Saturday, August 19, 2006

Book Meme - results!

See here for a summary of loads of the replies to the meme.

See here for a load of very very funny answers to the question within that meme: what book do you wish had been written? Some are seriously brilliant!

Au Revoir

Today I'm off for just over two weeks speaking on a couple of Oak Hall trips to Engelberg, walking in the Alps. Its a tough life, let me tell you.

But I do not anticipate this hiatus in posts continuing as long as the previous week's break which ended up as a month. I'm back on 4th Sept, and will aim to get back into the 1-a-day habit I'm aiming for.

Quite exciting really - over 1,000 hits on my blog. Either its proving vaguely useful, or my (very proud) mother has a large dial-up bill coming!

Happy holidays!

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Does God love the Devil?

Thanks to Dawn for this question, which I certainly hadn't thought about until she asked...

I think the key to answering this is to extrapolate from God's relationship to non-elect humans, since Satan is a non-elect angel. [Some of the stuff I'm going to say has already been said on this blog by
Matthew in the comments here. Marc's question there still hasn't been answered, so any further thoughts welcome!]

God loves everyone, so must love all non-elect humans (1Tim 2:4, Matt 23:37 cf Lk 19:41-44). In Reformed thought this has been understood as loving them because he created them. He does, of course, also hate them because they reject his son.

If we then extrapolate this to Satan, who has had much greater revelation and thus has correspondingly greater understanding than any human, we might understand that God loves Satan as a created being, yet hates him with a burning, white-hot, righteous passion since Satan celebrates everything God hates and is opposed to everything God loves and embodies.

The presumption behind this is extrapolation from God's relations to humans. I can't right now think of a verse or passage to justify that. I don't know a huge amount of relevant information about angels except that they are sentient (though non-human) beings. If I'm wrong here I trust that someone will tell me.

In my own defence, however, Mike Ovey seemed pretty convinced by this gambit when I ran it past him yesterday.

Thoughts, anyone?

Further questions, Dawn?

Saturday, August 12, 2006

GRACE - A Moment of Blinding Clarity

I had a brief moment of peculiar clarity this week - over coffee, of course!
This is what I do: set the bar low & live by works.

This is what the Bible says: set the bar high & live by grace.
There is all the difference in the world.

Think of almost any area of life - money, prayer, admin, mental discipline, talk prep, dealing with praise or failure... In each of these I tend to set the bar low for myself and try hard to achieve that level.

What the Bible calls me to do is set the bar at God's height, knowing that failure will come and being prepared to deal with that at the cross. [
Josh Harris makes part of this point in his 'Not Even a Hint' (which has now been re-named).]

Part of this comes back to being wrongly excited by signs of grace in my life (which is inextricably linked to being wrongly depressed by failures). God saved me as a failure, and will bring me to Glory as a sanctified, Spirit-filled failure made to be like Christ.

Nothing wrong with being excited by signs of grace, of course; nothing wrong with seeing the Spirit's work in our lives... The issue is how we deal with such things, and whether we live for them or merely use them as spurs towards that which we should rightly live for.

How sad to dilute the Bible's teaching - the loving words of my munificent Lord for my best good - so that they are vaguely accessible, and then to ignore both God's great standards and great Servant who is within me for this fight.

One way - my old way - just fails to grasp both God's true standards and God's great grace. But on the up-side, it frequently makes me feel very good about myself! The other way is very very hard...

Dare I resolve to set the bar as infinitely high as God does, and go forth in his strength, knowing failures will come but intending to deal with them at Calvary and press on?

Dare I not?

Friday, August 11, 2006

Manly / Man-Friendly Church

Marc helpfully makes the point in his comment below that my review of David Murrow's Why Men Hate Going to Church doesn't give all the answers as to how church could be more manly and/or man-friendly. He makes the point much more gently than that, of course, and it is a fair point. There is no way anyone can give all the answers, but I've put some practical ideas at the bottom of this...

What I'm going to try to do here is summarise the book more fully than I did below, giving some of the highlights and a few personal reflections as we go along. Highlights are full-size, my reflections a little smaller. At the end I summarise a few things we can easily do to be more man-friendly.

Summary of my position
I don't agree fully with everything in the book, but I think we all need to read it: laity, lay church leaders, full-time church leaders, preachers, college lecturers, etc... I guess I'm aiming to push you to read this book as I write. It is not without its faults, but it does make one very good and timely point!

Not every church in the UK needs to hear this as much as many do. There are a growing number of manly churches - and may the number continue to grow. Most of the larger churches are good at being man-friendly - and you'll see why below!

'Your system is perfectly designed to give you the results you're getting' (vii). So if your church consists primarily of elderly women, might that be because of what you're doing? It is a standard commonplace that churches are composed primarily of females. Might it be that our churches' systems are perfectly designed to give us the results we're getting. Murrow states that 'Truth is, the modern church is not designed to do what Jesus did: reach men with the good news.' (viii).
Seems to me a fair summary of some / many UK churches - he is writing in the States, so against a different backdrop - but not all. These exceptions are well-known to many of us; there are some great men of God doing manly work amongst men - praise God. Later on, Murrow will challenge us not to make men effeminate as they are converted. Ask yourself about typical masculine expressions as opposed to feminine, and see how many of each you have at church, home-group, and so on...

Part 1: Why Men Hate Going to Church
Ch 1. Men have a Religion: Masculinity. Most men don't go to church because they've been (7). But we need men at church (8-9). Answer is not a male-dominated church (9-10). But this book will challenge women in the laity: are you willing to change for the sake of the male outsiders? (11).
At this point I hadn't been convinced by anything; that came later!

Ch 2. Why Judy's Husband Hates Going to Church. 'Films represent our fantasies. Men fantasize about saving the world against impossible odds. Women fantasize about having a relationship with a wonderful man.' (15) Men are ill-equipped to go to church - not being very expressive, verbal or sensitive, nor good at singing; women hold many of the cards here (16).
Anyone ever tempted to marry a n-Xn must read pages 12-13.
That aside, I find these two points pretty convincing, if a bit rough and ready; why can't both those film-types be emphasised at church? How do rugby-playing guys fit into the average local congregation? Men need to learn some of those things, but maybe Murrow's point is that we require much more of unconverted men to go into churches than of corresponding women. Good spot - I think that's true. Why might it be? What can we change? What is biblical? What is habit? Distinguish a lively relationship with Jesus Christ, expressed, based and developed in community with going to church. Distinguish Churchianity from Christianity!
Ch 3. Men Aren't the Only Ones Missing from Church. Women and older adults [50+] are much more likely to be in church than men and younger adults [18-29] because the former crave security, the latter challenge - being attracted to churches with guts (18-21).
This is a good point - the issue is broader than just men / women, but is generational too.
Ch 4. The Masculine Spirit and the Feminine Spirit. He examines a list of characteristics taken from 'Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus' and sees that almost everyone associates the female ones with Christianity above the male ones (23-24). He distinguishes the masculine spirit [seen at sporting events, for example] from the feminine spirit [primary school] and looks at why we need both (25-28).
I think pages 23-24 are a vital read. Why do we think those characteristics are more Christian. I've been teaching through Mark recently - isn't Jesus confrontational? dismissive? even harsh? [3:31-35, 7:6-13, 11:29-33, 12:24 & 27 for some examples; when did you last follow Jesus' example in these ways?]
Ch 5. Adjusting the Thermostat. Does your congregation's setting focus on challenge, comfort, ceremony, control, conformity or confrontation? What balance is there? (29-33) This isn't just for pastors: we are all involved in setting this level (33). We need to re-discover what discipleship means (33-35).
Helpful questions, I think - he looks at each of the six foci in a little detail.

Ch 6. Men: Who Needs 'Em? Look at the jobs you want doing at church - how many are predominantly feminine? (36-39) Churches need to tell men they're needed, and have a fit-jobs-to-people approach so that they actually are needed (40). Men's gifts promote church health (44-47). If Christianity is to survive, we need men: 'Why are secularism and Islam on the rise? I believe it is their ability to capture the hearts of men.' (48)
Pages 44-47 on men's gifts' usefulness to the church are a very important read.

Part 2: The Three Gender Gaps
Three chapters examine:

7. The Gap of Presence - there are more women at church than men [20% more in the US, for example]. Interestingly, the gap is generally smaller in the larger churches: chicken or egg - which comes first: size or men? (58). Particularly interesting is the examination of how the message at church has been changed because of attendees (61-63).
8. The Gap of Participation - women are more serious about their faith, and more involved in church than men; they really are!

9. The Gap of Personality - entire personality types are missing from church, making it harder to attract men. This chapter examines what churches miss by missing men, why churches need men, and why having men around will be hard for a number of churches in a number of ways. Very interesting!
These chapters house some of the key research behind Murrow's book - all of which is worth at least a quick glance, and some sections require deeper thought.

Part 3: Understanding Men and Masculinity
These chapters examine the differences between men and women. Many of us may be tuned to ridicule this stuff without any thought - having read or heard so many poorly thought-through versions as to be almost immune. Work hard not to be hardened to this - we are different! Men speak on average 7 - 10 thousand words per day, women 20 - 25 thousand; our brains are different; we learn in different ways; we experience things differently. Since church should and must be about learning and experience, as well as many other things too, we need to have thought through how each sex is best served. Further, it is helpful but sobering to note that many of the most well-habilitated men in church are those who display the least masculine traits - what are we training men in at conversion? Femininity or Christ-likeness?
I agree. We need to understand both masculinity and femininity - which is why I frequently encourage all male preachers to have read Sharon James' 'God's Design for Women' at the very least, and probably a couple of other books on that subject too...

Part 4: The Straws that Break Men's Hearts
I gave Murrow's list in my earlier post here. What do men fear at church? (155-125) Do we encourage - or even cater for - or even permit - manliness in church? (133-144) Do we let men lead like men? Murrow says: 'It is not a sin to focus on Jesus' feminine side, to sing songs that feel feminine, or to dress up for church. On behalf of men, all I ask is equal time for the masculine spirit.' (145)
Some good, fair, insightful points, and well made... Listen, learn and change!

Part 5: Restoring the Masculine Spirit in the Church
These are some ways we can adjust the church's thermostat to make changes so men will be more comfortable:
17. Leadership and the Masculine Spirit (151-167) We must have and encourage bold and visionary leadership, aiming at results and seeing them happen, pushing ahead despite opposition, giving things a go, having a clear purpose, setting high standards.
This is hard at times - as a member of a congregation run by Richard Coekin, there's no major lack of this about - but bears much fruit among men. Sometimes we just have to keep quiet under the little things that irk because of the bigger picture.
18. Pastoring and the Masculine Spirit (168-174) We need to be strong, resolute, full of conviction; that means laity need to endorse such models and follow such men.
Same comment as above!
19. Teaching and the Masculine Spirit (175-183)
You've just got to read this chapter!!
20. Worship and the Masculine Spirit (184-192) I quote: 'women are to worship as men are to sex' (184). Think about it! How can we change our worship style to be more men-friendly? Loads of ideas here.
Don't agree with all of this in terms of practical stuff - and not with all the book on that level, fairly obviously. I'm basically keen that loads of us read this and learn from it - having for years been at churches I found it really hard to take my bloke friends from work to.

21. Women and the Masculine Spirit (193-202) Loads of tough stuff here for the ladies, particularly in the female-dominated churches this book is aiming at. Are you prepared to change for good gospel reasons - the reaching lost men.
Not sure how much I can comment. Maybe one of the women who reads this will illuminate us all via a comment? All sounds fairly sensible to me, but I'm no expert on being a girl!
22. Ministry and the Masculine Spirit (203-211)
This replays some of the stuff from chapters 6, 8 & 9 in more practical detail; some good practical sense.

Part 6: Meeting Men's Deepest Needs
These are ways to meet men's deepest needs, so they'll stay once you've got them in!
23. Every Man needs a Spiritual Father. This is a big gap in churches and major loss to discipleship. It'll be hard to start, but we seriously need it.
24. Every Man needs a Band of Brothers. As above.
25. The Second Coming of the Masculine Spirit. Wraps it all up.
Two very good practical chapters. I read them and know how much I owe to such men in my life.

Things we can change to be more man-friendly:
  • The way we refer to Christian truths: Jesus is both loving brother and bold captain - which gets more air-time at church?
  • What and how we sing: run into the arms of God or fighting the good fight of faith - one is from a song, the other from Scripture!
  • What we focus on theologically: we so often miss Jesus' and God's more masculine traits (possibly by habit - we've learnt not to focus on them in our happy little effeminate churches).
  • How we describe the Christian life: see first two comments!
  • How we teach: men generally prefer short interactive stuff, women long monologues - which do we do more of?
  • How we express our gathered worship: men hate singing but love shouting!
  • When, how and where we meet up for mid-week studies; cup of tea in a living room - how masculine!
  • How we fellowship more generally: this should be much broader for all concerned - lets be inventive as congregations to find many many diverse things a few of us can enjoy together.
  • What we value: do we prefer meekness to boldness - and, if so, why?
  • How we disciple.
  • Our buildings: do we focus on tea / coffee or table-football / darts? Why? they're each equally sociable!
You get the idea. Read it!

Thursday, August 10, 2006

O God Beyond all Praising

You may well know Michael Perry's brilliant and exciting words to the rousing Holst tune from Jupiter, called Thaxted, frequently used for 'I Vow to Thee my Country'.

The words being so great and the tune so well-known, Andy & Amanda Martin wanted to use it at their wedding. But Andy wondered if another verse might be added, so he & I sat down to look at it. We thus composed two more verses, leading to a broader trinitarian content within the hymn whilst keeping Perry's excellent verses first and last. Below is what we came up with. If it is useful to you, please do make use of it!

[At Christ Church, Mayfair, where I plan the services and run the music group, we have sung Perry's original on Remebrance Sunday because people recognise and even expect the tune, but we don't want to sing the words of 'I Vow to Thee my Country'. We have also used 'Before the Throne of God Above' to Jerusalem, for similar reasons. If you top and tail a service with those two, you thereby give your visitors enough of what they expect for them to (a) listen to the sermon and (b) hopefully come back again. Well that's the plan, at any rate!]

Verses 1 & 4 (c) Michale Perry, 1996.
Verses 2 & 3 (c) Andy Martin & Andrew Towner, 2006.

O God beyond all praising,
We worship you today
And sing the love amazing
That songs cannot repay;
For we can only wonder
At ev'ry gift you send,
At blessings without number
And mercies without end:
We lift our hearts before you
And wait upon your Word,
We honour and adore you,
Our great and mighty Lord.

We praise you gracious Father
For giving us your Son;
He reigns o’er every other
Now victory is won:
He bled to bear your anger,
He took the guilt of sin;
Our hearts and minds remember
We died to death in him.
The marvellous work at Calvary
Means life will never end;
The death he died has set me free,
My King is now my Friend.

We magnify the Spirit,
Who raised him from the grave,
Though Satan strove to thwart it,
New life to us he gave.
We live to serve our Captain
We strive to please our Lord.
The Spirit makes us certain
That heavenward we’re called.
Christ raised! We tell this story,
To God we raise this hymn
Who chose us for his glory -
To live and reign with him.

Then hear, O gracious Saviour,
Accept the love we bring,
That we who know your favour
May serve you as our king;
And whether our tomorrows
Be fill'd with good or ill,
We'll triumph through our sorrows
And rise to bless you still:
To marvel at your beauty
And glory in your ways,
And make a joyful duty
Our sacrifice of praise.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

David Murrow 'Why Men Hate Going to Church'

This book makes only one point - but it is a good point and needs to be heard. Men find going to church hard (I've nuanced his title there) because, although the majority of church leadership is male (he is writing in the American context) the style of most church gatherings and activity programmes has a feminine bias. To make church man-friendly therefore needs a bit of thought, self-examination, and willingness on the behalf of congregations, and especially the women within them, to give up some of the stuff they love.

Not sure how that sounds to you, but I think he makes his case. Just think about our songs: how many celebrate the following of an inspiring leader, and how many express heartfelt love? Now which of these is aimed more at the men or women in the congregation? 'We can run into the arms of God' but don't ever seem to 'Stand up, stand up for Jesus, soldiers of the cross'. Why?

Obviously there are loads of nuances to be made at this point:
  • not all men / women are the same - true
  • what makes someone tick should not necessarily be pandered to at church - true
  • both are biblical emphases - true
  • this man / woman thing is unhelpful - possibly
  • this point is very simplistic - possibly
But leave all those aside, and admit them all if that makes you feel better: I think he has a good point to make, and some real practical challenges for the men and women in any church. In general, men and women learn differently, relate differently, express themselves differently, and so on... As an aside: this book is one of the reasons that I love the new song 'O Church Arise' - it is good and manly, and I long for a manly, battling, church!

It is possible that I'm more sympathetic to this than many, given my background in education, where it was very common to examine teaching and testing styles as to being male- or female-friendly. [For example, there is a school of thought that sees the upturn in female achievement at GCSE-, A- and Degree-level in the past 20 yrs as directly related to the changing of teaching and testing procedures to be more feminine.]

Frustrated? Unconvinced? Angry? Sad? Have a read - it is a pretty quick book to get through. He makes his point much better than I do, although the book is frustrating at times.

Want a challenge? What's the major reason men don't go to church? Have a think before you read the Top Ten Excuses in reverse order (p.114):
  • 10 - lack of time
  • 9 - doesn't work for me
  • 8 - boring
  • 7 - irrelevant
  • 6 - don't like pastor
  • 5 - don't want to talk about it
  • 4 - too long
  • 3 - too much asking for money
  • 2 - it's for wimps
  • 1 - too many hypocrites there
It is sobering. This book is a great and timely challenge to all the men and women in churches who long to see more men in church - and I guess that should be all of us!

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

One Book - you've got to be joking!

The hard thing here, of course, is the self-limitation required. But then Christ is our model here, as everywhere else too!

1. One book that changed your life:
The Bible. Others have, of course, but none more than this. It must be a Christian's first answer here.

2. One book that you’ve read more than once:
I've read many of my books more than once, but in the spirit of recent posts, and because it is probably my favourite work of fiction, J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. It is simply outstanding. Ros Clarke, Chris Green and others are nowhere near to changing my mind on that.

3. One book you’d want on a desert island:
SAS Survival Handbook aside, I'm tempted by the complete Sherlock Holmes short stories, but Turretin's Institutes would probably win.

4. One book that made you laugh:
The Goon Show scripts narrowly lose out to Wodehouse's Jeeves & Wooster series.

5. One book that made you cry:
Picking a film here would be easy: It's A Wonderful Life is peerless and always makes me cry.
Books: Buchan's Witch Wood is a massively challenging read about a godly pastor resolutely standing up against occult practices, worldliness & great public pressure at his kirk; Lloyd C Douglass' Green Light is amazingly powerful; and Wilde's The Happy Prince (particularly the short story by that name) is both painful and beautiful.

6. One book that you wish had been written:
A massively winsome, clear, accurate, popular level (e.g. Vaughan Roberts / David Jackman / Josh Harris / Philip Yancey sort-of level) introduction to and motivation of Reformed Theology - both the content & methodology.

7. One book that you wish had never been written:
This is hard, and I agree with Ros here. On that basis, possibly The Da Vinci Code or maybe The Koran. There's a long list if you go with this theme!
[Yet, affirming God's total sovereignty, who am I to say what I'd rather he hadn't permitted for his own great end and ends? Can a theologian holding to the Reformed position that what God has decreed is precisely what happens actually answer this? Presumably they can - I'd rather I hadn't sinned so much! There was absolutely no need for this parenthesis then, when it comes down to it. Sorry!]

8. One book you’re currently reading:
I've quite a few on the go: Marsden's Jonathan Edwards, Dale Ralph Davis' 2 Samuel, Martin Luther's Table Talk and P G Wodehouse's Very Good, Jeeves! are amongst the current highlights.

9. One book you’ve been meaning to read:
Rutherford's Letters - meant to be on of my Summer projects. There's so many I want to read, this really is a very unfair test...
There should, of course, be another category here: one book you've been meaning to put into practise - but then, I'd have no chance of a single there either!

10. Now tag five or six people:
Most of those I want to hear from have been tagged already: Matthew Mason, Marc Lloyd et al., though I suspect DF's list would be particularly interesting...

Monday, August 07, 2006

'Well, I'm back,' he said.

Do you recognise the quote that is today's title? It is the very last line of one of my favourite books, stated by one of my favourite characters. Any guesses?

Oh the joy (and surprise) of being missed! [Note the comments on the post prior to this one.] I never dreamt that any who knew me would think that I'd run out of things to say. Maybe it was just flattery...

Just so you don't worry any further, I've got a whole long list of things to post on; the issue is getting round to it! I was snowed-under in the time between my promise of a week off and leaving for Maidwell 1 CYFA Camp, from which I have just returned yesterday. I had, of course, read the post on procrastination here, but it served only to tell me that posting would be time-wasting, and I owed those who had to sit through 10hrs of talks through Mark's Gospel a fair bit of effort.

But here I am, back again and raring to go. Plan is to limit myself to one post each day, with three main foci: thoughts on stuff & book reviews is what I have presented so far, but I'm wanting to think through a few 'two-minute answers to tough questions'. That's all I'll get over coffee after a sermon, or at a church door. Obviously the longer answers are vital, but they are less useful if I cannot condense them into a brief, exciting, winsome summary probably including only one Bible verse. I wish this were not how it had to be, and long for the day when families sit round Sunday lunch talking through the points of the sermon - but since we're not there yet, I need some great two-minute answers, and intend to try to work on some via this forum, so that they are either useful to others or corrected & improved by others!

If everyone could (read and then) post encouraging comments on Ros' blog here, that would really encourage her [see her comment on my previous post]. Were no comments forthcoming, we could only assume one thing, despite Marc's kind effort at pastoral sensitivity...

The answer on that quote in my title is:

Sam at the end of Lord of the Rings.