When we had our first baby, Megan, I was blown away by the generosity of people in our street. Next door gave us a mountain of baby clothes, even though they’ve got a full house, with 13 grandchildren in and out. Our new neighbours on the other side, who we’d spoken to a handful of times, seemed to have bought something new for the baby every time we saw them. And it’s not just a baby thing. I’ve been put to shame as I’ve received far more practical help and love from those in my street than I’ve given.
We’ve been reading through Exodus as a family recently, and have reached the practical laws in chapter 21 onwards. It seems there were to be no boundaries for the Israelites in their concern and compassion for others. Foreigners were not excluded (22:21). Personal grievances were not to prevent aid (23:4-5). As much as I would love to just obscure the moral teaching of the Old Testament law under a blanket of redemptive-historical-fulfilment mumbo-jumbo, the truth is those laws reflect the heart of our generous God. Jesus was clothing himself with that law as he went about ministering grace to those in need, and summarising it’s teaching in the always-challenging parable of the Good Samaritan.
So why am I such a stinge-meister? Why am I so slow to seek out need around me? Why is generosity an effort rather than a knee-jerk reaction? (continue reading…)
So here’s where I’m coming from. At New Inn Church (www.newinnchapel.co.uk) we’d been running a youth group for a couple of years, with secondary-school-aged kids coming, mainly from nearby council houses, and almost entirely not Christians.
We’d started with simple talks based on their hardest questions (‘Why does God take good people and leave bad people?’ ‘Did God make dinosaurs?’ and ‘When Jesus comes back, will he be wearing old clothes, modern clothes, or will he be… naked?’ – ok, we didn’t do a whole week on the last question!). Then we began doing some narrative sections in the gospels, but still without directly engaging with the Bible text. Then this last year, we began by looking at the promises made to Adam, Noah and Abraham, all pointing forward to Jesus, and we used the Bible passages for that.
By this point, we had a consistent group of about ten teens, and were gradually piecing together the gospel with them. Ok, so most weeks we still had to send home a couple for bad behaviour, but the routine had been set – half an hour of Bible study, followed by half an hour of dodgeball (always, every week, without fail – their request! My knees have never been the same since…)
So I felt they were about ready for something like the Soul DVD – a nicely repackaged form of the youth Christianity Explored course (buy it from the Good Book Company here). How did it go down? (continue reading…)
“People used to think of me as Jim the Marine – it gave me that sense of recognition. And yet… there was something still missing.”
James Richards talks with me about his experience serving with the Royal Marines, and his search for belonging in the battle of life.
Please share this video with those you know (the link is youtube.com/watch?v=kEjkTMVRRO8), and use it in your churches or ministry work.
Video and soundtrack produced by 2Vdesign
Much needed call from Roger Carswell to ask tough questions about where we are in ministry and what is really shaping our plans and ambitions.
Full article here: http://e-n.org.uk/5489-not-listening-to-god.htm
In September, along with another couple, my wife Sophie and I are hoping, by God’s grace, to plant a church on an unreached estate nearby to where we’re living (more info at http://www.hillcitychurch.org/garn). So I was pretty keen to read Graham Beynon’s new book, ‘Planting for the Gospel: A Hands-on Guide to Church Planting’.
I’ve got admit, as I read the introduction, my heart sank. Graham describes the first Sunday service of a church plant he was involved in: “About fifty adults and twenty children from a nearby church were meeting together” (p9). And my first thought was, “That’s more people than at my current church! I thought this was a book about church planting, not church transplanting!”
But pretty soon, as he examines some Bible basics concerning church planting, it becomes clear that he’s not putting forward a ‘bigger is better’ approach. In fact the book as a whole is very broad, with a good focus on the necessity to plant where there is need, rather than just ease. Like a good game of football, it’s split into two halves of more-or-less equal length – the first outlining church planting principles, and the second providing case studies from a wide variety of church plants (including contributions from RTU bloggers Andy Mason, Dai Hankey, Steve Casey and Tim Chester!)
In Urban Harvest Roy Joslin highlights that those living in deprived areas often form their opinions on life based mainly on impression – what they see and experience. The middle-class on the other hand, often those who have been through higher education, shape their worldview primarily through reasoning. This has massive implications for us as Christians in these areas – what we do is as important as what we say.
I just wanted to provide a real life example of this, which forced me to start thinking more about how I speak about the gospel.
A mum who lived near us made a throwaway comment about smoking. She said she thought smoking when pregnant was fine. I asked her what she thought about the big label on her cigarette packet, “SMOKING WHEN PREGNANT HARMS YOUR BABY”. She replied that it was a load of rubbish. She then went on to explain that she had followed the doctor’s advice with her first child, and had stopped smoking. The pregnancy had been tough, and there were serious complications at the birth. So for her next pregnancy she took no notice of the warnings and happily puffed away through her nine months. This time the pregnancy, birth and baby were all fine. Her conclusion: the doctors are wrong, and smoking is fine.
I thought about how this lady had formed her opinion on the poison of smoking. And I realised most of what I was saying about the poison of sin and the remedy of the gospel was probably going over her head too! Not because I was using complicated reasoning, but because I wasn’t connecting with or countering her existing impressions of Christianity.
So how do we adjust for this difference in thinking? Joslin says mistaken opinions “can only be changed by… the influence of a contrary set of sense impressions”. Real life testimonies can have a massive effect here, particularly if they are from others who have grown up in the same area. But there is no quick substitute for simply doing as Jesus did, and being ‘a friend of sinners’. Only then will the radical difference of our Christ-centred, Spirit-empowered lives both connect with and counter those false impressions.
Massive challenge for church leaders:
The world and the culture in which we live is this: Marriage is the issue. From gay marriage to divorce to adultery – people need to know how to love one another, and live together and raise kids and finish well.
And here’s the hard, cold, sad truth: you’re gonna take your marriage, and you’re gonna put it as the most important human relationship in the church, you’ll make it the epicentre of the culture that you create, and from there, everyone else is going to photocopy your marriage.
So if your marriage is jack you will have a church filled with jack marriages. If your kids are not loved and led, you will have a church filled with kids who are not loved and led. You will get a church, but you’ll get just another poor, dysfunctional, unhealthy church.
We don’t need more of those.
Watch the whole talk at marshillchurch.org
I preached my first town centre open air sermon in Bridgend yesterday, and I felt like when I was dared to dive off the three metre board at the local swimming pool when I was 11: absolutely terrified! But there was a great crew of friends out too praying hard, and picking up conversations with those who looked interested.
Anyway, the main point is, most people didn’t stop to listen, but there was a steady flow of people passing nonetheless. I reckon there was a one-minute envelope from when these people came within ‘firing’ range, to when they were out of earshot.
So the challenge is this: how do you best communicate the good news of Jesus in one minute?
I think you need to be:
- Ear-catching. It has to grab people’s attention whether by being vivid, or controversial, or even a bit odd! Jesus’ ear-catching parables, as well as hardening some hearts, also had the effect of opening others. As Spurgeon put it, like first tickling an oyster, so that you can then slip in the knife – the killer punchline!
- Direct. This can be no simple presentation of facts. The gospel call is not a lecture, it’s a lifeline thrown to the drowning person with a direct instruction to grab hold!
- Uncompromising. Paul preached in different cultures, cities and contexts. And while the manner and style of the presentation varied, the message of ‘Christ crucified’ (1 Cor 1:23) stood rock solid.
To give you some ideas, here’s what I preached today:
Anybody interested in knowing this Saturday’s lottery numbers? Course you are! Everyone wants to be rich right? You can be rich right now. Not rich with money – rich with something better. Jesus Christ was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. Jesus was loaded in heaven. But he swapped it for a hard life here, and shameful execution on a cross. Why? So that he might give you his riches in place of your guilt. Trust Jesus with your life – he will give you the riches of knowing God personally.
Phew! It’s hard to be brief! A couple of cheeky uses of dashes, and there we go: 100 words!
But I want your ideas! Post a comment below with your one-minute gospel and I will shamelessly use the best ones on the street! Soli Deo Gloria.
Watch Nora’s testimony. After both her parents became Christians within a short time of each other, Nora decided she had nothing to lose, and joined them one Sunday in going to church. She was introduced to the rescuer Jesus, and in the pain of her own hard situation, was only too happy to cry out for help from him. Her real encounter with Jesus marked a turning point affecting the rest of her life.
See other real life stories on the New Inn Chapel website.
Have a watch of Bill’s testimony. Bill is originally from Birkenhead. At a memorial service, aged 25, Bill was brought face to face with the reality of Jesus Christ. From that day onwards his life changed for the better as he began a personal relationship with Jesus.
More real life stories on the New Inn Chapel website.