Thursday, 30 December 2010

Bonhoeffer- pastor,martyr ,prophet,spy

Bonhoeffer  by Eric Metaxas, is an excellent biography of an incredible and inspiring man. Here was someone  who, at huge personal risk stood up with cold and calculated courage against the Nazi state that  ruled  Germany in the 1930's and early 40's and in the end paid for his resistance with his life.

The great heroes of western evangelicals in the twentieth century were great preachers like Billy Graham and John Stott and Martyn Lloyd Jones.

Bonhoeffer was largely ignored by evangelicals, perhaps because they wrongly regarded him as unsound, perhaps because he was certainly involved in the plot to kill Adolph Hitler, perhaps because liberal Christians have claimed him as one of their own.
 However as Metaxas himself says Bonhoeffer “was as orthodox as Saint Paul or Isaiah, from his teen years all the way to his last day on earth."

I will not attempt a review of the book, but it does document chapter by chapter, both the  terrible evil which Hitler and the Nazis were capable of, and the courage, inspired by God, that Bonhoeffer demonstrated in the face of that evil and while being oppressed by it.

Things that struck me about Bonhoeffer were;
  • His deep devotional life based around prayer and meditating on God’s word, alone and with others.  That was where he got his strength from.
  • His courage to speak truth even if it was unpalatable.
  • His relationships with other Christians from many parts of the world, which undoubtedly informed his ministry, and gave him a much wider perspective on Christianity than many of his contemporaries.
  • His insistence that Christianity is not simply something to be conducted among consenting adults in private but something to be proclaimed in the public sphere, to everyone including the powers that be -Jesus is Lord!
  • His emphasis on discipleship.
  • His willingness to suffer for the sake of others.

Bonhoeffer was executed  in 1945,within weeks of the end of the war, but there are  lessons  the church  today can learn from him 

If you haven’t read it I commend the book to you it is well worth reading.Metaxas has done the church a service in reminding us of this great man.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

5 books that have inspired me in 2010

Its the time of year for lists Lists are actually quite a useful way of reflecting on what has happened in the last year so I am starting with my top 5 books that have inspired me this year

Missional Renaissance by Reggie McNeal.There is a lot of confusion between terms like emerging church and missional church. Reggie describes what he means by missional
 church..It is thoroughly orthodox,and radically evangelistic . I am convinced Reggie is on the right lines when he suggests the kind of changes that churches need to make if we are to be faithful to the gospel of Jesus Christ in the 21st century and make an impact on our post modern world.

William Wilberforce by William Hague
It is striking that the best biographies of great evangelicals are often written by those who do not share their evangelical faith,(for example Roy Hattersley's biography of John Wesley.) Hague's work on Wilberforce falls into the same category.It is well researched; sympathetic without being sycophantic ,shows a great grasp of how Wilberforce's faith motivated his entire life and demonstrates the huge difference just one committed person can make

Surprised by Hope by NT Wright
One of Wrights gifts is to force readers to engage with the biblical texts .Often he demonstrates, to me at least ,that the Bible doesn't always say what we think it says, but something else! Keep a bible nearby to refer to when you read this book

In Surprised by Hope  Wright  articulates a gospel and hope for so much more than disembodied bliss.Wright thinks biblical hope is not for an escape from this earth, but to the glorious day when God will make all things new. Well worth reading to get what  one reviewer has called "a biblical perspective on life after life after death"

The Peoples Preacher CH Spurgeon   by Peter Morden
 . Peters book is not only a good read but also presents Charles Spurgeon as a more rounded human being who suffered from depression among other things
The book taught me  4 lessons from Spurgeon's life; a passion for prayer ,a passion for the Bible,a passion for evangelism and above all these a passion for Jesus and honouring him in word and in deed!

Untamed- -reactivating a missional form of discipleship by Alan and Debra Hirsch
This is a book on discipleship.It  is a challenge to, and a protest against, the tame discipleship that passes for christianity in much of the western world.
In my view it is not as good as "The Forgotten Ways" but is illustrated with wonderful asbojesus cartoons and in the last chapter contains the best retelling of the Kierkegaard parable of the geese I have ever read.One quote sums the book up quite well " As disciples we are called to an untamed existence.....we are meant to live wild and dangerous lives....instead \we have allowed ourselves to be dulled into a life of mediocrity where the only wild adventures we take are in our dreams"

If you have read any of the books mentioned, and have comments to make, please feel free to do so.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Carols by Candlelight

It may seem strange for someone who has been accused of being "addicted to change"but since I became a pastor more than quarter a century ago - I have always loved carols by candlelight ! Judging by the attendances over the years I am not alone.

Last night,despite temperatures well below freezing, a good number of people,many of whom I had not previously met ,came through snow and ice, to church to sing the traditional carols and listen to the familiar bible readings in a beautifully decorated and lit building. The whole occasion lifted my spirits considerably!

It is quite true that our current building does not lend itself to candlelight in the way that the church I used to pastor in Ross on Wye did;(It has a superb Victorian interior that was enhanced by being lit by candles in a way few buildings I have been in are), but our 1980's building still looked pretty good!
The music and audio visuals were great too and a huge effort had been put in to make it a very special occasion

I think there are various reasons the service attracts large numbers of people
  • There is no doubt people like singing the old carols and hearing the readings by candlelight,last night someone told me it reminded him of his childhood.  In a changing world the familiar can seem very comforting
  • We (and I suspect most churches) put an enormous amount of effort to publicise this and our other Christmas services,we handed out around 5000 invitations in the neighbourhood and no doubt some people came  in response to those invitations. We have discovered that if you do invite people a certain proportion will come!
  • Thirdly as I said above a lot of effort is always put into every part of this service from the music to the post service mince pies, This effort means that the service looks good and sounds good  and so year by year people come back and have increasing confidence to bring friends and family with them.
  • I think people are more spiritually open at Christmas and that they do want to hear something of the Christmas message before the feasting begins!
All this adds up to a wonderful evangelistic opportunity,  and so last night I was able to share something of the purpose of the incarnation, and to connect Christmas with the message of Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

I instinctively dislike the adage "if it ain't broke don't fix it " because it can lead to a lazy conservatism and "nothing changes here" attitude but I have always resisted attempts to  make radical change to Carols by Candlelight because by modernising it we may destroy what people love about it.

On a personal note last week is  nearly always one of  the busiest of the year and  (because my colleague Steve is leading the Christmas day service) I can now stop and reflect a little bit at least before I rush to the shops and then start preparation for the service on 26th December!

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Town centre building!

Not all the details are 100% right but this gives a rough idea of what we are going to do in the town centre

Community Christmas Brunch

  Our new church has made a very deliberate decision to put down deep roots into our local community.Over the past couple of years we have begun building strong relationships with local primary schools, we have done this  through taking assemblies and by people going into help with reading . My colleague Steve has become a governor at our nearest primary school and we have also reached out by  running  various events for senior citizens.We really want to bless the community in which God has placed us!
Over the past year or two we have also  run Italian evenings,curry evenings ,afternoon teas ,and a Christmas brunch.These have attracted decent numbers of people
The idea has been to get to know the people around our buildings and to bless them

 So today we  had over 150 people  at our Community Christmas Brunch . They came from all around the local area and from as far afield as Romania and South Korea! Ages ranged from a few months to those  well into their nineties.We  represented a very wide cross section of society and it was great fun! There was a sense to togetherness as we enjoyed good food and sang  traditional Christmas carols. We also   thought together about the real meaning of Christmas.The morning was rounded of with a rousing rendition of the 12 days of Christmas-with actions!
The comments as people left made it clear everyone had had an amazing time.
Reflecting on the morning I was delighted 
  • We had attracted so many people who don't normally come into our building and got to know some of them much better
  • People felt they had really enjoyed themselves
  • We had shared a bit about the real meaning of Christmas
  • As a church we had been willing to try something a bit different
  • Our church people had been enthusiastic about getting to know our neighbours and inviting them along

I have no doubt we have a long, long way to go to become the church God wants us to be, but I also have no doubt that we have already travelled a considerable distance along that road .
These are exciting times and I believe even more exciting time lie ahead

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Church Meetings - How to Fight Nicely?

Nah Then: Church Meetings - How to Fight Nicely?:

Not sure that I am as optimistic about church meetings as Glen Marshall is, but an interesting read all the same.
I have been at a few amazing ones where the Spirit of God was present powerfully. I have been  at many fairly tedious ones and some that were deeply distressing.
There is merit in Glen's ideas ,however the great challenge is how to get more people involved and how we all get there focussed on discerning the mind of Christ
It is not easy but we can keep trying!

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

HOPE - for the future!

We had one of our monthly Mission Shrewsbury meetings today.

I generally enjoy these times with other church leaders from the town, and today was no exception.

There is a genuine relationship which has developed more as we have spent time together and  got to know each other better.

There are some really interesting people, doing some amazing things in their own churches, and above all their is a genuine desire to live up to the name of our group Mission Shrewsbury and do mission together.

We are planning some exciting initiatives in 2011 and beyond.

In denominational terms we are fairly diverse but there is a common passion to share Jesus in our words and actions.

What excited me as much as anything though was the place we met.
The label on the building said
The Grange
though that will shortly change to
Hope Church

Hope Church is the name for a new church formed from The Grange and North Shrewsbury Community Church.. I suppose I take a particular interest in churches formed by mergers because that was how Shrewsbury Baptist Church came into being.
Mergers are time consuming ,they can be controversial(it was for us), but if done with the right motives and for the right reasons ,they are tremendously rewarding and I expect will become more common in future.

Like Shrewsbury Baptist, Hope Church has come together ,not to huddle together against the storm of secularism and materialism but to proclaim Jesus to our generation!

Already they have turned the former Grange building into very smart new offices ,storage and meeting rooms and I am told the local community around the church is intrigued,sensing something new and interesting  going on..

Looking round their building today it was impossible not to feel a strong sense of anticipation about what God is doing

I am sure the new church has a wonderful future and I certainly intend to be there on 23rd January when Hope church is officially launched

It will be well worth celebrating!