Monthly Archives: September 2009

Becoming a Muslim

Ramadan is over, and I really only caught the tail end of this little debate online, but I think it’s quite interesting and so I wanted to add my two cents.

Basically, a bunch of Christians (for the most part from the emergent church camp) this year fasted alongside Muslims during Ramadan. The main reasoning behind this seems to be to understand the Muslims around them better, as he states in his blog:

“We, as Christians, humbly seek to join Muslims in this observance of Ramadan as a God-honoring expression of peace, fellowship, and neighborliness.”

The response to this has been understandably varied, from people jumping on the idea immediately as wonderful and starting their own Ramadan fasts, to others tearing the idea down as “insane at best … Sad, tragic, horrific, misguided, dangerous, wrong.”

I have to say that I’m not sure I would really sit in either camp. I’m not about to leap on it as a fantastic idea, because to join with Muslims in fasting during Ramadan would need a great deal of care to ensure that what you were doing was not contrary to the gospel. However I don’t think that it is necessarily wrong to do so either, and certainly not insane.

If your fasting during Ramadan is in fact observance of the Muslim faith, then that is clearly contrary to the Christian faith and wrong. However I don’t think that fasting during Ramadan has to be that. What if instead you were to fast alongside your Muslim friends for the sake of understanding them better, for the sake of learning about the observances of their faith. What if that observance of something which for many Muslims is simply a cultural imperative rather than a spiritual act was in fact completely acceptable. What if all you were doing was being a Muslim to the Muslims, just like Paul became a Jew to the Jews and a Gentile to the Gentiles. Not that you were really becoming Muslim, any more than Paul actually became a Gentile, but in the observance of their culture and lifestyle you were seeking to understand them better.

I’m sure that not every Christian who fasted during Ramadan this year did a good job of it. I’m sure that some of them were honouring a religious ritual aimed at a false God. However I’m also pretty sure that some of them were just fasting so that they could hang out with Muslims, and the Bible certainly doesn’t tell us to avoid hanging out with unbelievers.

I’m also pretty disturbed by the suggestion that the only thing we can constructively do for Muslims during Ramadan is pray for them. Of course praying for them is great, but isn’t it also a good idea to get to know and understand them and their beliefs? Shouldn’t we also be seeking openings for the gospel? How about we try to put into practice what Paul exemplified for us in 1 Corinthians 9:

19For though I am free from all,I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. 20To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. 21To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. 22To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. 23I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.

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Who is Brian McLaren?

I follow quite a few blogs and I love the diversity of the blogosphere. Even though the blogs I read are generally written by likeminded people, I still come across a huge spectrum of different opinions and am often pointed towards people I havent heard of.

This was the case recently when I was pointed to a blog post by Brian McLaren about him fasting during Ramadan and his reasons behind doing this. In some comment discussion I was accused of deliberately reading his blog with a negative bias because of who he was, which took me aback somewhat. This comment prompted me to actually look him up and find out who he was, and to my surprise I discovered that he is a prominent figure in the emerging church.

My reading of his blog had nothing to do with that because I had no idea who he was. Not because I hadnt engaged with the emerging church at all, but rather because I try to deal with people as individuals. It would really annoy me if someone lumped me in with everyone else from anew frontiers church and assumed that they understood me and knew my views on various theological issues. Not because they are likely to be wrong (in general I will probably agree with new frontiers church leaders on most issues), but because I am not new frontiers or UCCF or reformed charismaticor any other label you wish to give me, I am Peter. So I try (although I often fail) to keep an open mind about people whatever their background and current allegiances are.

Who is Brian McLaren, well frankly I dont know, but I do know he fasted during Ramadan for the sake of relating to his Muslim friends.

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What do I need?

I have just started a PGCE, and in a few short weeks I will be in a secondary school observing and eventually teaching maths lessons. On Saturday I went shopping because in order to be a secondary school teacher I needed some smart outfits, and I barely had enough to last a week.

What I ended up buying was three new suits, and couple of new shirts, a bunch of new ties, and two new pairs of smart shoes. The sum total of this was just shy of £300, which was well within my budget (yes, I did make a point of setting myself a limit before I went shopping), and I’m very grateful for the generous support the government gives to new PGCE students which allowed me to afford the new clothes.

The trouble is, what I could have done instead is gone to ASDA and picked up two new suits, a couple of shirts and ties and a new pair of shoes, and it would have cost more like £150.

So why did I spend twice as much? Well I have two main reasons, the first is that what I bought is undoubtedly much more comfortable and of a much higher quality so it will last longer. The second reason though is that I want to look good in front of the kids I’m teaching. Part of the desire to look good is because I know what kids are like, I know that they will respect good smart dress and mock shabby run-down looking clothes, and I don’t want there to be an uneccesary barrier to teaching them. However I also want to look good because frankly I know that their opinion will matter to me, and I rather like looking good.

Is this wrong? I don’t really know…

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Consumerism, really something new?

On the surface it might seem like consumerism as a way of life is a fairly new creation. The 20th century saw the rise of consumerism as the cultural norm in the west, and the term is certainly closely linked the current trend of materialism and consumption.

I dont think for a moment though that modern day western society can lay any claim to inventing consumerism, and I think its pretty arrogant to make that claim. The idea that we can improve our lives by consuming has been around as long as people have, and the modern west was by no means the first society to take up that mantle as the norm.

I have been working my way through Ecclesiastes with the help of Matt Chandler (have a listen here), and its pretty clear that Solomon both lived in a society where consumerism was normality, and recognised its folly. As Solomon writes at the start of the book,

What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done,
and there is nothing new under the sun.
– Ecclesiastes 1:9

Consumerism is a lie which must be challenged and responded to with the gospel, but it is not a new lie.

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No longer blank wall

Since moving into the new place I have been pondering what to do with the large blank walls. The whole place is painted off-white and is generally quite bland.

Today I have remedied this problem for one of the bigger walls in the living area, and this is how:

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Generations of Grace

Stuart Townend
Grace

Lord, I’m grateful
Amazed at what You’ve done
My finest efforts are filthy rags
But I’m made righteous
By trusting in the Son
I have God’s riches at Christ’s expense!

‘Cause it’s grace!
There’s nothing I can do
To make You love me more,
To make You love me less than You do
And by faith
I’m standing on this Stone
Of Christ and Christ alone
Your righteousness is all that I need
‘Cause it’s grace!

Called and chosen
When I was far away
You brought me into Your family
Free, forgiven
My guilt is washed away
Your loving kindness is life to me

Freely given
But bought with priceless blood
My life was ransomed at Calvary
There my Jesus
Gave everything He could
That I might live for eternity

Grace loves the sinner
Loves all I am and all I’ll ever be
Makes me a winner
Whatever lies the devil throws at me

I was just listening to this in preparation for singing it at my dear friends wedding tomorrow when I was struck by something. Stuart Townend is older than me. This is an important thing for me to remember because I have a tendancy to be a little arrogant in my faith. I have discovered (actually, God has shown me) this beautiful thing, God’s grace, and I am a young man. As a result I often act as though this amazing thing which I found out is unique to me, and that the generations before me probably didn’t “get it”.

It’s easy enough to look back at the big names like Luther and Calvin and accept that those guys had a handle on the truth of the gospel, but much closer to home, the generations of my parents and my grandparents, it’s much easier to overlook them. It’s really easy for me to be arrogant and think things like “well the Church is in a mess because the guys who are older than me just didn’t understand the gospel, so they screwed everything up.”

OK, so in some instances this is probably true, and continues to be. But it isn’t true universally. The grace that God has revealed to me he also revealed to the generation before me, and the generation before them.

1 Timothy 4:12 says “Let no one despise you for your youth”. Let’s not despise people because of their lack of youth either.

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Teaching Blog

In just over a week I will begin my PGCE, and if all goes well then in a years time I will be a teacher.

One of the things that will be essential to the training year is careful reflection on my experiences in and out of the classroom, as well as thinking carefully and critically about the various schools of thought surrounding teaching my subject (secondary school maths). To help me do that, I have set up a new blog on which I will be posting reflections on the teacher training year. I am also hoping that some of my fellow students will get involved as well and also contribute, but as I haven’t met any of them yet I can’t really guarantee that!

If you are at all interested in teaching, or in what I’ll be up to during the next year, then feel free to follow the new blog. Hopefully it will be interested even to those now in the teaching profession.

We Teach Maths

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Preaching should be applied, not theoretical

Application is one of the most difficult aspects of preaching to get right. It would be a travesty to avoid it altogether and leave people with nothing more than a lecture on good Bible interpretation. Similarly, it is fairly useless to go the other way and give people detailed steps on what to do next in their lives. The Bible is NOT a manual for Christian living, full of step by step self help guides. The Bible is all about Jesus, and its purpose is to continually point us towards him.

Failing to apply a passage at all gives people the impression that the Bible is irrelevant, doesnt really have an impact on their lives, and can safely be ignored. Applying a passage by handing people a to-do list gives the impression that Gods word is a self-help guide, and that with the right set of instructions we can fix all of our problems on our own.

Clearly both of these are mightily inadequate, so how on earth does a preacher give life changing application within a sermon? The key is to apply a passage in such a way that the hearers discover that they must respond to the Bible, but that their response must be via the cross. If there is some clear practical response to a passage, then it must be done in light of the cross, through the power of the Holy Spirit. Indeed this is the only way we can truly respond to the Bible.

We mustnt leave people thinking that they have learnt a great deal about the passage and that is all. We must leave them with a sense that the passage demands some change in their lives, and that the change will come as a result of the cross, through the power of the Spirit. That means avoiding a specific to-do list, but it also means being really practical, giving clear examples ofhow a principle might work itself out in their lives, and most importantly it means bringing their focus back to Jesus.

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Preaching involves passion

I received a welcome comment on an earlier post about the hard work involved in preaching, which essentially said that preaching requires passion just as much as it requires preparation. I would like to take a moment to reflect on that.

First of all, what does passion mean? Passion is all about intense emotions, and in the context of preaching I think passion is having your heart yearn for what you are speaking about. As I have said previously, preaching is an emotional activity which should engage the heart, so I dont think for a moment that passion is a bad thing. However is passion really as important as preparation, as good as hard work?

If you have passion for the topic, but a poor work ethic then you will end up with a sermon that is highly emotional but probably thin on the ground in terms of Biblical content. You probably wont have dug into the passage deeply and much of what you bring will be personal and not Biblical. On the other hand if you work hard on a message but have no passion for the topic then you will probably end up with a great explanation of the Bible passage which will engage peoples minds, but you will almost certainly fail to touch their hearts. People will not see the passage working in your life if it hasnt hit your heart.

Which of those two is better? Well my inclination would be to say that preaching without passion is actually better, because when the Bible is taught well God uses it, regardless of how the preacher feels about the message. Obviously though, the ideal is to have both passion and good preparation. To let the word of God dwell in you richly and affect your heart.

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Is preaching central to Church services?

Something that was pondered over at the Pyromaniacs recently was the question of how should we structure a Church service?As usual the post sparked some considerable debate, and as well as the expected variation across Churches in the way they do things, there was also a wide range of opinions on why they do things too.

So here is my big question, is preaching an essential ingredient in our Sunday morning service?

And the why behind that question is by far the most important part here. If you think preaching is essential, why do you think that? Where do you back that up in the Bible? How did you come to that viewpoint? Are other forms of service without a sermon acceptable (cafe-style Church where you basically run a seminar with lots of interaction for example)?

If you think that preaching isnt essential, then again why not and how do you justify that from the Bible? Also what alternatives are there? Do you still draw the line somewhere (i.e. there must be some sort of Bible teaching, it just doesnt need to be preaching)?

I guess integral to this question as well is the question of what we call preaching, so it might be helpful when youre thinking about your answers to try and have a clear definition of preaching in your mind to start with. Otherwise how can you tell preaching has happened in a service!

I will come back to this in a few days and try to express my answers.

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