Regional discussion on human sexuality

This morning I went along to one of the regional discussions on human sexuality being hosted by the Evangelical Group of the General Synod, with Ed Shaw (livingout.org and a church planter in Bristol) and Stephen Hofmeyr QC (interim chair of Church of England Evangelical Council) giving presentations.

Ed Shaw spoke from personal experience on “Is God anti-gay?” and “How churches can welcome those with same sex attraction”.

Stephen Hofmeyr QC (interim chair of Church of England Evangelical Council) spoke about the “shared conversations” and the possible outcomes in the life of the Church of England.

Here are my notes – please excuse any spelling and punctation mistakes etc.:

Ed Shaw, Living Out

Grew up in a Anglican evangelical family, always professed faith. Brought up with deep convictions about the Bible being God’s word for us, and sex being for marriage and between a man and woman. An interesting experience having those convictions and during puberty being clear having desires for other men. Thought through it and during teenage and twenties thought it was just a phase. Reached mid-twenties and realized it wasn’t a phase and shared in an accountability group with other ministers, but kept it private, until 2-3 years ago when realizing some were going to have to ‘come out’ as the issue became a central issue for the church. Had a wonderfully positive response, and released a day a week to help with Living Out.

 

This will be a deeply political issue, and the danger is we get focused on the politics, can we stay within the CofE etc. We lose the focus that it is a personal issue for many in our churches, and one of the biggest issues for evangelism in the church today.

 

  1. What is our verbal apologetics – how do we answer is God anti-gay?
  2. How do our churches and church life that will engage people from the gay community – how can they be seen as welcoming and inclusive in the right sense.

 

Is God anti-gay?

In reply to the question often hear:

  • God loves the sinner but hates the sin – instinctive but problematic as it is really hard to make the distinction between me the sinner and the sin. The Bible says it isn’t just the sin, but it is in our hearts. For the gay community their sexuality is a massive part of their identity and so doesn’t work.
  • John 3:16, God loves everyone, he loves you. But people find it hard to understand how love can involve saying no to things. How can God be loving and say no to a loving relationship. There are answers today but it is difficult to work through in our culture.
  • God is anti all sin – not just anti homosexuality but a whole host of categories, God puts all of us in the box of those who have rebelled against Him. They should see fairness in that. It is seen as quite negative, and for unbelievers it can be hard work to help them see what sin is.

 

You want to nuance what you say. Want to say no and yes.

 

It is a very personal talk, evangelical Christian who believes in the Bible and trusts in Jesus but finds myself exclusively attracted to men, would call myself same-sex attracted, society would call me gay.

 

Didn’t choose to be gay. Some people thought I had to be made to be gay, it was done to me, I had a bad relationship with my dad or abused as a child – neither happened to me. What was natural for my friends to fancy women, was natural for me to fancy men. I thought it was a phase but I see now it is a permanent decision. So the question is a personal question for me.

 

Why do people think God is anti-gay? One of the definitions people know of God is love so how can they think he is against them. Maybe because they’ve experienced homophobia from Christians, the Stonewall definition of homophobia is helpful. That is wrong and Christians should be repenting, and if you see that you should challenge that.

 

They’ve read the Bible, they’ve read passages where gay sex is described as an abomination. Want to in one sense apologise for that, but one of the claims is that the Bible is right for us today and so cant get the tippex out and edit it, the Bible says difficult things. Leviticus 20 – they are to be put to death – very clear – God is anti-gay, in black and white in the Bible.

 

Want to say today it isn’t that simple. There is a big nuance if we’re to interact with this subject. He is anti gay sex but clearly loves gay people.

 

Clearly anti-gay sex – Leviticus passage might make that. Some might think the NT would be different but let’s read 1 Corinthians 6 – any sex outside marriage is not compatible with what a Christian should do. Saying to someone they can’t do something they want to do doesn’t mean you’re anti them or hate them. My parents stopped me doing loads of things I wanted to do things out of love for me, e.g. thumping my sister, punishing me out of their deep love for me and my sister. My father God in stopping me having the gay sex I want to have is doing that for me – it would not be good for me or them. It is possible to be anti behavior and still love the individual.

 

You might instinctively have objections. How can God be loving in stopping me having gay sex. Let me tell you something counter cultural – sex isn’t everything. It is a good and pleasurable thing but you can have a good life and not have sex – it is possible. Look at the life of Jesus, he is the example for a Christian as to how human life is lived to the fullness. All a Christian is being asked to do is to follow Jesus and live life to the full. Doesn’t that mean we have to live a lonely life – you’re condemning us to misery. No, because the NT tells us the Holy Spirit is creating a radical community called the Church. In my church I have spiritual uncles, aunts, brothers and sisters – it is the family that will last for all time. Not starved of love due to the network of love, often receive more than my married friends. Although the bible is clearly anti-gay sex, God clearly loves gay people, people like me.

 

Unlike our society today God doesn’t put gay people in a separate category. God doesn’t put people into different boxes saying to the straight people he loves you and the gay people he hates you. The label he gives me is the label he gives anyone who comes to trust in him is to be an adopted child – regardless of what has or hasn’t happened in our sex lives – I love you. God doesn’t put gay sex into a category of special, serious sin – he puts it in 1 Corinthians 6 in a list of things that everyone has done at some point in our life – not picked out as a particulary bad case of rebellion against God – put in the same category as everyone else.

 

Wonderfully Jesus died on a cross to forgive me for everything I’ve done wrong be it my sexuality or other things I’ve done wrong. And that’s what he’s done for you – having sex with someone of the same gender doesn’t mean God can’t forgive you. The cross shows he loves us all.

 

There are lots of questions but soon to focus on how you thrive in community without sex, lots of young people feel the world hasn’t delivered what it promised, they’ve tried sex and it wasn’t what they were told it would be. Lots that is hard but some stuff that they are intrigued about.

 

How can our churches be seen as pro gay people?

We have a massive challenge on this issue. Whenever faced with a massive challenge I need motivation. Need to turn to Jesus in the gospels where he was consistently welcoming and inclusive of those who weren’t by the religious societies of the day – women, lepers, children, Gentiles. We know that as Christians we know we need to be like him. We need to recognize that we’ve not done what Jesus would do for minority groups such as the gay community.

 

Tim Keller in The Prodigal God: “Jesus’ teaching consistently attracted the irreligious and offended the religious, our teaching today doesn’t do this … it can only mean one thing, we must not be declaring the same message Jesus did.”

 

Andrew Marin: “I’ve never met such a loving community as the gay community – there is room for everyone – they want to give the same love to others as they want to receive. … I was being out-Jesused by gays and lesbians, they put a bullet in my soul.”

 

Three things that need to massively communicate, three big truths that we all believe but failed to broadcast:

  1. We are all sinners. The world needs to hear that you will be welcomed as you are all sinners. We give the impression that the sinners are out there, and the salted are in here. Very good at doing 1 Cor. 6:9-10, and people have got that they don’t belong if they’ve done one of those things, but what hasn’t been heard is v. 11.We’ve somehow managed to hide the fact that we have people who have done all those things that mean we shouldn’t be here, and continue to struggle with things and because of the grace of Jesus can be here. They think you have to be perfect to belong and so they know they don’t belong. We enjoy self-righteousness – not happy with any specific analysis of what our sins and struggles are. We need to remember that Jesus’ harshest words were for those who were self-righteous and his warmest words were for those who recognized their sins.

 

Some thoughts: the Anglican liturgy helps us as the service begins with confession of sin – but we’re not good at reflecting and explaining that. It would seem to be a formula we go through rather than a reality we accept. If we are more specific, not necessarily asking people to stand up and confess their sin, but naming sins like self-righteous, consumerism, idolatry of the nuclear family. Let’s use our sermons – your church probably know what your sins are – they’ve lived and worked with you so they know what your sins are – but have you confessed them in the pulpit so they know you consider yourself to be a sinner. It would be helpful if the people at the front get that you are a sinner, you are broken and a mess like them. We need to not just condemn gay sex, Justin Welby did us a great favour when he turned our attention to Wonga and the consumerism that sits behind it. We need to condemn gay sex, but all the other sins in those lists so people get we’re not sex obsessed, but bothered about anything that is not good for us.

 

  1. God’s word is good for all – one way for being inclusive and welcoming is to say that gay sex is fine. Why can’t we say that? Because the Bible is quite clear. Psalm 19 helps us when we reflect that God’s word is out to get us and screw us up. God’s word is perfect, trustworthy, right … .   Look at the affect it has – it revives my soul, brings light, endures forever, in keeping them there is great reward. C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, reflects on this – the Bible is good even when it sounds like it is screwing up our lives.

 

We have got to resist the attempts to say God’s word is bad on this issue. We’ve got to be unapologetic that God’s word is good on this issue. God’s word is often hard for us in it’s initial application and yet will still be in the long-term a good thing for us. We can best do that in our churches by sharing the reality – those who are stuck in a difficult marriage, knew what God said about divorce, they see the benefits from that; when people give self-sacrificially it is really hard but that is good and good things come from that – the most generous givers consistently testify to the reward that giving brings.

 

  1. Church is family – one of the biggest pressure points is that we can’t ask people to live alone, a lonely misery so we have to embrace talk of gay marriage. Church is a family but we often only use that to enable the oldies to cope with the noise the children make. It is a realistic idea: Matthew 12:46. The NT redefines family – it is no longer biological – but spiritual. Not those we are biologically united to but those we are united to through the cross. Cf. John Piper, Marriage is temporary.

 

The truths are very counter cultural, especially in evangelical churches, we have idolized biological family in response to family breakdown. We haven’t communicated that they are not the be all and end all – they won’t necessarily last – but our spiritual family will. No Christian should walk alone, every Christian should feel part of a family, good news for the single, the childless, the widows. We need to restore the idea of church as family.

 

We need to treat church family like family. Churches need to function and feel like family. When I go to church I will always be embraced by Ruth, a lady in her 70s, treat each other as honorary aunt and nephew. Chatted with his goddaughter before church about the last week, her parents paid for the deposit on my house. The sort of thing families do, the sort of thing church families should do. Reflect on what would be particularly hard for single people, especially those with same-sex attraction:

  • Birthdays – people get together and plot for my birthday so something happens
  • Holidays – holidays for single people – you don’t have anyone to go with, you don’t have anyone to help make decisions. Go on holiday with a family, and now widened to two other families and several other singles.
  • Making decisions – who do you make it with? The people who listened and helped make decisions, and shared their decisions with me.

 

The challenge is great, but the solution is just the gospel. It will get us to think about the things we haven’t had to confront for a while – key truths that we’re all sinners, God’s word is good, and church is family. We’re certainly in danger of forgetting and definitely applying these truths.

 

When we find it really hard we need to remember how welcoming and inclusive Jesus was and is of you and me. How deep the Father’s love was in welcoming us to his family, for us to bring our mess into his family.

 

Stephen Hofmeyr, Chair of Church of England Evangelical Council

What are the possible outcomes, and how might they play out in the Church of England?

 

Western society is currently experiencing a moral revolution. Our societies moral code has undergone a complete reversal. That which was once condemned and is now celebrated and the refusal to celebrate is now condemned. It is taking place at an unprecedented velocity.

 

The current debates on sexuality presents to the church a crisis that is inescapably theological. It is similar to the crises of Gnosticism or Pelagianism. It challenges our understanding of the gospel, sin, salvation and more. Biblical theology is indispensable for the church to craft a response to the current sexual crisis. It needs to read scripture with a historical context, an understanding of the meta-narrative, and the progressive revelation from God. Evangelicals need a theology of the body, and God’s plan and purpose for the body which is grounded in that Biblical framework.

 

The Pilling report from November 2013 recommended that the churches internal dialogue on human sexuality might be best done through shared conversations. This was endorsed by the College of Bishops in January. The House of Bishops agreed a plan in May but has not published this. They have agreed a central process, and authorized the standing committee of the House of Bishops to sign off final meetings. The Standing Committee met and reported in July to General Synod that the conversations would have two objectives:

  1. To clarify how we can most effectively be a missionary church in a culture which has changed its view on human sexuality. // We as Evangelicals want to say the truth of the Gospel is the truth for all people in all ages. So it is not about whether we are free to change what is taught by how we change how it is communicated. It presents a wonderful opportunity for the whole church to assess the effective proclamation of the Gospel.
  2. To clarify the implications of what it means for the Church of England to live with so-called “good disagreement” on issues of human sexuality. // This was foreshadowed by the House of Bishops said: “… In its discussion the House noted that the process of shared conversations needed to demonstrate primarily how the Church of England could model living together with issues of tension, where members took opposing views whilst remaining committed to one another as disciples of Jesus Christ – members of one church in both unity and diversity …” The second objective is astonishingly brazen – it assumes the answers to two prior questions, which are the real and fundamental questions.

It assumes that the Church’s teaching should be changed to make accommodation for those who don’t model and accept the church’s teaching on sexuality. An opposing view can only be practiced if it is formally accepted and accommodated. Evangelical Christians cannot tolerate this change under the concept of how to be a missionary church.

It assumes that it would be appropriate for those teaching opposing views to “live together” in the Church of England.

 

Should the Church’s teaching be changed? If so, would it be appropriate to continue to “live together” in a united Church of England? Neither of these will be considered or answered – they will have been pre-judged and the answers assumed.

 

Why do we need facilitated conversations to model living together with opposing views as this has been true for years, but quite inappropriately. In the light of the doctrine of our church nothing has been done about it. True to the promises of our Bishop’s at their installation when will they challenge inappropriate doctrine. For too long in the name of the broad church we have, like Lord Nelson, put the telescope to the blind eye! We have allowed institutional hypocrisy.

 

This disfiguring growth requires careful but invasive surgery – it demands drastic change. If as the Windsor Report suggested, we are dealing with a first order issue, a salvation issue, the answer from scripture is clear, no we cannot live together.

 

How will they be conducted?

Under the Archbishop’s Adviser for Reconciliation, Canon David Porter, 20 facilitators will support a process of conversations around the Church of England. At the College of Bishops they spent two days with the facilitators, using resource material, with theological material from scholars with differing viewpoints. That material will be refined and then

 

The conversations will be clustered in areas of approximately four Dioceses, hosting nationally 12 regional conversations – each involving about 60 participants, with 15 from the Diocese of Winchester. The only restrictions is that the groups must consist of equal number of clergy and laity, equal numbers of women and men, with a quarter under 40, and at least more than one LGBTI person per group. The range and balance of views should reflect the range and balance within the Diocese – how will this be done – have surveys been taken?

 

The work will come to a conclusion in July 2016 when the recently elected General Synod will spend two days themselves in shared conversations.

 

What are the possible outcomes?

We need to have in mind where this could take, not where it should or will take us.

 

Objective one:

  • A renewed vision for evangelism
  • No renewed vision for evangelism

 

A renewed vision for the evangelization of England will only happen if the church will commit itself to the taught in the Bible. It is likely that there will be little change in the next two years between those who are gospel focused and those who aren’t.

 

Objective Two:

  • Anglican fudge – just enough compromise to enable most people to stay together – this is what most people at the centre seem to be hoping and praying for, as Justin Welby calls “good disagreement” leading to institutional hypocrisy.   Martin Davy says it is radically misconceived biblically and is anyway an oxymoron.
  • The traditional understanding is affirmed
  • The revisionist understanding wins the day

 

Realistically, short of revival, it is not going to happen. The Standing Group from the House of Bishops says there is no expectation in achieving consensus in either direction in the foreseeable future.

 

Two other outcomes involve division if traditionalists continue to believe that this is a salvation issue, stating it clearly and graciously. Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali, in Peterborough in April 2007, said “unity is very precious for believers. We cherish it. But we do not cherish it above truth. There are certain things which disrupt fellowship … One is persistent and systematic false teaching … And the other is persistent sexual immorality … those are the two things that do not disrupt fellowship, and we must take this very seriously in our present situation.” Love is hard, but love compels us.

 

The division may be messy – costly, divisive and an obstacle to mission like it has been in the USA and Canada with litigation and littered arguments. But division may be ordered – gracious, generous and facilitating mission. The idea that has been floated is parallel provinces with overlapping jurisdiction, with traditionalists keeping the current model, and revisionists changing Canon Law. Parishes would be able to self-select their home, with Diocesan Cathedrals serving both provinces.

 

If we are to be realistic, if we are to remain faithful to the truth of the gospel, if we are to embrace truth and love in equal measure, what the Church of England needs is not “good disagreement”, but “gracious division”.

 

We need to reflect on our part, and our leadership.

 

Q&A Session

 

How is it people come to same sex attraction?

A number of theories, some say it is a choice; it is something done to you through sexual abuse or a poor relationship with same gender parent. The shortest answer is we don’t know, and bound to be a mixture of biological and contextual. People seem to go for the theory that best suits them. Doctrine of original sin, says tendencies to behave in certain ways that aren’t necessarily right.

 

There is a danger of assuming a simplistic situation, not everyone is straight or gay, it is more complex, and helpful to think of a spectrum. Some people will always feel attracted to a particular gender, others will experience changes during their lifetime. No one has found any specific genes that provide a biological underpinning, and brain scans haven’t yet produced any particularly strong answers. Twins surveys – identical v non-identical twins – if it is biological then identical twins should experience it 100% – some studies show 50%, more recent larger studies varies between 10-35%, but even they are not recognized as being adequate.

 

We hear of people being healed from their sexual orientation, what do you think?

All things are possible with God but he hasn’t promised to heal you, that’s why not everyone recovers from cancer etc., so yes pray, but God doesn’t promise he will heal. Instead he promises to make you more like Jesus, we see that in cancer patients, and we see that with those who have same-sex attraction.

 

Lots of reports of those who have experienced change, sometimes with an obvious trigger, sometimes there isn’t an obvious trigger. A psychiatrist might see someone with same-sex attraction who isn’t happy with it, e.g. religious faith conflicts with it. The question is how should psychiatrists help in these cases. One is to put the same-sex desires as the priority, and to participative in gay-affirmative therapy. Another approach is to treat using the other aspects of your person in the driving seat, not the same-sex desires, so you may go down the therapeutic route which either leads to no change but has a better sense of acceptance, or it is seeking change. The question is is this therapy harmful – right expectations of the therapy makes a big difference. So in theory it should be possible to have therapy available to bring a possible change. There is not the size and quality of studies to allow for research on this, it needs Controlled Trials, which currently don’t exist. Yahouse and Jones looked at 100 people who attempted to change, 15% reported significant change, 23% found acceptance in their desires, the others experienced little change.

 

How easy is it for those are promiscuous bi-sexual to change?

Ten years ago the soap opera had the gay character, now it is focused on bisexual characters. There is very little discussion around bisexuality and the ethics would be quite problematic, there was no one who would talk about bisexuality on the panel to the Bishops. The binary model is dead, although in true fashion the CofE is 30 years behind.

 

Is the Royal College of Psychiatrists still campaigning against reparative therapy?

Yes currently they are.

 

On the matters of origins how does that impact our pastoral work?

The Bible has everything to make sense of my lived experience and other peoples lived experiences. Genesis allows for biological, psychological, social and spiritual problems that are behind a range of issues. But we do need to find out someone’s context to help meet their needs, it is dangerous to have one model in dealing with a pastoral situation.

 

What happens when people challenge the authority of the Bible or reinterpret the passages that focus on

Not just do theology on proof text, but look at the meta-narrative. It only makes sense if it is unity and difference rather than unity and sameness which is what gay marriage would represent. Marriage is so important from Genesis to Revelation it is a pointer of the relationship between God and his people for eternity. Need to emphaises the Psalm 19 the Bible is good, the hard things are good for us. Hard doesn’t make it bad, but Mark 8, we are called to suffer and take up our cross.

 

How do you include unrepentant gay people in our church families?

How do you deal with those who actively promote gay relationships?

Presume we think through this issue in a heterosexual context. The answer should apply across, if you’re not consistent then you are homophobic and the world rightly judges you. It is difficult as we could now be challenged in the CofE for example if you withdraw communion.

 

What would you do if you are presented with a couple with same-sex attraction for Holy Communion?

The legal position to consult the Diocesan Bishop, they are the person who ultimately decides sacramental discipline. In a local context you could suggest it might not be wise, or right, and you could ask them not to take it. In 2005, the direction said people should be requested to give assurances about their relationship in the context of baptism, confirmation and communion. In 2014 neither they or the children they care for should be excluded from the sacraments. The 1987 vote in General Synod makes it clear the same sex practice falls short of God’s design. Issues in Human Identity, 1991 changed this a tiny bit but in effect stayed the same. Lambert 1998 developed on this context. So the question is what would a Diocesan Bishop do, and does it become a post-code context.

 

We have the believing and belonging issue and we grapple with this issue regularly in regard of a range of sins. It is easier to be clear if you have a position on sexuality generally, rather than homosexuality specifically.

 

When was the last time church discipline preached on and seen as a good thing. If I fell into sin I would be encouraged that my church would love me and care for me. They show their love for me by showing me there is behavior that is not good for me.

 

The comparison of a gay couple with a heterosexual cohabiting couple is not fair. The cohabiting couple is saying they love one another, but they aren’t doing it right, and marriage is the way to resolve this. For gay couples we are asking them to split up in the next few years. Yes but the issue is still what God ordains in scripture.

 

People need time to understand and learn behavior and to reflect on their own behavior. How sure are we as to who is truly repentant on any issue?

 

North America had a very messy and aggressive division – is that inevitable in the CofE?

We are culturally different so it will be done in an English way. Nothing is inevitable. The key issue will be evangelicals working together, to prevent some of the messiness of being picked off one by one. It is key that people come and support one another – how can you despite division have fellowship? The reason to raise division at the outset, as sometimes discussion can lead to people becoming more entrenched in their views, so rather than enabling that, asking how we could graciously split if division does come.

 

The shared conversations are designed for compromise and reconciliation so we need to be clear at what point we are willing to walk away from the deal. Parallel provinces would be a dead duck in the Synod. Lay members of General Synod are critical to this discussion.

 

Do you have a short sound bite to encapsulate grace and truth on this issue?

  • If you are looking for the perfect church don’t join it as it won’t be perfect anymore.
  • Jesus calls everyone to himself, and everyone to change.
  • Why? The context is so important so that you speak to the person in front of you rather than the person you last had this conversation with.
  • Let’s pray for this is not a human battle.

 

“The Church is inclusive upon repentance” + Peter Hancock

New resource to help us love our neighbours from different faiths

P&E logo

From Toby Haworth:

I’m writing to introduce to you the new website for Presence and Engagement – http://www.presenceandengagement.org.uk/, which you may of course have already visited since it went live a few weeks ago. The website aims to bring together resources for clergy, congregations, chaplaincies and schools who want to follow Jesus in loving their neighbours of different faiths.

Key features include religious demographic statistics from the 2011 Census mapped to dioceses and parishes which can be used as a tool in developing strategies for inter faith engagement. Other parts of the website provide stories and other resources for that engagement.

We intend the P&E blog to be a place for lively and thoughtful debate about inter religious issues and events which overlap with the Church’s work in our multi faith society. For example, a recent blog post from Birmingham (also published in the Church Times) focussed on the Trojan Horse investigations.

Please do be in contact with me if you would like to offer a blog post, update us on particular work in which you’re engaged or with any feedback on the website in general.

This comes with my warm good wishes,

Toby

The Revd Canon Dr Toby Howarth | Secretary for Inter Religious Affairs to the Archbishop of Canterbury and
National Inter Religious Affairs Adviser for the Church of England
Lambeth Palace, London SE1 7JU | Tel: + 44 (0)20 7898 1475 | Mobile: 07811 467 999
toby.howarth@lambethpalace.org.uk | http://www.archbishopofcanterbury.org

Talk on Psalm 84

Psalms

Tonight as part of our Psalms, Pudding and Prayer series, for our 11-18 year olds, I spoke on Psalm 84 – you can download the powerpoint here:

You might know the words of this Psalm from the Matt Redman song that we sing at Soul Survivor. The Psalm is the musing of one unnamed pilgrim as he makes his way up to Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles. He’s longing to get to God’s house – he has this intense desire for the House of God. He longs to be with God’s people, worshipping. We read about it in vv1-2.

 

This traveller is even jealous of birds! The Temple courtyards were open to the sky, and the great eaves provided a place for good nesting, so there were always these birds in and around the Temple.

 

Do you have a love like this – a longing for God’s house?

 

As we read through the Psalm I think there are four key things to reflect on. Firstly:

 

  1. Look to God alone for your strength

How many have found that the Christian life is impossible without God’s strength? Yet so often our greatest battle is about learning to trust Him instead of doing it on our own steam. That’s human nature.

 

We do not have enough resources in ourselves to make the whole journey. Christians burn out because they strive in their own strength. And you know, you can get so far, but you’ll never finish without God’s strength.

 

At some points there has to be refuelling. Refilling. It’s why it’s so important to stop each day to read the bible and pray – to live daily in God’s strength.

 

2. Put your heart into the journey

Put your whole heart into the journey. We shouldn’t be people who are just letting life pass us by – being dictated to by our circumstances – “waiting out” our time until Jesus comes – we must have our eyes on the finish line, but our energies, our heart, our hands and feet, ought to be occupied with making the journey count – living for Jesus – Paul wrote: “For me to live is Christ”.

 

3. See the opportunity in every trial

Trials are on nearly every page of the Bible. The Bible talks about them a lot, because they are common to every person on the face of the earth. And if some well-meaning person has suggested to you that Christians aren’t supposed to have trials – that we’re never supposed to ever have a cold, that we won’t ever experience sadness or loss, that we shouldn’t ever feel a financial difficulty – then I think you should go back to that well-meaning person and invite them to read their Bible through again.

 

The 3rd key is not to pretend trials don’t exist but rather to see trials as opportunities. “The Valley of Baca” is literally: “The Valley of Weeping”. Haven’t we all passed through some Valleys of Baca? Some Valleys of Weeping. But here it says that, if the Lord is your Strength, and if your heart is set on the journey, you can see the Valley of Weeping become a spring. What to others is a place of bitterness can to you become a place of blessing. A place of growth.

 

It might not always be apparent, but the opportunity for growth and blessing is always right there in the middle of the trial. It’s not always easy, but with God’s help, and the comfort of the Holy Spirit, we can use trials as opportunities.

 

We all love the “mountain top” experiences; times of blessing and sunshine – but where does the fruit grow? You won’t find many orchards on mountain tops – oh, the view is nice up there, but the fruit grows in the valleys. And it’s those trials in our lives that God can use best to bring us on “from glory to glory” by His Spirit.

 

And this leads us into the fourth, and final, key:

 

4. Remember that God is in control

He’s always in sovereign control. He will never surrender His position on the throne to any person or any thing. He cannot be defied. God is in control!

 

Let’s read together verse 6 of this great 84th Psalm … [Read]. Here is the promise of God. If I am (1) looking to God alone for my strength, and (2) if I’ve put my heart into the journey, and (3) I’m looking to see what opportunity God might have in every trial, then the sovereign God will do two things for me:

a)     He will direct my steps in strength, and

b)    He will bring me right through to my eternal destination

 

He will direct their steps in strength: When you allow the Holy Spirit free reign in your life, you will go from strength to strength, until you bear the image and likeness of Jesus Christ. Oh, let God do that in your life! Submit to Him, I urge you today.

 

He will bring them through to their destination: This pilgrim is just longing to get to Jerusalem – to the House of the Lord. And here is the assurance – God will bring him through, safe all the way.

 

Can you be sure that you’re going to make it all the way to Heaven? Can you really know? ABSOLUTELY. He IS the Author and the Finisher of our faith!

 

Conclusion

I don’t want to just limp through life – by the grace of God I want to go from strength to strength! With faith in God I believe I can outgrow my difficulties. I believe YOU can outgrow YOUR difficulties.

 

Here again are the 4 keys to a successful passage through life, as we see them in Psalm 84:

 

  1. Look to God alone for your strength
  2. Put your heart into the journey
  3. See the opportunity in every trial
  4. Remember that God is in control

Why don’t we see miracles all the time?

Justin Holcomb:

Many contemporary Christians feel disconnected from the vibrant, Spirit-filled ministries of the prophets and apostles described in the Bible. In the Old Testament, God seemingly took the people of Israel through miraculous event after miraculous event. In the New Testament, those who watched the ministry of Jesus were seized with amazement at the miracles he performed (Luke 5:25), and the apostles in the early church regularly performed signs and wonders among the people (Acts 5:12).

Yet today, such miraculous events seem rare and, when we do hear reports of miracles, many Christians are skeptical. At the very least, we feel there’s something different about the way God worked in the Old and New Testament periods and the way he works today. This raises a valid question: Why don’t we experience today the miracles we read about in the New Testament?

To answer that question, we need to understand not only how God works through providence and common grace, but we must also understand the purpose of miracles in the Bible.

Read the rest.

Dioceses vote in favour of Women Bishops

General Synod

The Church of England has issued this press release now that all the Dioceses have finished on voting on the current draft legislation to enable women to be bishops:

Dioceses vote in favour of women bishops
23 May 2014

The Church of England’s dioceses* have now all voted in favour of the current draft legislation to enable women to be bishops. Manchester was the last diocese to vote and they approved the motion at a meeting of their Synod yesterday. In 2011 both London and Chichester diocesan synods voted against the legislation.

The February 2014 meeting of General Synod referred the current Women in the Episcopate legislation to the dioceses.

Diocesan Synods all voted in favour of the motion: ‘That this Synod approve the proposals embodied in the draft Bishops and Priests (Consecration and Ordination of Women) Measure and draft Amending Canon No 33.’

For the motion to be carried the houses of clergy and laity had to each vote, by a simple majority, in favour.

The table attached records the votes in favour and against, and any recorded abstentions in each house. The draft legislation will now go before General Synod in July for a Final Approval vote.

The Bishop of Rochester, James Langstaff, Chair of the Steering Committee for the Draft Legislation for Women in the Episcopate said:
“The dioceses have now expressed their view very clearly and the matter now comes back to General Synod in July. I pray that the Synod will continue to approach this decision in a prayerful and generous way as we move towards voting on the proposal that women may be bishops in the Church of England.”

The table of Diocesan Synod results can be found here.

*Due to logistical constraints the Diocese in Europe was unable to convene a meeting in the three month period allowed for this Article 8 reference.

WATCH has issued this press release.

A clean sweep this time: 100% of Dioceses support Women Bishops legislation
Posted on May 23, 2014

Women and the Church (WATCH) is delighted and hugely encouraged by the overwhelming support given by 100% of diocesan synods for the new Women in the Episcopate legislation. Such a resounding endorsement, including from the dioceses of London and Chichester which voted against last time, gives us significant hope and encouragement for the final vote at General Synod in July.

Chair of WATCH, Hilary Cotton said, ‘This is really, really good news in the lead-up to the Final Approval vote. In most dioceses over 90% of votes were cast in favour: surely General Synod cannot turn their backs on this again?’

REBOOT Youth Apologetics Day

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REBOOT is RZIM’s Youth Apologetics strand for ages 12 to 18.  They launched their first ever REBOOT event last year:

I’m looking to bring the Dibden youth along to this event.  Book now for REBOOT 2014 on Saturday 27th September at St Mary’s Bryanston Square, London W1H 1PQ.

Text your questions to be covered on the day to 07981973740.

Youth Leaders: You can advertise this event in your church! Download the A4 poster here or download the A6 poster here.

reboot13_review

Listen to Amy Orr-Ewing talk about REBOOT 2013 on BBC Radio here.

Listen to Michael Ramsden talk about REBOOT 2013 on UCB here.

China to be ‘World’s Most Christian Nation’ in the Next 15 Years

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Chinese church

Research in The Telegraph shows that the church in China is growing at such a rate that in the next 15 years it will be “the world’s most Christian nation”, and by 2030 it could have more churchgoers than America:

Officially, the People’s Republic of China is an atheist country but that is changing fast as many of its 1.3 billion citizens seek meaning and spiritual comfort that neither communism nor capitalism seem to have supplied.

Christian congregations in particular have skyrocketed since churches began reopening when Chairman Mao’s death in 1976 signalled the end of the Cultural Revolution.

Less than four decades later, some believe China is now poised to become not just the world’s number one economy but also its most numerous Christian nation.

“By my calculations China is destined to become the largest Christian country in the world very soon,” said Fenggang Yang, a professor of sociology at Purdue University and author of Religion in China: Survival and Revival under Communist Rule.

“It is going to be less than a generation. Not many people are prepared for this dramatic change.”

China’s Protestant community, which had just one million members in 1949, has already overtaken those of countries more commonly associated with an evangelical boom. In 2010 there were more than 58 million Protestants in China compared to 40 million in Brazil and 36 million in South Africa, according to the Pew Research Centre’s Forum on Religion and Public Life.

Prof Yang, a leading expert on religion in China, believes that number will swell to around 160 million by 2025. That would likely put China ahead even of the United States, which had around 159 million Protestants in 2010 but whose congregations are in decline.

By 2030, China’s total Christian population, including Catholics, would exceed 247 million, placing it above Mexico, Brazil and the United States as the largest Christian congregation in the world, he predicted.

“Mao thought he could eliminate religion. He thought he had accomplished this,” Prof Yang said. “It’s ironic – they didn’t. They actually failed completely.”

A recent study found that online searches for the words “Christian Congregation” and “Jesus” far outnumbered those for “The Communist Party” and “Xi Jinping”, China’s president.

Archbishop Justin Welby’s Easter sermon

Archbishop Justin Welby - Easter Sermon

Archbishop Justin’s Easter sermon: The one who was dead is now alive. Where there was weeping there is now joy':

Going through the barrier with a colleague to board my train in a busy station in London, suddenly a loud alarm sounded. A voice came over the public address system advising, no instructing, every person in the station to leave the building immediately. The majority of passers-by stopped, stood still and looked at each other. Visitors to London were already making their way to the exits, Londoners were hurrying their way to their destinations. The message only came once. I looked at the person I was with, we shrugged our shoulders, and went through the barrier to catch our train.

We have, collectively, quite a bit of disbelief and fatigue when we are told that we really must respond, or do something, or change our behaviour or direction.

Mary Magdalene was exhausted by grief. With Jesus everything had died. Who knows why she thought she was going to the garden in which the tomb they had borrowed for him was situated, but who knows why we do lots of things when we are worn out by life? Mary’s emotion represents the emotion of the whole world in the presence of the overwhelming cruelty and irreparable nature of death.

With Mary there are so many that weep. In Syria mothers cry for their children and husbands. In the Ukraine neighbours cry because the future is precarious and dangerous. In Rwanda tears are still shed each day as the horror of genocide is remembered. In this country, even as the economy improves there is weeping in broken families, in people ashamed to seek help from food banks, or frightened by debt. Asylum seekers weep with loneliness and missing far away families. Mary continues to weep across the world.

This is the world we live in, a world which each of us has had a hand in creating. A world of crosses. We can comfort one another and treat the dying with dignity. We can make gardens and graves, we can move stones and wipe away tears. But we can do nothing to defeat death.

But listen, hear the announcement. . . The one who was dead, is now alive! The one whose body had been a corpse, lying motionless in the grave, inert, lifeless, lying flat on the stone ledge of the borrowed tomb – he now stands before Mary, speaking her name. This day he speaks everybody’s name to engage them with the news that he is alive.

When Mary hears her name spoken, we are told, she turns towards him. A moment before and she is in the deepest despair, a second after, her life has changed. For death has more than met its match. It has been defeated. Everything changes.

We cannot expel God, nor the life of God, from his world. In fact this new life insists that there is nowhere God is absent, powerless or irrelevant. There is no situation in the universe in the face of which God is at a loss. The one that was dead is now alive. Where there was weeping there is now joy.

Someone wrote recently ‘Joy might be a greater scandal than evil, suffering or death’. [David Ford]. This is what I have been moved by in Christian communities around the world who face the most devastating of conditions. Their certainty that Jesus is alive enables them to face all horrors with joy. Not happiness, but joy. Joy can exist alongside mental illness, depression, bereavement, fear, because the joy of Christ comes from knowing that nothing and no one less than God has the last word.  I remember sitting in a room with the Bishop who had come over from Pakistan soon after the attack in September on a church in Peshawar. I asked how Christians were coping with the fear that such attacks brought, and wondered if there had been anyone in church the week following the attack. ‘Oh yes’ the bishop replied, ‘ there were three times as many people the next week’. Such action is made possible only by the resurrection. The persecuted church flourishes because of the resurrection. I think of women who I met earlier this year who have survived unspeakable sexual violence, yet who lift their arms in prayer and praise to God. I think of teenagers I met in Luton who have hope and joy, in lives that were dominated by self hatred and harm. This has only been made possible because Jesus is alive.

The announcement that Jesus is alive changes everything; not simplistically or even instantly do circumstances and situations change. But it changes us. It gives us hope where we were in despair, faith where we were lost, light where we were in darkness, joy where we were entirely in sorrow. That joy in huge life of Jesus is present in the food banks, the credit unions, the practical down to earth living that the churches are demonstrating across this country.

But Jesus hasn’t finished with Mary yet. It isn’t simply a personal thing for her. She must now become a witness. So Jesus sends her to the ‘brothers’ to tell them. Please notice, in all four gospels the first witness of the resurrection is a woman. So Mary becomes the apostle to the apostles.

Jesus comes to find us all. In all the gospels when anyone meets Jesus they are given a task. The task is to join the announcement. The meaning of our whole existence is to be witnesses to the new life that is offered by Jesus Christ. The persecuted church bears witness in its joy overcoming fear, in worship in the midst of war, of refugee camps. In an IDP camp in Goma in January, the reminder that Jesus is alive was worth more than many sentences of comfort, for he brings joy.

The new life of Jesus is given to us. We witness to it as we insist that money isn’t our ruler, that self- promotion isn’t King, that pleasure isn’t a fulfilling aim, and that the survival of the fittest simply means some die later than others. The new life of Christ has broken into our world, it cannot be contained, nor restricted, nor managed. The church exists to show by its life and work the transforming power that has been set free in the world. All that we need to do is respond in faith and receive the gift of that life.

To fail to respond is like hearing someone crying ‘fire’ and continuing to walk into the building. Or have someone whisper ‘will you marry me?’ and turn the channel to find something interesting to watch. This is an announcement that calls our attention, catches our lives, heals our brokenness, and send us out with a purpose,a hope and a joy. It is news that the world cannot ignore, that we cannot neglect, it is the news of joy immeasurable.

- See more at: http://www.archbishopofcanterbury.org/articles.php/5303/the-one-who-was-dead-is-now-alive.-where-there-was-weeping-there-is-now-joy-archbishop-justins-easte#sthash.xOYgE068.dpuf

Passion Week Infographic

Passion Week is the week starting on Palm Sunday through Easter Sunday when Christ arose from the grave.

Josh Byers has put together this great infographic, cross-referencing each event during Passion Week with scripture — including major location changes “as well as the relative possible timing of the Last Supper, Trial and Crucifixion.”:

Passion Week Infographic