Friday, 24 April 2009

What is the big issue?

I had an e-mail yesterday from a journalist working for The Sunday Times. She was doing a confidential poll of Church of Scotland ministers asking if I support the appointment of Scott Rennie as minister of Queen's Cross Church in Aberdeen. I've never met Scott Rennie, as far as I know, but his story hit the headlines in January when Aberdeen Presbytery agreed to his appointment, knowing that he will live with his male partner in the Manse. Others objected to the appointment of an openly homosexual minister and the matter will be resolved at the General Assembly in May. I said that I did not support the appointment. Her reply asked 'Will you leave the Church if he is appointed?' to which I said 'No; there is more to the Christian faith, more to my ministry and the mission of the Church that sexual ethics!' Am I right?

Today's newspapers tell the story of Carrie Prejean; she is Miss California who was taking part in the Miss USA beauty contest. (Please don't attack me for beauty contests; I'm only telling you the story; it doesn't mean I support them!) She was asked, by the host of the show, whether she supported the state of Vermont's move to legalise same-sex marriage. She is reported to have said: "in my country, and in my family, I think I believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman. No offence to anybody out there, but that's how I was raised." She came second in the contest and afterwards said "after I'd answered the question, I knew that I was not going to win because of my answer. I don't take back what I said." She said she "had spoken from my heart, from my beliefs and for my God. It's not about being politically correct. For me, it's about being biblically correct."

There is no doubt that this issue makes great newspaper headlines. No matter the outcome of the debate at the General Assembly, the newspapers and other media will make great play of the Church's decision. It will be splashed all over front pages, no matter the way in which commissioners vote. Our Session Clerk will be among them. Pray for him and the 800 others as they try to make up their minds on the basis of what they hear.

If you want to discuss and debate the issue, we will be looking at same-sex relationships in our Issues series on June 10th.

My reaction: this is not the biggest issue facing the Church today. Am I right? What do you think is the biggest issue?

It seems to me much more important for us to be telling people in our community about Jesus Christ. I spent the first part of this morning in Currie High School with 360 first and second year pupils; I was leading an Assembly on Easter. I told them about Jesus, His cross and resurrection and that Jesus said "This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends." (John 15:13 The Message) They listened avidly; you could hear a pin drop for 15 minutes as they simply listened to the gospel and me telling them what I believe.

I won't leave the Church of Scotland if Scott Rennie's appointment is upheld. I will be sad because I think that goes against the Bible's view of humanity. Jim Philip used to say, about issues such as these, that he would only leave the Church of Scotland if the Church pushed him out. Wise words.

God has called me to tell people about Jesus, to persuade them to believe; for me that is the biggest issue!

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Special people and Holy Week

I want to tell you about Sharon. I've never met her, but I heard a little about her last week when I was in Glasgow. Sharon grew up in Ruchazie, one of Glasgow's Priority Areas on the periphery of the city. She has been through all kinds of experiences in her life that most of us can only imagine. Sharon came into contact with the Church in Ruchazie and then later when they were looking for someone to take on a little bit of work with some children's groups and young people, Sharon got the job. It was 5 hours per week, and it was paid. When Sharon got her first pay packet she left the building dancing; she was walking taller; she went to get her hair done; she felt a thousand times better about herself because of what she now had - a sense of worth and value.

What her pay-packet did for Sharon, the gospel can do for everyone.

There is another view. Lots of groups will tell us that feeling and being special is all about asserting ourselves. People have to empower themselves in order to achieve something and so find their self-esteem and specialness by their achievements. Much of this is tied up with our human rights and standing up for ourselves. We have to kick off the oppression of those who would bully us and tread us down. That's one model!

Here's another model. We are special for 2 reasons according to the Bible. First of all, we are special simply because we are human; human beings are made with the image of God as part of who and what we are; so we have a unique dignity and meaning and purpose that is inherent and is God-given; nothing can take that away from us; it is ours; it is who we are. (Have a look at Psalm 8!) Secondly, Christians are described as God's children, His sons and daughters, and there is no greater privilege than that; again this is part of the package of being Christian; it is who we are as Christians and because we are children, we are loved by our Father (God) and our elder brother (Jesus).

Being special people is not something that we assert for ourselves or achieve at the expense of others; this comes as God's gift to us by grace. Grace is a strange word: it is a girl's name; it is a prayer we sometimes say at mealtimes; but most of all, it describes the way in which we are loved. Grace tells us that we are loved when we don't deserve to be loved; grace tells us that God loves us, even when we have not loved Him; grace tells us that God gives us great riches not because we have earned them, but simply because He wants to give them.

Holy Week is a bit of a roller-coaster of emotions for the Christian. It begins with the exuberance of Palm Sunday, the reflection and anticipation of the Last Supper, the blackness of the cross and Jesus God-forsakenness there, and then, finally, the joy of Easter Sunday when we celebrate the risen, alive Christ! Easter should give us a spring in our step (sorry, bad pun!); it is Easter that makes us special people; Easter shows us just how much God really loves us, you, even me! He loves us enough to give us His Son.

I found this 30 years ago in a book called Knowing God by Jim Packer: "Do I know my own real identity? My own real destiny? I am a child of God. God is my Father; heaven is my home; every day is one day nearer. My Saviour is my brother; every Christian is my brother and sister too. Say it over and over to yourself first thing in the morning, last thing at night, as you wait for the bus, any time when your mind is free..." (page 256)

This is who we are. We are special people. Walk with a spring in your step; dance if you like; get your hair done too! Here is our sense of worth and value