Archive for December, 2007

Blair Moves Next Door

December 22, 2007

So at last the much predicted conversion of Tony Blair to Catholicism has happened. Much has been made of the timing of his conversion- after leaving office rather than before. Anyone who has observed Mr Blair’s behaviour over the last decade will not be surprised. Despite his repeated talk about his faith such faith has always taken second place to political expediency. Despite the rhetoric his policies have not been driven by genuine convictions but by what he can get away with in the court of public opinion. Once again his conversion to Catholicism has reflected the fact that political gain always comes before convictions. This is something that he has already admitted by his acknowledgement that he refrained from speaking publicly about his faith for fear of being called a ‘nutter.’ His knowledge of what it means to follow Christ has obviously not be shaped by Jesus teaching in the gospels.

The news of his conversion has also re-ignited the debate about how he led us into the Iraq war. Here he stated that he prayed before taking this momentous decision. It is a typical Blairism- the public are expected to accept what he has done rightly or wrongly because he claims to be sincere. There is no need to enter any kind of debate because he says he is sincere. But the reaction to this statement has been fairly typical- what was a Christian doing leading the country, we should have had an atheist! Of course the argument is that atheism is rational based on neutral reasoning, unclouded by any external factors and moral(!?) Its a view of atheism that is a much a caricature of atheism as it is of Christianity.

If Blair has been guided in his politics by Christian faith it is not a Christian faith that I recognise or would want any part of- all rhetoric and no substance.

The Mystery Worshipper

December 20, 2007

Yesterday the BBC carried items on how mystery worshippers are being recruited to visit congregations in the Church of England. These ‘worshippers’ are normally employed on a commercial basis to visit shops and restaurants and to score them for the service they provide. It was unclear yesterday whether they were being employed by the CofE or the Christian Research Exhibition group or some combination of both. The idea of the mystery worshipper is not a new having run for some time under the auspices of the Ship of Fools website. However the very idea of the mystery worshipper has several drawbacks.

  1. In the first instance the term ‘worshipper’ is misnomer. These people have not come along to worship God but to evaluate the church service. There is a considerable gulf between these two things.
  2. Then these people are also being disingenuous. They are coming to the church expecting the church to engage with them at an honest level whilst they are themselves being wholly dishonest about their reasons for being there.
  3. The concept of the mystery worshipper buys into the consumer mentality that governs many British churches. churches are not there to provide a service in the same way as a commercial operation. Certainly what churches do cannot be scored by outsiders. Ultimately churches are accountable to God and not ‘Joe Public.’
  4. It is another example of how Christianity is being turned on its head. Once we were keen to communicate to people what God thought about them. Now it seems we are more concerned what people think about the church.
  5. The Christian message is not always one that appeals to people. Indeed many people find it offensive as they are brought face to face with their sin. So we cannot rely upon the unbeliever to tell us whether or not we are doing a good job. Paul as I recall didn’t set much store on approval ratings.
  6. The church must seek to be ordered by the word of God. To order church by consensus whilst it may be appealing and even get people into the pews it is ultimately a recipe for disaster.

Two concluding comments-

  1. It is interesting that this idea of the mystery worshipper came from an organisation, CRE, committed to promoting commercial resources for churches. Such an organisation should not be there to direct the church but to serve it.
  2. The general feedback amongst the visitors was positive. As such it bears out other research about the impact and effective of congregational life on visitors. It is subject that we ought to think about much more often as we consider how we reach our present generation.

Preaching the Christmas Story

December 19, 2007

Around this time last year I attended a couple of talks by David Jackman of the Proclamation Trust. One of the sessions was called, ‘Preaching the Christmas Story.’ David as usual gave lots of insights into preaching at Christmas. Perhaps the most striking part of the session was the number of texts outside the gospels that he suggested to offer new routes into a familiar story. Who would have thought on preaching a Christmas message from Hebrews 9:26! You can listen to his talk at the link below and scrolling down the page. It is a refreshing talk for the preacher seeking inspiration at Christmas.

Getting Heaven in Focus

December 18, 2007

At a recent Bible study in church we discussed our attitudes to heaven. It became clear as we did so that we had to admit that heaven did not occupy our thoughts in the manner that it ought to. It was suggested that some of the matters we discussed could be drawn together in some way so that we could think a little more about this important issue. I put together a short leaflet called ‘Getting Heaven in Focus.’ You can read it on our church website by clicking on the link below.

We know God is there because of the evil in the world

December 13, 2007

In the 1990’s Romeo Dallaire, a Canadian career soldier, was posted to Rwanda in charge of UN forces. During his time there Dallaire witnessed the mutual slaughter of Hutu and Tutsi whilst the international community stood by. Over the course of 100 days he saw over 800,000 people being killed. Dallaire’s experiences left him distraught and destroyed. He was eventually discharged from the military suffering from PTSD.

In his autobiographical account of his experiences in Rwanda, ‘Shake Hands with the Devil’, Dallaire, who was brought up as a Catholic, makes the following comment, ‘I know there is a God because in Rwanda I shook hands with the devil. I have seen him, I have smelled him and I have touched him. I know there is a devil, and therefore I know there is a God.’ It is a striking comment about the nature of evil. Very often the modern mindset is how can there be a God if there is evil and suffering in the world? Dallaire puts the question in a rather different way. If there is evil in the world how can there not be a God?

It is an important question. For evil and suffering are only a problem if there is a God. If there is no God, no arbiter of justice in our universe, then evil and suffering are not a problem-they are normal. When we witness evil then in our hearts we cry out for justice because we know that the world is not the way it is supposed to be. We long for justice and it is God alone who can offer that justice. As Dallaire’s experiences in Rwanda show the great liberal idea of the goodness of man, an international community of nations working together for the good of mankind is just a myth. Instead nations led by sinful individuals are driven by self-interest. Rwanda, like other acts of genocides shows the reality of the rottenness of the human heart where machete wielders and passive politicians equally have blood on their hands.

There is no hope for humanity from within the human race. Our only hope is the God who breaks in from the outside. The God who gives a second Adam. A new head of humanity who brings with Him a kingdom of righteousness, holiness, justice and joy.

Why is there evil in the world? The explanation of that evil ultimately lies beyond our understanding. Indeed it may do so forever. But we know that God is not indifferent to that evil. Instead He gave His one and only Son Jesus into the hands of wicked men who put Him to death, so that by that death He might overcome the evil one and all who live under his rule.

Sadly as long as our world continues there will be other genocides. Because genocides occur because of the evil that lies in the heart of man and only God can deal with that evil. It is He and not the UN or any other organisation or individual who will bring justice to the earth.

Northern Ireland and the ‘Lost Generation’

December 11, 2007

In a recent survey carried out in Ireland only 21% of Northern Ireland¬† respondents aged 16-24 knew that there are four Gospels. Against that 54% of the over 65s knew that there were four gospels. Whilst such surveys are not always representative this one bears out other statistics that I have seen regarding the 16-24 age group. They are often referred to as ‘the lost generation’ as far as the church is concerned. Sadly ‘lost’ is not just a statistical category. Rather problematically many Evangelicals in NI still think in terms of being a Christian country or a country where people know the gospel. The reality is that many NI people do not know the gospel and treat Evangelicals with a degree of scepticism.

This generation presents  an enormous challenge to churches in NI. In the past we have lived off a culture where many people were taught some Christian basics in school but times have well as truly changed. Unfortunately as churches we are often unsure how to deal with this generation. Many churches fail to attract such people and even if they did they would not know what to say to them. Those who do attract these people often offer little more than a version of Christianity-lite that does nothing more than reflect the culture.

There are therefore huge challenges ahead of us as churches if we are to reach this generation with the life transforming message of Jesus in a way that speaks into the contemporary culture. NI churches need to adjust from a church going culture to being those who are on the cutting edge of a great missionary enterprise.

Golden Compass Resources for Christians

December 10, 2007

Golden Compass has at last hit the screens. But despite the controversy it has not faired as well at the US box office as the money men would have hoped.  Its not a film- or book- I know an awful lot about, fantasy is not my thing. But if you do want to follow it up and see what Christians are saying about it or you simply want to consider the issues as a Christian believer Peter Whyte has put together a really good resource on our church website. You should check it out at