Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Welcome to church

"Good morning ladies & gentlemen and welcome to our (Presbyterian) church service. If you're new this morning you may not be familiar with how things work, so here's some rules to get you started.

1. Under no circumstances raise your arms during the worship. Not even to scratch your head. When the Spirit is at work in us, He moves us to put our hands firmly in our pockets.

2. Unless you arrived with someone always leave a space between the person next to you - best to leave two if you can't remember the person's name - anything else is an invasion of privacy.

3. At the end of the service make for the exit at break neck speed. Do not make eye contact with the minister or youth worker, or else you'll find yourself doing a reading or leading the creche next week.

4. Never volunteer your gifts in service. Any real Christian leader will know what you can & cannot do by looking at you.

5. Remember to use the prayer slot to catch up on some sleep or reviewing the fun you had at the party last night.

6. Never open the pew Bible. They look much better covered in dust in front of you.

Thank you and enjoy your morning."

Monday, 26 January 2009

Does my bum look big in this?

Is there a more terrifying question that a woman could pose to her husband?

Here's what Terry Wogan has to offer on the subject...

"Forty years of marriage has prepared me for such a question. There is only one answer 'No', delivered a la de Gaulle - resoundingly, positively, without a scintilla of doubt.

Anything else - an aversion of the eyes, a flicker of the lids, a moistening on the lips or, worst of all, a nanosecond's hesitation before replying - can only end in an inquisition to rival Torquemada at his best, inevitably ending with an exasperated, 'I don't know why I bother!', a brisk turn of the heel, and the slamming of several doors." (from Mustn't Grumble)

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Taking Action – a Practical Response to Porn

With all addictions, we need God’s strength to empower & change us. It’s about giving our best, taking each day at a time & being prepared to pick ourselves up when we fall. Here’s some advice from someone who’s struggled with porn:

Talk to God first: you’ll probably not want to do this, but the best first step is to confess what you’ve done, admit you have a problem & never feel too guilty to approach your loving & gracious Heavenly Father. Ask Him to heal your heart & mind from images that have polluted it.

Get accountable: admitting your problem to someone else is the most vital & dangerous step, but you simply cannot fight this battle on your own. Be brave. Tell your friend, wife/husband, pastor. They probably struggle with it too. Pray it through together.

Clean it up: now that your thinking is clear, here are some practical steps to avoid porn:
Cancel or lock out TV channels that cause you to struggle
Don’t go channel hopping after 9pm
Place your computer in a public place like the living room
Don’t log on late at night – when you’re tired, you’re more vulnerable
Get someone to check your internet history (don’t delete it for two weeks)

By recognising this issue & bringing it into the light, we can commit together to the long & difficult journey towards healing and freedom from the bonds of lust & pornography addiction.

For more information & help check out http://xxxchurch.com/

(Ideas in these blogs were adapted from YouthWork Magazine)

Friday, 16 January 2009

The Problem with Porn

Pornography always has a negative impact.

It destroys marriages: even when it remains undiscovered. It warps expectations of healthy sexual activity away from a loving, equal & biblical ideal, and into line with the ethics of hardcore sex. It lowers sexual value & leads to dissatisfaction. When the problem is discovered the other partner may feel jealous, repulsed, angry and rejected.

It is linked to human trafficking: there is a significant & very worryingly relationship between porn, prostitution & human trafficking. Many UK prostitutes are trafficked women, forced into slavery by gangs, and many of whom are filmed. Not only is watching porn potentially fuelling human trafficking, but pornographic exposure also increases the likelihood that a person will visit a prostitute.

It often leads to violence: most internet porn involves the physical degradation, and sometimes outright humiliation of a subject, in most cases female. There are also significant links between hardcore pornography & sexual violence, and its prevalence sustains a culture in which rape and sexual violence are normalised & legitimated.

It is addictive: because it never satisfies. Instead it inflames desire – like leading a starving person past a bakery – and always promotes the desire for more, more, more.

Porn is far from harmless. It is destructive, corrosive & unjust. It numbs us, sexually & spiritually, and induces massive strangling guilt. Its problem is not that it emphasises sexuality too much, but that it does not emphasise it enough (Richard Foster). It eliminates the relationship & in so doing restrains sexuality to the genitals & makes sex trivial.

So tomorrow we’ll consider how to tackle the issue…

(Ideas in these blogs were adapted from YouthWork Magazine)

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Porn – the church’s dirty little secret?

Addiction: “being physically or psychologically dependent on something.”

Pornography has been around for a long time, but with the rise of the internet the porn industry is now booming. When I was a teenager you had to buy a top-row magazine in a shiny packet, now you click onto Google.

Its estimated annual income is £1billion in the UK and £30billion globally. It’s been traditionally labelled as a male problem, but 1 in 3 visitors to porn sites are female. According to a recent Christian survey, 50% of men & 20% of women – all Christian – admitted to an “addiction” to Internet-based pornography. Another survey revealed that 37% of pastors found this addiction to be a daily struggle.

Despite its prolific nature the church is largely silent on this issue. Why is the church so bad at talking about healthy sexuality? Why is sexual sin viewed as a bigger issue than other sins? Is it because church leaders & members aren’t living out a healthy sexuality themselves? Certainly if we were talking about a drug or alcohol addiction of this extent, the church would be mobilising fast to put it’s house in order.

I’ve struggled with it. I bet most of you reading this have too. My struggle started when I was 13 & strangely enough my fascination with naked women did not disappear when I became a Christian at 16.

I want to take the next 2 blogs to highlight the dangers of pornography, how it is destroying people’s lives, marriages & ministries, and consider how we might begin to address the problem.

(Ideas in these blogs were adapted from YouthWork Magazine)

Monday, 12 January 2009

Stories I wish weren't in the Bible...

Ananias & Sapphira – killed for telling a lie

Ok this story really reaps havoc with my brain; more uncomfortable than suffering haemorrhoids on a mountain bike.

In chapter 4 of Acts we’ve had a fantastic picture painted of the radical, counter-cultural revolution that is the early church. New believers are sharing common ideals, testifying to Christ’s resurrection in a powerful way & making costly financial sacrifices to meet the needs of the poor. One guy Joseph is hailed as such a fine example that he earns the nickname “Son of Encouragement” for the rest of the book.

Suddenly the romance & righteousness of the early church is given an immediate kick out the window as God strikes down dead Ananias & Sapphira for telling some lies. Seemingly motivated by their ego rather than the needs of the poor, they wanted the credit & prestige of sacrificial generosity without the inconvenience.

I don’t like this story because I like to practice “impression management” (I’m so drawn to the concept that I even learned the fancy term to describe it). I like people thinking I’m good, kind, generous, admirable, bla bla bla, because it massages my self-esteem & covers a variety of public errors.

Through this story God screams “I hate hypocrisy” and exposes any defence of “the little white lie.” Like the early church its’ telling sometimes grips me with fear, but also deepens my understanding of just how gracious & patient my Holy Heavenly Father is.

I guess I should remember this the next time I’m describing the goal I scored in football or my contribution to the ministry team.

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Stories I wish weren’t in the Bible

Sometimes you come across a story in the Bible that hits you right between the eyes. As we read & think through the Scriptures we discover passages that confuse us, make us feel uncomfortable & ones that we skim over, stroking an editing pen through in our minds, never to revisit.

In this next blog series I’m going to reveal several of the stories that I wrestle with. If I’m honest these are the stories that I wish weren’t in there at all because it would make my life easier and my faith less complicated & easier to package. But God’s Word is God’s Word, and what He has spoken He expects us to listen & react too, so here goes…

The Rich Man & Lazarus – Luke 16:19-31

Jesus doesn’t talk a lot about hell, but neither is He silent on it. Luke Ch.15 spells out three illustrations of priceless things that are lost – coins, sheep, sons – and our Father God breaking sweat as He searches high & low to bring those precious belongings back to Him.

But in this story Jesus exposes the reality of the afterlife & two possible destinations – God’s exhilarating presence (heaven) or God’s devastating judgment (hell).

Most people aren’t too bothered about hell. I guess this is mainly because it’s been depicted in a frivolous manner by various cartoon programmes (e.g. Robot Hell - http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=SJwgtNTcoEg&feature=related),

but Jesus’ image is more disconcerting than the widely held “party with the devil, booze, gambling & lap dancers” representation.

He uses the words “agony” & “torment.” The rich man’s distress & powerlessness are evident. The huge un-crossable chasm between the two destinations is apparent.

Why my discomfort? I’ve been a victim of the “turn or burn” church culture – at 11years old, I remember someone in Belfast city shouting that I “was destined for hell” – so I think I’ve back-lashed against the ungracious & uncaring presentation of biblical truth and overdosed on other aspects of God – such as His love, forgiveness & friendship.

I’m not comfortable with the concept of hell, but to deny its existence is to make light of the One I choose to follow. So rather than etch out this story, I hope that its discomfort will further motivate me to get out there & spread the Good News of Jesus, always remembering that the Good News is only good when we get the whole picture of what we’re being saved from.

One final thought. Remembering that Jesus is en route to the cross, check out His use of irony in (v31).