30 March 2008

Quote of the Week

In this week's issue of The Church Times, there is a subscribers' only Interview with Philip Yancey where Yancey reminds us: 'If it doesn't sound like good news, it isn't the gospel'.

I'm fairly certain that I remember Yancey saying this in one if his books, but I think it's a sentiment worth repeating and revisiting. Quoting from the interview:
Jesus said the truth shall set you free, and he came to give life in all its fullness. If it doesn't sound like good news, it's not the gospel. If it's not setting you free and enlarging life, then it's not Jesus's message.
Your starter for six: How many 'Christian messages' (sic) not only totally fail to set people free but narrow our lives and enslave us?

26 March 2008

The Importance of Context

Kathy over at Beyond Words gives a link to the entire context of Pastor Jeremiah Wright’s sermon. The video clip is well worth listening to.

It's become very commonplace in our culture to quote people out of context in a way that casts them in the worst possible light. What bothers me terribly is that Christians apparently don't think that such selective quoting is a sin.

So it appears that Pastor Wright isn't actually preaching a message of hatred against America; not quite the picture that much of the media seems to want us to have.

24 March 2008

Church as Business Model

My cyberfriend and fellow Methodist John Meunier at Come to the Waters has written a fascinating post entitled Is it the Business Model not the Theology? where he compares the institutional church to a 'business model' that is breaking down.

I think that he's very definitely on to something here. and I think that his comparison with institutional journalism is a good one. I think I'd agree that 'people want Christianity, they just don't want to get it or pay for it in ways that they used to' - to paraphrase John's comparison with institutional journalism.

22 March 2008

A Sonrise Story

I have just come across the sermon entitled A Sonrise Story by Paul J. Nuechterlein which does an excellent job of explaining how Girardian non-violence fits into the story of salvation.

Not a sermon I could preach to my congregations! Nevertheless, I think it explains some Girardian ideas in a more accessible way than either Girard himself or most Girardian theologians.

I particularly like the explaination of mimetic theory at the beginning of the sermon. Nuechterlein manages to explain mimesis in a way that I've been striving to do for awhile.

20 March 2008

Gorbachev a Christian

American Methodist minister and theologian Ben Witherington points to news published in The Telegraph yesterday that Mikhail Gorbachev admits he’s a Christian.

Good news, although possibly more amazing if you're one of those people who saw Soviet communism as a Satanic plot to destroy Christianity rather than as a failed social and economic experiment.

Methodist President's Easter Message

The President of Conference, Martyn Atkins, has released an Easter Message, which Olive Morgan has posted here.

Martyn writes:
Our Easter faith is not death or resurrection, it is death and resurrection. The resurrection of Jesus is not a reversal of death. It is much more than that. The risen Jesus is known by the scars of crucifixion. He is the Living One Who Died. But now he is alive forever. And, marvellously, he stands today with this needy world in the reality of death and the promise of new life. This ministry he shares with us, his Easter People Church, a people bearing the marks of both death and new life. A people who know and live out the profound truth that death and resurrection life both lie deep in the purposes of God, in whom all things will be well. Alleluia!

16 March 2008

Living Together

Following on from my post below entitled A Challenge of Tolerance?, my my friend Will asks a very important question: How now shall we live together?

Will says something that I think is vitally important:
I quite like the Derby Resolutions. As a friend of mine said, they were created for a purpose and not just because some people were bored one afternoon. But, perhaps the document that kept The Methodist Church from the tumult experienced in the Church of England has now outlived its useful life. Where do we go from here? I want a conversation that focuses on how we can trust each other enough to stick together. More than that, stay in fellowship with each other. Where can we have a conversation that attempts to work out how we will be a community of grace without digressing back into old arguments. How can we start to ask the question, ‘How can we live together?’
I actually think the most important thing that any denomination can do is to learn to have a conversation about this issue and other issues that passionately divide us.

I think that many people often misunderstand this as 'Anything for a quiet life' or 'Anything goes'. That's not what I'm talking about. I think that learning how to listen to to each other when we passionately disagree is at the very centre of Christian discipleship. Not at the centre of salvation, but at the centre of discipleship. When passions are high, the process of listening and forgiving and making room for the other view is difficult and painful. Rather than painful listening most of us - myself included - tend to go for avoidance; and avoidance is probably more the 'anything for a quiet life' option.

I don't know what the answer is, but I think 'How can we live together?' is one of the most important questions we face. And we'll have to figure it out sooner or later.

Sermon Blogging

I spent a good deal of February engaging in dialogue with my congregations rather than preaching sermons. Dialogues don't really make for good blog posts, though. Often the dialogue goes off in a direction that the preacher didn't expect!

Anyway, I've now caught up with my sermon blog posting.

14 March 2008

A Challenge of Tolerance?

I heard a story yesterday. The story was told about an adult child by their[1] parent. The parent is someone who has been a committed and faithful servant of the Methodist church for many years. The child was described by their parent as 'a deeply committed Christian'.

The gist of the story is that this adult child recently felt that they 'had to leave' their church - a British Methodist church - because they revealed themself to be homosexual.

This is the second such story I've heard. The first one was on the internet and I'm not going to point to the story as I'm aware that people sometimes post on forums thinking that the forums are relatively 'safe' and they aren't expecting wider publiclity on blogs. Readers can accuse me of lying if you want to for not providing a link.

What's my point for saying this? I'm deeply saddened by the knowledge that gay people feel that they have to leave our churches. My understanding was that, as a denomination, we were working toward taking the position that all people were welcome in our church, whatever their views on homosexuality. My understanding was that we were trying to accommodate people of all views as being valued in our churches.

I frequently hear people on the internet who say 'I believe that homosexual acts are sinful but, of course, we would welcome gay people in our church.' Well, here are two stories of the reality of the situation and I'm saddened by it. I have to confess that I do sometimes wonder how on earth gay people are going to feel welcome in our churches unless we make a clear statement that they are welcome and - most importantly - that we can 'deliver' on the hospitality.

[1] I am using the plural pronouns 'they' and 'their' as a gender neutral pronoun to denote 'he or she'.

13 March 2008

Oh Dear. I'm too old. :-(

Personally speaking, I love the idea of 'cafe church', where people gather in a coffee shop to talk about God and the 'spiritual' side of life (for want of a better term).

One of the aspects of my former job that I really miss is having the opportunity to talk about God to people who don't go to church. I used to go out to lunch with people and, very often, they would turn the conversation to God. Why did I believe in God? Why was I a Christian? Often times people would tell me their thoughts on God. I loved these conversations; they were a lot more real than many we have in church.

So I was quite keen on the idea of cafe church. Some colleagues (both older than I) mentioned the idea when I moved here and I recently saw some information on the internet about forming a 'cafe-church' and forwarded it on to one of my colleagues. I've come to find out that they have been to a training session on cafe church, so I made it known that I am interested. No, I can't get involved, because I'm too old. They aren't going to be 'targetting' churchgoers and they aren't going to be 'targetting' middle-aged people. So-and-so (in her early 30s) is the sort of person who they want involved, not me.

So, darn. Fifty years olds are too old to talk about God in a coffee shop. And in church we're the young whipper-snappers.

11 March 2008


I wanted to share the following thought on 'faith', written by Ally Barrett in Reflections for Daily Prayer:
Faith asks a great deal of us. It asks us to stand alongside the weak, even though we could make allies among the powerful. It lets us make fools of ourselves in obedience to God, trusting that one day our actions will bear fruit. It persuades us to take risks and to betray previously deeply held alliances. And it asks us to do all this for the sake of something intangible, but much more real. So, how hard it is for us to trust God enough to let him do unexpected things in our lives. How hard it is to let our obedient faith overcome our fear, our instinct for self-preservation, our independence and even our desire for a quiet life.
Reflections for Daily Prayer follows the scripture readings assigned for morning prayer in The Common Worship Lectionary. This is only the second in the series, but I think it's well worth checking out if you're looking for some short, thoughtful daily meditations that avoid being twee ('twee' = 'cutsy and sentimental' for North American readers).

07 March 2008

The Passion - BBC Style

The BBC are going to be airing a mini-series dramatising 'the passion' of Christ during Holy Week.

'The Passion' is a term that has been used by Christians for many centuries to refer to the events leading up to Jesus' crucifixion. The story of Jesus' passion usually includes his entry into Jerusalem, his trial by the Jewish leaders, his trial by the Roman Legate Pontius Pilate, the beating and humiliation he endured before his execution, his crucifixion and his burial.

The English word 'passion' derives from the Latin word passionem, which means 'suffering' or 'enduring'. So you can see how the story includes everything that Jesus suffered and endured on the cross and on his way to the cross.

You can also see that the term 'The Passion of Christ' has a long history before Mel Gibson! And this particular telling of the story by the BBC has nothing whatsoever to do with Mel Gibson. It is the BBC's own production and telling of that story.

Here is the timetable:

Episode One: Sunday 16 March, BBC ONE, 20:00 (60 minutes)
Episode Two: Monday 17 March, BBC ONE, 20:30 (30 minutes)
Episode Three: Friday 21 March, BBC ONE, 21:00 (30 minutes)
Episode Four: Sunday 23 March, BBC ONE, 19:30 (60 minutes)

And here is a link to the BBC Website on The Passion

[Post edited on Friday 14th March, to add the time of Episode Four]

05 March 2008

Church and Evangelism

I might be being foolish by publishing another post on this subject, but a short exchange with my friend Sally in the comments section of my post Minister as Evangelist? got me thinking.

I think I might be on to something here and I throw the question open to you:

I have a sneaking suspicion that there is a difference between: 1) Telling someone the Good News of the gospel and 2) Getting them to come to church.

I actually do wonder whether the bigger 'conversation experience' in today's culture is the church-going bit.

I suspect that, in the past - even in my own lifetime - people attended group activities outside the home for recreation and entertainment. Nowadays, recreation and entertainment are much more 'private' - me and my friends or me and my family. This is what's foreign: belonging to civic and cultural organisations. And the 'foreignness' of group activity is why people find church so uncomfortable.

I do genuinely find it easy to talk to people about God, about Christ and about the Christian Gospel and about my personal faith. I'm not, however, convinced of my ability to 'get people into church' who don't want to be there.

Over to you.

03 March 2008


One of my Methodist colleagues apparently thinks that, in the post below, I'm claiming that as a minister I have no responsibility to do any kind of evangelism. I think it's fairly obvious that I'm not saying that at all, but let me state it explicitly:

Preaching, witnessing and spreading the Good News are most definitely my responsibilities. They are the responsibilities of all Christians. But as a preacher and a minister, yes, spreading the Good News is especially part of my ministry.

Is that clear enough?

The context of the post below was a context in which someone was claiming that ministers should be hired and fired
mainly on their ability to increase church attendance and where the idea seemed to be that the state of the congregation didn't have a lot to do with whether or not attendance increased. This, of course, begs the question as to whether attendance increases because of 'sheep stealing'!