Monthly Archives: October 2009

Where is the Cross in your Church?

There are two senses in which I want to ask this question. The first is physically where is the Cross? Do you have one on display somewhere? If so is it somewhere focal, or is it in the periphery?

I have been in a few different Churches, and I know that they pretty much always have something on display. In a Church building it might be ornate stained glass windows, or engraved Bible verses on the walls. In a rented place its more likely to be handmade banners hung up somewhere. I have never been in a Church where there was nothing (although Im sure some Churches do go this way). So if youre going to display something, it should probably be the Cross first and foremost. A picture of a rainbow is lovely, but the rainbow was a promise pointing towards the Cross. A Bible verse is great, but the whole Bible is about the Cross, so why not that.

The second sense in which I ask is where is the Cross in the actual service? Is it in the welcome when you invite people to take a seat and thank them for coming? Is it in the conclusion where you invite people to stay and share tea and coffee with you? How about all of the many parts in between?

I sincerely hope that the Cross is a major (or better, the major) focus of the worship, and of the sermon. But what about the other parts of the service? How can we best display Gods grace through the Cross in the way we do Church?

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Rebranding

When I created this website a number of years ago it was made for my programming work (or rather, hobby).

Since then the programming has fallen by the wayside, and my blog is the most prominent thing here. As such, the SpiderScripts handle is a bit weird (especially when I have to explain it to someone face to face…), and I would like to change it.

Trouble is, I am feeling uninspired. I need a new name for the blog, something which vaguely conveys it’s purpose.

Here are the things I generally post about, roughly in order of frequency:

  • Theological ponderings
  • Snippets of interesting things I find
  • Occasional geekiness – i.e. tech news
  • Random thoughts and events in life
  • The odd bit of creativity on my part

So if you have any thoughts on a new blog title I would appreciate any input. If I come up with a few different ideas I might even be really geeky and have a poll!

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How do I pray for that?

How do you pray for someone to be healed, whilst at the same time deal with the reality of them being terminally ill?

How do you strike a balance between preparing for the worst and hoping for the best?

When do you stop praying for healing and start praying for the journey home?Or do you just pray for both despite those two things being mutually exclusive?

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Not every thought should become a post

Phil Whittall writes in a recent blog post about a caution he received from a friend regarding his blogging.

But sometimes you can get caught up in all, number of readers, number of visits, number of comments or links. Well I can anyway, and it’s easy to play to the gallery.

I know exactly how he feels, I often find myself checking out stats and counting up recent comments on my posts. I have been writing a lot more recently and have enjoyed it, and hopefully some people have found it useful. I need to be on my guard though, because I should not be blogging every thought, and I should not be writing so that people take note of me.

Every now and then I will throw something out about my personal life, but what I really want is to point people towards Jesus.

Thankyou Phil for this gentle reminder to be careful with our words.

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No life in the Bible

This little clip of Mike Reeves really got me thinking (once again thankyou Dave for blogging goodness!). In a post I wrote a little while ago, I said that:

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.

And the verse that Mike points to is Jesus saying just that.

John 5:39-40
You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.

There is no life in the words themselves, and so there is no life in the instructions you find in the Bible. The law does not bring us life.

So then what exactly are we supposed to do with the law? Well Jesus has answered that for us as well, the law is supposed to point us to him, where there is life. In Jesus we have the power to keep God’s law, outside of him we have no power at all. So when I said before that the Bible wasn’t a step by step self help guide, I wasn’t really being accurate. The Bible is a one step self help guide, and that step is towards Jesus, the only person who can actually help us.

So often I want the Bible to be more (or rather, less) than what it is. What I really want is the Bible to tell me exactly what to do to fix all the problems in my life, how precisely to become a better person. But when I read the Bible, it doesn’t offer me what I want, it simply points out my helplessness and turns me back towards Jesus.

Where the Bible contains an instruction, I have a choice. I can admit that I can’t really obey it and throw myself on Jesus, or I can pretend that I can obey it and fail miserably. My initial reaction is usually to do the latter, clearly the former is a better choice.

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Preaching: how long is too long?

There are some preachers who determine to make their sermon last 20 minutes and no longer. There are others who never fall short of an hour. The ones who go long tend to argue that the text demands it, and that spending time on exposition is a reflection of how important we think the Bible is. The ones who go short tend to talk about the attention span of their listeners, and usually focus on a single point which is hammered home over the 20 minutes.

There are always exceptions, and that is a massive oversimplification, but I have a few thoughts on the matter.

You are the preacher!
Remember that you are preaching, not someone else. Some people are quite capable of talking for an hour on the same subject without becoming stale. Its a real blessing to hear people like that preach, but you are not them. If you cant hold peoples attention for more than 30 minutes without being boring, then for their sake dont go over the 30 minute mark! Just because the sermons on your iPod last an hour doesnt mean yours need to.

The Bible is deep.
So deep in fact that you can take a passage and spend 2 hours plumbing its depths, and still have a long way to go. You could quite comfortably spend an hour on most passages without exhausting them completely. This means a couple of things.

First of all you havent failed to do the passage justice just because you didnt say everything. You should be inviting your listeners to look at the Bible for themselves, it would be a tragedy if they thought you had told them everything so they didnt need to bother looking.

Secondly you will almost certainly have to cut out a lot of the material you covered during your sermon preparation. Cutting material which you have worked hard on during the week is difficult, but if you dont then I can guarantee that people will get bored, and your sermon will be too long.

Open your eyes
When youre preaching, open your eyes and look at the congregation. If half of them are nodding off, then you have probably been going on too long. There are lots of ways of making a sermon more engaging, but no matter what tactics you employ there will be a limit. If youre paying attention to the listeners (and you really should be), then you should be able to spot when you have reached that limit for most of them.

Theres no right answer
I would be a little worried if you never spoke for more than 5 minutes, because you cant really say much in that short a time. However, so long as you are actually talking about what the passage says, and have covered it to the extent that your listeners have understood and can do something with it, then youre probably doing fine. 20 minutes is a fine time for a sermon, and so is an hour, as long as the length is appropriate to you as a preacher, and does justice to the passage.

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A book on Solomon?

I have just recently finished working my way through a wonderful sermon series on Ecclesiastes, and I am considering moving on to look at the Song of Solomon next.

I was just pondering whether there were any books which looked at the person of Solomon, taking into account the history found in Kings and Chronicles as well as his writings in Ecclesiastes, the Song and the Proverbs. I will no doubt work my way through those things individually, but something more connective appeals to me and I’m not aware of such a thing, nor do I really know where to look.

By the by, if you know of a particularly good sermon series on the Song then give me a shout!

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Questions are where answers come from

In our training session yesterday it was pointed out that the normal approach to learning is to ask questions, and have someone who knows give you answers. The context was that this isnt how learning usually works in school. Normally the teacher who holds the knowledge is the one asking the pupils all the questions.

A consequence of going through education with this rather odd approach to questions is that people often arent very good at asking them. You need to practice asking questions to discover which ones are good, which ones are useful, and which ones arent so important.

In my experience this is one of the major barriers in Bible study. Unless I read a passage and ask sensible questions about it, I will really struggle to grow in understanding. If the only thing I end up asking is what does that word mean, then I might become a walking dictionary but I wont ever understand a passage in context. If the only question I ask is what did that mean when it was written then I wont ever see what it means now and how to apply it.

Those two questions are both really good, but they are much better together, and even better along with other questions. Here are 10 questions I usually find myself asking when I study the Bible:

  1. Where is this in the Bible? (big context)
  2. Where is this in the Book? (little context)
  3. Do I understand all of the words? (basic comprehension)
  4. Do I understand all of the phrases? (more comprehension)
  5. Who was the author, and who was the recipient? (historical context)
  6. What was the original intention of this passage? (authors purpose)
  7. Where is Jesus in this passage? (you should always be able to answer this)
  8. What is the main idea in this passage? (this might not always be the same, depending on your current circumstances)
  9. What does this mean in my circumstances? (heading towards application)
  10. How can I live this passage out? (application!)

I dont always consciously go through these questions, but sometimes I will, especially if Im struggling with a passage. When you get into the habit of asking useful questions though it happens naturally as youre reading.

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Blog Action Day!

Ah the internet, birthplace of international talk like a pirate day, once again you have created something quite special. A day in the year when thousands of bloggers write about the same thing in order to raise awareness. This year I have jumped on the bandwagon, and the topic on the table is climate change.

Climate change is one of those hot topic issues at the moment, lots of important people are making a big fuss over it and raising it’s importance. I don’t really have a problem with this, climate change I’m sure is a really big deal and should be addressed. What I do have a problem with though is peoples approach, and supposed solutions to the problem.

Almost without exception every supposed solution to climate change has one thing in common. They all rely on us. I’ll be honest, I don’t really want to rely on us if there is a global crisis in the making (or already made, depending on your point of view). In my experience people are generally unreliable, and prone to do stuff for selfish reasons.

I’m all for good stewardship of our planet. God commands us to look after where we live, right from the very beginning (Adam) this was our job. I’m certain that a lot of the proposed solutions for climate change are 100% positive things and we should probably all be doing them. However the only person who can really avert a global disaster is God. I will do my utmost to look after this planet I live on, but I pray that I never forget who is really in charge, and who can really affect change in this place.

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Nothing above God

I was trying to express something quite specific in my previous post, and I think I failed to do so.

All I really wanted to say was this:
Don’t put anything above God, not even the physical act of worshipping him.

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