Friday, 28 May 2010

the confident Christian?

I was at the Scottish launch of Biblefresh on Monday evening. The event took place in Carrubers Christian Centre on the High Street. 2011 is the 400th anniversary of the publication of the Authorised Version of the bible and a group of organisations including the Scottish Bible Society plan to make the most of that by reminding people of the value of Bible reading. Check it out at

One of the people speaking at the event was Elaine Storkey, a quite remarkable woman. She is the President of Tearfund and at present is involved in training evangelists for the Church Army in the Church of England. She gave a quite fascinating presentation on the culture that we live in and the culture, against which we are trying to present the gospel.

In the question time that followed, she was asked a question about how we can have a Christian influence in our society. She said: "begin where you are!" Then she proceeded to tell us something of her story. Elaine is a 'public Christian' (her words) and so she is invited to take part in radio and other public discussions about faith and culture and moral issues. She described some of these discussions with some very big name controversialists and simply said that she brings the Bible into these public discussions quite unashamedly. Her confidence is something to admire.

Then she said: "You can do the same where you are?" Gulp!

Be confident in your faith; don't be ashamed!

Friday, 14 May 2010

Sneezing the gospel!

Every winter, on TV there is a particularly disgusting advert that warns us about colds and other viruses. It shows someone on a bus, sneezing, and then how all of the virus germs fly about on the bus infecting all of the other passengers. "Sneeze into your hankie" is the message; don't spread your germs about; we don;'t want to pass on the virus.

Do you remember swine flu? Whatever happened to it? It was bad for the people who caught it and tragic for the families of people who died as a result of swine flu. We shake out heads now, knowingly, thinking that it was all such a fuss over very little, but like every virus it had the capacity to run riot through the population if conditions were right. Thankfully, that didn't happen, but that doesn't mean we will ignore it the next time it happens.

Ideas spread in something of the same way. I came across this notion in a book called Forgotten Ways by Alan Hirsch. He calls them ideaviruses - "a big idea that runs amok across the target audience". Ideas grow by people passing them on to other people. How many of you have Hotmail addresses? Why did you start using Hotmail? It was not because they ran lots of expensive advertising campaigns, but because the thought of free e-mail was an appealing idea to lots of people and your friends told you about it. So the number of people using Hotmail grew because the idea caught on.

See how this works: as a reward for his invention the inventor of the game of chess was offered one wish by the emperor of India. He wished for 1 kernel of rice on the first square of the chess board, to be squared for every section of the board; there are 64 squares. The king thought he had got off lightly and agreed. so there were 2 kernels on the second square, 4 of the third, 16 on the fourth and so on; by the time he got to square 64 he would have had to produce 153 billion tons of rice, 2 to the power of 63! How things grow.

Sneezing the gospel is about sharing an idea with people we know so that they come to understand it and believe it too. "If it is a particularly compelling idea, we pass it on to other people. In some way that is exactly the way we all got caught up in the gospel... an idea can become contagious!" (Hirsch)

Do you find the gospel compelling?
Do you wish that other people, your family or friends also found it compelling?
How can you pass on this compelling idea to 2 or 3 people you know in the next month?

This is the way in which churches mainly grow. Why do some churches have large numbers of students? Because one student tells another that the church they go to is great! Share the compelling idea of the gospel with someone and see what happens.

Friday, 7 May 2010

The present uncertainty!

How does David Dimbleby do it? I went to bed last night at 11.30pm and he was there on television introducing the election night coverage on BBC. I woke this morning and put it on again at 7am and there he was, still in his chair, still presiding over the election events. I've just been watching the BBC News Channel for the last 15 minutes on the web and there was David Dimbleby again, introducing David Cameron and Nick Robinson and all the other people around his huge table. I suspect, he won't be up early on Saturday morning!

One thing is clear: nothing is clear! we know the election results, but we still don't quite know what they mean for the country. Even what that becomes clear in the next few days, we still don't know what the next few months will hold for us. There are huge political and economic questions facing whoever forms the next government and while we know the questions, we may not be entirely sure what the answers will be, could be or should be.

There are other uncertainties that simply refuse to go away; three of them hang over our proposed trip to Cambodia in July. The unpronounceable volcano in Iceland continues to erupt and volcanic ash continues to, literally, hang over the prospect or air travel in and out of Scotland. Then, their cabin crew have again voted to reject an improved offer from BA and are threatening strike action once more; our tickets are with BA! Thirdly, there continues to be difficulties in Bangkok and we are flying there because it is the easiest way into Poipet, the city in Cambodia to which we are going.

The General Assembly meets in 2 weeks time. I got my Blue Book last week, the book of reports which forms the basis of the Assembly debates. There are some proposals for reform and change, but perhaps the most alarming piece is contained in the Ministries Council report when it describes the financial situation in which the Church will find itself over the next few years. Reserves are being eaten up at such a rate that they will run dry by 2017 if nothing is done. So the plan is to reduce the number of people in paid ministry posts over the next 4 years. At present, in Edinburgh there are 88 such posts; the plan is to reduce that number by 14. Which ministers will not be replaced? Will congregations die as a result? Where will these cuts take place? What will be the impact on the mission of God in the city?

Uncertainty creates one of two reactions:
some people find uncertainty enormously energising; they live on it; they fly by the seats of their pants all of the time and they love it. Uncertainty becomes the catalyst and opportunity for creative thinking, for new ideas and new ways of doing things. I don't see many people like that around, either politically or in Church, but there is a space for them now.
we find uncertainty paralysing. This would be the tortoise school of management, taking refuge in one's shell and hiding because the world is just too frightening. It's almost as if the problems don't exist and if we ignore them, they will go away and when we emerge in our new world, it will all be sorted and we'll have avoided the pain.

I feel as if we're going to have to bite the bullet and face up to change in ways that we never have before; I don't know what the future will hold for the Church or for the country; all I can do is walk into the future, trusting the God who sees me and who walks with me, the God who knows the end from the beginning and let Him work His purpose out in me, in Church, in the world.