Sunday, 15 May 2011


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Callie’s Baptism

I am very pleased that my seven year old daughter Callie was baptised on Saturday. I captured the moment on this shaky video with my little camera.

Jess produced a much better video that she has put on facebook here and I have made some photos available here.

Some of you may be thinking that seven is much too young for a believer's baptism like this but Callie has clearly made her own decision to follow Jesus. She had been asking about baptism for some time. We talked with Steve and Helen who are leaders in our church and they very responded positively. In fact they were keen to get on with it. So we arranged a mutually convenient date on a Saturday afternoon so that members of our family could come and be part of the celebration. 

We believe in baptism by full immersion. But our church doesn’t have a building that is big enough for us all to meet in never mind one with a baptismal pool. For our meetings we usually hire a local community centre or gather in each other's homes. So whenever we want to baptise people we have to think carefully about how to do it. In the past we have borrowed other church’s facilities or hired a swimming pool. This time Steve and Helen offered to host Callie’s baptism at their home using their inflatable pool in their back garden. They have baptised adults in that pool before so they knew it would be big enough to baptise Callie in.

It was a great time with some of the church, some of our family and even neighbours all piled into Steve and Helen’s home. When the pool was ready we went out into the garden. We didn’t feel there was any need to make it into a service as such, so there wasn’t singing or anything like that. Steve just explained about baptism in literally two or three minutes. It was encouraging to hear Callie shouting her agreement: ‘Yes! Yes! Yes!’ We had decided that Helen, along with my wife Nettes, would do the honours. So they knelt down in the pool with Callie and immersed her with everyone looking on.

A big thank you to all who took part including my niece Hannah on towel duty and of course Danni Smith who made this cake.

I would best describe Danni as a cake artist. As you can see the cake also captured the moment. Thank you Jess for arranging this; it’s not something we would have considered. The cake made a great centre piece for our little buffet. As well as food we provided soft drinks for the children and bottles of wine for the adults.

Callie was also blessed with a number of presents. We had bought her a Bible but other people gave her cards and presents too including this wonderful bracelet that tells the story of Jesus.

Christ's Story Beaded Bracelet
It was great to finish the afternoon chilling with Steve and Helen in the conservatory with an incense stick burning.

Phew! What a day!

Monday, May 02, 2011

Celebrating The Royal Wedding

On Friday Britain has a day off for the Royal Wedding and though many might be cynical of the media hype most are grateful of the holiday and an excuse to party.

For me the whole affair was rather poignant, as the day before was something of a bad news day: two friends in our church both lost loved ones at tragically young ages. But still as my parents used to say ‘life must go on’.

Asbo Jesus 1009
One project that we are involved in our community is our local In Bloom and we had a launch party for it on that afternoon. There were a couple of tents out and Nettes ran a cake decorating stall. Their was some seed planting, balloon modelling, face-painting but the aim was to let people know about our local In Bloom later this year.

Of course this wasn’t the only party on the day. Outside Ladywood Health & Community Centre – the venue our church hires for its meetings – there were some tents, stalls and also bouncy castle. 

Round the back in the Ledbury Centre - our little church building – the folks in the Drop In where glad to find somewhere that they could chill out away from the wedding celebrations. The Drop In developed out of our ministry to the homeless and some homeless guys who regularly come to the Drop In were sifting through some clothes that had been donated while others were playing snooker.

Just down the road in the Methodist Church, the local Christian charity that we have ties with, Karis Neighbour Scheme, were having their party.

Karis Neighbour Scheme
Karis do a lot of work serving people in the community generally being good neighbours. This includes work with many refugee and asylum seeker families and it was good to see some of them there.

It was really glad that I popped in to get this picture of Roo as I also saw Phillipa from Karis’s Grow Well Programme - a project that encourages health through the therapeutic effects of gardening and making contact with the natural environment. It was fortunate that she found me as she had lots of free sun flower seeds for me to take to our In Bloom launch but couldn’t find us.

For us the celebrations didn’t finish on the Friday. On Saturday a lot of us from our church piled down to Jess’s to party in the evening with drinks and nibbles.

Then on Sunday our church had a Royal Tea Party for our next Family Church – our alternative style service with fun activities for all the family. We were making bunting, table decorations and colouring in a picture of a royal banquet while discussing the meaning of Jesus parable of the wedding banquet and how God invites us to be part of his kingdom. We even sung ‘I cannot come to the banquet’ before sitting down to our feast. 

And finally, today Alex and Ellen a couple from our church are getting married and I love this description of them as ‘kingdom royalty… surrounded and supported by God's royal priesthood’, which is not only apt for this weekend but also reminds us of the wonderful truths of the Kingdom of God. A pity I forgot to charge the camera for that one. Oh well - never mind!

Phew! What a weekend! I can identify with the verger in this viral video:

Friday, April 29, 2011

Christian Symbolism in Doctor Who

Did anyone else spot the parallels between the Doctor’s death in The Impossible Astronaut and Jesus death on the cross? Of course there is nothing new with using Christian symbolism in science fiction. The idea of the hero dying or at least appearing to die and then coming back from the dead is a well known plot line. And given that ever since the revival of the series Doctor Who has started on or around Easter Saturday it shouldn’t be surprising. I just think there were so many references in this opening that it was worth commenting on.

In the first few minutes of the story the Doctor dies. Interestingly the date of the action in episode is clearly shown on scene to be Good Friday – the day before the story was transmitted. Before he dies the Doctor gathers his friends together for a meal, well actually a picnic, but I think the symbolism is getting a bit clearer here. This is the Doctor’s Last Supper with his companions. They even share some red wine. The fact they are by a lake even shows echoes of Sea of Galilee where Jesus ministered.

The Doctor appears to know that something important is about to happen. He tells them not to interfere as he his assailant appears – a mysterious space-suited figure. It reminded me how Jesus was anticipating his death and expected Judas to turn up in the garden and betray him.

A blast from an energy weapon and the doctor is fatally wounded. But of course in Doctor Who the Doctor doesn’t die he regenerates and takes on a new appearance. So, as he does in the new series, the Doctor stretches out his arms and begins to regenerate - light flashing from his face and hands. Isn’t it obvious now that this pose is supposed to remind us of Jesus death on the cross? The Doctor is then hit again by the energy weapon. He falls down and his companions look on his body. The regeneration is halted. He really is dead.

The gun shots at the space-suited figure as it walks back into the lake reminds me of Peter taking up his sword to defend Jesus. And then his companions burn the body on a boat on the lake in a Viking style funeral reminded me how Jesus' friends prepared his body for burial.

His companions in shock and mourning, despairing yet trying to understand what has happened just as Jesus disciples are portrayed between the death and resurrection. They go into a nearby diner and suddenly the Doctor appears out of the bathroom. The twist on this resurrection scene is that this is an earlier version of the Doctor. It is time travel science fiction after all. And off they go on an adventure. But perhaps it is leading up to some way in which the Doctor will be resurrected after his death later in the series.

Some interesting parallels?

Friday, April 22, 2011

Understanding Atonement

At Easter we remember the death and resurrection of Jesus. On Good Friday especially we remember the story of the cross and that Jesus died for us. But what does Jesus death actually mean for us?

The answer lies in the doctrine of the atonement. Somehow through Jesus death we can now be reconciled to God and made at one. One way to remember it is that atonement is at-one-ment. But have you ever stopped to think how exactly that works?

Penal Substitution
The dominant understanding of the atonement in evangelical circles has been penal substitution. This basically says that God punished Jesus for our sins on the cross.

Looking back at Church history this interpretation of the Bible can be traced back to Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109) who developed an idea that the atonement involved God’s honour being satisfied by Christ’s obedience where before God had been dishonoured by human disobedience. This was refined further by Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) who saw the atonement as Christ making a substitution for us – suffering for us. John Calvin (1509-1564) went even further with penal substitution – Christ was legally punished by God instead of us and so it is God’s wrath that was satisfied. This has been largely accepted as orthodox evangelical belief but recently as questioning of this really come to the fore.

In recent years a number of evangelicals, most notably for us in the UK, Steve Chalke have spoken out against the implications of penal substitution. Steve Chalke raised the hackles of many evangelicals by referring to this idea as “cosmic child abuse” in The Lost Message of Jesus (2004).

Christus Victor
An alternative view of the biblical teaching of atonement that is being embraced by an increasing number of evangelicals is called Christus Victor. This view emphasises Christ’s victory over the devil (e.g. Col 2:15).

Christus Victor
In his 1931 book Christus Victor Gustaf Aulen argues for a theory of the atonement which he sees as the classic view held by the early church for a thousand years until superseded by satisfaction. Although held by Martin Luther (1483-1586) it did not make its way into Lutheran orthodoxy and was not systematically put together until Aulen did so in his book.

The basic idea of Christus Victor is that Jesus death on the cross defeated the devil liberating the world from the devil’s rule by paying the ransom due to Satan (e.g. Matt 20:28). You see, according to this theory, the Bible teaches that devil ruled mankind and the earth because of Adam’s fall but Christ’s payment set humanity and the world free from the curse but the devil was tricked as he could not keep Christ in the grave so he ended up with nothing.

David Matthew has some quotes and comments about Christus Victor on his website here.

Christus Victor has been held by a few evangelicals since the book was published most notably C.S Lewis. You may recognise the imagery from Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. This appears to be a very powerful view however some have found the idea of God deceiving Satan to be an unpalatable idea and penal substitution remained the prevailing view.

More Than One Explanation
Despite their misgivings not many evangelicals are willing to throw out substitutionary atonement altogether. But a growing number, such as Scot McKnight in 2007 in A Community Called Atonement and subsequent Christianity Today article, are now admitting that there can be a number of legitimate approaches.

Some are beginning to say that penal substitution is only part of the explanation, Christus Victor another part and even the moral example view can be seen as a third part and so on. The moral example view is that Jesus died as an example for us. He sought to influence us morally in showing us how to live a life of sacrifice culminating in his death on the cross. However this doesn’t really explain how sin is dealt with and may not really take sin seriously enough.

Nevertheless appealing to a number of stories of atonement, rather than just one, is an answer that I like i.e. ‘both/and’ rather than ‘either/or’. It is well illustrated here by one church in 2006 when one writer Mark Dever was arguing for penal substitution alone.

The Debate Continues
In this 2011 Christianity Today article Mark Galli looks at and critiques the rise of the Christus Victor view over substitutionary atonement. For instance, he points out this model emphasises that we are victims that need rescuing from the powers evil whereas substitutionary atonement emphasises that we are guilty and need forgiveness that liberates us from our sin. Also rather than just individual forgiveness it emphasises the redemption of the cosmos. He comes to the conclusion that though Christus Victor language is there in the Bible the overwhelming emphasis is on substitution. Perhaps the emphasis on Christus Victor can be understood in a society where we are acutely aware of being victims but becoming less aware of our own failings.

A good response to this can be found on Bramboniusin’s blog here where he questions the dichotomy that Galli draws between Christus Victor and substitutionary atonement without mentioning penal substitution. Doesn’t Christus Victor include the original idea of substitutionary atonement as it is all about Christ dying for us? Perhaps it would be more precise to see Christus Victor as a rival to penal substitution.

And anyway I still wonder if there may be a good case for embracing more than one of these explanations in order to fully understand what it means that Christ died for us. In a post from a couple of year’s ago blogger Mike Morrell having analysed and critiqued the models of the atonement had a go at putting it all back together again here.

I can see that this is far from as simple as I once thought. Nevertheless even if I haven’t got all the detailed sussed this Easter, this I do know: Jesus died for me!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Celebration of Discipline

A year or two ago I heard that two or three people in our church were reading through a book called Celebration of Discipline. I did a bit of research and found many comments that spurred me on buy this book and study it myself. It is interesting that a book written in the 70s by someone from a Quaker background should resonate so well will so many different groups of Christians today. Some might be critical of what is sometimes referred to as his ‘mystical’ approach. However, I would say that Richard Foster appears to have a grasp of hearing God and being in tune with the Holy Spirit that Christians whatever their background can find beneficial. Recently I have been reading through this classic discussion of spiritual disciplines again and each time I do so I feel uplifted.

Richard Foster takes twelve different practices and outlines how putting effort into them can help us grow spiritually. He classifies them as the inward disciplines of meditation, prayer, fasting and study, the outward disciples of simplicity, solitude, submission and service, the corporate disciplines of confession, worship, guidance and celebration.

I find this book stimulating, inspiring and encouraging. At first the title made me fear that it would make me feel undisciplined and lacking in these areas. But as I began to read I didn’t find that at all. Richard Foster has such a gracious way of expressing even the most challenging ideas. If anything it was encouraging to see that so many things that I do already such as study and solitude can be seen as spiritual disciplines. It also articulates some of the things that I feel strongly about very clearly. I’ve never been someone to spend frivolously so I found that I resonated a lot with what Foster calls simplicity. In no way does this book make me feel that I should to be excelling at all of the disciplines. Instead I feel that what Richard Foster does is outline ideas for each one these that sometimes affirm my experiences and other times make me want to try to develop some of these further.

I love the way each discipline is elaborated giving interesting insights into its other possible aspects. For instance in meditation he talks about meditating on current affairs seeking God for insight, as well as giving practical exercises. I love his ideas for study that include the study of nature and the study of people. There is a good range of ideas on each discipline some much easier to do than others, for instance, he talks about partial fasts from different things as well as prolonged total fasts.

Richard Foster is also careful to point out pitfalls and cautions with the disciplines such as falling into legalism and is very practical about how to do them. He has some good physical advice on how to fast for instance and is clear that corporate disciplines such submission are very open to abuse but he still feels that they are important to explore. He gives very practical stories that show how the disciplines have been used and developed.

I found the structure of the book really helpful. The questions at the end of each chapter helped me in reading in the book. Although some of them are simply factual he also enabled me to think about his points by asking for reaction and even disagreement with his points. The way he clearly enumerates his points also adds to clarity and quick reading of the book. He is perhaps a little more formal and stilted than we are used to in Christian writing today but I could easily cope with that.

There are many copies of this book around that can be picked up very cheaply. So even if you’re not sure about it I would really recommend anyone having a look at this book.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Sod the Difference

I’ve just been listening to Sod The Difference - a talk from Greenbelt 2008 where Jenny Baker comes to the conclusion that there isn’t really that much difference between men and women at all.

Are Men From Mars And Women From Venus?
Jenny takes to task books like John Gray’s Mars and Venus books even though she admits that plenty of people would say that they have found them helpful and learnt to communicate better. Her contention is that Gray’s books and those like them perpetuate gender stereotypes. Looking at the psychological research she finds the evidence that they are based on very questionable. An idea that has also been touched on by Jon Birch in this recent ASBO Jesus cartoon.
Are Men Wild At Heart?
Jenny is also critical of Christian books such as John Eldridge’s Wild At Heart that looks at masculinity and John & Stasi Eldridge’s Captivating that looks at femininity. Jenny pointed out “there is as much of difference between some of the women as between the women and the men”. She is clear that she believes that “there are lots of different ways of being masculine and lots of ways being feminine. People are far more complex than narrow definitions of masculinity and femininity allow. There’s space for men whose hobby is knitting as well as men whose hobby is boxing and both can be masculine”

But she says in many Christian books like Wild At Heart and Captivating “instead of diversity we are dealt absolutes”. In these books we hear narrow definitions of what it means to be masculine and feminine. For instance Wild At Heart says “Like it or not there’s something fierce in the heart of every man” and if we don’t fit these narrow definitions of what it means to be we are damaged and in denial.

John Eldridge argues that these differences he sees not as cultural but as basic to the way God has created us. Jenny points out that, “discussions of difference can be helpful if we hold them lightly and we see where they fit. But they become a punishing straightjacket if we invest them with more authority than they merit. Any talk of differences can be used in quite a dangerous way.

The Myth of Mars And Venus
“I think we need to resist the use of differences as an instruction manual for how to behave” she says. “And instead take the time to listen and learn and to interact with the uniqueness of the real people with whom we live and work. I think focusing on difference can be an excuse for laziness and a way of justifying immature behaviour instead of doing the work of growing up. Instead of focusing exclusively on differences between men and women – let’s celebrate our sameness – the things we have in common.”

Looking at the psychological studies Jenny comes to the overwhelming conclusion that men and women are not very different at all. Even though some small differences in the brains have been found looking at men as a whole and women as a whole there are no significant differences in many psychological characteristics.

A book that she recommends that looks at such psychological research is The Myth of Mars of Venus by Deborah Cameron. In this book the idea that gender differences are a myth is unpacked. It not just a false belief but it is also a story that has been told for a long time. This is how stereotypes have developed. When we see someone who fits our concept of how we think men or women behave this confirms our stereotype. When we see someone who doesn’t fit we say that they are an exception to the rule.

In conclusion, Jenny points us back to the creation story. The response of Adam to Eve was not that she was an alien from a different planet but that she was ‘bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh”. In other words his initial thought was “Here is someone who is just like me”.

I found Jenny’s talk both scientifically sound and immensely practical in giving an approach to understanding gender differences. Let us approach each person as unique and not be quick to make assumptions on the basis of whether they are male or female.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Time With God 2011

For the past few years once or twice a year our church has had a 24 hour prayer event that we call Time With God. There wasn’t one scheduled in this year but my wife and I began to feel that is was time for one. So last weekend we arrange it and again had people praying in our small church building around the clock. We had a number of different prayer stations and multi-sensory activities. For instance one was a multi-sensory meditation on Psalm 51 using horse radish source to remind us of the bitterness of sin, grape juice for God's cleansing and honey for sweetness of God's word.

Simple Beginnings
I think the ethos in Time With God has always similar to 24-7 prayer. But when we started we just opened up the rooms in our little church building for people to shut themselves away in and seek God. There were CD players in each room, we supplied people with candles and some guidelines and we encouraged people to write on flip chart paper and blu-tack it to the walls.

People in the church booked times over the 24 hour period which amazingly filled up even through the night. We managed to arrange it so we always had at least a couple of people in the building. The time flew by and some people began to happily book two hours or even more. Each time we did it there were many encouraging stories of how God has touched people during these times.

Getting More Creative
One year someone brought some art materials. Then came the ‘pray dough’ – an activity encouraging us to pray by moulding play dough. People were praying and expressing that prayer not just in written ways but also in pictures perhaps even bringing a newspaper with them and cutting out a headline and writing and drawing prayers around it. As there were so many payers written and painted we set up a wishing line in the hallway and encouraged people to peg out their prayers.

One year my wife and I took responsibility for organising it and took along lots of bean-bags and throws to make a cosy corner, laid out a few books to inspire prayer such as books of Celtic prayers. Other times people had set up one or two prayer stations. We ran with that and arranged for at least one in each room - each one encouraging prayer in different ways often using different senses.

The Beginnings of a Team
The last time we did this we had the sense of beginning to get together a team. Before this the responsibility to organise it had been with one couple who had passed it to another. When we took over we wanted to do more but it was a lot of work laying out the rooms and clearing them away again. It was great when we had one or two others on board – and it was encouraging to see them using their creativity. We also began the idea of having a corporate time during Time With God when there could be more group activities as well as individual prayer.

Even now that one of the team has now moved away to study we still felt there is the beginnings of a team as others begin to get on board. Another time we would like to build on this and get together a bit sooner to plan with one or two more if possible. I think we need to more clearly divide up the tasks so that everyone knows what to do – send out emails confirming this. Perhaps we could even meet again to confirm the plans just before the event.

One thing that we like to do is to bring prayers that have been written or drawn into the following Sunday morning meeting. People have commented how encouraging this is. I think this is an opportunity not just for the team to do this but perhaps to ask others in the church who might not otherwise be involved. It’s amazing what can be done when several people get there and muck in and it’s a lot less stressful than doing it ourselves.

related post Time With God

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