As my handle Sibbesian suggests I love those words of Isaiah fulfilled in Jesus that he will not break the bruised reed or extinguish the smoking flax. Harry Reeder’s book ‘From Embers to a Flame’ has caused me to think about those words not only in a personal context but also in the context of the church. Reeder’s book is about the revitalisation of what to the human eye are dying churches. Here in this book he helps the reader to think through biblical principles that he has put into effect in his own ministry. It is a helpful book that is of value to any church leader. As someone involved in a small church there was much here that we have considered but there was also a lot of food for thought, a lot to challenge and yes, inspire. For those in difficult church situations it offers no magic bullet but it does offer hope for those prepared to commit themselves to seeing the local church revitalised.
Archive for May, 2008
If ‘righteousness alone exalts a nation’ then in the last 48 hours the United Kingdom has demonstrated its abasement. In a series of votes passed in Parliament we have seen permission granted for the creation of animal human hybrids for research purposes, permission granted for the creation of ‘saviour siblings’ that is the creation of one life purely for the preserving of another, permission for lesbian couples to have babies without any legal role for the father and the denial of a reduction in the number of weeks at which a human being may be aborted. I feel immensely sad at what has happened. Sad because of what it reveals about the state of the country. Sad for the countless lives that will be destroyed in labs, in wombs and in the aftermath of lesbian adoptions. I feel sad too, indeed ashamed, at my own quiet complicity in all of this. Did I make my voice count? One feeble signature on a petition. Did other Christians make their voices heard? I scarcely heard a word said by the churches.
I recognise my own need for repentance and that of the nation at this time. We are under the judgement of God and will one day face that judgement. Today we must therefore humble ourselves, repent and call upon His name.
Finally a word of thanks to those courageous men and women in Parliament who sought to withstand this moral capitulation.
Channel 4’s Dispatches programme looked last night at the influence of Christian fundamentalism in Britain in a documentary called ‘In God’s Name.’ ( If you missed it you can watch it online at Channel 4 on demand). It was an attempt by the programme maker to alert Britain to the rising political influence of this movement. It followed a number of key figures in this movement as they campaigned on a number of issues including homosexuality, embryology legislation, blasphemy and Islam. Whilst the programme was sensationalist many who appeared on the programme did themselves no favours. The fact that no-one could explain why they believed the earth was only 4,000 years old was embarrassing. Whilst there was undoubtedly an undercurrent of racism in some of the remarks made about Islam. These remarks are not and cannot be acceptable to Christians.
However the tone of the programme and some of the comments made in the press about it also strike a note of alarm. One of the things that seemed most offensive about this group was what they believed. To believe in a young earth was enough to have these people dubbed sinister. Also rather alarming was the suggestion that for Christians to have access to Parliament and to have a voice in the public square was unacceptable. Of course Christians in this country have a long history of seeking to promote the values of the kingdom of God. This is not some sinister new development as the programme seemed to imply. Were it not for the influence of Christians we might still have a slave trade and be sending small boys up chimneys. It also appeared that to fundamentally disagree with homosexuality, Islam and abortion was unacceptable. If you want to find something sinister here it is- people stoking up the fires of resentment against Christians who do not hold their values. It is alarming that whilst people and their methods may be objectionable that their views are not only held up to ridicule but that secularists wish to silence them completely. Where does this end? The supposed toleration of the makers of this programme is not as tolerant as it thinks it is. It is in fact secular fundamentalism.
I’m not sure who Kris Lundgaard is but the book he has written, The Enemy Within, is one that deserves to be widely known. In this short book he distills the essence of two of John Owen’s tomes on temptation and sin and how to overcome these. In doing so he has created a very readable and practical book on what has sadly become a much neglected topic amongst Christians. In Lungaard’s book there is a good deal of what used to be called the cure of souls. With Owen in the background he wisely diagnoses the disease of sin, offering advice on how to recognise the symptoms and how to effect a cure. Here is a book that will profit every Christian and I cannot recommend it enough.
This week saw the death of Tommy Burns one of the coaches of Celtic football club. He was a comparatively young 51 years. He seems to have been a genuinely decent bloke and his death touched not only his family but those involved in Scottish football. I read with interest one of the comments on his death by the BBC Scotland football correspondent Chick Young. Young wrote, ‘The good Lord hasn’t really got the hang of this. He really shouldn’t keep taking all the good guys. Poor Tommy. Snatched from us ridiculously early. It is scandalously unfair, this evil business of cancer.’ It reminded me of the obituaries that can often be read in the local newspapers. They run something like, ‘Jimmy you were one of the best because God only takes the best.’
What does this type of thinking say about us? On one level it shows that we are often hopelessly sentimental in the face of death. It also shows that despite declining church attendance in the UK we are a nation where ‘Christian’ folk religion is still very evident. (The comment that we believe in justification by death comes to mind.) It also reminds us that in a culture that scorns religion we still look to God for both answers and comfort in the face of death. The really sad corollary of this is that most people don’t look too hard. And they settle either for the suggestion that God is to blame and they have been robbed. Or for the comfort that their loved one is in the heaven they had no interest in whilst alive.
Above all they reflect a culture which largely denies death. Death in inevitable but only at a distance. Any death short of three score years and ten (plus another 20) is viewed as a savage act. Most people, according to one writer, envisage death in their early nineties after two sets of tennis, a good lunch and having made love to their partner. Then they will painlessly slip away. But death is no respecter of persons or age or our designs. Instead it is the great certainty for which we must be prepared. And it is in seeing death as that which Jesus has conquered in his death and resurrection that we come to realise that to be with Christ is no loss. Instead it is better by far.
One of the great needs of our day it seems to me is the need for us to consider the nature of religious experience. For an age that is so taken with the idea of religious experience there is comparatively little examination of such experience. Instead it seems to increasingly be the case that all religious experience is considered to be authentic religious experience. Previous generations took the task of examining the nature of religious experience much more seriously. And whilst lacking the tools of modern psychology they also understood it remarkably well.
One example of this is found in the work of Archibald Alexander in his 1844 work ‘Thoughts on Religious Experience.’ In this work Alexander gives detailed consideration to true and false religious experience. As someone who lived through times of revival offers many wise words that all who are interested in the true work of God in their own lives and in the lives of others would do well to read. This work offers a helpful antidote to the superficiality that afflicts the contemporary church. And where sadly many are deluded with regard to the true nature of religious experience. Alexander’s work touches upon issues of eternal consequence which we would all do well to heed. He covers many helpful topics including dreams, true and false conversions, the effects of age on spiritual vigour, the variety of conversion experiences, the relationship between sin and dreams and draws on many historical illustrations of his points.