Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Musings on marriage: Mars, Venus, dogs and balloon flights!

Charles Darwin was considering marriage to his cousin Emma Wedgewood, and wrote some brilliant thoughts on the subject. Writing out of his scientific personality, Darwin drafted this rather cold sounding logic as an argument for marriage. Ladies, don't expect to swoon over the next few lines with romance heaving in your bosom!

Against the idea of marriage Darwin noted, "the expense and anxiety of children" and the fact that a married man could never "go up in a balloon". An odd one perhaps, but maybe just his way of expressing that marriage will tie him down and limit his risk taking (in his view!)

More positively, in favour of marriage, he spoke of acquiring a "constant companion and friend in old age". The clincher that settled the argument was that a wife would be "better than a dog, anyhow."

Remarkably, (and leaving aside the thought of marrying your cousin!) Mr and Mrs Darwin continued on to have a strong and happy marriage. On his deathbed in 1882, Darwin the logical, obsessive scientist cried out, "My love, my precious love."

Ten children in seventeen years shows that this love was genuine and that it wasn't all theory for our Charles and Emma, even with their extreme differences in personality which personify the 'Mars/Venus' analogy!

Mars and Venus is just a way of highlighting the subtle differences in gender, role, and expectations which we bring crashing with us into a new marriage relationship. Left alone, these differences can lead to tension and conflict, but if celebrated and understood, they can strengthen a marriage and make it shine. The key as ever is how we communicate with eachother. The aim is not to iron out differences or reduce contrasts to some awful shared level of shallow acceptance - the goal is to love one another selflessly and provide the foundation for a fruitful, lasting marriage.

It helps if you find a partner who 'gets' you and speaks your language, even if it isn't their primary way of functioning in the world. For all of us guys who live unthinkingly with our odd personality types, we find a good woman breaks her way into our closed in world and refuses to conform to our funny little ways.

Emma Darwin used emotion and humour with her man who was renowned for trusting clinical science and observation. She wrote to Charles early on in their relationship to say"After our marriage you will be forming theories about me, and if I am cross or out of temper you will only consider: 'What does that prove?' which will be a very philosophical way of considering it."

Emma Darwin was such a polar opposite that her Christian faith enabled her to stand by her man through all the flack and battles that Charles faced for proposing theories which purported to undermine that very same faith!

Ultimately, and in spite of their divergent personalities, the marriage worked because both were committed to serving one another out of deep love. Even if you don't agree with your husband's theories of evolution, when the journalists come knocking at the door you do the only thing a loving and loyal wife can do - pretend that your husband isn't at home!

Now, husband, you may not go up in a balloon so frequently, but that kind of love is even greater than a dog!

Monday, 27 February 2017

Pancake day and the cultural trail to Easter.

Happy Jif Lemon Day - the official start of the Creme Egg Season! That climactic weekend of gorging ourselves stupid on our own body weight in chocolate, is now only 40 days away - Let the the countdown begin!

Nobody really understands Pancake Day anymore, apart from a few of our more religious friends who also happen to go to church the following day to have ash crosses painted on their foreheads. There is a huge disconnect today between our ancient festivals which used to mark the pattern of the year and our modern mindset.

Most of them we have happily buried in the past, (I include the idea of having an ash cross daubed on my head) but some we have kept. Pancake Day, or Shrove Tuesday to the real aficionados, incredibly made the cut. When you consider that we have quietly disposed of maypoles, harvest and most of the real meaning of Advent in our urban culture, it is amazing, downright extraordinary that millions will batter pancakes into submission around Britain tonight!

The recent signing of a second player named 'Jesus' at Manchester City has left some millenials with more awareness of the footballers than their now less famous namesake. We are a post christian generation where even the christians don't understand the meaning behind their rituals. When a third of Anglican priests have doubts about the resurrection, is it any wonder that we've ended up with dead religious festivals and no idea of what they point towards? Who is going to tell the doubters and the unconvinced that this is an opportunity to prepare their hearts whilst they also prepare their batter mix? Who is going to let them know that our forefathers celebrated the life, death and resurrection of a mysterious God-man over the Easter weekend, way before we began importing the addictive cocoa bean?

For my money, we should embrace the festivals, make a song and dance of them again, rather than push them to the sidelines. Wouldn't it be ironic if we could use a bit of old fashioned religion to bridge the gap between the truth and the least religious generation in history? If the boys and girls who believe Jesus to be a Premier League footballer are representative of their lost culture, then they are already so far adrift from the biblical worldview that we used to take for granted - That we might more readily engage such distant thinking through old religious festivals which help them join the dots may be just what they need. Like all emerging generations, they don't want us to tell them, they just need a trail to follow. It's our role to creatively communicate and connect this wonderful story to their lives, to lay an enticing path all the way to Easter.

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Strangled for Scripture : A tribute to William Tyndale

480 years ago today, one of the greatest Englishmen to have ever lived was first strangled, then burned at the stake in Flanders.
William Tyndale's terrible crime was to have translated the New Testament, and large parts of the old into the English language. His mission, simply for ordinary Englishmen to be able to hear the scriptures in their own tongue, and therefore understand the gospel for themselves.

Tyndale's big idea was a terrible threat to the Catholic monopoly, their need for control meaning that most of the population never understood a word that was being said by Priests. More significantly than just understanding the words spoken, the gospel itself was shrouded in medieval mystery and superstition.

That psychotic monster Henry VIII was the worst player in all of this. Remembered wrongly for his reforming zeal, Henry's earlier years were defined by a robust defence of the Pope and violence against reformers. The royal title,'Defender of the faith' which remains to this day, arose from Henry's own flawed theological ramblings as the head of a steadfastly Catholic English nation.

The irony for Henry is that within a year of murdering Tyndale, he was publishing Tyndale's Great Bible in English anyway. This effort watered down a little for the preference of weak Bishops, but made up almost entirely of Tyndale's earlier banned work! No one has shaped our English bibles, and perhaps the English language more than William Tyndale, who died a traitor's death in exile, away from the country who should have lauded him.
Today, Mr Tyndale, we salute you!

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Voting remain for a new European reformation.

Back in March of this year I drafted these brief notes to consider why I intended to vote 'no' to a Brexit. On the eve of the referendum, my view hasn't changed. 

My decision should be defined by a gospel paradigm more than personal preference or political sensibilities. We have a higher governance and a more important consequence than just fears over the economy, sovereignty, trade or migration.

History shows us missionary movements always push outward more readily with open borders. The gospel spread rapidly in the Roman Empire. It was possible to travel freely and relatively safely to modern day Iraq from the north of England. That's certainly not the case today. Neither was multicultural Britain a new phenomenon either. An inscription from the 2nd century at the eastern end of Hadrian's Wall attests to the tender affection between a Syrian and his British wife Regina.

Open borders are always better for the gospel. The spreading flame of the Reformation was fuelled by the printing press, old borders of slow communication overwhelmed with rapid reproduction of pamphlets, tracts and books, the speeding proliferation of ideas and freedom of thinking an important ally to freedom of movement.

Again, we see movement within the British Empire and our former colonies and faster sea crossings bringing momentum to the emergent missionary movement. From George Whitefield's multiple trips to New England, to the exponential growth of missionaries into India and China in the two centuries which followed. Trade routes over huge distances being freely travelled in both directions, cultural exchange. The same was true within other old European empires and their colonies.

Later, the train, the spread of Christianity to the western states of America. Then even faster sea crossings, planes and the rapid rise of Pentecostalism in the global south. 
To the present day, we now recognise the internet era and the immediate exchange of ideas, is developing an increasingly shared word culture. 

Closing borders will slow the free movement of people, ideas, trade and refugees. We can't go back, we can't shut ourselves in. History shows we have never been a little England, and thank God for that for the gospel's sake! 
This brief span of history demonstrates that ideas, trade and refugees are three of the primary ways that the gospel spreads, grows and takes root in new territories most readily, from The Acts 8 persecution which unsettled the comfortable Jerusalem church onwards.

Europe needs a new reformation. We are part of a church planting movement. Why would we vote for anything which makes this harder, introduces restrictions on travel, work, rights to stay, problems of currency? 

Our current united European rights are a boon to church planters. Inevitably there are good people making a good case to leave, there are genuine concerns for reform that need to be addressed from our seat at the table. My contention from history though is that broader fears of multiculturalism, immigration and open borders are not proven, and cannot trump the need for the gospel to take root more freely and deeply in modern, multicultural old and new Europe. That's why I'm voting to remain on June 23rd.

Monday, 7 March 2016

Animation map of the spread of the gospel.

As someone who loves church history, missiology, geography and maps, this short animation about the spread of Christianity across the planet ticks all my boxes!

There are obviously some approximations and generalisations that will frustrate the detail pedants. Questions too over the spread eastward and of course the recognition that much of what we call Christianity today may be miles wide but only inches deep. For sure, no serious missiologist or church planter is looking at the final map of Europe and thinking that we've got the job done!

However, as a general overview, this is a hugely encouraging and stirring map which will help people in praying for the continued spread and growth of the gospel across planet earth. The speed and spread into the global south since the Pentecostal revival of 100 years ago should be a stimulus to all of us as we continue to pray and work for breakthrough into the 10/40 window and secular Europe. So also should the rise and fall of regimes and rules which threatened Christianity so strongly at the time, and yet now are wiped from the map.

The good people at Gospelmap.com and their researchers have done an excellent job. Thanks for encouraging us with this animation. Enjoy!

Monday, 7 December 2015

Draw me after you and let us run together

At this time of year in church life there are not many quiet moments. At the end of a busy term, Christmas, and all the events and activities associated with it, looms large on the horizon. Add to that tiredness, late nights, too many people, and the need of a break - It doesn't feel always like there is so much peace and goodwill around!

Coming into my office this morning, aware of a long list and a longer day ahead, I grabbed an old paperback from the shelf which I haven't touched for 20 years. It literally fell open on a page which stopped me in my tracks, and pulled me up short from my unthinking tendency to busyness without intimacy. Ever been confronted by a text which shows you up in this way so readily? Well, here it is.
The book, Mike Bickle's Passion for Jesus. The quote, as follows:

Song of Solomon 1.4
"After the maiden in the Song of Solomon awakens to fervency, she prays a twofold prayer. 'Draw me after you and let us run together.' The order of that prayer is very important. First we are drawn to him in intimacy, then we run with him in ministry. If we are to become co-labourers with Christ, running with him, we should first focus on being drawn as worshippers, consecrated in purity with affectionate passions.
It's easy to pray, 'Let me run, increase my sphere of ministry and influence,' without also fervently seeking the Lord to draw us near to him. But as we are drawn to greater intimacy with God, we have a greater spiritual depth and touch other people's spirits more effectively. That is what 'running' or real ministry is all about - bringing deliverance to the hearts of human beings so they can know and worship God intimately too.
On the other hand, some believers say, 'Draw me,' but never go onto run with the Lord as a partner with him in his work on the earth. The Holy Spirit does not draw us so we can hang a 'do not disturb' sign and sit in our little comfort zone singing love songs to Jesus the rest of our lives. As fellow heirs with Christ, we are drawn into intimacy, the empowered in ministry to bring others into intimacy with the Lord."

It's a really good thing to run hard this Christmas before we rest. But it's an even better thing to run hard out of this place of rest. 'Draw me after you and let us run together.' Let me hear a hearty 'Amen' from every flagging runner!

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Bonfires, Mary and the English martyrs!

Fifty years before Fawkes, England was already lit up by bonfires. During the last 4 years of Queen Mary’s reign 288 people were burned at the stake for their biblical faith, including women and some children. Countless others died in prison. Foxe writes with his usual gusto, ‘the faggots never ceased to blaze whilst Mary was alive.’ 
41 perished in the flames from Sussex, including 17 from Lewes alone – Much of the strong bonfire tradition and feeling in these parts goes back here rather than to 1605 and the Gunpowder Plot. 

Bloody Mary of course gets the blame. Her zeal in persecuting the new breed of English Protestants now famous. She perhaps deserves our sympathy though- As the disowned daughter of her monster father, Henry VIII, she grew up in terrible fear and conflict. Mary watched the outrageous treatment of her mother and found her own estrangement from the man who should have protected her the most, her father and her King. No wonder the poor girl had issues! Her suppressed rage against the English and their protestant cause came with real fury when she finally got to power. In our modern context, psychologists would surely see these martyrs deaths as classic serial killer revenge cases at the hands of a psychotic, passive aggresive maniac.

Leaving aside Mary's complex issues, what of the martyrs? Bishops Latimer and Ridley said it best as they faced the fires. Upon seeing his friend and fellow martyr failing to catch light, Latimer was heard to encourage, ‘Play the man Master Ridley! We shall this day light such a candle in England as I trust shall never be put out!’
It hasn’t been extinguished. Mary was soon dead. Though there have been dark times since, from the Armada, from Fawkes and his conspiritors, from rationalism, from luke warm unbelieving churches, Darwin, wars and scandals - there has been a candle in every generation of genuine faith and true christian community in England.

England again is under threat in our generation. Our fight is not against an oppressive regime or bands of conspiring terrorists who seek to murder parliament. Nor is it a conflict over English nationalism or identity
No, our fight is for a deeper set of defining values than any of these things. In the dark days under Mary, if a believer valued any sense of Englishness, his call would be to courageously live, work, and even die for the gospel. This historic burden of responsibility has not changed for 21st century English believers. It is more acute than ever, and ever more needed, in order that many in the darkness of our day may come into the light. 
This candle lit first by the martyrs is ours to hold high and keep ablaze as we live out a radical and relevant faith today for the sake of God’s glory in our nation. Torches of love, rather than gunpowder barrels packed with explosive hatred - lives laid down for the most powerful cause.