Showing posts with label Church. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Church. Show all posts

Monday, 1 April 2013

EASTER PART III. BE A DOUBTING THOMAS

by Colin Bloom

This is the third and final part of my Easter Trilogy. For Pete's sake, on Easter Sunday we looked at Saint Peter the rock who became the denier who became the rock again. For crying out loud, on Holy Saturday we read about Jesus's supreme act of love on the Cross, and the fact that the Cross is centre-point of all history.

Today I want to briefly look at the man most of us know as Doubting Thomas. I think it is healthy for us all to be a bit like Doubting Thomas. I'm not sure God requires us to be unthinking people with blind faith. He designed us to have a brain, He gave us the power of inquiry, so I suspect that He has no problem with us asking the big questions that we all have or had. Where did we come from? What happens to us when we die? Was Jesus who He said He was? It would be a pretty odd person that never wondered about such things.

So who was this doubty Thomas fellow? In the Gospel of John (Chapter 20:24-29) we read the following:

Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”


But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.”

A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” 

Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Here Thomas is like so many people, the kind of people who say that unless they can feel the presence of Jesus then they won't believe in his existence. But unlike most people, Thomas put himself in the position where he could have his doubts answered. He at least went and tried it out.

How many people say, things like, "the Bible has nothing to say to me" and yet have never picked it up; or say, "Church isn't for me" but have never gone. 
Perhaps the crime is not the doubt, the crime is not asking the questions or ignoring the answers.

Christians don't have all the answers to everything, we are meant to have faith, and we are meant to put our faith to the test. The challenge to us all is can we be more like Thomas, by putting ourselves in the position of having our doubts answered?

Sunday, 31 March 2013

CHRISTIAN CONSERVATIVES CAN BE PROUD OF THIS COALITION'S RECORD BUT A LOT MORE STILL NEEDS TO BE DONE


by Colin Bloom
The Prime Minister is getting a shellacking from many Christians this weekend. Yesterday the former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey got in early with a few combination shots, and today the Methodists and Baptists decided to mix it up with an ecumenical tag-teaming left foot kicking. Some of the blows were a bit low, but the referees in the broadcast media are seemingly on the side of the Holy minority.

Earlier today I was prompted by a friend to list the Government’s biggest ‘Christian’ achievements. This friend is known to everyone on this site, and he suggested that the increase in faith schools or the .7% of GDP on Overseas Aid as a good start. Pah! There is so much more to list than that.

However, the near universal and visceral rejection of same-sex marriage by the Church has perhaps meant that now anything and everything the Government does, and particularly if it comes from the Prime Minister, is going to be rejected and rubbished without consideration. This would not be fair, and dare I say, it would not be a particularly Christian thing to do either.

The Bible tells us in numerous places to honour and respect and pray for those in Government, for ‘…all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Saviour.’ I would gently remind my Christian brothers and sisters, especially those in the Clergy to spend as much time praying for our politicians (of all parties) and less time attacking them.

So I’ll pick up the challenge our friend has given me; I will list some of the things that I am most proud of as a Christian Conservative, accepting that the critics have probably already made up their minds anyway.

I.               We are unashamed to ‘do God.’ Let’s never forget that the previous administration famously said they ‘didn’t do God’ and this one has said very firmly that they do.
II.              We are even prepared to go further, and say that we are a ‘Christian Country.’ Whether it was Baroness Warsi when she, as British Muslim, told the former Pope that the United Kingdom was a Christian Country, or whether it is the PM in numerous speeches – unlike the previous Government we are clear. This is a Christian Country.
III.            Church run social action projects have been given significant funds via groups like the Church Urban Fund or the Cinnamon Network, so that Christian charities like Foodbank, Christians Against Poverty, Street Pastors and others flourish. The Big Society might not be fashionable on the left, but this Government is putting real resources into it.
IV.           Micro Grants from the DCLG to churches to go and ‘Love their Neighbours’ – did this happen before? No.
V.            Commitment to the Developing World by keeping our promises on Aid and the Millennium Development Goals (MDG’s). Increasing investment to build up both infrastructure and to meet the needs of those in absolute poverty and suffering around the world. Not popular with many, but the right and Christian thing to do.
VI.           Giving powers of competence to Local Authorities so that they can keep on saying prayers before Council Meetings. Thank you Eric Pickles, one in the eye for the aggressive secularists.
VII.         The PM hosting Easter Receptions for Christian Leaders, every year since getting elected in 2010 (not done before).
VIII.        The PM giving Easter Messages and Christmas Messages that are filled with messages about Jesus (not done before).
IX.           The growth in faith schools, and the freedom for churches to start their own schools if they want.
X.             Michael Gove giving every secondary school in the country a copy of the King James Bible on the 400th Anniversary of its publication.
XI.           The brilliant work of the Foreign Secretary William Hague and his Ministerial Team including Alastair Burt on fighting against the persecution of Christians around the world.
XII.          The work being done to create a greener United Kingdom, looking after the planet God has given us.
XIII.        The significant steps that have been taken to end modern day slavery. Some has been done, but there is a great deal more to do.
XIV.       The attempt to set people free from the over-powerful and dead hand of the state. Encouraging people to work (1 Thessalonians 4)!
XV.        Significant work being done in Prisons, where groups like the William Wilberforce Trust (Alpha for Prisons) have been funded to help reduce recidivism and turn prisoners lives around.
XVI.       The appointment of a specific Minister for Faiths (Baroness Warsi) – not been done before.

And there is more…

On top of all of the above, the Conservatives are probably the only one of the main political parties that would protect the Established Church – can you see the Lib Dem’s or Labour doing this?

Everything I have listed above will attract criticism, and I am not pretending that either enough has been done, or that everything that has been done has been done well. I am just trying to bring a bit of balance. Considering the alternatives the record isn’t as bad as most Christian leaders are making out. In summary, a lot of good has been done, there is still a lot more to do.

So before the usual suspects put their left boot in again, perhaps they might want to reflect on how the country was brought to its financial and moral knees, and give a bit more credit to a Government that it trying to get us on our own feet again.

(This article was published on ConservativeHome today)

EASTER PART II. FOR PETE'S SAKE

by Colin Bloom

For crying out loud, was the first part of the Easter trilogy I started yesterday. For Pete's sake, today I want to discuss Saint Peter.

Peter is one of the biblical characters that I find it very easy to identify with. A ready, fire, aim kind of guy. He wasn't the type to hesitate; he usually got his defence in early. If he was a football player, he would have been like Arsenal's greatest central defender Tony Adams, who famously said "you can get past me, or the ball can get past me, but both of you ain't doing it." Peter had a low centre of gravity, and was to use a modern idiom, a man's man.

So it is ironic that of all the "I'll follow you to the death, Jesus" disciples it was to Peter that Jesus said, "I tell you, this very night you will deny knowing me three times before the rooster crows."

This tragic betrayal came true, and Peter's denial left him fleeing his questioners distraught, weeping bitterly.

Peter was the Disciple that Jesus the Church would be built; and yet it was Peter, the tough guy, who ran away when questioned about his faith. Peter had just seen his best friend go through an unjust trial and was about to see him whipped, humiliated and nailed to death on a cross.

His whole world was falling apart, and the man he had given the past three years of his life to was going to die. Peter probably hadn't slept, he was exhausted, emotionally broken and confused. With this in our minds, it is perhaps easier to understand why Peter the Rock became Peter the Denier.

This episode reminds me that notwithstanding my failings, weaknesses and sin; there is always hope, always forgiveness and always a fresh start. The Church should be the representation of Christ on earth, the Church is a safe place, a sanctuary of God's love. A place where anyone and everyone should feel welcome, and encouraged to have a relationship with Jesus just like Peter did.


So for Pete's sake, what are you waiting for?

Saturday, 30 March 2013

THE PRIME MINISTER'S EASTER MESSAGE 2013



The Prime Minister David Cameron has sent his best wishes to Christians in the UK and around the world celebrating Easter.

The Prime Minister said:

“I send my best wishes to all those in the United Kingdom and around the world celebrating Easter this year in what is an incredibly exciting time for the Christian faith worldwide.

“This year’s Holy Week and Easter celebrations follow an extraordinary few days for Christians; not only with the enthronement of Justin Welby as our new Archbishop of Canterbury, but also with the election of Pope Francis in Rome.

“In the Bible, Saint Peter reminds us of the hope that comes from new birth through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. As Christians, it also reminds us of Jesus’s legacy of generosity, tolerance, mercy, and forgiveness.

“That legacy lives on in so many Christian charities and churches both at home and abroad. Whether they are meeting the needs of the poor, helping people in trouble, or providing spiritual guidance and support to those in need, faith institutions perform an incredible role to the benefit of our society. As long as I am Prime Minister, they will have the support of this Government.

“With that in mind, I am particularly proud to lead a Government that has kept its promise to invest 0.7 per cent of our gross national income on helping the world’s poorest, and I am grateful that we have been able to partner with both Christian and non-Christian charities to relieve suffering overseas.

“I hope you have a very happy Easter.”

David Cameron

EASTER PART I. FOR CRYING OUT LOUD

by Colin Bloom

The Cross is the centre-point of all history. This year is 2013, 2013 years after what? When King Tutankhamun died in 1323 BC, it was 1323 years before what?

The Cross, is centre point of history because it represents the end of God's old covenant with the world and the beginning of the new. If like me you believe in the Christian faith and you accept the story of Jesus, then you have to agree that His death and resurrection is the most important thing that as ever happened in the history of the universe. More personally, the realisation of the Cross, Jesus's willingness to die and be raised again for me and you, is by far the most important thing that ever happened in our lives. The Cross is not just the most important point in history, it is also the most personal one.

The phrase 'for crying out loud' is often used as an exclamation of frustration. I don't know if the etymology of this phrase goes back to Jesus on the Cross, but the Bible tells us in the Gospel of Matthew 27:46 that Jesus cried out loud, "my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

It was this substitutionary sacrifice; Jesus taking the punishment for others that is central to the Cross. The Cross is Jesus's gift of himself to us, it is a gift of Grace that just keeps on giving. Nothing in all history is strong enough to defeat the power of the Cross.

So if you aren't sure about any of this but want to know more, go to Church, read a bible or if you want to know more straight away I can do no better than to point you to the Alpha Course or to Christianity Explored

For crying out loud, it's Easter - you should find out more, and if you already know, who have you told?


Wednesday, 27 March 2013

ANTIDISESTABLISHMENTARIANISM

by Colin Bloom

Is antidisestablishmentarianism the longest word in the English language? Even if it isn't I doubt I will ever write an article with a one word title this long again.

For the record, I am not an Anglican but I love the Church of England. I've never been an Anglican but I will fight to keep it as our Nation's 'established' church. I am happy to be described as an antidisestablishmentarianist, it should be on my business card.

As a conservative (note little 'c') as well as a Conservative, it is in my instinct to want to keep what is good about our nation. Little 'c' conservatives live by the maxim, don't fix what ain't broke, and there is no argument that has yet persuaded me that our ancient heritage of having an Established church does us any harm. On the contrary, I would argue it is something to be rather proud of, and something that makes us stronger and more settled.

One of the benefits of an Established church of England is that we have Bishops sitting in the House of Lords; called the 'Lords Spiritual' they are made up of the five great 'sees' Canterbury, York, Durham, London and Winchester, followed by the next twenty-one most senior Bishops from across the Country. Whilst it is extremely rare for all twenty-six Bishops to be in the House of Lords at the same time, they are an highly influential and important bloc in the upper house.

The secularists hate the idea of a Lords Spiritual. They froth and foam at the thought that these unelected prelates, that follow some imaginary deity, have privileges that their enlightened ranks don't enjoy. They don't just want an end to the Established church, they also want an end to prayers before Council Meetings, faith schools, prison chaplains and Easter marches of Witness. The secularism agenda is clear, they want disestablishment; they probably wouldn't mind getting rid of the monarchy too. Let's face it, most are anarchists or marxists or both.

Yesterday a veteran of Parliament and I were chatting about this very subject and we concluded that should disestablishment ever get to a vote in the House of Commons, the majority of the Labour Party would probably vote in favour of it, perhaps all but one Liberal Democrat would vote in favour of it and maybe only fifty of the three hundred Conservatives would vote to break the Church and State relationship. It was, we imagined, quite an irony that if such a vote were to take place, the fate of the Bishops in the 'other place' would be precariously balanced in the hands of Conservatives MP's, a group who recently have not been best pleased with the 'tone' from the Lords Spiritual.

As I said at the beginning, I love it the way it is, and I want our Bishops to be free to speak their mind and be free to vote as their conscience leads them, their strength is their independence. Long may they enjoy the freedom to speak their minds as God leads them in the Upper House.

However, and it is a very hesitant and gentle however, the Bishops might want to work a little harder at keeping their friends and making new ones in the House of Commons and with the general populous. With great fear and trepidation I would venture that they might want to reflect on articles like this in the Daily Mail regarding Iain Duncan Smith's welfare reforms (extremely popular with the voters we hear). 

It's my hope that in four hundred years time the UK will still have a Lords Spiritual, an Established church and free thinking, independent, God fearing bench* of Bishops. I just hope we don't have to vote on it soon.

*the collective noun for Bishops really is 'bench'.

Monday, 25 March 2013

CHURCH FOR PEOPLE THAT DONT DO CHURCH

by Colin Bloom

Last week some friends and I set about delivering many thousands of postcards to the homes in our town, inviting people to a special church service called 'Church for people that don't do Church'. This one-off event happened yesterday at 3pm, and it was the first time we have ever done anything like it.

Yesterday was Palm Sunday, the start of Easter week; the most important week for followers of Jesus (or Christians as we like to be called).


What do I mean by Church for people that don't do Church? As I've written before, I think despite its failings, the Church is still God's best invention and everyone should be welcome. Whether you are rich or poor, black or white, gay or straight, male or female, young or old, you should be welcome in Church because that is the place where you are most likely to meet with and have a relationship with Jesus.

Hang on - scrub that. There is a group that don't need welcoming to Church.

Perfect people are not allowed; people who have never done anything wrong don't need to be found in church. For everyone else, I'll see you on Sunday...

Sunday, 24 March 2013

NO DRINK, NO DRUGS AND BE NICE TO EACH OTHER

by Colin Bloom

Three years ago I gathered some friends together from church and we began an epic journey of spicy discovery into the world of rough sleepers, street drinkers and curry. Our vehicle on this journey is called the Curry Union.

It all started when as a volunteer at a soup kitchen I thought I was helping people who had a deficit of food, but soon realised that the people who needed the services of the soup kitchen had a greater deficit of relationships.

The folk who ran the soup kitchen were great people, but their work had become an institution that kept the institutionalised institutionalised. It became an exercise in getting as many cheap calories into someone as quickly as possible - a paper plate with a dollop of mashed potato and dollop of sausage stew, all washed down with some highly diluted  orange squash - before they were ushered back into the night.

At the Curry Union we have always been determined to treat our guests like Kings and Queens; we have crisp linen, tea lights, china, glass and only the freshest and highest quality ingredients (fairtrade where possible). We cook curry, a lot of it, and we love it. However, the most important thing we do is build great friendships with people who don't seem to have many best mates.

After serving thousands of curries, we have never really had any problems despite often having more than fifty rough sleeping and street drinking guests at a time. On our first evening together and at every subsequent meal, I have told our diners that we have just three rules; no drink, no drugs and be nice to each other. The genius of this is that everyone, even people with poor English, have understood these simple rules and we have all got on with each other without too many problems.

Perhaps the brilliance of this is because of its simplicity. Everyone knows what you mean when you say no drink, everyone understands what you mean when you say no drugs and being nice to each other seems to be universally understood too. Keeping things simple, means we can concentrate on the important things like enjoying each others company and eating tasty, spicy dishes.

If I've learnt anything in life it's that the simpler the message, the better it is understood. So take my advice, keep it simple. The next time you embark on a project remember our no drink, no drugs and be nice to each other rule; and when you've completed your task treat yourself to a bhuna, dopiaza or madras.

You can follow the Curry Union on Twitter by clicking here





Friday, 22 March 2013

I LOVE CHAIRS THAT DON'T STACK


I love chairs that don't stack. Chairs that stack however, worry me.

There is something sinister, Orwellian, North Korean about chairs are identical to each other. Laid out in formation, metronomic in their sameness, they judge your imperfect orthodoxy. They mock your quirks, and with their mass produced tubular steel legs they want to crush your character.

I love chairs that don't stack. I want to be in a political party where the chairs don't  stack and I want to be in a church where the chairs don't stack either.

It was my grandmother who told me that in polite company one should never discuss religion or politics. If she's watching me now, she is probably spinning like one of her dusty '78 gramophone records*. My world is filled with both, and it's usually what I spend most of my time talking about - trying to build closer links between the Christian faith and politics and vice versa. To me at least the reason is simple; it's because I think God's best invention for society was the church, and democracy is the least worst way to run a nation. So in my mind, if these two great ideas don't have a healthy relationship - then we all suffer.

Society is made up of chairs of different shapes and colours. Some are comfortable and well upholstered and some are skinny nasty scratchy plastic. Some are made from wood and others brushed aluminium; the point I have been forced to realise is that political parties will be stronger and the church will be healthier when we realise our genius is in our differences.   

I love chairs that don't stack.

*for readers born after 1985, before the invention of  iTunes, before Spotify, before even Compact Discs, before Sony Walkmans, before 8 track cassettes  before the 12" EP - music was played on these black vinyl discs called gramophone records - or records for short.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

STRETCH ARMSTRONG



The world I occupy has been called by David Cameron 'the bridge' between the two superpowers of the the Conservative Party and Christianity. Based in Westminster, the Conservative Christian Fellowship is a fascinating and intriguing place where artistes of political compromise smudge their lipstick on the mouth of the supernatural; where pragmatism all too often raises its unholy leg on the lamppost of things sacred. As Jim Reeves said in his 1964 hit of the same name, "Welcome to my World."

Readers of a certain age will remember Stretch Armstrong. He was a boy's doll that wore his speedos with a 70's pride not seen since a Village People pop video. The orange skinned, blonde haired body builder with fantastically muscular arms could be elongated and stretched, but after being rigorously played with, the arms would slowly but always morph back into their original shape.

One evening after school my friend Thomas came over and we had a plan to see how far we could stretch Stretch. I think I can vividly recall seeing the fear in Armstrong's eyes as we plotted our vicious plan for his viscous arms. So with me gripping the toy's left hand, Thomas holding his right, we marched manfully in opposite directions, giving Stretch a stretch that he would never, ever forget. After straining every fibre of our seven year old bodies we distended the bronzed Adonis to what seemed like the width of the patio until we couldn't hold onto his increasingly sweaty palms any longer.

Sadly for Stretch, he never recovered from the experiment and instead of his arms pinging back into muscular arm shaped shapes, they stayed like the hilarious limbs of Mr Tickle of Mr Men fame, ironically the only other bright orange hero of that decade. Afterwards I recall that Stretch Armstrong was retired to the bottom of the toy box, where we suspect he stayed until he was finally laid to rest in the unmarked grave of a landfill site.

It's not often that I think of Stretch, but since taking over from my predecessor at the CCF I have sometimes felt a bit like him. Perhaps I was designed to cope with the heave and roll of where politics and faith connect, but after a good workout hopefully I should get back into the shape I was meant to be.

This feels true of the Consersvative Christian Fellowship, the organisation I lead. Founded more than twenty years ago by Tim Montgomerie (of ConservativeHome and now the Comment Editor of the Times) and David Burrowes (the indefatigable Member of Parliament for Enfield Southgate), the CCF is the space between the Church and State.

However, pulling at us aren't couple of cheeky schoolboys feebly testing out the toy maker's claims that we will always return to our original design. With one hand gripping the Conservative Party and the other on the Christian world, these are forces of tectonic and continental power which all too often seem to be needlessly pulling in opposite directions. If unrestrained, this tension will irreparably damage the thing whose genius is that it is designed to cope with the heft of both superpowers.

At the same time many people of faith are complaining that aggressive secularists are having too much influence over the Coalition Government's agenda. Some have cited the redefinition of marriage as proof enough that the state is straying too far into things sacred. Others complain that whilst the Conservative Party at least say 'they do God', there is, they claim, scant evidence of it. Some go farther still, in his address to parliamentarians at the National Prayer Breakfast in July 2011, Andy Hawthorne from the Message Trust said, "The truth is we do 'do God' we just don't 'do Jesus' - how bizarre is that?" He got a spontaneous and standing ovation. 

So think of Stretch, and say a prayer for those of us that look like him!.