Thursday, 29 March 2012
Today, the 29th of March 2012, I Mark Walley, am wearing shorts for the first time this year (excluding when playing in football matches). This makes it for the second consecutive year I have set a new shorts record. It is also the earliest date by a massive 10 days. The longer I do this for, the harder it is to make jokes about proving global warming from bad statistics.
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Tuesday, 27 March 2012
One-To-One Bible Reading - A simple guide for every Christian is a book by David Helm on reading the Bible one-to-one with other people. Well, I say a book, it's more like a pamphlet. It clocks in at a total of 103 pages, but 22 of those are appendices and another 43 are tips and tricks in how to understand the Bible a bit better for when you read it. There's really only 38 pages of content on why you'd read the Bible with someone else and how you'd go about doing that. This review will probably take longer to write then it did to read the book. And that's a really good thing.
You believe the Bible is a good thing right? You hold to 2 Timothy 3:14-17 right? "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for...?" And you believe that reading the Bible with other people is a good thing right? Good. You then don't need a book that goes into 400 pages plus footnotes to prove that to you. What you need is a book that says "really briefly, here's how to read the Bible on a one-to-one basis" and this is entirely that book. It's the book that you'll be lending to other Christians to encourage them to do one-to-ones with your young people. It's a book you'll probably gain a bit from too. I do a one-to-one at least once a week, plus some other stuff and I read it and I think there are things I'll do now to improve the one-to-one's I do. It's got nothing particular about reading the Bible with young people, so you've got no help thinking through the specifics of child protection issues and anything else, but you should have that thing covered in your policies anyway. In short —as befits this book— this is my new book to lend to people to get them to read the bible with other people. It's worth the £5 it costs.
Wednesday, 21 March 2012
Depending on how big a geek you are (and let's face it, you're reading a blog right now, so you're a bit of one) you may have seen the story about a guy called Mike Daisey who made a lot of publicity about the appalling conditions in the factory that makes your iPhone. Turns out he was lying. It's not that the working conditions in Chinese electronics factories aren't pretty terrible, it's that what he said he'd witnessed hadn't happened.
The gist of Mike Daisey's defense is the idea that, though the pieces of his story weren't actually true, they combined to make for a story that painted a larger truth. Wrong. Daisey was not getting at a larger truth. He was instead painting a big lie.
That's from John Gruber's excellent blog. His point is you can't establish a bigger deeper truth with little soft "truthy" lies. That "truthy" expression to describe this sort of behaviour I've stolen from another excellent blog where the author explains the behaviour like this:
The easiest way to make a story engaging is to personalize it, to say "this is something that happened to me". Everyone knows this on some level. Urban legends happen to "a friend of a friend" because, just by adding that phrase, you have made the story twice as interesting as one that happened to someone to whom you have no link at all.
And here's the point for youth ministers and Christians in general. When you have something to tell the temptation is to try and make it more interesting with truthy stories. They didn't happen to you in quite the manner you're saying, but they did happen to someone at some point so they're kinda true right? That guy who got saved, well sure you weren't there, but it's a better story if you were and that'll grip the teenagers more. And you're trying to get across a really important point so it's worth doing it. Wrong. You can see on just human terms, even little small, truthy lies, undermine the whole message. And even more so on spiritual terms. You can't explain the God of truth with small little lies.
Tuesday, 20 March 2012
"If someone who doesn't know God prays to God does it make a difference?" With the collapse of Fabrice Muamba over the weekend and the incredible response to it, that's the question that one young person I know asked on Monday.
If you don't know the event, Bolton midfielder Fabrice Muamba collapsed forty minutes into a football match against Tottenham on the weekend. He had a heart-attack. As I write he's still in intensive care but showing signs of improvement. It happened during the only Premiership football match of the afternoon and consequentially the minds of a large part of the country were at least giving the game some attention (I had the BBC live football reporting running in a browser tab while doing some other stuff as it happened) it became big news fast. And because of the nature of the internet and social media a lot more people became aware and so it wasn't long before #prayformuamba was trending on twitter and Facebook was full of people saying things like "I don't care if you're religious or not but pray for Muamba". The call to prayer becomes almost more a phenomenon than the initial tragedy of a incredibly fit 23 year old having a heart attack. The tabloids put up headlines like "God Is In Control" and the BBC devote a whole article to the phenomenon of why people pray in situations like this.
Which brings us back to the question; if someone who doesn't know God prays to God does it make a difference? A Christian, a Muslim, and an atheist all pray for Muamba; the Christian prays through Christ to the Father, the Muslim to Allah in hope he might be merciful, and the atheist in what he hopes is the spirit of scientific enquiry. Do the latter two's prayers count? Do their gods listen, or does the true God listen and accept their prayers anyway? Do all prayers end up at God? There are a couple of questions to ask to resolve this.
First, on what basis does anyone get to pray to God? When Jesus teaches His disciples how to pray He starts with "our Father in heaven" (Matthew 6:9). Prayer, is on the basis of God being a Father who listens to His children and answers them, the same way he listens to Christ and answers Him. His disciples can come to God the Father in heaven as their Father. Why do they get to call Him their Father? Because they're His children. How are they God's children? Because He's adopted them as children through Christ (Eph. 1:5, Gal 4:5). Why did he have to adopt them? Because they weren't His children beforehand. Before they were saved and brought into Christ they were orphans. Actually worse than that, they weren't orphans, they were children of wrath (Eph. 1:3). Along with that they were dead in their sins (Eph 1:1), and following the rebellious rule of the world (Eph 1:2). This is not a position you can pray to God the Father from. Dead people have no voice to ask with, orphans have no one to ask for, and rebels have no inclination to ask for anything. We also are in that same position outside of Christ. Before any of us were adopted in Christ to be sons of the Father we were rebels and dead and orphans and then thanks to his glorious Son we were saved and brought to Him. And if we are saved the Father is obliged to hear our prayers the same way he has to hear the prayers of his Son. He delights to hear the prayers of His children. He loves to hear his children pray. He think it's brilliant.
But those outside of Christ? Does he have to hear their prayers? I guess He could hear them, but He's certainly not obliged to. He has not promised to always hear their prayer like He has with His children. Those people who are not his children, their prayers do not have to be answered by God. Is this unfair? Yes! But it's unfair not because he promises to hear some and not others, but because fair would be Him listening to no-one's prayers ever. We all come from dead, rebellious, orphan stock. We're all children of the sinful man Adam. And yet, he still adopts and listens to these dead rebels. What's ridiculously, gloriously, even more unfair is that there is one prayer that He's promised to listen to from anyone. He said he'll listen to any dead, rebellious orphan if they cry out to Him for salvation. And then'll He'll be their Father and then He'll answer all their prayers.
There's another way of thinking about this. Ask the question; "whom are these people praying to"? Are they praying to the Father even if they don't realise it? Are they praying to a false God? Are they praying to no-one at all? In the Old Testament you get plenty of examples of people praying to gods who don't listen to them. Think of Elijah facing down the prophets of Baal. Elijah tells them to call on their god Baal. They pray from morning till noon. "'O Baal answer us!' they shouted. But there was no response; no-one answered" (1 Kings 18:26) Elijah rightly then mocks the prophets of Baal for praying to a god who doesn't answer them. "'Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened?'" (8:28) says Elijah. "But there was no response, no-one answered, no-one paid attention." (8:29) Praying to Baal is ineffective and useless. As is praying to the Philistine god Dagon, the star god Rephan, and the child sacrifice loving Moloch. As is praying to any God who isn't the Father of Jesus Christ. The only God who answers prays is God the Father. So unless they are praying to that God, they aren't praying to anyone of use.
You could say at this point "well, people are praying to God and that God must be our God right?" No. Because our God isn't some generic higher power God, our God is the glorious trinitarian God; Father, Son, and Spirit. Okay, then what about if you were to say "well, people are praying to God, and that God must be God the Father right?" Again, no. How do we know anything about God the Father? Only because God the Son has revealed the Father to us. "No-one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only [that is, Jesus Christ the Son], who is at the Father's side has made him known." (John 1:18). So who are those who don't know the Father through the Son praying to? I think, no-one. They can't be praying to the Father because they can only know the Father through the Son. Could the Father choose to hear their prayers anyway, even though they're not to Him? Again, I guess so, He's the Father, He does what He wants to do. But He'd wouldn't be answering prayers sent for Him.
So I think in answer to the initial question "If someone who doesn't know God prays to God does it make a difference?" is "they're not really praying to God, so no, he doesn't have to answer to them." Whoever they're praying to it isn't their Father in heaven, because they don't know Him and haven't been adopted by Him. And because God isn't their Father he isn't obliged to pray to them.
I think this is important because prayer is an awesome, phenomenal gift of God to us in the gospel. When we're saved by Jesus we get the ability to pray, and because we're rubbish at using the gift we get a Spirit who teaches us how to pray and intercedes for us when we can't. This is a great gift we need to treasure, and it's a gift Jesus had to die to bring to us. And so saying that everyone gets it anyway undermines Jesus' death to bring it about. It messes with our understanding of how powerful prayer is too. If we tell everyone they can pray to God and he might hear them, then no wonder we expect God not to answer prayers. When we insist that we as Christians have access to God because of Jesus' death for us, because He is now our Father, then we've got grounds to expect and even demand a response from Him and so persevere in prayer knowing He loves us and loves to give us good things.
Thursday, 15 March 2012
More on yesterday's thoughts on naturalism, here's a helpful definition of the differences between science and naturalism.
One of the easiest rhetorical traps to fall into when discussing faith and science is equating science with naturalism. Modern philosophers such as Alvin Plantinga have wisely identified that the real conflict is between naturalism and science, not science and religion.
Tuesday, 13 March 2012
I've just started reading God's Philosophers by James Hannam and this idea caught me early on. Hannam points out that in contrast to the medieval worldview modern humans don't see anything in creation as having a purpose.
"For modern people who hold a naturalistic worldview, nothing ultimately has a purpose. The universe just is, and has no guiding hand. We do not need to look for conscious reason for anything to know how it works. In fact any such explanation involving a purpose is scientifically invalid. To a medieval mind, such a view would be completely irrational. They would say that rationality itself requires a reason for everything. Take an example from the animal kingdom: today, when we want to know why a lion has sharp teeth and claws we will look to the theory of evolution to explain it. To the medieval mind, the correct question to ask was what purpose the lion served. The answer would be that God designed it to catch its prey and it therefore had the attributes that enabled it to do that. Furthermore, God gave the world the lion to act as a symbolic reminder of his Son, Jesus Christ, who is king of men just as the lion is king of the beasts." p. 34
I think this modern naturalistic worldview has permeated the church through and through. We consequentially struggle to read the book of creation as a book written with purpose by God. Would we think that the reason God had lions exist was to teach us about majesty and awe and power, so that He had imagery to use when revealing His Son?
We should see the creation as containing purpose and reason. Creation was made this way for a reason. And so, for example, it's right and good to see God creating light to be simultaneously two apparently contradictory states, wave and particle together, to teach us about the unity of the human and divine nature of his son, the true light of the world; something that seems impossible and yet fundamentally makes the world as it is.
I wonder if we also think like this not just in our reading of the book of creation but also when we read the bible. We don't think that things are necessarily written with a purpose. I don't mean the big stuff, like God promising one to come who will crush satan's head, but I mean in the little things, like why Jesus curses a fig tree, not any other tree. Or why it's the jawbone of a donkey that is used as a weapon. Now you might say, well that was just what was to hand at the time, I'm not sure there is any symbolism there. But why did God purpose a donkey's corpse to be nearby? Why not an ox? Or a goat? Or why a bone at all? Why not a stick? Why mention the instrument at all? Scripture is rich, and has richness for a reason
Friday, 9 March 2012
If you regularly find yourself explaining your week based upon how busy you are then this is worth the five minutes to read and ten minutes to pray over.
Christians can be worse than anyone at sharing their busyness. Maybe it's because we have the 'normal' stuff of work and family but with an added layer of busyness called 'church'. But it's a disaster when church becomes just another thing on the 'to do' list. What message does this convey to our communities? "Come to church - we'll give you more stuff to stress about!"
Monday, 5 March 2012
One thing you can know for sure, pastor, is that in the course of your ministry you will be sinned against. You'll be misunderstood, falsely accused, and unfairly judged. Often this will happen in your relationships with those with whom you are ministering.
And I'd add to that, as a youth minister, you're going to sin against and be sinned against by your boss. So it's worth reading this about forgiving your co-ministers.