To venable (verb): To randomly muse upon this and that.

I had a sobering experience at Chinese School recently. The parents normally hang around while the children study. On this particular Saturday I sat in a room and there were two young children aged around two and three sitting there with their parents. Their parents were talking with other parents whilst the children amused themselves looking at the small screen each of them had. For the best part of an hour and a quarter they sat looking at the phone supplied by their mothers and were riveted to what was on it.

Obviously it made for quiet children, and I know that there can be great gain from having your children causing no disturbance in such a situation. But dare I say it that such acquiescence was obtained at great cost. They just sat at the screen;  no interaction with anyone else. Oh to see children playing together.

And then I ponder upon the battle that we all have as parents (and I very much include myself here) to make sure that screens do not take over the lives of our children and families. Surely there are some massive dangers here? Or am I just from another culture?

However, I must point out, that we read that one aspect of a great time of future blessing in God’s purposes is seen in the city streets will be filled with boys and girls playing there (Zech 8:5). This makes me think that children out playing in the streets is a far healthier thing than them sat at screens.

(Originally posted at Venabling on 13/07/2015)

Playing or Praying

Recently I was having trouble with the auto text on my phone. In the text message I was seeking to send I wanted to include “praying”.  However, I for a little while could not get away from “playing” being included in the message.

It was an interesting little interplay of terms and reflected, in a sense, upon my technical inability. However, it did provoke me to ponder upon an issue of immense proportions. So I ask “Are we praying or are we playing?” And again I ask: “Are we really praying to God and entering His presence with profound energy and longing for His working or are we just playing at prayer (and thereby not really praying at all). Words may be mouthed, but there is no drawing near to the LORD.

This leads me to muse upon the incident in Genesis 32:22-32 where Jacob wrestles with God through the night. He was never the same after that. For one thing he always walked with a limp. However, more significantly he was re-named by God; the twister, Jacob, became Israel, the prince with God (see Gen. 35:10).

What are our prayer meetings like? Do they show that we are praying or playing? Do we come away transformed through being together in prayer?

I was listening to Bill Dyer recently and he was talking about an issue that had arisen in a church. A person in that church was asked whether they had wrestled with God over the issue. “Wrestle with God”? was the reply, “No, we have not even had a pillow-fight about it!!”

Oh Philip when it comes to drawing near to your Father are you praying or playing?

(Originally published at Venabling on 16/07/2015)

A Woman’s Ambition

It has been said that “a woman who wants to be equal with a man is not ambitious enough.” There are two ways (perhaps more) of construing that statement. The first is predicated on the aspiration of women to take on men in any sphere and excel them. That is the “female supremacist” argument and denies the whole premise of Scripture that women are equipped for certain duties in which they excel and likewise men are equipped for certain duties in which they excel.

The other understanding which I want to dwell upon has far more substance to it. This is the counterpoint to the failure of understanding reealed in the first consideration of the term. Women who view their achievements in the light of the activities that pertain to a man are askew in their thinking and aspirations. What a woman needs to do is to excel in everything that God has called her to be as woman. An ambitious woman wants to be what God has called her to be.

The best measure of this as presented in scripture, is that of the virtuous woman in Proverbs 31:10-31. Here is a woman of excellence. Her worth is not in being compared to that of a man. Her worth, rather is in her glorious display of godly femininity.

The recent spat at Google (see here), revealed the prevailing thinking in this realm which is to monochrome the sexes. Rather than having the duo-variegated mutuality of male and female with gifts and aptitudes complementing each other, we have the denuding of that beautiful interaction. Instead now all female endeavors have to be viewed through a male lens.

No it does not! But, it certainly does sometimes. What are the essential issues here?

In the Right Place.

Sex within marriage is a gift to be received from God with thanksgiving. It is something which, with due sensitivity by and for each party, should be engaged in and enjoyed. When sex is enjoyed within marriage then it is a beautiful constituent part of the marriage relationship. It gives added glue to the marriage. Moreover, through it, God can bring the blessing of children.

In The Wrong Place.

Sex outside marriage is like driving a car the wrong way down a motorway. You may seem to get-by sometimes, but generally it is a mess. And even when you have survived a few close scrapes it is known to be a less than ideal experience. Three scriptures struck me recently.

Firstly when Hagar was taken by Abram for sexual relations because Sarai could not have children we read the aftermath in Genesis 16:4b-6:

When she knew she was pregnant, she began to despise her mistress. Then Sarai said to Abram, ‘You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering. I put my slave in your arms, and now that she knows she is pregnant, she despises me. May the Lord judge between you and me.’ ‘Your slave is in your hands,’ Abram said. ‘Do with her whatever you think best.’ Then Sarai ill-treated Hagar; so she fled from her.

A household which was seemingly interacting quite harmoniously is now full of friction and disputes.

Secondly, in 2 Samuel 13 we read of how Amnon raped Tamar, his half sister. Again the outcome is unpleasant. We read: Then Amnon hated her with intense hatred. In fact, he hated her more than he had loved her. Amnon said to her, ‘Get up and get out!’ ‘No!’ she said to him. ‘Sending me away would be a greater wrong than what you have already done to me’ (2 Sam. 13:15-16). Hatred has entered in conspicuous fashion consequent upon illicit sexual activity. As you read on in 2 Samuel 13 you find an angry father, David (v21) and a vengeful brother Absalom (V22).

Thirdly, in Genesis 34 we read of the brutal happenings which ultimately ensued as a result Shechem engaging sexually with Dinah, the daughter of Jacob. The Word says  it all started to go wrong when Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, prince of the country, saw her, he took her, and lay with her, and defiled her (Gen. 34:2).

 

So the lesson must be learned from Scripture and it is tangibly observed in our contemporary society that when sex is encouraged in in the wrong place, that is outside of marriage, then a mess results. The passages above all indicate how the mess is not just restricted to the couple involved, but effects many others as well. Let us be warned. But never forget, sex in the right place, that is in the marriage bond, is a gift to be received from God and engaged in for the glory of the Lord

 

Its is a shame that “theology” seems to get a bad press among Christians. The study of theology is something that most Christians resist engaging in. This seems to be wrong.

To start to get to grips with this matter we need a definition. A basic definition is that theology is the study of the nature of God. So on the basis of that definition stop and think who should the study of theology be for. And whilst thinking ponder upon the words of our Lord Jesus who said to His Father: Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent (John 17:3). At the heart of our existence is this priority to know God and His Son Jesus. Implicitly then we should all be theologians because our calling is to be studiers of God.Our calling is to know God.

Moreover the logic of love gives full justification for the study of theology. When we love someone we are impulsively driven to find out more about the one we love, As Christians we are brought into a situation whereby we are structured to love God. Our whole default heart position is to have a passionate desire for our God. God’s intervening grace in our lives drives us to respond with love for him. Out of this love we become theologians because we are driven to find out more of the God we love. And then when we learn of how glorious our God is we are drawn to love Him. Out of this love we become studiers of God. It is a virtuous circle. It is those who are true theologians who grow in the love and worship of God.

When we get this perspective on theology we start to think differently. We start to think that every devotional time with the Lord should be a theology time. Every sermon should be a theology sermon. And as we discover more and more of our God we will want to know more of our glorious God. And thereby theology becomes a passion and not a drudgery.

Oh may I love theology!

(Originally posted on Venabling on 5/8/2014)

Contextualising Preaching

Whenever you preach you always preach into a certain context. Preaching is not just about declaring some words into a vacuum;  it is about preaching to people who are in a certain situation with certain experiences and expectations. Contextualising your preaching is particularly important when you are required to preach in a situation you are unfamiliar with. If you do not make an effort to appropriately deliver your message into that context then you may well alienate your hearers.

Here are some thoughts on issues to think about:

  1. What will be the make-up of your congregation? Is it a specific age-group or mixed age range?
  2. How many do you expect to be there?
  3. Are they expecting an evangelistic message or a message more suited for the edifying of believers?
  4. How long are you expected to preach for?
  5. What version of the scriptures is normally read and preached from?
  6. What has been preached on recently in the church?
  7. Are you preaching at a special event or on a “normal” Sunday?

In considering these issues we are thinking about the whole principle of meeting people where they are. It is an outworking of the incarnational principle. As God in Christ came where people are so we do the same.. It is the principle of the Emmaus Road where the Lord listened to where the disconsolate two were at and then brought the Word to them.

(Originally posted at Venabling on 22/08/2014)

……..and then someone will sort out the roof” is, I believe, a phrase emanating from Dick Lucas. I heard it some years ago and it has often reverberated around my little brain. Here are some of the issues that it raises.

  1. Particularly when you are in a small church situation, there is a tendency to do jobs in the church because you feel there is no-one else to do them. But if you are called to pastoral ministry then there is a danger that you are taken away from the work you are called to do.
  2. When the Word of God is being taught effectively then the church starts to mature. And in that maturing people start to discover their gifts. Some will have the relevant practical gifts which lead to them being able to solve the practical problems. So the roof problem will be sorted out.
  3. If you are called to preach the Word, but also focus on the practical work you are likely to burn yourself out.
  4. If you are called to preach the Word, but fail to do so because so many other things are taking your time, then the church will not mature and gifts will not be emerging in the fellowship.

So fellow elders let us be thoughtful about what we prioritise in our ministry.

(Originally published at Venabling on 03/07/2015)

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