Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Celebrating Lent properly

Tomorrow (Ash Wednesday) marks the start of Lent and in the next few weeks, it’s likely you’ll hear the question “What are you giving up for Lent?” How should we as Christians celebrate Lent? How can we celebrate it without the feelings of sombreness, despair and guilt that the season is often associated with? A couple of thoughts on this issue.

First, the way that the above question is phrased (What are you giving up?) gets us off on precisely the wrong note. It focuses on abstinence rather than activity, and on us rather than on Christ. If you're going to “do something” for Lent, make sure the focus is not on self-deprivation or inactivity. Instead, focus on devoting yourself positively to something spiritually beneficial such as half an hour reading your Bible or some other Christian book, a few minutes praying or meditating on and memorising some Psalms. Pursue abstinence or self-deprivation only if it helps you pursue these positive goals. Miss a meal, withdraw from Facebook or get up a bit earlier, for example, so that you can have more time to read and pray.

Second, remember that Sunday is still the Lord’s Day, i.e. Resurrection Day, even during the period of Lent. Strictly speaking, of course, the Sundays between Ash Wednesday and Easter aren't part of Lent at all. Do the sums: Ash Wednesday (1st March) to Holy Saturday (15th April) is 46 days; take away the 6 Sundays and you're left with the 40 days of Lent. Sunday is still a day of celebration, so let's keep it that way. Don't let Lent leak into Sundays. And one way to ensure this is by being at church every Sunday (including the Sundays in Lent) where we sing songs of praise and celebrate Holy Communion with joy.

Third, don't judge others who do things differently from you. Of course, it's possible to observe Lent in a spirit of more-pious-than-thou self-righteousness. It's also possible that not observing Lent may reflect an attitude of indifference and laziness with regard to our Christian discipleship. I'm not sure which is worse, and, thankfully, those are not the only options. But we all need to beware of assuming that we know why people are doing things differently from ourselves. The Apostle Paul's comments in Romans 14:3, though not written with Lent in mind, are certainly relevant here: “Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him.”

May you have a meaningful Lent as you celebrate it properly!

Parish article for the week beginning 26th February 2017 AD (with thanks to SJ)

Monday, 27 February 2017

When shaming is appropriate

Even though the experience of shaming will be painful, we can affirm a group's shaming when (1) the action in question is something God would consider shameful [such as sexual activity outside marriage], and (2) the intent of the shaming is restoring the person to right living and right relationship with God and others. This "reintegrative" shaming is restorative and temporary. 

Tragically much of the shaming in the world today falls short of both ideals

Ministering in Honor-Shame cultures by Jayson Georges and Mark D. Baker

Saturday, 25 February 2017

Looky here - my boss wrote this

My vicar in the parish where I work has written a fantastic letter to the Archbishops and I am rather chuffed about it so I thought I would let you (2 readers of this blog ;) know about it. Here's how it begins:
Dear Archbishops Justin and John,
I hope you will forgive my boldness in writing to you like this. But as you have written publicly calling for 'a radical new Christian inclusion in the Church' after last week's General Synod I wanted to write and ask the question which many are now asking: what exactly is that? 
You see, the thing is, I've always thought the gospel was radically inclusive already. I've always believed that 'the vilest offender who truly believes, that moment from Jesus a pardon receives' – as the famous hymn puts it. And when I look back on churches of which I have been a part, I recall them including paedophiles, an associate of the Kray twins, pornography addicts, adulterers – and others, including myself, whose middle class respectability masked sins which might have been less obvious but were equally heart-breaking to God. We, together, were vile offenders (in the eyes of God's law if not of the world) who chose to repent and believe. And gloriously, all of us were welcomed and included! When you add in the mind-blowing mix of age, ethnicity and background as well, that seems pretty inclusive already.
To read the rest, looky here

Thursday, 23 February 2017

The problem with secular arguments for sexual ethics

...is that they spring from the same root as arguments for same-sex "marriage": human autonomy. Able secular proponents of "traditional marriage" argue for "the common good" and human flourishing" saying that only marriage gives us happy, well-balanced children; strong family bonds; and useful citizens. The problem is that many advocates of homosexuality (for example) see a society that discriminates against same-sex "marriage" as not a common good and, even were they to grant that traditional marriage fosters more well-adjusted families, they would still insist that a sexually discriminatory society must be abolished. For them, the right of homosexuals to marry is part of the common good. For these homosexuals and their heterosexual allies, what constitutes "good" is not held in "common" with "traditional" marriage advocates. It is not, therefore, "the common good" or "human flourishing" to which Christians must ultimately appeal, but to the word of God.
That gist of that last sentence is something we Christians need to remember and reiterate when addressing all the hot button issues in our culture today e.g, abortion, divorce, child rearing etc. That said, lets not miss the perceptiveness of the above comments as we consider how to respond - in righteousness - to the biggest issue of our times. You can read more here.

Saturday, 18 February 2017

What the mosquito teaches us

If you think you are too small to make a difference then you haven't spent a night with a mosquito - African proverb

Monday, 13 February 2017

The best Valentines gift

I’m sure you’re aware of it but just in case you’re not, it's Valentine’s this week! Judging by what’s on display in the shops, tis the season to splash out on chocolates, red roses and pricey jewellery. How ironic that a day named after a Christian martyr (St Valentine) is now associated with over-priced flowers and restaurants offering expensive ‘romantic’ candle-lit dinners. Not that I am against any of this extravagance but what is often missed is the ordinary and ongoing nature of true love. The famous Bible passage that is often read at weddings captures this well: “love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.” Such love is borne out not by experiencing warm or fuzzy feelings but in the serving of others day in, day out – in good times and in bad. True love is about putting others first and a life lived for the benefit of others. As Jesus puts it “in everything (not just at Valentines) do to others what you would have them do to you.” Love continually puts other people first.
In practical terms this means that in all our relationships (but especially for husbands and wives) we should desist the temptation to “fix the other person first”. Many a time in a marriage, the husband knows what ‘issues’ his wife needs to sort out are and, if we were to ask her, she would probably be able to list where he is failing. In short, couples often forget to put the other first. They forget to love their neighbour as themselves. It is shocking to see how men and women who are pleasant and warm in dealing with others can then be rude, thoughtless, tacky, bitter, demanding or angry – as though marital closeness eradicated all responsibility to love your [closest] neighbour as yourself. When challenged on this, we defend ourselves by blaming the other: “She started it”; “He won’t listen.” But to blame the other is to violate the love we are to have for our neighbour.

Many couples will spend some money on their beloved over the coming week. That may be good and proper. However, to indulge your loved one in mid-February when for the rest of the year you rarely (if ever) put them first would be a travesty. The solution is to remember Christ – to remember His love and the great price He paid for your sin, to seek His forgiveness where you have failed to love (and who hasn’t?) and then in dependence on His Holy Spirit, to resolve daily to walk the way of loving your neighbour as you love yourself. Happy Valentine!
Parish magazine article for the week beginning 12th February 2017 AD

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Two income families should not be the norm!

Image result for playing in the streets
Because children should be able to play freely outdoors and for hours on end, there should be neighbourhoods for them to play in. Because there should be neighbourhoods, there should be in those locales the natural though informal monitors of the neighbourhood; elderly people on their porches, many mothers, and men and women at work in family businesses nearby. Because there should be such neighbourhoods filled with people, our social policies should favour them and support them, and our cultural expectations likewise. Therefore we should not subordinate the family to work; double-income family should not be the norm; we should reconsider all things that tend to remove father and mother far from the place where they live.

 Antony Esolen, Out of the Ashes