Andrew Wilson on Rwanda and the justice of God

This morning I read Andrew Wilson’s chapter in “Incomparable” on the justice of God and today happens to be the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan massacres.  The chapter opens with the words:

In April 1994, an untold number of Rwandans were hacked to death with machetes.

Wilson describes the events of the early days of the genocide in a measured way without masking the true horror then asks, how did we respond and how should we respond? He answers those questions by reminding us that we tend to suspend reality because we are bombarded with tales of human evil and we could not live a normal life if we felt appropriately shocked and angry.   Yet, we could try to feel like God feels about every act of injustice and cruelty.

Or, we could read the psalms, to know how God feels and what he will do.

Wilson reflects on Psalm 10 and draws three points about the justice of God:

1.  God is not slow in bringing justice.  Like a thief running through the casino with arms full of cash who is stopped by the doormen, we live in God’s world and there is only one exit, which God has covered.

2.  God feels the injustice and fury infinitely more greatly than we do.

3.  God uses his people as instruments of justice, so cases where injustices prevail and go unchecked, the church has or is failing (Amos 2:6-8).

Therefore, God’s people are both to preach the word of God and act to stop injustice according to that same word.  That’s Plan A and there is no Plan B.


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What the vicar did for the past six months (timesheets)

So I’ve run Timerecorder App on my phone for six months now and the graph below shows where my time has been spent.

Sept 13 to Feb 14 task graphIn order from most time spent to least, the work of organisation and communication (which includes meetings) has taken 18% of my time, probably because I find it difficult and I’m not very good at it.  Preparation for teaching and preaching then took 17%.  Next comes visiting and counselling, at 10%, which I am delighted about.  That’s a good amount of face to face time with people, most often with the bible open.  Then teaching and fellowship take 8% each.  That means that only 8% of my time is spent up front in public, including leading small groups.  Public preaching or leading is only the tip of the iceberg.  And 8% of time wth others (fellowship) is time building relationships with with church folk, without any real purpose (after church and at coffee morning or lunch club).  6% on study, conferences and blogging, 6% on school and 6% on occassional offices (mostly funerals).  4% has gone on developing vine workers.  3% on youth and children.  3% on extra parish (deanery and diocese).  Then travel, spontaneous interuptions, acts of service, church government, buildings and finance, evangelism and outreach and prayer meetings take up the last 9%.

I believe this shows that I need to find a way of reducing organisation and communication (paperwork and meetings) and increasing prayer and deliberate teaching and training.  How?

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5th Anniversary of being a Vicar

Today is the 5th anniversary of my induction as vicar of Holy Trinity West Bromwich.  It seems like no time at all since I rang the bell of the church 13 or 14 times, indicating that we hoped to stay in this community longer than we’d stayed anywhere in our first 13 years of marriage.

So what should I make of the first five years?  Through the filter of the ministry of the word and prayer (and sacraments) then what follows is an evaluation of occassions spent preaching and teaching.  It’s exciting (at least to me) to think about all that has been proclaimed.

I’ve preached over 210 different Sunday sermons (sometimes one sermon three times on a Sunday).  Led as many bible studies (sometimes two a week).  We’ve held four SOUL courses, and a few of it’s predecessor for us, Just for Starters.  I have held five and a bit Lent courses (Cross Centred life, Lost for Words, God’s Big Picture, Everyday Church, Battles Christians Face and currently, Frontline).  I have conducted about 100 funerals and 8 or 9 weddings.  Assemblies and school services number around 100.  This moring we did the greatest commandment.  That’s quite a lot of proclamation.

My recent timesheet shows that all of the above only constitutes around 11% of my working time (preparation for the above is another 16% of my working time).  Proclamation is the tip of the iceberg, as far as what people see of this vicar’s working time.  I would love it to be more.

In the meantime, happy anniversary me.  May the Lord continue to use me to make known the mystery of his will, which is to unite all things under one head, who is Christ.

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What’s the difference between guilt and shame?

So you are in a conversation about the gospel and you mention the “G” word, guilt.  You say something like, we are all guilty before God for breaking his laws.  The other person responds with “I don’t feel guilty.”  The implication of this statement is, “I don’t need to change my behaviour and I have no need of Christ.”  How should the pastor, evangelist or Christian friend respond?

The problem, it seems to me, is that, for many people, our culture lacks the vocabulary to describe how we feel.  What the person is really saying is “I do not feel any shame.” defines shame as:

A painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behaviour.

And the same dictionary defines guilt as:

The fact of having committed a specified or implied offence or crime.

But for many people today, guilt and shame are at best synonymous.  How can we overcome this confusion for people?  We stand before the judge of people condemned as guilty by fact, whether or not we feel shame.  Until we make this clear, then Christ makes no sense.  It would help me if readers could make some suggestions.

I have used an illustration from driving to clarify the difference between guilt and shame:

Say you are driving up the motorway at 80mph.  You are unaware of the speed you are doing and you don’t really care.  You feel no shame.  But you are guilty of breaking the law.  If a policeman or speed camera clocks your speed your guilt will be established.  Once you have been found guilty you might feel shame.

Anyone got any other, better, ways of establishing the difference between guilt and shame?

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Spot the differnce? Vicarage changes

Just a bit of Friday fun.  Can you spot the difference between these two photos of the vicarage.  The first was taken in November 2008 and the second yesterday (27th Feb 2014).  The first correct answer, without prior knowledge of the change, wins the Friday prize.

IMG_5002 IMG_3577For a different sort of spot the difference see this post on the difference between present and future benefits of faith in Christ.

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From the vicarage March 2014

From the Vicarage – March 2014

PAS792 Passion for Life logo COL C NO STRAPIt’s not long until “A Passion for Life.” Our teams at church are beginning to prepare for all the events, publicity is being printed, people are praying, expectation is growing. So, as we approach our mission week, what should we expect the outcomes to be? What should we pray for? What will success look like? Let’s be clear.

1. Faithfulness to the work which Christ has given us.

If Jesus was to say something to us at the end of the mission week, what would you like him to say? We might hope he’d say “thank you for working hard to make the events happen” or “you did really well at your organisation and planning.” But the words we want to hear Jesus speak are “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful…” (Matthew 25:21).

Faithfulness to the message of the gospel must be our highest goal and expectation. Paul reminded the church in Corinth “it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.” (1 Corinthians 4:2).

Will we be faithful? The opposite of being faithful is to be ashamed. But Paul wrote to the church in Rome, “ I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.” Let’s have high expectations of faithfulness.

2. Expect God to be faithful.

“To the faithful you show yourself faithful.” 2 Samuel 22:26

As we are faithful to the message of Christ, God is faithful to his promises. It’s a great encouragement to be faithful when we are promised by God that he’ll work in amazing ways.

3. Expect rejoicing in heaven.

Let’s imagine that only one person comes to put their trust in Christ and begins to follow him. We would, of course, like to see more than one person, but just say, only one comes to know Christ. We might be disappointed. All that hard work for only one soul?

How should we reflect on numbers? Do you remember Jesus’ punchline to the parable of the lost sheep? He tells his disciples that “there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who do not need to repent.” (Luke 15:7). It’s not great numbers but our faithfulness, God’s faithfulness and angels rejoicing over each individual which matters.

4. Expect people to unite.

There are many ways in which mission brings people together. Our event teams will need to work out what needs to be done to make things happen and overcome difficulties; the two congregations of Holy Trinity and Calvary Church will unite in new ways; those who come to faith in Christ will join church and grow in knowledge, love and faith.

Psalm 133 verse 1 reminds us “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!”

So let’s expect faithfulness, rejoicing and a growing unity. With love and prayer. Neil

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A Pastor Prays for his people

pastor-prays-for-his-peopleWhen I am at a loss for things to pray for people, I’ve found Wendell C. Hawley’s book “A Pastor Prays for his People” a massive help (Hawley was appointed pastor for prayer and visiting at the church pastored by R. Kent Hughes for 27 years).

I was praying one morning recently for a married couple in crisis and I turned to prayers for February. I settled on this one, which seemed so perfect for the situation I gave them both a copy of the prayer.

Glorious God, wonderful Saviour,
Thank you for your your steadfast love and mercy to us.
Thank you Lord Jesus for giving yourself as a ransom for many,
to bring us back to the loving presence our heavenly Father.

We turn to you, believing that you are more ready to hear than we are inclined to pray.
Your invitation to us holds no exclusions.
You have not limited our access to your presence to certain hours,
certain days, certain circumstances.
The apostle Peter assures us that God watches over his people and
hears their prayers.
Lord, we believe this to be true, and yet we are appalled at our neglect.
Facing overwhelming difficulties and reacting in desperation,
we have turned elsewhere in our need:
to friends, teachers, lawyers, government….
We’ve talked to anyone, anywhere, that we think might solve our problems.
All the while your Word should get our attention:
No good thing will God withhold from them that walk uprightly.

Lord, you are the best judge of what is good for us.
Forgive us for not believing this and help us to grasp this truth today.
Help each of us to pray:
“Lord, I want what you will give, and I don’t want what you would withhold.”
May all our wants be captured by that grid.

We are confident that you want to cleanse us of sin, giving us victory over
evil habits,
wrong attitudes,
bad tempers,
lustful desires.
And with these removed, you will give us
as we wait upon you.

By your Holy Spirit help us to walk uprightly
before our families, our co-workers, our neighbours, the watching world.
May there no be in us any crooked dealing:
no dishonesty, no hypocrisy, no deceit.
The walk of uprightness is the way to heavenly wealth-
wealth so large as to include every good thing.
May we hunger and thirst for righteousness.
May we walk uprightly and receive “good things” from the Lord today.


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