel about this verse:

An evangelist was so successful, he converted his own horse. He decided to develop his ministry with animals and took his horse to market, to exchange it for another. A farmer came riding along, on a very old horse, and the evangelist begged him to swap animals. The farmer looked at the fine fettle of the evangelist’s horse and agreed, delighted with his bargain. As he mounted his new steed, the evangelist explained to him about the horse’s religious zeal. The farmer looked at him incredulously.

‘It’s no good shouting “giddyup!” or “whoa, there, boy!”’ the evangelist went on. ‘To start, you have to shout, “Praise the Lord! Hallelujah!” and to stop you have to shout, “Amen!”’

The farmer now realised that he was dealing with a nutcase, but he decided to humour him. The horse was in excellent condition and he accepted. As the evangelist trotted away on the famer’s ageing horse, the farmer shouted ‘Giddyup thar!’ to his steed. There was no reaction. He whipped the horse, but there was still no reaction.

‘Go on tharr! Get going!’ he screamed, digging in his heels. The horse refused to budge. The farmer scratched his head.

‘Perhaps that old preacher wasn’t so crazy after all,’ he thought, ‘oh well, no harm in trying.’ He took a deep breath and shouted: ‘Praise the Lord, hallelujah!’ Immediately the horse galloped off. The astonished farmer clung on for dear life as it sped along the road.

‘Whatever its religious quirks,’ he mused, ‘this is some horse!’ On and on the pious creature went, crossing fields, jumping gates. At last, hearing the sound of the sea in the distance, the farmer knew they were approaching the cliffs of Dover.

‘Whoaa there, boy!’ he called. ‘Whoaa there!’ He yanked the reins. The horse sped on regardless. ‘Silly me,’ thought the farmer, ‘I’ve got to say that special word.’

‘Blessing!’ he shouted. ‘No, that’s wrong. Faith!!’ he called, urgently. ‘No, that’s not right either.’

The sound of the sea came nearer, and try as he might, the farmer could not remember the right religious word. Suddenly, within yards of the cliff edge, he remembered.

‘AMEN!!’ he screamed. The horse stopped, inches to spare. The farmer mopped his brow and, lifting his eyes to heaven in gratitude, murmured, ‘Praise the Lord! Hallelujah!’[1]

Maybe when we hear that Jesus went around preaching, teaching and healing, and when we realise that the call of the disciple is to imitate the teacher, we might feel like we are riding an out-of-control horse. Are we about to go over a cliff?

Disciples of a Jewish rabbi knew their call was to imitate the way their master lived. Some took that to considerable extremes, and if I mentioned specifics some of you might cry out that modern cliché, ‘Too much information!’[2]

So those first disciples of Jesus, watching him teach, preach and heal would have been making mental notes. This was their vocation, too.

But it contains scary aspects for us. Some of us are nervous about ‘proclaiming’ our faith. We would not feel able to ‘teach’ the faith. And as for healing people, well where do we begin?

I think there are two keys to embracing this. The first is to recognise that when we become disciples of Jesus, then we receive the Holy Spirit into our lives. And the Holy Spirit brings all sorts of gifts to us that we did not previously have. If we are open to the empowering of the Holy Spirit, then we shall find ourselves equipped for Jesus-like tasks that we would otherwise be unable to do.

The other key is this. Only together are we the Body of Christ. You will contribute some gifts towards copying the ministry of Jesus. Your friend will offer other gifts. I will bring different gifts of the Spirit.

So yes, imitating the ministry of Christ is daunting – but only if we view it purely humanly. If we put ourselves at the disposal of the Holy Spirit, all sorts of things become possible that previously were never even on the radar of our imagination.

Let’s pray.


[1] Murray Watts, Rolling In The Aisles, p 90f, story 153.

[2] See Michael Griffiths, The Example of Jesus.

A Novel Approach To Missional Church: Mike Burke’s ‘Daydream Believer’

No, not that one.

I first met Mike Burke at Trinity College, Bristol between 1986 and 1989. He was a guitar-toting, wisecracking Anglican ordinand, and I was a Methodist wondering where on earth God was calling me. When we left, we all had to pen fifty words about ourselves for a magazine sent to college supporters. It was no surprise when Mike wrote that he had fulfilled an ambition to get U2 played in college chapel.

Then we lost touch. He went off to his curacy in Sheffield, and I returned to the dark bowels of Methodism.

Years later (2001, I think), we bumped into each other again at an Evangelical Alliance conference in Cardiff. By then, he was a vicar in Gloucestershire. This time, we kept in touch. Often it was Mike sending me emails that I found ridiculously funny and my wife (who doesn’t share the same sense of humour) found ridiculous.

In recent years, Mike has come out of parish ministry. He now networks for the Church Mission Society with local congregations. He has used his creative gifts to turn the difficulties of traditional church life today and the need to find new forms of missional church to reach today’s cultures into a witty and poignant novel.

It makes sense from my perspective to communicate missional thinking in a narrative format. Much of the literature talks about the importance of story, so let’s use story! The only other example I have ever encountered in this field (perhaps there are others) has been Brian McLaren‘s ‘A New Kind of Christian’ trilogy. However, McLaren has in my opinion more of an agenda for revising classical theology than Mike does. Moreover, the American church situation is considerably different from the British contexts.

I know I’m biassed, but do read Mike’s book. You will find a healthy and humorous dose of reality, right through to the inner thoughts of the clergy. If you’ve ever wondered, then buy this!

Oh, and his first cultural quote is from Pink Floyd’s ‘The Dark Side of the Moon’. You can’t go wrong.

My one gripe would be with Highland Books, the publisher. They seem to have laid off a proof reader in place of a computer spell-checker. It was The Forsyte Saga, not the Forsyth Saga (Brucie, you can have a rest). A quantity of paper is stationery, not stationary. Something you can’t quite catch is elusive, not illusive.

Although I have just linked to it on Amazon, they were unable to fulfil my order, but I went through Amazon Marketplace to the trusty Book Depository, who sent me a copy quickly.

Persecution Of Iranian Christians

The World Evangelical Alliance is demanding a halt to the Iranian government’s crackdown on Christians, reports Christian Today. Not that the tyrants in Iran will listen, but what concerns me is this. Our major denominations will speak out on Iran if it’s about their presumed nuclear power/weapons escalation – and that’s right. They will speak out and seek donations to care for those affected by an earthquake in that land – right again, very Christian to do so for a land so hostile to our faith. But why not on this issue – at least, so far? (I have googled to see if I can find any statements, but have been unsuccessful in my search.) Perhaps they will. I hope so.

One of my churches here hosts an Iranian church. (We are not the only Methodist church in the UK to do so: Hexthorpe Methodist in Doncaster also does this.) My Iranian Christian friends tell me they hear of this persecution on virtually a daily basis back home.

There must be something we can do to raise a voice for our brothers and sisters.

More On Royalty And Republicanism From One Christian Perspective

Following my last post, and especially the initial comment by Phil Ritchie, I thought I would write a little more, especially as Phil asked about a Methodist perspective. What follows is entirely my own views.

I nearly became an Anglican. I had grown up in Methodism, and sensed God calling me to something – I didn’t know what – and to explore that I ended up studying Theology as an independent student at Trinity College, Bristol, an evangelical Anglican theological college.

While I was there, my calling crystallised. It was the ordained ministry. However, did I stay in my native Methodism or follow the highly attractive advertisement I was seeing for Anglicanism at Trinity?

Many factors came into play in making my decision, some pro- and some anti- both traditions. For the purposes of this discussion, there were two that I found decisive in feeling  I could not go over to the Church of England. One was knowing that if I changed, I would have to be confirmed by a bishop in the so-called ‘historic succession’ as if I had never been a Christian before. That seemed – and still seems – to be a denial of the Holy Spirit’s work in my life prior to any such time. That was the most fundamental objection I had.

The second reason was that I couldn’t come to terms with the idea of an Established Church. Tying the church to the structures of government was to risk seduction by privilege, wealth and power. I didn’t regard it as being as insurmountable, but I cringed every time I saw an ordinand kneel (or even prostrate themselves) before a bishop and take the Oath of Allegiance.

The reason I don’t see the Oath of Allegiance as an insurmountable objection (although I’m uncomfortable with it) is because Article 37 of the C of E’s Thirty-Nine Articles, ‘Of the Civil Magistrates’, can be read simply to affirm that Christians respect those in civil authority. It just happens to be with the monarch in this country:

The Queen’s Majesty hath the chief power in this Realm of England, and other her Dominions, unto whom the chief Government of all Estates of this Realm, whether they be Ecclesiastical or Civil, in all causes doth appertain, and is not, nor ought to be, subject to any foreign Jurisdiction.

Where we attribute to the Queen’s Majesty the chief government, by which Titles we understand the minds of some slanderous folks to be offended; we give not to our Princes the ministering either of God’s Word, or of the Sacraments, the which thing the Injunctions also lately set forth by Elizabeth our Queen doth most plainly testify; but only that prerogative, which we see to have been given always to all godly Princes in holy Scriptures by God himself; that is, that they should rule all estates and degrees committed to their charge by God, whether they be Ecclesiastical or Temporal, and restrain with the civil sword the stubborn and evildoers.

That it should be used by bloggers such as Cranmer to accuse Pete Broadbent of not believing the Church of England’s doctrine by virtue of being a republican seems to push the language too far. It depends what import you put on the phrase ‘godly Princes’. Does that and must that merely invoke royal rulers? Romans 13 is more general about authority, even if it is written under the Roman Empire.

Those who fervently defend the connection of the Church of England to the monarchy should remember how equivocal (to put it mildly) Scripture is about royalty, something that Article 37 potentially overlooks. When Israel demands a king from Samuel, the Lord says it is a sign they have rejected him. They want a fashion accessory, and kings come with a record of oppression, was the reply. And in the New Testament, where there is no option but to live under Caesar, while his rule is respected, his claim to lordship is emphatically denied.

Royalists may counter that a republic brings all sorts of ugly notions, and until a few years ago they raised the spectre of Cherie Blair as First Lady. Yes, all forms of power and authority come with risk. The quasi-messianism of some who campaigned for Barack Obama should make us queasy, too.

But insofar as I understand these things, a biblical approach to authority includes the following:

1. Respect those who are called to rule;

2. Do not exalt them beyond their status as human sinners;

3. Be prepared to call them to account.

4. Pray for them.

Can a constitutional monarchy fit this description? Can Christians put their names to it. Can a republic? The calling to account seems to be the issue for me. How is an institution called to account when the eldest son automatically succeeds to the throne? And for a republic or democracy, does calling to account become corrupted to a desire merely for what the people fancy?

Maybe I am neither a royalist nor a republican.

Bishop Pete Broadbent And Republicanism

So Bishop Pete Broadbent has been allowed to return to work. I, for one, am pleased.

Let’s leave behind some of the questions when he first mocked the forthcoming royal wedding between Prince William and Kate Middleton. Was his language intemperate? Yes. But most of us – me included – are guilty of that at times. Did it stink that his boss, the Bishop of London, allegedly a ‘close personal friend’ of the Royal Family, suspended him, despite his fulsome apology? Oh yes, indeedy: blood must be spilled.

But it’s this question that puzzles me: is there really an incompatibility between Anglican clergy and bishops taking the oath of allegiance to the Queen and holding republican views? If it is, then it seems that the Church of England makes this her defining doctrinal stance. Other church leaders have publicly set forth views far from orthodoxy, but have not been disciplined. But the moment someone lampoons our apparently untouchable royal family, then it’s off with his head, despite his orthodox theology.

Furthermore, the clerical oath of allegiance is just about word for word the same as the oath of allegiance that Members of Parliament have to take. We all know that for decades there have been openly republican MPs. Maybe they cross their fingers behind their backs when they take the oath. Maybe the Sinn Fein MPs had more integrity by not taking their seats. But it seems to me it’s perfectly OK to work within a system as it is, while campaigning for change. To my mind, that’s what the bish has done, and is doing. There are certain things I don’t like within Methodism. However, every year at the ministerial synod, I renew my promise to accept and administer the church’s discipline, and I work for change within the denomination for change. I’m not convinced Pete has done anything different.

Sermon: Salt And Light

Here is the sermon for this coming Sunday, the second in our series from the Sermon on the Mount. Those who have read my sermons here in recent years may recognise one or two things I’ve quoted before, but they get a repeat here for a new church!

Matthew 5:13-16

Salt and light. The salt of the earth and the light of the world. If the Sermon on the Mount is where we learn to be disciples before the watching world, as I argued in my introduction last week, then salt and light are prime examples of this. Not only do we live our faith while the world is watching – as if we were actors in a TV show being viewed by others – we live our faith with those people and towards the world. That is, when Jesus calls us the salt of the earth and the light of the world, he is telling us we live as disciples for the blessing of the world.

There you are, done. In one minute.

But I’m going to say more, because this is so important. And while we might think we affirm the importance of being salt and light, I want to say this morning that we pay lip service to it, and the way we run our churches often undermines this essential Christian task.

How am I going to do it? Firstly by thinking about salt and secondly about – you guessed it – light.

So we begin with salt.

You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. (Verse 13)

I am sure you have heard several preachers expound on why Jesus describes as salt, and what our saltiness is meant to achieve. Some will tell you that salt is a preservative, and so Christian involvement in the world is about preventing moral degradation in society. More positively, others will say that salt is for seasoning or purifying, so Christian disciples have a rôle in improving the moral and ethical life of our culture. Another positive image of salt is to see it as fertiliser, stimulating the growth of righteousness, justice and spirituality in the world. Others interpret salt as a metaphor for wisdom, and therefore Christians provide acute moral insight to help society. This might be an argument for Christian involvement in politics, even for having bishops in the House of Lords. Then there are those who point to the use of salt in Old Testament texts about sacrifice or about God’s covenant.[1]

There’s just one problem with all these views. Jesus doesn’t ascribe to any of them.

In other words, Jesus doesn’t take his simple analogy of us as the salt of the earth and extend it into some great allegory. He just says we are the salt of the earth, full stop. We have to seek his meaning not in ancient uses of salt nor in Old Testament verses, but in what he says about the image.

And the point Jesus wants to make about being the salt of the earth is a negative one. He is concerned about his disciples not being the salt of the earth, not influencing society for good – whatever that entails:

But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. (Verse 13b)

So let’s pause and consider the problems here. I read an article on Friday by Krish Kandiah, who holds a senior position with the Evangelical Alliance. He asked, what do churches have to do in order to reach the missing young adults in their twenties and thirties? One of the problems he cited as making the church unattractive to people in that age range was the disconnect between Sunday and Monday. In your twenties and thirties, he said, you are faced with a lot of life changes. You may go through university, leave home, start a job, begin paying a mortgage, get married, have children and so on. To face such major challenges requires a lot of energy, and this shows itself in other ways. Often such people are ones who want to see the world changed for the better.

Unfortunately [says Kandiah] what 20-30s often hear in church is not encouragement to take huge steps in their faith, but to take on huge responsibilities within the church.

He quotes American pastor Tim Keller, who says that

as a pastor he was taught how to make people busy working in the churches.

What a tragedy this is! We are more concerned with filling church jobs than with encouraging people into character-building witness opportunities where they are the salt of the earth. Jesus says that salt without the saltiness, disciples who don’t influence the world for good, is

no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. (Verse 13b)

And the word translated ‘no longer good for anything’ is a word that means ‘to become or to make foolish’[2]. Not being the salt of the earth, not making it a priority for Christians to influence the world for good, is foolishness in the eyes of Jesus. We are quick to condemn when people in politics, the media or popular arts take stances that are ignorant of Christianity or hostile to it. Yet how often is it the case that Christians have vacated these areas, seeing involvement there as inferior to church work?

Indeed, we institutionalise such an approach. Kandiah reminds me in his article of a story I have heard several times before. It was told by Mark Greene, the Executive Director of the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity. He speaks of a teacher who was being prayed for in church, in support of his rôle in the congregation teaching Sunday School. The man broke down in tears. Why did he only receive prayer for the one hour a week he had contact with Christian children, but no prayer at all for the forty hours a week he devoted to contact with non-church children.

Wasn’t Jesus right? Are we not fools when we give no priority to influencing the world for good as the salt of the earth?

By way of transition to talking secondly about light, let me tell you about a circuit steward from one of my previous appointments. It was always hard to get hold of him by phone or email, because he was so busy. Not only was he a circuit steward, his day job was a responsible managerial one for an international shipping company and he was also a governor at his daughter’s school. One day, I was talking with his wife about the pressures he was under.

“Yes,” she said, “we’ve had some conversations about that. He’s decided he’s going to give up his post as a school governor in order to concentrate on the more important things – like his church work.”

She was surprised when I suggested that his church work might not be the most important thing he did. Because, I argued, it meant losing another person from the front line of Christian witness in the world.

And that, positively, is Jesus’ point when he goes on to describe Christians as the light of the world:

You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. (Verses 14-16)

What we say and do is seen by the world. It is our witness, whether good or bad. But we can take this positively. We can see this as a wonderful opportunity for witness in the world. It isn’t that shining our light before others so that they see our good deeds is about us boasting or acting as if we are superior. Jesus says we can do it for a different motive: ‘that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.’ Isn’t that what we want? Don’t we want our witness to attract other people to Jesus and his Father?

So what might we do about it? Our witness is about both our words and our deeds. It isn’t that we speak about our faith and don’t match it with our actions. Nor is it that we engage in worthy deeds as a reason to avoid talking about Christ. I suggest that one thing implied here is that we so live lives of love and concern for the people in our world that it leads to questions and opportunities, so that then we can tell people the Gospel of the Saviour and Lord in whom we believe.

One of my favourite examples of this was told by the American pastor and sociologist Tony Campolo. Over the years, he has had a special concern for some of the impoverished nations in the Caribbean, such as Haïti and the Dominican Republic. He has campaigned against multinational companies that have exploited their workers in these lands, and he has taken groups of Christians from the United States on mission trips there.

In particular, he tells a story about a Christian doctor who went out to one of these nations – I think it was the Dominican Republic. That doctor set up a surgery in a poor village. By day he gave himself to providing medical care for people who otherwise would not be able to access it. By evening he would drive around the area, preaching the Gospel. People listened. With a touch of grudging admiration, a local Communist Party official said, “He has earned the right to speak.”

I believe Jesus calls us to earn the right to speak. He calls us to stop treating the church as our one-stop provider of religious services and our social life, and to get our hands dirty in the world. The moment we start treating the church as the provider of our religious services we start asking the wrong questions about whether the church is meeting our needs, and then walking out when the preaching, the music, the small groups or the children’s ministry doesn’t reach the standards we set in our minds. And when we think that our social lives should revolve around the church, we cut ourselves off from the world where we are meant to shine our light, by reflecting Christ.

No: Jesus calls us to see the church as the people of God gathering to edify one another and strengthen each other for witness in the world. We have neighbours whom we can love in the name of Christ. We have neighbourhoods, villages, towns and institutions that need the love of Christ. We are part of a world that needs to see the love of Christ demonstrated and explained.

And although some will mock, many will ‘glorify [our] Father in heaven.’ That might simply be we’ve done a good bit of PR for the faith. But it might well be part of their journey to faith in Christ themselves.

In short, cutting some ties from the institutional church and simplifying some of the ways we do church in order to release ourselves to spend more time blessing people in our communities with the love of God in word and deed is absolutely critical to our sharing in the mission of God.

Or, to put it another way, someone has put it like this. The test of a church is whether the local community would miss it if it shut.

So a good test of whether we are salt and light is whether Knaphill and the neighbouring villages would be upset if KMC closed.

What do you think?


[1] Donald Hagner, Matthew 1-13, p 99.

[2] Ibid.

Pastoral Ministry To Daleks

Sometimes, you meet someone who longs for change but just keeps defaulting back into the old bad habits. Meet Derek:

Romans 7:24?

Speaking With The Elderly And Those With Dementia And Alzheimer’s

Tomorrow, I get to share in leading worship at a local residential home for people who cannot care for themselves due to age, dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease. The service will be led by an Anglican Reader, and he has invited me to give a short talk in the service. He advised me to keep it short and simple.

In past times, such an invitation would have terrified me. I had no training in how to approach this, despite the ageing church profile and the general increase in the age profile of the wider population. However, the good news is that there is an increasing amount of Christian resources on the subject. Within my own denomination, Methodist Homes how provides specialist dementia care, plus resources for those who care for people with these distressing conditions.

More widely, they have co-operated with an initiative from Scripture Union called Being With God. This is a series of Bible Study notes for use with those suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s. Essentially, the series goes for the simple and the familiar, triggering some of the longer-term memory that is less likely to have been lost. So far, there are three entries in the series: Word Of Peace, Words Of Hope and Words Of Faith.

Here is Songs Of Praise presenter Pam Rhodes promoting the series:

And here she is again, interviewing the project leader, Tricia Williams:

When I speak tomorrow, I am going to take my cue not only from the request to keep things short and simple, but from the appeal to longer-term memory. I am going to attempt a brief reflection on the words of the penitent thief at Calvary: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” I shall talk about our earliest and our best memories, hoping that plugs into some positive thoughts, and then move on to the fact that whatever we might forget, Jesus remembers us. I wonder how it will go.

Does any reader have any experience in this area to share?

Children And Communion

I was taking the bread along a row of communicants yesterday, when I arrived at three-year-old Jake. As is my habit with children, I knelt down to be nearer his height. As is also my habit, I dispensed the formal liturgical words such as, “The body of Christ keep you in eternal life,” and said something like this as I tore off a piece of bread and offered it to him: “Eat this to remember that Jesus died for you and loves you.”

He looked at me and said, “No thank you, I’ve just had my biscuit.”

Priceless. And certainly better than my own seven-year-old daughter, who took one look at the roll on the paten and said, “Is it Kingsmill?” Interesting that Kingsmill Bread’s latest campaign on its home page is Kingsmill Confessions

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