Wednesday, 15 May 2013
A well thought out book that will help any married couple of couple preparing for marriage. Tim Challies has an excellent review here if you'd like to know more.
Enter below - three to win!
*we don't usually approve of reference to contemporary altars in church buildings at www.andysstudy.com but we'll let him off!
Thursday, 9 May 2013
Whilst preparing to speak on 1 Peter 3-4 recently two phrases in particular caught my attention:
3:13-14 - "Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed."
3:17 - "For it is better, if it is God's will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil."
When preaching about persecution Christians are rightly informed by texts such as "everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted." (2 Tim 3:12). That's undoubtedly true: even in a setting very friendly to Christian belief by historical standards (such as the UK in the C21st) it's inevitable that at some point in your life you will face rejection, hardship or hassle if you maintain consistently Christian doctrine and ethics (often from others who call themselves Christians!).
But it seems that Peter wants to qualify that point, even in the midst of real persecution for at least some of his readers. Why?
It's worth remembering that the recipients of this letter were spread throughout a large geographical area and that different conditions as regards others' attitudes to Christians probably applied in each place. There is a very different tone in 4:12-19, so it seems highly unlikely that both 3:14 and 4:12 can be aimed at the same individual Christian, in the same way that not every reader of this letter a slave (2:18) or a wife (3:1). Even in this section where persecution is much more to the fore there is conditionality - if you are insulted (4:14), if you suffer (4:15) - so it doesn't seem that suffering as a Christian is the daily normality of life for most of these Christians.
Persecution was a present reality for some, but not for others, at least not at that moment. Even with a lesser kind of suffering/persecution such as "insult" (which is far more common than physical abuse or martyrdom) at any given period of time and place in history it seems Peter's view is that the norm is that any given Christian or local church won't be being insulted.
Peter emphasises to those readers are currently suffering that the gospel is sufficient to deal with it. But he also wants to avoid the chilling effect of persecution on Christian witness amongst those who are not being persecuted; he desires them not to develop a "persecution complex." This is undoubtedly a word for our times as the persecution complex is alive and well amongst British evangelicals as I have blogged perviously (here).
So whilst we must not ignore the hard truth that "everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted" it's erroneous to suggest that the normal Christian experience is that many people will give us a hard time most of the time. In fact such a high view of persecution leads to unhelpful results such as...
1. Christians who are actually living very comfortable lives looking to understand the comments and actions of non-Christians towards them as persecution (rather than thanking God that we live in a place of relative prosperity and freedom for the gospel) because they feel that to be persecuted is a vital sign that we're really living the Christian life.
2. Christians ending up presenting the gospel offensively and behaving in exclusive ways so that we can then say "well of course the world rejects us and the gospel." when they don't come in to the church.
In a nation like the UK, every consistent Christian will occasionally face opposition, laughter and mocking from friend, family or workmates. A few Christians will lose their jobs and/or be alienated from family and a very small number (especially those converting from Islam) will face real threats to their personal safety. But we need to remember that the vast majority of us will be in the first category and not allow our Christian living to be stifled by fear of persecution, because one of Peter's points is that it's likely you mostly won't be persecuted if you're the kind of person who is eager to do good.
Although there have been specific, horrific outbursts of violence against Christians (the Armenian genocide and Pol Pot's Cambodia spring to mind) the everyday reality of most Christians, in the UK and in the majority of countries in the world, is that most of the time we are able to carry on with our work and family life and even some (perhaps in some places only discreet) evangelism in a way consistent with our Christian beliefs without coercive interference from the state or even verbal abuse from others. I know missionaries and local Christians in most of the central asian states and throughout the middle east. It's really hard being a Christian there, as it is in Catholic Europe, and I thank God he has raised up tough and faithful servants. But mostly, praise God, they are not being questioned by the police, locked up or put on trial, but meeting people, sharing the gospel and planting low-profile churches!
We must, of course, fight and pray hard for those brothers and sisters who are oppressed. We need to remember how painful it is to be persecuted, even a little bit of the time. And I wholeheartedly support the work of Barnabas Fund (www.barnabasfund.org), Open Doors (www.opendoorsuk.org) and HART (www.hart-uk.org).
But for those of us who live in a countries like the UK, although we must be prepared to be persecuted for our faith, we ought to expect that most of the time even those who reject the gospel will do so relatively politely and with (grudging?) respect.
Should Christians expect to suffer? Yes, and no.
Yes in the sense that suffering in some way as a direct result of being a Christian is a normal part of life at some point for almost all Christians and an intense and sometimes fatal reality for a few Christians.
But no in the sense that when we get out of bed on any given day in any given place, and especially somewhere as free as our country currently is, the most likely outcome is, as Peter says, that people will not harm us if we are eager to do good.
Tuesday, 7 May 2013
"Teaching the Bible to children and young people is an amazing privilege. However, as you look over the rota for the coming term, and see your name highlighted in bold, it may be fear that fills your heart rather than a sense of joy. This little book is designed to be a toolkit that will equip children's and youth leaders for the role in which they are serving the church."
And here's what Justin Mote says about the book: "This toolkit is a great blend of sound theological principles and really useful practical help."
Win one of five copies for yourself or someone you know who teaches the Bible to children and young people!
Friday, 26 April 2013
George Monbiot has a super piece in the Guardian about the hidden suffering behind our mobile phones. I feel this should change my life a bit but I"m not sure how yet - comments welcome.
The winners of this year's Sony World Photography awards are well worth a look, here.
Saturday, 20 April 2013
Thursday, 18 April 2013
If you've missed this the core facts are that Dr Gosnell is accused of running an "abortion" clinic where babies delivered alive had their spinal cords snipped to kill them and where women died because of the unsafe conditions. If you have the stomach you can read some of the horrific details in the Grand Jury report here.
After a lot of pressure US papers like the New York times are finally giving more coverage to the story (after one of its editors said it was "just another murder story" - a position she has subsequently retracted using the mealy-mouthed term "miscalculation").
In the UK however media reporting hitherto has been largely limited to a piece in the Telegraph and a single article on the BBC web site which has not at any point (as far as I can tell) appeared on either the home page or the news front page (you have to type Gosnell into the search box to find it). The Guardian mentioned Gosnell in two pragraphs of a story about something else when he was first charged in 2011 but has entirely ignored the trial.
The reasons for this silence are well laid out by Cranmer here (and for those who find him a little far to the right you may be more convinced by this Wall Street Journal piece by James Tarantto here).
In the end, though, we can moan about this as much as we like - we really need to think about what to do about it. Here are three practical suggestions:
- Tweet some of the reports you can find on the web with hashtag #gosnell
- Tell the BBC you think the story should be given more coverage. You can do that here.
- Contact the editor at whichever newspaper you read most and ask them to cover the story fully - again perhaps send them a couple of links to the best existing reports.