Category Archives: Sermons

Sermon: How to be a church entering a new land

I have not posted much on the blog recently due to work pressures. But a few weeks ago, I was able to preach at Heronbridge Christian Church, and the sermon was recorded.

I preached on the need for us to adopt the same mindset Moses and Joshua had to when they were leading the people of Israel into a new land. It requires a change in mindset and a future-focused attitude, not one that clings to the past or is frightened of change. I took the opportunity to overview an understanding of generational theory, and talk about some of the major disruptive forces shaping our world right now as well.

The sound file is available on their website here.

You can download my slides and follow along if you’d like to.

Let me know what you think.

Bad sermons: Blue is for boys and pink is for girls

One of my favourite websites is “Stuff Fundies Like” (Fundies, as in Fundamentalist Christians). This blog is an eclectic collection of videos, blog posts, pictures and posters that come from genuine fundamentalist churches (mainly in the US of A – no surprises, I suppose). My favourite category is the “bad sermons” where extracts from sermons preached by raving fundamentalists expose narrow mindedness, bigotry, misogyny, racism and almost always some serious abuses of the Bible.

Last week, they posted a short video from YouTube, “Pastor Tony Hutson preaching against sodomy!“. See the original post on SFL here.

Now, whatever you believe about homosexuality, this is not the way to make your point if you are trying to make your point from the Bible. Watch the clip for yourself – because I bet you won’t this at your church on Sunday:

Blue is for boys and pink is for girls. Only sissy boys wear pink. And he wouldn’t want to marry a woman who would wear boots and a hard hat (no female engineers, then, dears – stick to nursing, teaching or typing where you won’t get hurt, my darlings).

My point in this blog is not what he believes about homosexuality, but rather how he is using a pulpit and pretending to use the Bible to make a cultural point. And to make a cultural point that is in fact wrong.

Pink has only recently become a girls’ colour (within the last century). Throughout history, blue was the colour of purity, femininity and girls. Think of what colour Mary wears in almost all historical paintings. In fact, until about a century ago the preferred colour for boys was a light shade of red (i.e. pink). Red was the manly colour of strength (favoured by the British army in particular), and the light shade of pink was the boyish version of this.

If you want to read a very documented history of the colours used for children through history, click here.

This is one of the major weaknesses of fundamentalism: it believes itself to be sticking to the purity of the Bible but most often is doing nothing more than imposing a set of man-made, culturally-connected, un-Biblical rules.

It gets even worse when they venture into the realm of sex (which they do very, very often). As one of the comments on the SFL website put it: “I think these fundamentalist preachers spend more time thinking about gay sex than most gay men. However, I still think Mark Driscoll thinks about straight ‘back door’ sex more than they think about gay sex, for what [little] it’s worth.” I couldn’t agree more.

It’s funny that the Pope has recently said the church needs to move away from this fixation.

I am not saying that you shouldn’t have informed, rational, Biblical views about sexual issues. We must. But they must be precisely that: informed, rational and Biblical. Not like this nonsense from Tony Hutson.

Bible Teaching or Biblical Teaching?

Today, the preacher at our church used Matthew 13 as a base text to talk about the importance of Bible teaching. This is the chapter of the Bible that tells one of the versions of the Parable of the Sower.

His main point was that Bible teaching is still an effective technique for the church. I don’t disagree with that, but I do wonder if it might be helpful to distinguish between Bible teaching and Biblical teaching.

Bible teaching is the type of teaching that sticks entirely to the words of the Bible, often insisting on taking them literally and believing that nothing needs to be added to these words for modern listeners. As an evangelical, at first glance, there doesn’t seem to be a problem with this.

But I think there is.

Biblical teaching, on the other hand, attempts to discern the intent of a Bible text and follows the patterns and approaches laid out and practiced in the Bible while modernising and applying them to current contexts.

Continue reading Bible Teaching or Biblical Teaching?

Child-like interpretations of the Bible

Over the past few days, I’ve been engaged in some interesting conversations that all began with a simple picture I posted on my Facebook status. It’s largely about same sex marriage, but the 60+ comments in the thread get very quickly to issues of how we interpret the Bible. If either topic interests you, I think you’ll enjoy the interactions on my Facebook timeline.

Then, this morning, the preacher at the church I attended made some excellent comments about how we understand the Bible. The basic message of the Gospel is so simple that a child can understand it. In fact, in order to understand it you need to approach it with child-like (not childish!) faith and trust. But there are parts of the Bible that are very complicated and complex, because they are talking about God. If they were easy to understand it would make a mockery of who God actually is: above and beyond us.

Our preacher was much more eloquent than this. And it’s a wonderful point to make. The simple parts of the Bible are simple enough for a child to understand and accept. And we need help with some of the other parts that are difficult to understand.

But it struck me that there is a corollary to this thought – and that is about what children might believe about God before we impose our doctrines on them.

In the Facebook conversation during the week, one of the common themes of those people arguing that homosexuality is wrong is that this is “the plain reading of the texts” on this topic. This sounds like a strong argument, but it is not – for many reasons. But here’s one more reason.

If you asked a 7 year old child if they thought that God hated two men just because they loved each other and wanted to be together, almost every innocent child in the world would say, “No”. Surely God doesn’t hate them just because they love each other? (By the way, this test applies to many self-evident truths: does God like it when people lie or steal? Is God happy when Daddies and Mommies divorce? I think children would provide the right answer to almost all “self evident” sins).

So, if children would not understand why homosexuality would be considered wrong by God, then it must be the case that this issue is one of the “difficult to interpret” parts of the Bible.

It’s a simple point, really, but an important one. The seven verses/passages that talk against homosexuality are definitely in the category of “difficult” and need careful interpretation. They cannot just be taken at “face value”. And they do NOT say what they seem to say at first reading.

The same, by the way, is true of Genesis 1-11 and the age of the earth, the sections on slavery, the instructions about nobody with disabilities being allowed to serve in church leadership, tattoos, levirate marriage, polygamy, war, sacrifices, and many other issues. It’s an interesting test, this child-like understanding of God. I like it.

So here’s something your church should be teaching: listen to the children BEFORE you teach them your bigotry.

How (not) to speak of Christmas

Sometimes I really do despair of evangelical Christians. I claim to be one, on the basis that I believe the Bible when it teaches us about God and how He is reconciling the world to Himself through Jesus, and that we as humans need to respond to that fact. As such, I do understand that there is an imperative to share what I believe with the world. I try to do this humbly, acknowledging that truth exists throughout the world and that I do not know it all. But I also do it boldly, believing that God is knowable, personal and involved in the world, and has revealed Himself to us. I believe this is good news for everyone.

But I do sometimes cringe at those who also call themselves evangelicals and take a very different approach to telling others of the “Good News”. For many, more fundamentalist evangelicals, the only version of the good news they ever tell is that “if you trust in Jesus you won’t go to hell when you die”. This might be true, but it is nowhere near the whole truth.

Last Friday night (23 December), my 12 year old daughter excitedly invited two of her unchurched school friends to join her at a special pre-Christmas youth group evening event, with a group of about 30 other young teenagers. They were expecting an evening of fun activities and a brief Christmas themed talk to wrap things up – a fairly standard evening at the youth group. What they got instead was a long “Gospel” message from one of the church’s pastors that went something like this:

You might be a young teenager, but you still need to think about death. When I was at high school, two of my friends died: a motor cycle accident and falling off a cliff. It could happen to you. If you die without knowing Jesus you’ll go to hell. So, make sure you take this seriously and accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Saviour so that if you die you’ll go to heaven. You’re never too young to think about this.

Although I might argue with the theology of this, let’s leave that aside for now. This is not an appropriate message 36 hours before Christmas. This is not the message the angels brought to the world. It’s not what Mary thought of as she gave birth to the Saviour. How can this be “good news”? The good news was good news for everyone. It was news that a King had been born. Yes, this king would die – and rise again. Yes, this king would be a Saviour. But the good news was not that “you can avoid eternal conscious torment when you die.” The message had to do with the king and his kingdom.

Surely a more appropriate Christmas message is that God, the Creator and Sustainer of this universe and our world, is so committed to restoring His Creation to its original glory that He was prepared to humble Himself and come into His Creation to be born as a humble child into a humble family in a nation that had been humbled by history. He came to show us that God’s Kingdom is breaking into the kingdoms of this world, and that what is wrong will be made right; what is broken will be fixed; what is shattered will be restored. Jesus did not come to solve your personal sin problem: He came, as promised, to be the culmination of God’s story unfolding across time, and to reconcile the world to God through His life, death and resurrection.

Our response is not to accept His message because we fear the consequences of what might happen if we don’t. The correct response to the good news of Christmas is to realise that the One who created the world has also supplied us with a model of how life is supposed to be lived in the world He created. That model comes in multiple forms: there is the model of a family, of a nation, of a temple, of leaders and rulers, and the ultimate model of the God-man, Jesus. Our task is to learn what it means to live a life worthy of the calling we have received in Christ, and to do our part in “making earth as it is in heaven” as we await the final transformation of this world into the paradise God-connected place it was always meant to be.

There may be place in this story for a bit of fear and dread. But that time is not a few hours before Christmas. And I’d suggest that this approach to evangelism, especially of young teenagers, is precisely why so many of them abandon what faith they might have when they leave school. It is not a good foundation on which to build a life of discipleship.

To put it more plainly: it’s wrong!

Please don’t preach this at your church. Please.

Christmas reminds us very clearly and very precisely that the coming of a Saviour to the world was – and is – first and foremost: good news! It would be a very strange definition of “good news” if it is nothing more than escape from hell after you’re dead.

Rob Bell on the agony of explanation – and what he believes

Here’s something you might not hear at your Reformed church this Sunday: YOU don’t get to decide who the Christians are.

Rob Bell is a preacher, pastor, author and leading thinker on theological issues. Earlier this year, he wrote a book called “Love Wins” which caused a huge controversy (buy it at Amazon or Amazon.co.uk). One of the upsetting things was the number of detractors who were prepared to “critique” his book without even reading it. Insane, but true. I was sent one which was even printed in the best selling Christian magazine in South Africa where the reviewer freely admitted he hadn’t read the book.

Apparently, people who attend Rob’s church in Grand Rapids were put upon by all and sundry and had a torrid time trying to defend their pastor. On 27 March 2011, Rob started the service with a statement which he labelled “The Agony of Explanation” in their official podcast. I think it is a remarkable few minutes.

He states his beliefs. And there is nothing in any of his books which would contradict this very traditional set of beliefs. He then talks a bit about what he was trying to convey in the book. If you’re not going to read the book, you might as well listen to what he says the message is. He also talks a lot about the attitude one should have. An attitude like Jesus’, I believe.

Anyway, for many reasons, it’s worth listening to Rob in his own words, as he interacts with one of the leadership team of the church:

[audio:http://www.futurechurchnow.com/uploads/Rob_Bell_on_the_Agony_of_Explanation.mp3]

You can find the full podcasts from the church in their free iTunes channel: Mars Hill Bible Church

God is not a Christian

Desmond Tutu, the irrepressible retired Anglican Bishop from South Africa, is one of my favourite people of all time. His speeches are some of the best in history, and always delivered with verve, humour and passion. He is a remarkable man, and I have had the privilege of meeting him a few times and listening to him speak live.

A collection of his speeches and writings – especially his most controversial ones – has just been published (with two different sub titles, confusingly): “and other provocations” or “speaking truths in times of crisis” (Buy it at Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com or Kalahari.net).

The Huffington Post provided an extended extract. You can read it here, or below. I have highlighted my favourite bit. It’s from the speech that book is named for: God is not a Christian. What a profound thought. And I bet you it’s not something you have heard at your church (even though you should!).

Continue reading God is not a Christian

God’s Kingdom Meets the Real World

A few months ago, I spoke at a men’s conference in Johannesburg, at South Africa’s leading Methodist Church. They asked me to speak on being a Christian in a world gone mad. I used the opportunity to do a bit of a “preach” on what I think is an absolute essential for any Christian man (or woman) who wants to make sense of the world: we need to change our view on what we think we’re here for.

You can listen to the podcast recording of the session at the church’s conference website (if you battle to listen or download it, please let me know, as I have an MP3 copy). If you want to download a copy of the slides I used and was referring to, I have created a PDF file and you can get it here.

Welcome new readers – a quick intro to the conversation thus far

Every now and again I’ll do a quick overview of my favourite posts – and that can act as a nice introduction for new readers and a navigation tool for those who want to “catch up” with some of the thinking and conversations on this blog.

The purpose of this blog is to help Christians and those seeking faith to find new ways to think about what it means to be a Christ follower. I have been writing and blogging on this topic since 1995, and this blog includes a selection of new and old stuff I have been working on. Some of it I’d die for, but some of it is purely experimental (I try and let you know which is which). The point is not to present a fully worked through systematic theology, but rather to allow you to enter into an ongoing conversation with me. If you like, this is just my journal – and you get to look in…

So, with that said, here is a brief intro to some of the posts on this blog:

Continue reading Welcome new readers – a quick intro to the conversation thus far