Reading Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 1 the other day, I was struck yet again by how the apostle is so eager to tell his readers of his thankfulness to God for them. This got me thinking about the nature and significance of the act of giving thanks for each other. These are some of the thoughts that popped into my mind…
What it is Continue reading
It is a characteristic of the modern world that many (most?) of us assume a persona of some sort; a mask that enables us to hide our real selves from the outside world. This is why some have called our era in the Western world the narcissistic age. More than ever before we feel exposed to the judgement of others through the scrutiny of social media and the tyranny of ever-shifting ‘norms’ of how we should look, what we should wear and where we should shop. This results in us adopting a false self to present to the world in order to defend against being rejected or to deny to ourselves the inner sense of shame with which our culture has burdened us. Sadly, in order to conform to society’s expectations many of us opt for a ready-made off-the-shelf mask, a stereo type of what we mistakenly think is an acceptable or ‘normal’ person. We then put a huge amount of our energy into this attempt to appear normal at the expense of who we really are.
One of these off-the-shelf masks is the pastor mask. Continue reading
In a previous post I mentioned Karl Barth’s definition of faith as accepting the acceptance of God. Paul Tillich says a little more than this when he defines faith as accepting our acceptance in spite of our unacceptability. According to this definition faith requires the acknowledgement of our unacceptability. This, even for seasoned Christians is much easier said than done.
Instead of accepting our unacceptability and exposing it to the grace of God we defend against troubling presence through making our acceptance by God conditional. In this way, although on a conscious level we really do believe that we are sinners saved only by God’s grace, on a psychological level we completely avoid being exposed to our unacceptability. So long as we fulfil certain conditions we are perfectly acceptable.
Preaching Needs to be Relational
One of the drawbacks of writing about any given subject is that some who read it are going to (very understandably) assume that you are setting yourself up as an expert on that subject. For this reason I have hesitated a great deal before putting finger to keypad on the topic of relational preaching. It would simply not be honest for me to give the impression that I have mastered the practice of relational preaching. But what I have done is thought a great deal about how to apply what I have learned about relating to others to the activity of preaching.
The thought that preaching needs to be relational in its character arises from the fact that when God speaks he does so relationally. Jesus is God’s message to the human race. As the incarnate Word of God he is God’s embodied and interpersonal expression. When God declares his message to his creation he does so, therefore, in the most relational manner Continue reading
At its heart my pastoral and therapeutic work is about interacting with the stories people tell themselves about themselves. As they tell me their stories they are often looking to discover something new about their past and to choose new possibilities for the future. Their understanding of who they are, which is formed through the story they tell themselves about their life, has in some way stopped working in their favour and is limiting their potential for growth and flourishing. My job is to help them as they search for a new way to narrate their lives.
It is the possibility of radically changing our stories that the grace of God offers. As such it creates the context within which flourishing is made possible because it, more than any other transformational force, can simultaneously reach into our past and our future and Continue reading
Accepting the acceptance of God is how Karl Barth defined faith. I’m tempted to tweak his definition slightly and state that faith is welcoming being welcomed by God but I suspect that I may be splitting hairs and I am certain that I’m being presumptuous in taking on the great Swiss theologian. So lets assume that acceptance entails welcoming.
But for many of us accepting that we are accepted, is excruciatingly difficult. We can understand that we are accepted, that through Christ and through him alone the guilt that made us unacceptable to God has been atoned for and that we have been freely given the identity of children of God. We can understand this and we can know it to be true, but our feelings struggle to follow where our understanding leads.
In spite of the transformational power of the gospel of Jesus Christ, worry and sadness Continue reading
People Don’t Need Rescuing
Rescuing sounds like such a positive thing to do: heroic, compassionate, Christlike. And much in our culture encourages us to become rescuers, even to adopt the persona of the Rescuer as our own. Our myths, legends and fairy tales are full of brave and resourceful people rescuing the weak and the vulnerable. And all of them are constantly recycled in our TV shows and films.
These stories are embedded in our collective consciousness and because of this they have a profound effect on our sponge-like and developing personalities as children. We see in them an ideal to aspire to, and a ready-made answer to the impossibly difficult question of Continue reading