Archive for the ‘Women and Wives’ Category

Happy New Year to one and all! Can I start off my thanking those of you who take the time to log in and read some of my thoughts from time to time. I am constantly amazed at the numbers who read this blog from around the globe. It is with this in mind, alongside the launch of 20schemes, that this will be my last week blogging as Niddrie Pastor. I will leave this site active as a place to log on and find archives but, as of the 7th January, I will be blogging from my 20schemes site. I will keep you posted over the next week as I make the change. Can I encourage those of you who subscribe to the site to consider following me over to this new site. Thanks so much!

Now, the blogosphere is awash with reading plans for 2013 and, perhaps, the most comprehensive can be found on The Gospel Coalition website. Please click on the link here to find reading plans galore! There is also a great blog post form Matt Smethurst on the dangers of being sucked into Bible reading Plans with the wrong motivations. Worth a read here.

The Ligonier blog always comes up with the goods! Happy hunting for various plans here.

The 19th Century Scottish minister, Robert Murray M’Cheyne, (sometimes spelled McCheyne) who lived from 1813-1843, prepared a plan for Bible reading to take readers through the New Testament and Psalms twice a year, and through the rest of the Bible once each year. His plans can be accessed easily here.

Tim Chester has some great words of advice on his blog and his reading plan(s) can be accessed here. What I like about Tim’s is that it has a communal element to it (although to be honest every plan could be communal if you wanted it to). Worth a quick look though.

For a helpful perspective on the whole reading plan thing, Garrett Kell offers some honest and wise words on his provocatively entitled blog post, “Why I Plan To Read Less Of The Bible This year”. Check it out here.

My own personal plan is snappily called: Professor Grant Horner’s Bible reading System. Google it or you will find it on most of the blog sites above. I have been using the system throughout 2012. Basically, I read 10 chapters a day from various parts of the Bible. I have worked out that I have read the entire Bible at least 3 and a half times this past year. That’s probably more than I did in the whole of the previous 5 years! I admit that the early weeks were a struggle but, with perseverance, I managed to stick to the plan with amazing ease. I have found it particularly helpful to be able to download the plan onto my iPhone. You can download that here. As usual, the great Tim Challies has produced a list of resources to go along with the plan. These can be found here. Finally, for mutual encouragement and accountability you can access the Facebook page here.

No, it hasn’t made me Godlier or holier and no I don’t think Jesus likes me better than  people who’ve struggled through their devotions this year. At times it has been a chore but after the first few weeks I really got into the groove. Now, I didn’t use it devotionally but instead just read the chapters through at normal reading speed. Like a spiritual shower if you will! Besides this reading I followed my own personal, spiritual routine which enabled me to soak a little longer in the bath! I just found the habit of constantly reading scripture daily nice – that’s all. What I found helpful, particularly when I went through a spiritual ‘dry patch’ in terms of my own devotions, was that I was at least reading huge chunks of scripture as a matter of coarse even when I didn’t really feel like it. Make of that what you will but the point is my head was in the Bible rather than in the TV when I was having some tough times. Remember our faith rests in Christ and not on how we do in these things. Let’s all guard our hearts and watch our motivations.

I hope that we will all grow in truth and grace in 2013 as we wait for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

This is the third most popular blog posting of 2012.

When I came to Niddrie over 4 years ago there was a young woman involved in selling Heroin outside our doors in the car park. Most of the members were oblivious but I spotted it after about 2.1 seconds! Her name was Charlene and she had two young children. Before long she had heard the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and was interested in changing her life. At that time she was under huge pressure from her friends and family. Nearly everybody she knew was an addict of one form or another. It was her culture. It was her life. Slowly but surely she began to see the seriousness and hopelessness of her situation and began to understand the reality of the gospel, her sin predicament and the deep, abiding hope that could only be found in Jesus.

One day, after a particularly bad assault on her out side the church, I took her into the prayer room and read her the riot act. She was losing her life to this drug, she had no real friends and she had lost her children to the social services. She was a bum and her life was going down the toilet. Then, with the help of Sharon, our Women’s Worker, she began to get more serious. She attended an evangelistic Bible study and our weekly Recovery Course at the church and the Lord removed the scales from her eyes. She got ‘proper saved’ (as we say in these parts). It’s been a long, hard slog over the last 2 years but, last week, I had the privilege of baptising her. Over 100 people came to the service (some of her old drug acquaintances) and heard her give a clear testimony to the greatness of Jesus. Here is her story. We praise God for his grace and mercy!

NOTE: Charlene recently got married to one of our deacons and is one of the first local converts to be currently receiving training under our “Apprenticeship” scheme in the church.

A few people have asked me on the scheme about my opinion on the women bishops debate and my Twitter feed and Facebook have been full of those in favour and those against. Everybody has an opinion on this one. My response was to ask my friends whether having women bishops would make them more likely or less likely to go to church. The answer: “We don’t care. We don’t go to church anyway”.

John Stevens has written a thoughtful, robust and very clear article on this issue and I have to say I agree with him wholeheartedly. Take a look at it here.

There was, as usual, a lot of interest in yesterday’s post on the benefits culture in our society. So, here is a re-posting of a blog from earlier this year on the topic. It caused some debate at the time and it is an issue that seems to stir heated emotions across all political divides in the UK.

It’s fair. It’s popular. It’s moral to ensure that families in which people are unemployed but able to work should not get more in benefits than the average family can earn.

Or

It’s arbitrary. It takes no account of the differences in rents and standards of living in different parts of the country. It’s immoral to force vulnerable families out of their homes.

This is how the BBC’s political editor, Nick Robinson summed up the current debate over the government’s plans to put a cap on benefits in the UK. I am uncertain why this particular (small) part of the swinging cuts which are already in place, have suddenly hit the headlines (many other other cuts have affected many thousands of poor families too!). According to Robinson, even if this plan does come into effect, it only saves about £290M from a total budget of £192B and would only affect 1% of all claimants. It’s critics are saying that it is particular damaging because it would make a lot of people homeless and make poor children even poorer by cutting family allowances. The government is coming back by saying that they would put measures in place to avoid this and to ensure a smooth the transition to the new system. (What exactly that gobbledygook means, they have not yet made clear!) I have written on this blog before about the UK benefits system. You can reread it here.

What makes this topic more intriguing to me is that Bishops have now entered the fray to stand up on behalf of the poor and downtrodden. They oppose the measures on the ground that it punishes poor people who have larger households. As I write this, the government has been defeated in the House of Lords. One of it’s most outspoken critics, Rev. John Packer, gives his reasoning for opposing the plans. He said child benefit was

 “a universal benefit” and it was “wrong to see it as being a welfare benefit. It’s a benefit which is there for all children, for the bringing up of all children and to say that the only people who cannot have child benefit are those whose welfare benefits have been capped seems to me to be a quite extraordinary argument.”

Enver Solomon, policy director at The Children’s Society, said it was “delighted” with the results of the vote, arguing it was,

“totally unfair that a small family with a household income of £80,000 a year receive it, yet a large family with a benefit income of £26,000 are excluded”.

So, what should the Christian perspective to this debate be? Who is right and who is wrong? is it even as simple as all that? The media loves a good argument and so they are doing their best to stir up a storm which I think is just unhelpfully polarising what should be a rigorous and serious debate. The Opinionated Vicar offers some sage words here on this particular point.

I am not an economist but £26K a year seems like a good amount of money to me. I think somebody has worked out that in reality you have to earn 35k per year to walk away with that amount in your pocket. I would say that 99%+ of workers in my congregation don’t come close to earning that much money per annum, and yet still manage to run households with small children. I have other friends who work two jobs and still don’t come close to matching that figure. If you want to see how it compares to the national weekly average earning then check out the statistics here.

How have we gotten ourselves into a situation in our country when a government bill to lower the receipts of benefits to a rate still higher than the national weekly wage of a working person, causes outrage and screams of unfairness? It is little wonder that this plan has widespread support amongst the working classes in the UK. Yes, we need to look at the family allowance situation, but I don’t think the church should be getting involved in demonising those in power who are seeking to tackle a social security system that has been a cash cow for generations of families who have absolutely no intention of getting a job in their lives!

Let me be clear that I agree with the bishops when it comes to ensuring that any laws passed do not make the lives of the young and the helpless any more difficult than they already are. Children must not be penalised because their parents do not work. But, I work in a context where the morality underpinning much of this debate (and often overlooked) needs to be broached without the fear of being thought of as some sort of right-wing, poor hating, Capitalist oppressor. In evangelical Christian circles the poor and the oppressed are big business at the moment (rightly so), but too often we can tend to leave God admonitions out of the equation. Many people in our scheme will not work and that is the bottom line. The Bible has a lot to say about laziness, slothfulness, and idleness, and none of it is complimentary (Prov. 15:19; 19:24; 22:13; 26:13-16). God has said, “If any would not work, neither should he eat” (2 Thess. 3:10). One who is too lazy to work or who otherwise refuses to provide for his family “has denied the faith, and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim. 5:8).

Laziness, fuelled by our benefits culture (amongst many other things), has reached epidemic proportions in UK housing schemes (and elsewhere). Too many are simply unwilling to even consider getting a job. On the other hand, when you are in receipt of a benefits package in excess of most monthly salaries, why would you want to? In my observations and personal experience, children in families who are long-term benefits claimants are growing up in a culture where ‘making your own way’ is not exactly a family motto. Many of them are not taught to contribute in the home with household chores, nor even to take responsibility to be good and contributing citizens. They are not given duties and responsibilities. They are not shown how to function, nor are they instilled with a sense of pride in a job well done. So, in my opinion, this debate should be about much more than simply finances. It should be about working hard, taking personal responsibility, providing for the family, helping out your neighbour and seeking to serve the poor and protect the defenceless (children, in this case).

We need a social security system that protects those who really are in need and not just props up the lifestyles of those who view the current status quo as something that is owed them rather than as a stop-gap in order to ensure they move on to gainful employment. Lord Carey agrees. He spoke to the BBC this week (read his statement here) and said,

The welfare system is “fuelling vices and impoverishing us all’. And he said the welfare system, originally designed to tackle “want, disease, ignorance, squalor and idleness”, had become an “industry of gargantuan proportions which is fuelling those very vices and impoverishing us all”.

As a church slap bang in the middle of a housing scheme these are very much live issues for us. They have been for decades and they will continue to be so once the media storm has died down and Middle England has had its say. We need a long-term plan and not a short-term fix to save a few quid. As a church we need to be prayerfully thinking and considering what our responsibility is for our community and how we work out a biblical compassion that is not just limp wristed, hand wringing on the one hand or heavy-handed blame shifting on the other.

The evangelical church has a responsibility on this issue at a local, congregational level as well as offering a national voice. It would be nice to know where the Christian community stands on these things before we offer a cogent alternative to current government policies. As usual on here I am still thinking it through, chewing it over and asking hard questions of myself, the Bible and my own attitudes.

Benefit claimants have been in the news again this week and it prompted me to dig out an old post and somewhat adapt it. I definitely want to blog more on this topic and I am hoping to include a chapter in my upcoming book. For now, here is an old article on the BBC website. Please take the time to read before you continue because it will better help you understand the context.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-13152349.

What is interesting about working in Niddrie is that we are dealing with practically every person categorised on their list of Incapacity Benefit (IB) claimants. I am unsure what they mean by the term ‘unknown causes’. It is a little troubling given that 130,000 (ish) are claiming IB on this basis. This post is not intended to get into the rights and wrongs of this issue but to merely comment on our situation here and my experience (as an ex long-term IB claimant) and now as a pastor working in a predominantly ‘benefit culture’. It is hard to make comments that don’t generate deep felt emotions and/or negative reactions but somebody needs to grab the nettle and admit that, in large part, on estates like ours the benefits system is one big blag (con).

I know so many people making claims and making them for every little thing possible. Some people probably know the system better than the civil servants who run the show! There are many people here who have been on benefits almost all their adult lives and, after housing support, council tax support and other add ons, they are sometimes left with more disposable income than my wife and I who both work! This is one of the reasons why I am uncomfortable with the Western derivation of ‘deprived’. According to government statistics we are the number one most deprived estate in Edinburgh and yet there are many in ‘low income households’ who take more holidays abroad than I do!

Now I am not saying that there are no needy people and that it is not a worthwhile system – on the contrary – but I am stating a FACT that I work in an area where this whole thing is being abused by many. It is ironic that some people around here are livid because their benefits are being cut due to their new classification of being ‘fit to work’. People are (incredibly and unashamedly) appealing decisions (and often winning) arguing against their ‘unfit to work’ status whilst enjoying a life of swimming, running and going to the gym! In my experience lots of the people I work with are not incapable, they just don’t want to work (many people here do have jobs and work hard as well!). They are either lazy, greedy or so trapped in the system that they can’t escape. I recently worked out with one young man in receipt of various benefits that he would have to clear in excess of £1000 per month in order to match what he gets from the state now (including his partner who also claims)!

Now, the Bible has a lot to say on this subject, particularly the book of Proverbs. “As a door turns on its hinges so a fool turns in his bed” (Prov. 26:16)! Of course, when it comes to salvation we are glad that it does not turn on human effort or even a lack of it. It is all of grace and we do well to remind ourselves of that often (Ephesians 2:8-9). As Christians we are not saved by works but to works and one of the discipleship issues for us right now is educating new believers and counselling seekers about this whole issue and what the Bible has to say. When people are saved in our community we put them to work almost immediately and ensure that their lives and minds are filled with something useful and productive.  It is very much integral to our discipleship process.

The problem we find is that the Bible is often a big, fat slap in the face for many of our people here in Niddrie. A group of us were considering this verse recently. “He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need” (Eph. 4v28). Needless to say it went down like a lead balloon in our culture of ‘the world owes me a living’!

Obviously, our job here is to present the gospel of Jesus Christ in all its fullness. We are not here to moralise to them about their so-called life choices. We hold forth Christ and we work hard as a church to hold out a real life, counter cultural model right bang in the middle of this estate. It is hard and it is slow but it has to be done. I only ask that people are realistic about the nature of a large proportion (Niddrie is changing as young professionals move in – that is a whole other challenge!) of the people we are trying to reach. There is a lot of liberal hand wringing by people who don’t live here, there is a lot of misrepresentation of those who do genuinely qualify for state assistance (and there are many of these also) and there is a lot of silly romanticising in Christian circles about ‘the poor’ like they’re some naive and helpless people group we’ve got to save. We do have to reach out to them but we have to do it with our eyes open, with a good deal of realism and a with great belief in the gospel to transform lives and worldviews. I believe that only genuine spiritual transformation can bring about any real and lasting social change.

If a man will not work, he will not eat (2 Th. 3:10) is a biblical truism no longer functioning in our society. Still, we employ the principle here at NCC. If you want our help you have to be prepared to work for it as well. The only truly ‘free’ thing we have to offer is the gospel. The issue, once converted, for many in our culture is discipleship and Lordship issues. The gospel is all of grace but it also requires a life of discipline and hard work. These things are a shock to the system in a culture where people will gladly take the benefits (if you pardon the pun) of Christ but find the ‘walking in obedience’ part goes against the grain. We often find that people who come sniffing around to see what they can get from us soon get bored and wander off once we set them even the most menial tasks to complete. Others, find salvation, and are slowly but surely beginning to rebuild their lives in a community that loves them, disciples them, cares for them but requires them to play their part and to be givers instead of takers.

Please take and use this video on your blogs/Facebook pages and even consider showing it in your church service(s). 20schemes is making more contacts across Scotland every week with people and churches looking for support in some of the country’s poorest areas. We currently have several openings in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee & Selkirk. Most of these opportunities are with existing works in desperate need of revitalisation and at least two of them are start-ups.
If you would like us to come and speak at your church/event about the work then please do not hesitate to contact me: mez@niddrie.org. Otherwise, contact us through our website at www.20schemes.com.

Yesterday was a great day for NCC as we witnessed the baptism of 5 people; 4 grown men and my 11-year-old daughter, Keziah. I am going to put all of the testimonies on the site over the next few days but I am starting with Keziah today.

It was amazing listening to the stories of how different men had battled prison, drugs, mental health and family breakdown before the lord Jesus stepped into their lives and saved them. But, for me, as a dad and as a man with a similar testimony to the lads, I was moved by Keziah’s simple claim that she had ‘grown up in a Christian family.’

Wherever I travel in the country people always try to get me to tell my story because, I suspect, they love to hear the (supposed) excitement of it compared to their ‘boring and traditional’ stories. But, let me tell you, I would swap mine for the ‘Christian home’ story all day long. The point is we all need salvation, whether we’re a 40-year-old ex crack addict or an 11-year-old, drama loving school girl. Same sin problem, same wrath, same Jesus, same need of repentance and faith and same justification. The sanctification process is going to look a little messier but we all end up in glory. I hope you all enjoy the testimonies over the next few days.

In all the recent talk of the city as the main focus of church planting and theological thought (at least in many quarters) it seems that rural ministry is a bit like the ugly girl at a wedding. Everybody knows she’s there but nobody wants to dance with her. It’s not my intent to talk about rural ministry in-depth in this article, but I am determined to highlight the plight of what we at 20schemes are terming rural housing schemes scattered throughout Scotland in what are often – incorrectly – thought of as less deprived areas than their urban counterparts.

Doubtless, our Western world is urbanising, and has been since the industrial revolution. The poor and needy on the fringes need Christ and they need gospel centred churches in which to grow and mature. But the massive gospel deficiency in rural areas in the UK is just as pressing and as needful of deep thought, concern, discussion, theologising and church planting action. Of course, this site is a forum for inner city housing schemes but I have been struck recently by the plight of rural areas as we at 20Schemes have gone about researching the need for health churches across Scotland.

During the research we have carried out in the last couple of years, we have discovered the existence of a great many invisible housing schemes in rural areas across the country. Why is this phenomenon not being widely reported in Evangelical church planting circles in our country? The problem, according to a recent report (Jan 2012) from the University of Dundee, is that the way we measure deprivation in our nation is somewhat faulty. For example, we read:

The conventional practice of using geographic units to analyse deprivation misses small pockets of deprivation in rural areas – when counts of deprived people rather than deprived places are used, the difference in deprivation between rural and urban areas is substantially narrowed.

How, therefore, is deprivation measured in Scotland?

According to the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD), there are 7 key factors to take into account when looking at terming an area ‘deprived’:

  1. Income (based on the receipt of key, means tested benefits, tax credits or pension credits)
  2. Employment (based on receipt of out of work benefits)
  3. Health (based on deaths, receipt of sickness benefits, hospital admissions and drug prescriptions)
  4. Education, skills and training (Based on the level of qualifications, participation in education or training and absences from schools)
  5. Housing (based on overcrowding and lack of central heating)
  6. Geographic access to services (based on public transport and drive times to key services)
  7. Crime (based on recorded offences)

Urban Deprivation v Rural Deprivation

Does it make any real difference whether you live in a scheme in the inner city or on the outskirts of a rural town? Well, there some major differences it has to be said. For example, startlingly, we have discovered that geographic access to services (based on public transport and drive times to key services) is 10 times worse if you live in a rural scheme than if you live in an urban one.

There are some researchers who feel that the data used to define deprivation in Scotland is skewed toward urban and industrialised areas. So, for instance, the rural poor may live in a nicer area (and thus not be qualified deprived according to the majority of the 7 factors noted), but they are far more likely to be socially excluded and have a greater struggle with isolation given where they live. According to Dr Donald Houston from the University of St Andrews and Dr Alistair Geddes from the University of Dundee:

Deprivation in urban areas tends to be geographically concentrated in certain neighbourhoods. In contrast, in rural areas deprivation often exists at the scale of streets rather than whole neighbourhoods.

What does this mean for 20Schemes and our vision? Well, at the very least it means that we will be recruiting church planters and male and female gospel workers for rural schemes alongside urban ones. These rural areas may not feature high up on the SIMD but they are a high priority for us as we seek to plant and/or revitalise gospel work in all of Scotland’s needy areas. Watch this space for further discussion and developments on these and other important issues in the coming weeks and months.

(Much of this information has been taken from The Church of Scotland Mission & Discipleship Council Rural Strategy  – “Understanding Rural Deprivation Report”, January 2012)

Here are some resources from the Geneva Push 2011 Conference. As with all things, this is not a wholehearted recommendation for all of the content. But it is worth a perusal. Click here.