Hello, I’m Roly, and I’m going to be your guide.

“Hello, my name’s Roly, and I’m going to be your guide through the scriptures this morning.”

With those words, our preacher today opened his sermon.

What a lovely way to begin!  What a lovely idea!

As our “guide” he was acknowledging that he had a head start on us, but he wasn’t setting himself up as MasterBlaster.  He had been over the terrain in preparation; he had given it some thought; he was going to try help us negotiate it.

His services – like that of a guide – were offered.  We might choose to hire a different guide, but these were his services.  There was a humility about the opening.

And we were going on a journey together – the introductory words were also invitational. I looked forward to the journey, to surveying various aspects of the landscape, being made aware of some of the potholes, and also being led to some great vistas.

There are of course many ways to preach a sermon, but I found this opening to be engaging full of opportunity.

What do you think?

If you are a preacher, how would you feel using it?

If you are a listener – what effect does it have on you?

Praying for Crystal Palace

I really want Crystal Palace to win today – so much so that I’m going to pray for them.

But how shall I pray?

Somewhere deep inside is the sense that this would be cheating.  Why should my team have God on their side?

We have it so deeply embedded in us: “may the best team win”,  but that’s not what we really want at all. I want my team to win.  I am decidedly partisan.  In reality, I am more than happy if my team gets that bit of luck which changes the game, the scoreline, the season.

And what happens, if by chance or righteous living, Swansea has more people praying for them than we have praying for Crystal Palace?  Will the dubious decisions all fall their way?

Of course, Crystal Palace are due some good luck. They had some terrible decisions against them at the start of the season. So now my prayer has taken a righteous tone.  There’s a sense of justice about it. My team are the downtrodden.  I am standing with them and crying out for an answer!

But then it’s true:  “we make our own luck”.  Maybe I should simply pray for all the normal extras needed by footballers – sharpness, concentration, strength, awareness, initiative, creativity, connection.  Then they will make the most of every situation and get more shots on target.  But something within me still wants to add, “and may the Swansea goalie fumble the ball – at least twice.”

Should I get paid for this undercover work?  After all, the physios and dietitians all get their wedge.  My prayers could be making the difference between us staying up or going down.

When will God stop listening to my prayers – assuming he started?  What is the limit?  When does he say, “Now come on – really…”

My thoughts go back to bedtime prayers – of being taught and then teaching – that we must pray for both teams, and all the fans, to play to their best ability, fairly, honestly, and for everyone to have a jolly good time.

But I’ll tell you – there’s no way I’m praying for Swansea today.

What do you think?

Beauty Example #1

My friend, Chris Marsh shared this video on Facebook and I think it is beautiful.

The song is called “Like the Dawn” by the Oh Hellos, an independent brother & sister duo from Texas.  It is a fantastic, thoughtful matching of words, music, arrangement and production.

The film was created as part of the Photography DTS project week on videography by YWAM students in York. It is a gorgeous and evocative concept.  Find out more about the project here.

Of course, beauty comes in all shapes and sizes, but in this instance the delicacy and fragility of the photography perfectly matches innocent tenderness of the music.  What I particularly like about this piece of work is that the quality never flags – and we really need benchmarks of beauty, so that all our creativity has something to aspire to.  It lovingly captures the transience of that first moment of discovery.

Here’s a thought though – that particular moment of beauty would have been transient regardless of the on-following Temptation and Fall.  It would have given way to the next stage of the creation’s evolving journey whatever that stage had been. And so the cycle of creation – birth – development – transformation – loss – renewal – was there from the beginning.

So how does the thing we call “death” fit in – death, “the final enemy”?  To me, and I think this is a Christian view, death is not merely another word for loss, change, or renewal of a worn out body.  Death is extinguishing of life.

We normally think of it simply at the physical and to some extent relational level.  But of course it can be spiritual, emotional, moral, cultural, as well.  So in Chapter 3 of the Genesis story, the journey continued but “death” had been invited in. From now on, the moving forward would become harsh, painful, and cold, instead of the growthful journey of discovery it had been created to be.  They were no longer handling its transience in fellowship with the God of life.

If you find these thoughts a bit obscure – I hope you enjoyed the film anyway!

What are your thoughts on this?

Problematic Worship Songs #1

What – if anything – should we be careful about when we worship God in church?

Among other things, our songs should be true to our faith, true to life, and we need to consider how they affect our self-image and relationships – in other words how they seep into our consciousness. For this reason, songs have been one of the key vehicles of doctrine since the Bible was formed.

So here is Problematic Song #1:  “Our God” by Chris Tomlin et al. Listen here.

It is hugely popular, a rousing number which really rallies the troops. The imagery is simple, the words are direct, the references are from the Gospels, the tune is driving.

Then we hit the chorus.  Suddenly the song degenerates into a “my god is bigger than your god” boast.  Is this really how we want to position ourselves as Christians?   There are Biblical warrants for it for sure:  Elijah’s competition on Mount Carmel; or the repeated use of the word “better” in the Letter to the Hebrews.  In both instances, the believers were under severe pressure of extinction through lack of self-image.  But when we look at the heartland of our theological store – Jesus – do we find this kind of posturing?

Of course, Christians do believe our God is greater, stronger, higher than any other, (otherwise we wouldn’t choose to be Christians), but what effect does it have when such beliefs become like football chants?

What happens when we take this “truth” into our hearts and minds, what does it do to us?  How does it shape our relating with others?

In our world today religious extremism is both prevalent and dangerous.  Such extremism is fed by the failure to listen, the failure to relate, the failure to take time, the failure of humility.  In this context, sloganeering is unhelpful.  Football chants (the ruder the better, in my book!) deliberately cartoonise.  They are part of the ritual of the match, in which we allow the fiction that football really matters while holding in reserve the truth that it is actually only a game.  But the ritual of church is all about truth.

So my problem with this song is this: it has the effect of whipping us up into a kind of Christian jingoism that will ultimately damage our ability to reflect Christ eloquently to the rest of the world.

What do you think?