Thursday, December 21, 2006

The blood that cries a better word (2)

graced said...
  • hi, i agree. I am wondering if you can answer a question for me? If Jesus' sacrifice was enough to redeem lost sinners who accept that sacrifice, why then does Jesus need to be forever interceding on our behalf to the Father?

There's two things at work here as I understand it. first there is the work of the cross, the work of redemption through Christ's sacrifice on our behalf. This is the finished work of atonement. Second, there is the ongoing intercessory work of Jesus. This is neither redemptive nor atoning, it's part of what the writer to the Hebrews describes as his (Jesus) priestly function. It doesn't necessarily mean that Jesus is constantly praying for us, but that he represents us before God.

I guess if you take the courtroom image beloved by evangelicals, then the picture is that of Jesus providing a constant reminder to the Father of what he has done for us on the cross. Where we would expect judgement we receive mercy and grace because Jesus, by his presence, intercedes for us.

I'm sure there are other images at work, but I hope this helps.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Jesus: Friend of sinners

There's a song we sing sometimes at church that speaks about the name of Jesus. From memory it says:

Jesus, what a beautiful name, Son of God, Son of Man, Lamb that was slain...

When I think of all the names that we associate with Jesus, the one that most touched my heart is not a name, it's an insult: Friend of sinners.

The religious people used this to describe Jesus because they thought he spent too much of his time mixing with the wrong people. In fact they even suggested that he couldn't be who he claimed to be on account of the people with whom he chose to spend his time.

The argument went something like this:

If you've come from God then you should know who you're dealing with. You should know that this woman or that man is not a good person. They don't keep the rules, they don't use the right language, they aren't acceptable. If you are who you claim to be, you should not be friends with those kinds of people.

Sound familiar?

How often does has the church said something similar in the past?

I remember when I first came to Christ how I was warned about the potential negative influence of spending too much time with non-Christians. If I did spend time with them, then it was strictly evangelistic, and if I spent too much time with them I was probably falling away from faith.

My hope these days is that the church becomes known as a safe place for "sinners". I hope that one day our reputation will not be for being too religious but simply of being a friend to those who need a friend.

Cotton End Baptist Church, friend of sinners. It has a nice ring to it don't you think.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Surfulater-sorting and collating research

I know everyone who lives on planet Mac probably has a widget for collecting and collating information from the Internet and on their computers, but if you don't live in that world then you might like to try Surfulater.

I've just downloaded it and it looks quite useful.

At it's simplest it lets you link files and web pages together in a knowledge tree structure. you can add notes and you can edit pages and files form within the program.

I've been looking for something that might help me tame the information jungle and this looks quite good and it's cheap (less than £20).

You can find it here.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Jesus: The Lord saves

The most amazing thing about the nativity story isn’t the unusual circumstances of the birth of Jesus, nor is it in the detailed fulfilment of Old Testament prophecies. It isn’t even in the wonderful thought that God sent his son into the world.

The amazing thing is that he came. God himself came into our world. And he came for us.
… he did what no man had ever dreamed. He became flesh and dwelt among us. He placed his hand upon the shoulder of humanity and said, “You’re something special”.

Max Lucado, In the Grip of Grace

Iraneus, an historian of the early church said:

The Word of God, Jesus Christ, on account of his great love for mankind, became what we are in order to make us what he is himself.

And in becoming one of us, he took a most common name, Jesus.

It’s a wonderful name. A precious name. A favourite name (1200+ times in the New Testament), although sometimes a name we hardly dare use in common speech. And therein lies the problem. Separated by two thousand years of history, we’ve forgotten one simply truth about his name.

It was a common name.

Jospehus, the Jewish historian, refers to around 20 people called Jesus. The New Testament knows of Jesus Justus, the friend of Paul, and Bar-Jesus the sorcerer on Paphos. Some manuscripts even suggest that Jesus was the first name of Barabbas.

Which would like me to release to you? Jesus Barabbas or Jesus called Messiah?

Perhaps few names speak so powerfully of both his divinity and humanity than Jesus. Jesus, the man from down the street. Jesus the one you’d invite back for tea a second time. Approachable, touchable. The kind of person who is so ordinary that you wouldn’t notice him except for his sociability.

But he’s also God. Able to still a storm with a single word, or to command sickness or worse to leave a person’s body. And if you met him, and if you fell at his feet and called him Lord, he wouldn’t reject your respect. But it’s just possible that he might take you by the hand, lift you to your feet and say, “Just call me Jesus”

Friday, December 08, 2006

Messiah—Anointed One

“Jesus Christ” slips off the tongue of saint and sinner alike. For one it’s simply an exclamation, for the other a name, albeit a very important name. But how often do we stop to think about the implications of such a name? What does it mean to proclaim Jesus to be the Christ, the Anointed One, the Messiah. To the Jews of the first century it meant a lot.

For the Jews of the first century the long awaited Messiah would come and set things straight: sort out Rome and Herod, reinstate the nation, re-establish the kingdom and renew the religious practices of the people. So, when Peter declares Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of the Living God, it’s quite a statement. But what does it mean to be the Christ?

To be the Anointed One means to be the king.

Wise men saw a star in the east, so we are told. “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?” they asked. To be king was the birthright of Jesus. While the Jews were waiting for a conquering king, Jesus turns this expectation upside down. He teaches his disciples about his betrayal and death. Nothing he says indicated a conquering hero putting right the wrongs of history. His purpose went deeper than that. He hadn’t come to provide temporary relief from the political ills of Roman rule. He came to put things right on an eternal scale. Changing governments can be accomplished through the ballot box, dealing with sin takes and event of cosmic significance.

This king came to die before he came to rule.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Immanuel—God with us

The problem with the familiarity of the Christmas story is not that it becomes so ordinary that we lose sight of its wonder, but that it becomes so extraordinary that we lose sight of its ordinariness.

The wonder of the story arises directly from its ordinariness. A one-camel town in the northern region of an occupied country. A simple tradesman’s family, not destitute but not wealthy either. A first son, born in unusual circumstances, but not in a palace, not even in a house. An ordinary upbringing, learning the family trade, going to lessons. So little of significance that no one ever bothered to write any of it down.

But this ordinary story is made extraordinary by the central figure, Jesus. He didn’t carry his father’s name, because Joseph wasn’t his true father. He had the rough hands of a carpenter, but that was not his life’s work.

At the centre of this simple story is the amazing claim that God became human. That the creator of the universe, so long untouchable by human hands, now lay resting in the arms of the wife of a carpenter.

Instead of being “up there”, wherever “up there” might be, he entered history in order to change history. God was now “down here”, living in our very midst. God was with us—Immanuel.

As Max Lucado puts it: Christ travelled from limitless eternity to be confined by time in order to become one of us.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Advent for Protestants!

Jeff asked about resources for Advent in a comment on a previous post. Sorry to say that I don’t know of much that is available (although skip towards the end for a couple of books that I’ve found helpful). Over the years I’ve had to write stuff for myself and this is how I’ve done it.

For me, the value of Advent is in the opportunity to slow down and appreciate the wonder of God’s self-revelation through his Son. Christmas is such a rush when we try to pack the whole story into the small box that is a traditional Carol Service. So I’ve always tried to think a little outside the box to make the most of the time.

In case this is a completely foreign land to you, Advent consists of the four weeks running up to Christmas counted using the Sundays. So, this year, the first Sunday in Advent is December 3rd and the fourth will be Christmas Eve.

We make a decision to start using more overtly Christmas songs from the first Sunday, slowly building towards our Carol Service when we will sing many of the traditional carols with one or two more recent songs. We don’t want to sing all the same carols every week for four weeks, so we try to draw up a working list for the four weeks. Our style of worship makes this reasonably easy to do. We also make sure we frame our worship around the theme of the incarnation for these four Sundays.

Visually, we begin to decorate the church over this time too. It’s the advantage of having a building that you can do this. But there are other ways. We have artists in the church who do backdrops (we built a stable stage set one year!) and we’re trying to do some creative window designs (we have plain glass in our windows). We also have an Advent wreath. This has five candles on it, and we light one, then two, then three etc, week by week.

As to the themes we use, well I’ve mostly done those myself. It usually starts with something familiar within the context of the nativity story and I work out from there. So this year my theme is Love Unlimited and we’ll look at this through the eyes of the incarnation but we won’t start there. At the moment I’m working on exactly how I’m going to do this (I’ve been unwell for a couple of weeks and got really behind with the planning). I’m trying to work out the overall plan for the Carol Service and then use that to shape the weeks running up to it. Here’s the basic outline:

Love Unlimited

Promised in the past: What God said through the prophets and the Old Testament story
Anticipated at the time: What were people waiting for? What are people looking for today?
Fulfilled in Christ’s coming:
Completed in his time: A look at God’s purposes and future promises (probably!)

Some things may change as I work on these ideas, but you get the flavour.

Past themes have included looking at the nativity through the eyes of the different players. So we’ve done Mary’s story, Joseph’s story, the shepherds’ story. We’ve done things like Christmas Unwrapped, Not just for Christmas (how the story of Jesus affects the whole of life) and one year we looked at the names of Jesus and what they mean. So we did Emmanuel, Messiah, and Jesus (I can’t remember the fourth one of the top of my head).

This was last year’s poster and invitation.

One resource that does come to mind is a book by Max Lucado called One Incredible Moment. This is an anthology of extracts from many of his books. The narrative style lends itself to be read in services and I try to write in a similar style for the narrative parts of our events. Another Max Lucado book for Christmas is God came near.

We’ve also used videos. We’ve used some of the videos available through people like Midnight Oil and we’ve done some ourselves. Willow Creek have some great music and we’ve used music, PowerPoint etc to provide moments of reflection during services.

Okay, hope that helps and inspires.

Monday, November 27, 2006

The Wonder of God's Mercy (2)

Recently David posted this comment on a previous entry:

I loved your blog, and I think it's a good conversation starter. I was wondering if you knew any Bible verses that back up that "grace is getting what you don't deserve."

The reason I ask, is that the Bible doesn't seem to back up that definition of grace too well. It seems more like grace is a characteristic of God rather than simply something He grants. In other words- Grace is the reason God does what He does (and that includes both justice and mercy).

I've been giving this some thought, and the bottom line is I don't have a verse, but I do the bible. Now I don't mean to sound arrogant or clever, but my point is this: I think the Bible supports this as a definition of grace, just as it supports the definition of mercy and justice. Actually the three part definition of justice, mercy and grace are meant to take us on a journey.

When you hear people talk about the outcome of some trial or court-case they talk about justice. They talk about the offender getting what he or she deserves, or more commonly that they don't. Every time a police officer is killed, there are those who call for the return of the death penalty in the UK. Or every time there is a case involving children or drunk drivers. We want to see justice.

But now put yourself in the position of standing before God. Do you want justice for yourself? Do you want to get what you deserve for everything, and I mean everything you've ever done?now? Didn't think so.

So we look for mercy. Mercy knows you've been speeding, but lets you off with a warning to slow down rather than a ticket. I guess it's what we call discretion when dealing in human affairs. Mercy says, "I forgive you", but that's as far as it goes.

Both of these are character traits of God, but the best is yet to come. Not only does God always act justly (no room to say, "That's not fair"), but he is merciful too. But there's more and that's where grace comes into it.

Not only does God forgive us but he gives us more than we bargained for. To be forgiven is one thing, to be showered with his love, that's something else. He forgives and he restores. He forgives and he reinstates.

So no, I don't suppose I could point to a single verse that defines grace as "getting what we don't deserve", but I think this is truly the heart of the good news both about Jesus and the good news that Jesus is in himself.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Advent 2006

In the past I've probably been guilty of making too little of advent. After 15 years in ministry, coming up with another Christmas service let alone four weeks of Christmas themed services, gets a little harder. It was a few years ago now that I decided personally to make more of advent.

I made this decision because I thought it honoured the church and the story to give it more time. All the stuff of a commercial Christmas squeezes the story into the smallest space possible, and we, I was guilty of doing that at church too. So now we have advent. Maybe not an advent that everyone would recognise, but we give ourselves time to appreciate the wonder of God's story.

Over the four weeks leading up to Christmas we'll sing Christmas songs as part of our worship, we'll share aspects of the story and we'll build up to our carol service instead of rushing headlong towards it. At least that's my hope. Our theme this year is: God's unlimited love. Here's our Christmas invitation.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

I hope you have a great advent too, and your expereince of God's unlimited love is deepened over the next few weeks.

Sunday, November 19, 2006


Jeff asked about the postcard. Well, this is where you can find it.
I could send it as a Publisher file, or even a pdf, if you wanted.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The blood that cries forgiveness

You have come to Jesus, the one who mediates the new covenant between God and people, and to the sprinkled blood, which graciously forgives instead of crying out for vengeance as the blood of Abel did. (Hebrews 12:24)

The blood of the second son of Adam cried out for revenge, the blood of the only Son of God cries out forgiveness. We need to hear the second cry louder than the first.

The truth, the whole truth and nothing like the truth

Occasionally I get unsolicited emails telling me stories that either I know to be untrue, or that I later discover to be untrue. As a rule I never forward any of these messages.

Recently Conrad Gempf posted a reflection on how our complicity in perpetuating urban legends could impact how our faith story is perceived by others.

If you are easily tempted to pass on stories, and who amongst us doesn't pass on stories, that either come to you as email or by word of mouth, then this blog by Conrad Gempf deserves your thoughtful attention.

On the other hand, if you prefer a good conspiracy theory then try Andy White's Ebay post!

Monday, November 13, 2006

Emerging into to new ways of doing mission

When we began our series on Acts at church, we produced a postcard about Being part of God's Big Plan. It listed the following items:

Just walk across the room • Seek to serve • Show kindness • Show mercy • Pay attention • Share your story • Listen to someone else’s story • Ask open questions • Be natural • Let God lead you • Giveaway time • Ask God for opportunities • Get involved in something outside of church • Be generous • Be a good neighbour • Pray for someone • Be available • Spend time with the missing • Do what’s doable • Exploit the ordinary

Just recently I discovered, and found a comparison between traditional "outreach" and emerging "withreach". What interested me was the list of characterisitcs for "withreach".

You'll have to see the whole thing to get the comparison, I just wanted to think about those things about "withreach" that connect with being outwardly focused and a part of God's big plan.

What challenges me particularly is that for far too many years I feel that we, the church, have disconnected the mission mandate of Jesus (the Great Commission) from the fundamental challenge to Love God and love our neighbour (the Great Commandment). I seem to remember that somewhere in The Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren talks about a great committment to the Great Commission and the Great Commandment makes great Christians.

I still struggle, but I'm trying to hold these two things together. I'm trying to love my community into the kingdom of God, but it's not as easy at it looks!

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Two new places to explore

I came across these two related sites which have some interesting ideas on them.

Breakthrough Media and the Withreach conversation blog.

I liked the "attractional" compared to "incarnational" conversation starter.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Video killed the radio star

Okay so I'm no star and unless you are my generation you will have to use google to work out the reference of the title of this post, but every post needs a title!

Part of my current role as a minister is to act as the moderator for another nearby Baptist Church while they have no minister of their own. Given the baptist principle of the priesthood of all believers it seems a bit strange to have this position, but if it helps I'm happy to serve.

Anyway, they've been struggling to get preachers for Sunday services so I've stepped in and done several on video for them. It's been an interesting experience for everyone! For me it's meant preparing a sermon and the delivering it to an empty church whilst recording it on video. This has been quite a challenge. I've actually imagined the congregation being there and preached to them rather than doing it simply to camera.

I've then had to capture and edit the video and then create a final cut to hand over to the church for use. I'd say it's taken on average a day to preach, edit and produce one 30-40 minute talk. That doesn't include preparing the talk which I guess takes me around 10 to 15 hours. It's really hard to say because I don't just sit down and do it in one go, but I wander around with the idea in my head for days. I jot stuff down in a notebook and on my computer(s) (I'm really looking forward to Scrybe going live and giving it a go).

So, overall it's been quite draining for me personally, but what has it meant to the congregation that sits and watches a video rather than a live preacher? Well, they've actually enjoyed it. Once they got use to the idea that I was on the screen rather than there in person, it seems to have gone down rather well.

It's not a massively slick process yet, but I'm beginning to think that this could serve us well as God moves us towards the possibilities of multi-site church. Often we think we just don't have the resources to service such an endeavour, but maybe we are wrong. The church that's used the videos has live worship and live everything else apart from the message. We're even thinking that this is a way that I can preach there once a month without having to be there every month, just maybe every three months. This isn't because I don't want to go, it's just the reality of trying to serve two congregations.

Anyway, if you're in a similar situation, or even if you need to tap into some resources, try looking at a video series, it might work for you too. And if you want to video yourself, then with a simple DV camera and the right software, it's not that difficult to make it yourself. I'm off to my dressing room for a lie down and a massage!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

There is no future in frustration

I have this quote on my wall. I can't remember exactly where it comes from originally. I think it may be from Don Carson's book on prayer, which, if memory serves, is called Transforming Prayer. The book is a great expositional read of Paul's prayers.

Anyway, the quote sits on my wall and acts as a regular reminder that frustration will not solve the problems or address the issues. Last night one of our core leaders expressed a sense of frustration as he shared his concerns about the busyness of church and the time it steals from us all, hijacking our availability to be involved with the community. He spoke passionately about his own personal lack of connection with unchurched folk. I was moved.

His second concern was for the poor and how we serve the poor, not only in our community but in the world at large.

I hear his cry. It's my cry too. As a minister I find myself easily cut-off from the world outside the church. I have to make the effort to connect. And I too wonder about the effectiveness of my efforts.

My fellow leader said he was thinking of volunteering for our village care scheme. That's a great idea. Serving the local community is one of the things I feel the church should be best at. We also talked about how we use our money as a local church. I've posted before about my idea for an upside-down thermometer (the idea of setting aside some of our budget to give to the community as grants for small projects etc), but there's more. We tithe our church income and I'd like to see us being very clear about what proportion of that goes to relieving poverty and oppression wherever it might be. I'd like to see us move towards giving away a greater percentage of our income too.

What fascinates me is that earlier this year it looked like we were going to have a large hole in our finances. So we prayed and we gave and we more than closed that gap. Now, closer to our year-end, it's becoming clear that we've underspent and although we've under-given compared to what we said we would give, we don't look as if the hole is going to be there as we thought.

So God blessed us with a challenge, and he blessed us as we gave. We could just take the gift day money and add it to our building fund for the improvements we want to make. But I think we should ask God what we should do now. Perhaps he's done this because there is something really creative and lavish he wants us to do now we know we're safe. And even if we were not "safe" finanicially, we're a people of faith. If God calls us to give then should we not respond by giving?

I hope, and pray, that God will reveal this to us, and that we will be willing to listen.

Friday, November 03, 2006

A great looking application

I don't know yet, but having watched the video for Scrybe, it looks like a great application. I only came across it because I follow a blog by one of my tutors from college days and he only came across it because someone he knows blogged about it.

Ah the power for good that lies within the internet.

The demo video is here.

Palaces and kings

I wrote a post a little while ago about a verse about palaces and kings. You may not have noticed, I didn't, that I'd missed a "not" from the title. This is not without precedent, who hasn't heard the story of the Bible printed without the "not" in the commandments?

Anyway, without the "not" it read A Beautiful palace does make a great king! Of course it should have read:

A beautiful palace does not make a great king!

Now it makes more sense.

Of course, if you're like me you may well have read the title correctly because you knew it only made sense with the "not" in it. It's just one of those things that happens when you type. It puts me in mind of something that happened during my probationer years as a Baptist minister.

Because I didn't go to a Baptist college there were a few extra hoops for me to jump through before I could become an accredited minister. One of these hoops involved studying Baptist history and principles. Having completed the required study I wrote to my college supervisor about it all and meant to say...

Sitting the exams and doing the denominational studies was not really a bad experience.

Unfortunately I once again missed out the required "not". But I didn't realise that at the time, and was very confused when my supervisor said she thought it was important that we sat and talked about this experience. It was only two years later when I changed supervisor (my original supervisor moved away, not my fault I hasten to add!), that I reread our correspondence and realised my mistake. Hastily I wrote to my new supervisor to let him know about the error before I found myself referred to the minister's counselling service!

I wonder what word might be missing from this post?

PS I've corrected the title of the previous post in case you've just looked and wondered what I thought I'd missed!

Thursday, November 02, 2006

My personal mission statement

The outward focused life is the subject of another blog to which I make occassional contributions. The blog can be found here. This post will also appear there in due course.

Being outwardly focused is only part of the lifestyle to which I aspire. On the wall of my study I have a personal mission statement. It reads like this:

Prayerfully motivated; outwardly focused; evangelistically active.

Being outwardly focused is in the middle for good reason. At first it fell there because that is how I wrote out the three part statement, but as time has gone on, I now realise that it is no accident that that it falls between prayerful motivation and evangelistic activity.

I want everything I do to be motivated by my relationship with God. Without prayer I lurch from one good idea to the next without much thought about its place in the overall scheme of things. I’m often aware that too much of the time we seek to involve God in what we are doing rather than seeking to involve ourselves in what he is doing.

I pray both specific prayers and general prayers. I ask God for direction and opportunities in particular areas of life and ministry and I also ask God for what you might call his general guidance as I go about my daily life. For example, I know God wants me to notice people and demonstrate his love towards them, so I can pray generally for an open heart and for open eyes in all sorts of circumstances. This is what I mean when I think about being prayerfully motivated.

Being outwardly focused has to have its roots in a prayerful openness to God’s purposes, otherwise it becomes little more than an exercise in good will to all men. I want to be a nice person, I want to be a kind person, but that’s not all I want to be!

Being evangelistically active gives me the context for being outwardly focused. It reminds me that the ultimate goal of my outward life is to point people towards the amazing God who has loved us and who offers us forgiveness and leadership, reconciliation and hope. It reminds me that I must add conversations to my actions, I must be prepared to a give a reason for my hope to paraphrase one New Testament writer. I don’t get many opportunities to help people “cross the line of faith”, but I get plenty of opportunities to help them on their way.

The more I seek to live an outward life, the more I realise that I need to keep my motivation and context connected with the purposes of God. My personal mission statement helps me do that.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Always needing a better reason

Is it my imagination or are we always in need of a better reason to do something than a reason not to do it? Sometimes I wonder whether "walking in the ways of the Lord" is enough these days. Maybe it's always been the case.

Serving God should be a joy in and of itself, but so often it needs to be the better alternative. And the problem is that the alternative is often less demanding or higher quality or more convenient. Even as a church leader I find myself thinking I need inspiration when what I actually need is self-discipline. Thinking I need encouragement when what I actually need is commitment, thinking I need recognition and affirmation when I need obedience and faithfulness.

So today, I recommit myself to serve the Lord my God with all my heart, soul, strength and mind because that is what I've chosen to do and now my life is not my own but hidden with Christ.

If you are serving God, have a great day and be blessed because you are "walking in the ways of the Lord".

And if you're not serving God, then have a great day too. Why should you miss out on the blessing?

Friday, October 27, 2006

A great week away

Just in case you thought I'd disappeared...

We;ve just come back from a week away in the Canary Islands. Temperatures in the high 20's (Celsius), wandering around Lava fields and cactus gardens... it was a great week. And then there was the pool.

With my newly developed water skills, you couldn't keep me out of the water. Everyday I went for a morning swim, a lunchtime swim, an afternoon swim and I'd have gone in for a swim after dinner if my wife would have let me!

People may laugh at me in my goggles and earplugs, but I had a lot of fun in the water. Not even my big sister probably thought she'd hear me say that!

Friday, October 13, 2006

A beautiful palace does not make a great king!

As I read this verse (it's from Jeremiah by the way), it struck me that too much attention can be paid to the wrong thing too often in life. I guess you could rephrase this verse with regard to the church:

A beautiful building does not make a great church!

In our current series on Acts at church we took a look recently at what might make a great church. We read Acts 2:42-47, well known verses for those who’ve spent their time thinking about what church should be. Perhaps a great church is characterised by great teaching, great fellowship, great prayer, great worship, great reputation and great outcomes. The problem comes when you try to define greatness. What does great worship look like? Is it all about thundering hymns and big choirs or is it all about intimate contemporary worship songs? Or what about great service, what might that entail?

How do we define greatness in the church?

Perhaps, when we think of greatness, we think more about what Jesus said about doing greater things than these, than we do about what he said about greater love has no one than this, that he (or she) lays down their life for their friends. Perhaps our definitions of greatness are still a little upside down.
A beautiful building does not make a great church, but I know a great God who loves the church he’s promised to build and I’m praying that what he builds will be a great church that reflects his great character.

PS More worrying is that you could rephrase the quote: A great church does not make a great church leader. Now that is something to ponder.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Do you love them enough to laugh with them?

Last weekend I went with several members of our leadership team to the Global Leadership Summit, a Willow Creek Association event that happens every year. I think this is the second year that it has been done in the UK using DVD's of the talks and interviews.

I loved the live event when I went to Chicago in 2004 and I was thrilled that my leadership team were interested in going to the UK event. It was worth the effort, and the discomfort of a sore neck, to listen to some great talks and some fascinating interviews. I can't imagine any other evangelical organisation having the guts to invite non-Christians to speak at an event on the basis that they had something to say that we needed to hear. I know that the Summit is aimed at a wide cross-section of people, but it is unashamedly Christian throughout it's presentation. I'm glad they have the courage to do what they do, and if you get the chance to go next year (it will be around the same time) then go. It's worth the effort.

Anyway, praising the summit is not the purpose of this post, it's a by-product.

What intrigued me happened during an interview session between Bill Hybels and Jim Collins, best known for Good to Great and Built to Last, two books I haven't read. The interview was great and our leadership team had a lot to talk about afterwards. What was really interesting too, beyond the actual content, was the relationship Bill Hybles has developed with Jim Collins.

Early on in the discussion Bill says to Jim, "You're sounding more Christian every-time I hear you speak." Later he talks about Jim Collins' spiritual journey and how he has great hopes that he will find his way into God's hands. Now under other circumstances this would be awkward and over the top, but they just seem to have such a great relationship that Bill Hybels can tell Jim Collins how much he's praying for him, and Jim Collins can quip back and they laugh together. Imagine that! Having such a good relationship with the people that you are actively sharing your with that they feel comfortable laughing with you about their spiritual journey.

I got the sense that Jim Collins knew exactly where Bill Hybels stood and Bill Hybels knew where Jim Collins stood, and they were okay with that. At any time they could have a conversation about spiritual things and that would be okay, or not and that would be okay too. They respected each other and it showed.

I wonder if the people with whom I'm trying to share my faith see me in the same way? I wonder if they'd be comfortable enough with me that neither of us would have to worry about offending each other if the conversation turned spiritual or felt that we should avoid such topics in order to avoid embarrassing silences or awkward changes of direction. I wonder.

I wonder if I love them enough to laugh with them and tell them to drive carefully or look after themselves because heaven is going to be sadder place if they're not their with me. I wonder if I have the patience to wait for God to do his work and the faith to trust that he loves them more than I can ever love them and that he doesn't want them to miss out on eternity with him either.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

How do we minister to the poor?

We’re doing some more thinking about the church and the vision and direction of the journey to which God has called us. As we look to the future that is unfolding in front us, our deepest desire is to follow God along the journey rather than try to set the pace ourselves. But how do you know if you’re following appropriately?

Assuming we’re praying and listening to what he is saying, there’s a degree of wisdom that come into play. Wisdom is the sense that we probably already know quite a lot about what Jesus wants us to do, we just need to put it into practice.

Take for instance the way he announces his ministry: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me … to preach good news to the poor, freedom to the prisoners, relief to the oppressed etc.

How can we inculcate these ideas into the life of the church? Perhaps one way is redefine how we give. As a church we set our budget annually in November for the coming year. As part of our budget we set aside 10% of our income to be given away.

As a symbol of our commitment to the mission of Jesus perhaps we ought to give a portion of that money directly to the relief of poverty and oppression in the world. The plan might look something like this: One third of our giving goes to support mission at home in the UK, one third to support mission overseas and one third to address poverty and oppression wherever it exists.

If Jesus meant what he said, then maybe we ought to mean it too.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Echoing Isaiah

"Lord, here I am, send me." I wonder how Isaiah felt when he spoke these words? Did he feel ready, did he feel able, gifted, prepared for the job?

I know that I often feel weak, useless, and ungifted. I know that I have a mental list of a hundred other people more gifted, more spiritual, more able than me. And I know that this is just the way I feel and that these are just feelings.

I know too that this is not how God sees me.

So I can come to God and echo the words of Isaiah, not because I have some great gift to offer God, but because I have myself. And that's all I have and all I can give. So I give it all to God again.

There is no greater cause to serve that the purposes of God in my generation.

Lord, here I am, send me.

When reaching others is about being there

I came across this story on one of the blogs I follow. It's very moving and challenges me personally about my approach to people who drift away from God.

Thank you to Mike who posted the story. Bless you for your tenacity.

I won't let go.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Only 72 hours

Last weekend we used our morning celebration at church to talk about our youthwork. We're not a big church, but in common with most churches I know, youth and children's work is always "high demand" when it comes to volunteers needed. That's a good thing, it's not a criticism. Often, the youth team are the ones reaching out, trying new things and generally doing stuff. It's no wonder they need support.

But it's not just about programmes.

We have a group of teenage young people with whom we've been working for some time (5 or 7 years maybe). In the summer, as we talked about the new term coming, we thought about how long we've got left working with these young people. We guessed it was probably another two years before they become too old for a youth programme.

Now think about how long that is when you break it down to an hour a week during term-time.

It comes down to 72 hours.

That's 3 days to make a difference in a young person's life. Just 3 days. What can you achieve in 3 days?

Actually quite a lot.

Take me for example. I learnt to swim in 3 days. Or if you want a better example, Jesus died, dealt with sin, and came back to life. And by the way we usually measure time, he did all that in less than three days.

I believe that God can achieve a lot in 3 days if we'll give him the 3 days.

Can you find 3 days for God?

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Legislating morality and ethics

I was just wondering to myself, in the light of recent news items...

Do we try to legislate morality and ethics because no-one is willing to live out a example to follow?

It seems to me that the only alternative then becomes trying to enforce a lifestyle through rewards and punishments because no-one is saying, "Here's a better way to live, follow me."

Although Jesus did.

Have a read of this.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

In at the shallow end

So here’s the thing.

When I was around 9 years old we went swimming with the school. I can’t remember how long we did this, but the simple truth of the matter is that I never got it. I never figured out how you stayed afloat. All I seem to remember was that we’d all line up across the pool and the teacher would say swim to the 5-foot line and stop. All I was thinking was “how?” I don’t remember anyone being in the water teaching us even the most basic of skills.

Well, after 40 years as a non-swimmer I’m proud to announce that I finally managed to achieve that something that eluded me when I was 9. With the help of a great teacher, in the course of 6 one-hour lessons, I’ve gone from being apprehensive and uncomfortable in water to feeling comfortable and able to be in control.

What has amazed me, apart from going from non-swimmer to front crawl in 6 hours, is that when I shared some of the things I was learning with Anne, my wife, she’d never been taught them either.

The first thing my teacher Frank taught me, happened before I even arrived at his Gloucester school. He taught me a simple technique for taking a breath, holding it, and controlling its release. On my first lesson in the pool, I was floating face down in water, and all because I’d already learnt “the breath”. After that it wasn’t easy and things didn’t come quickly or naturally, but with Frank’s encouragement and help in my 5th lesson he taught me the arm action for front crawl and encouraged me to push off the wall and swim. I did. I was amazed. I’m still amazed.

There were lots of other little steps and a few setbacks, but what I learnt most of all was that I could be in control in the water. So it’s hopefully, head down, kick with the feet and turn those arms into a new aquatic future. There’s still a lot to learn and I don’t imagine I will ever be a great swimmer, but I am a swimmer.

And if you’re in the non-swimmer quarter of the adult population, take heart, if I can do it, I think anyone with enough motivation can. If you want to see where I went, then visit Frank’s website and read the stories. If you don’t think they can possibly be true, take it from me, it’s more than possible.

Friday, September 08, 2006

A timely reminder

God gave me a timely reminder a couple of days ago. I don't see myself as a particularly busy person, although others would probably disagree. In common with many church leaders I know, I swing between feeling as if I'm running around playing catch-up all the time, and feeling as if I'm too lazy for words. Often there is something to be sorted out, something to be organised, someone wanting a clearer plan or outline for the next month, year or more. As far as I can tell, I'm wired up for conversation when it comes to ideas and plans etc. I really enjoy sitting down with another person and throwing ideas around, bouncing backwards and forwards with stuff. I seem to function best as another person asks me questions and I respond.

Anyway this sometimes leads to lots of starts and not as many completions. But that's okay if others around me are the finisher types. On the other hand, I can't abdicate my responsibility to see things through.

Well, here's where God spoke earlier this week. If you're like me then maybe it's a timely reminder for you too.

As Paul wrote to the church at Corinth about the collection they were making for the church in Jerusalem he said this:

I suggest that you finish what you started a year ago, for you were the first to propose this idea, and you were the first to begin doing something about it. Now you should carry this project through to completion just as enthusiastically as you began it. (2Cor.8:10-11)

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Machine or garden?

If you view the church as a machine, then you’ll try to fix it when it goes wrong. You will listen out for every squeak or rattle or rumble and wonder if it’s a symptom of a more serious problem. You will try to oil the joints and moving parts to keep them running smoothly. If the church is a machine you will expect machine-like behaviour. You will expect it to go faster when you apply more fuel, you’ll expect it to respond to being steered. You will wash it, wax it and polish it until it shines.

But I’m not convinced that the church is a machine.

If you view the church as a garden you will nurture it. You will attend to it, weed it, and cultivate it. You’ll trim stuff but in a way that promotes growth, and you’ll recycle the old to provide nutrients for the new. You won’t force things to grow because you know that in the end that which is forced rarely has the flavour of that which is allowed to grow at its own pace. If the church is a garden, you’ll celebrate the unexpected when something good grows that you didn’t expect. You won’t worry too much about weeds, because you know they can’t be eliminated, but you will keep them under control. You will enjoy diversity as the seasons change and blossom turns to fruit and the vegetables grow alongside the flowers.

I think the church is more like a garden to be nurtured that a machine to be serviced.

Jesus said: I am the vine my Father is the gardener... you are the branches... When you bear "much fruit" you bring glory to my Father and show the world that you are my followers.

Living in the ordinariness of life

Recently I've written a couple of posts for other sites about being ordinary for the kingdom. I thought I'd reference them here, on my own blog, so that at least I knew where to find them!

The first post was for Eyes Turned Outwards and was called Becoming Ordinary for the Kingdom of God. You can find it here.

The second was a personal story written for the OA Blog and called Being Ordinary for the Kingdom. You can find that one here. It's due to be posted sometime in the next week. I'll update the link when it's posted on the site.

I wrote about ordinariness because being ordinary is what most of us are most of the time. Occasionally we might do something extraordinary, but most of the time we are living fairly ordinary lives but with a difference. As a Christian I live my ordinary life in the light of the extraordinary God.

For the most part I have no extraordinary stories to tell about how God lead me to a particular person in a particular circumstance. It happens sometimes, but it's not everyday. If I only ever waited for the extraordinary circumstances to come along, I don't suppose I'd connect with many people at all. And what's more I don't suppose I'd spot an ordinary situation in which I can make a difference.

Today, my day is set to be an ordinary day. Here's what I've got to do:

  • Wait for a parcel to be collected and one to be delivered.

  • Outline Acts for the new series we're dong at church.

  • Go to the early prayer meeting (already done)

  • Pay a couple of bills and if possible go to the bank to pay in a cheque.

  • Check what is in the cupboards and plan the evening meal, and cook it.

  • If the parcel arrives this morning, and I get a significant amount of Acts done, then go to the gym this afternoon.

  • Check to see how the person at church who was taken ill over the weekend is doing.

  • Deal with today's post when it arrives.

  • I could go on, but you get the picture. I live an ordinary life. Next week will be ordinary too, except I'm dong something exciting from Sunday to Wednesday but it's a secret!!

    But as I do all these ordinary things, if I keep my eyes open, there might just be an opportunity to do something, something quite ordinary, that will open the way for God to do the kind of extraordinary things he's good at doing.

    So I celebrate being ordinary, and rejoice when I get see the extraordinary God at work.

    Monday, September 04, 2006

    Scandalous church

    Jeff Noble, has written a short review of The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience. I've put the book on my wish list.

    I'm challenged by the conclusions cited from the book, check out his review at Scandalous church

    Friday, September 01, 2006

    Understanding Lostness

    John Kramp, in his book Out of their faces and into their shoes develops what he calls his Laws of Lostology, twenty-four in all.

    The book begins with this comment:

    If Christians really understood the spiritually lost people around them, they would talk about their faith more naturally. Evangelism would be more of a conversation and less of a high-pressure sales pitch. (p1)

    People, Kramp asserts, have great value to God (no arguments there). Being lost is simply a matter of not being where you should be. I’m going to pick out what I think are the most helpful ones for this discussion, but the book is worth a read.

    I’ll number them in accordance with his book so you can read about them more fully if you want to.

    Law #1: Being lost can be fun

    Put simply, when we begin a conversation with a non-Christian on the basis of their awareness of a need for God, we’re being na├»ve. Many lost people are quite happy being lost. It’s not a big issue for them. It will therefore take time for them to see any need for God.

    Law #2: No one gets lost on purpose

    Either through carelessness, or miscalculation or preoccupation with other things, getting lost happens.

    Law #3: It’s easy to get lost

    Do nothing special and you will get lost every time. Lost happens. Lost is life’s default mode. (Out of their faces p27)

    Law #5: You cannot force people to admit that they are lost

    No one likes to hear someone else say, “I told you so.” If someone isn’t ready to admit they are lost, you can’t make them say it, and you shouldn’t try.

    Law #8: Just because you are lost doesn’t mean you are stupid

    When lost people encountered Jesus the last thing they were likely to feel was stupid. Unfortunately 2000 years on we have the church with all its rites and rituals, its language and customs. Most lost people will not know anything about these things and are more than likely to feel stupid if made to look stupid.

    It is imperative that we do everything we can to communicate that we recognise the difference between being lost and being stupid.

    Law #9: It’s tough to trust a stranger

    Here’s a simple question: If you were to visit another church in a new town, would you let them look after you child on your first visit? Maybe yes, given that it’s a church and you trust church people. You might even do it at an event or a workshop if it was specifically designed for children. But what if you were invited by a friend to go with them to their New Age church. Would you let a stranger look after you child there?

    You get the point. When we come against strangers we have a number of safeguards in our minds. In a strange place you might zip your pockets or conceal you mobile ‘phone. You look after your wallet etc. When a lost person comes into church for the very first time, we are all strangers to them and we will need to win their trust.

    Law #11: Directions are always confusing

    People who are familiar with their surroundings often leave out vital information when giving directions. It’s probable that they will give directions in a way they understand without thinking about how you understand. My sister once asked me for directions somewhere that involved using the M25. I said, “Go anti-clockwise”, she said, “Is that left or right?” American roads are built on a block system oriented north-south, east-west. When an American gives you directions it will normally be based around these blocks. If you don’t think north, south, east west, and if you don’t think block, it’s highly probable that you’ll end up down an alley miles from your destination.

    Local knowledge goes a long way, and if you don’t have it most directions will be confusing.

    Law #13: A search reveals your values

    We search for things we value. If they have little or no value we don’t search for long, but if they are really important to us, we search for as long as it takes to find that which was lost.

    Law #14: Searches are always costly

    We want evangelism that does not demand time and church outreach that doesn’t cost money. (Faces p102)

    I once visited a church were they had set their mission budget at £200. When I asked about it they said it was this much because of some material they wanted to purchase. We, my fellow visitor and I, pointed out that we weren’t asking why it was so high but why it was so low. £200 represented less than 1% of their total budget.

    Law #15: Love pays whatever the search costs

    We search because our hearts leave us no option. (Faces p109)

    Law #17: A search is always lost-centred not searcher-centred

    Jesus said: “Go and make disciples.” He didn’t say, “Wait for them to come to you.” When people saw that Jesus was approachable, that he ordered his life around being with spiritually lost people, that he went to be with them, they came to him.

    Law #18: A search is urgent because the lost are in danger

    If we sing the words but our lives fail to play the music the search will go undone. The task is urgent and the urgency of the task should prompt us to action.

    Law #23: If you are searching, the lost may find you

    Simply by being in the search we are making ourselves available to the lost. They may stumble out of the woods and come across our path as we look for them. Perhaps the lost are actually looking to get found but can’t find anyone to help them.

    Have a think about your response to these laws, I find then fascinating and helpful.

    New days and new starts

    The 1st of September. Actually this is the official anniversary of starting at Cotton End. Today I begin my 6th year.

    The other thing about the 1st is the opportunity to start fresh. You can start a fresh reading plan, or start a fresh exercise routine (if you want to do this vicariously then read Andy's blog about his new start on the road to fitness and well-being). If you're trying to live out a committed life as a follower of Jesus, then you'll know all about making fresh starts in almost every area of your life, particularly your devotional life.

    There's something about the evangelical approach to the Quiet Time that works for some, but often doesn't work for most. We find it difficult to concentrate, we find it difficult to focus and sometimes we just find it difficult to stay awake. I remember when I first began my journey with Jesus seeing a film about a college student who became a Christian. He had a pre-college job in a bakery or some such place, and now he was a Christian he got up at 5:30am to have his QT before cycling to work and then to class. I must have carried the guilt of that film for years as I struggled with early mornings.

    Several things helped liberate me from that guilt, or at least most of it.

    First was the realisation that I wasn't an abnormal Christian because I couldn't focus early in the day. Over the years, as I've got older, I've become more able to use the early part of the day. It's partly due to years of 6:00am starts for college, work and for the last 15 years trying to be coherent enough to smile and wish my wife well in her day's endeavours as she commutes to work in London and elsewhere.

    Second came the understanding that God loves me just as much today, when I did read my Bible and pray, as much as he loved me yesterday when I just prayed or the other day on holiday when I can't remember doing either in a particularly focused way, (although I suspect I prayed halfway up a certain steep 1,000 foor climb!)

    Third was developing a healthy understanding of discipline. Paul talks about discipline for a goal, an athlete goes into training in order to be able to compete. The discipline of a devotional life has a goal beyond simply getting through the daily quiet time. I love reading through my Bible. I even have several versions and translations laid out in a one-year format. It's great to read the bits I wouldn't choose to read, and discovering stories about God's love and the lives of his followers that I would otherwise miss if I only picked the bits I like. But it's very easy to get into the habit of reading in order to be able to say, "I've read the Bible again this year." And the natural implication of, "I bet you can't beat that then," that goes with it. The goal of my devotional life is to become a more fully formed follwer of Jesus not just a walking concordance for the Bible.

    Perhaps that's the root of the problem of the dutiful approach to the quiet time. It's focus is on approval, of saying I must be a Christian because I do the devotional bit. It's borne more out of a work ethic than a relationship. Maybe the quite time plays into the hands of what Jim Packer once described as the problem with North American Protestantism (and which relates to a broader spectrum of Christian faith too). He said the problem was that: it was 3,000 miles wide and half an inch deep.

    There have been time when my devotional life has fuelled a shallow Christianity. I've ticked the boxes and got the job done, but there's been little engagement with God and little transformation of my life as a result.

    I'm humbled by the thought that God continues to love me, continues to speak to me, and continues to use me. So here I am on the 1st of a new month. A new start, a new day of possibilities and new opportunities to connect with the God who has always loved me, who rejoices over, sings songs for me and whispers, "missed you," when I've been away for a while.

    Maybe today I don't need to worry that God's question for me will be, "Where have you been?" but more likely, "How are you doing?"

    At the centre of the universe

    If you want to put yourself at the centre of a small part of the UK, you can get an OS map printed that is centred on a specific postcode.

    Visit the OS website and go to OS Select to choose your map.

    The world's a different place when you can see it from the centre!!

    All joking apart, it gave me a fresh perspective on how the population is distributed relevant to my church (I use the term loosely) being at the centre of a 100 square mile area. As a rural church this is really interesting.

    Wednesday, August 30, 2006

    Testing out flock

    A long time ago I read about a new browser that offered all sorts of advantages over Explorer. Based around Firefox, Flock integrates photos and blogging tools into your browser. Using straightforward drag and drop technology, you can blog away to your heart's content.

    Apparently it also handles RSS feeds, but I haven't looked at that yet because it took a little time to set up the blogging tools.

    Get it here if you want to try it.

    Blogged with Flock

    A view from here to the Lakes

    Just in case you don't know what the English Lake District looks like...

    it looks like this...

    Monday, August 28, 2006

    Does God still love me when I …

    If you are at all like me, then you’ve asked this question in some form or another at some stage of your life. If you’re very like me, then you’ve asked it at least a 1,000 times if not more. Somehow it’s always a struggle to accept that God loves me. That when God says, “I love you”, that’s the end of the matter. There are no if’s, no but’s and no whatever’s when it comes to God’s love for you and me.

    I need a regular reminder of this truth because everyday the reality of God’s love gets chipped away at in my heart. Things I do, things I say, things I don’t do and things I don’t say, eat away at my beloved status before God.

    So here’s a favourite reminder of this simple truth for all of us who need to remember:

    No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom.8:37-39)

    Saturday, August 26, 2006

    Lost is life’s default mode

    You don’t have to do much at all to get lost. Trust me, I know about such things. On Sunday we found ourselves on top of a fell somewhere in the Lakes, with no visible path to be seen. We knew it should be there, we were confident we knew where we were, but the path had disappeared under bracken. It is a path that hadn’t been travelled for some time.

    In this situation “lost” is a relative term. We knew where we were, we even knew where we wanted to be as a next destination, there was just this little problem of no recognisable path to get there.

    I wonder how many people live their lives with no visible path?

    I wonder how many Christians hide the path?
    I wonder how much Jesus longs for us to live life on the path so that others might see the way and follow it?

    The wonderful lakes

    So here I am in the Lake District, my favourite part of England, with my extended family for a week of walking, laughing, more walking and lots more laughing. Now I’m not a seasoned pro when it comes to walking, and my dodgy knees are likely to complain as I cajole them to drag my not insubstantial frame up and down hills and fells. On the other hand I just love to walk. Leave the car parked behind the rented house and search out a footpath to follow up and over a peak, or preferably these days, around one.

    I’m fully kitted out for these sojourns into the wilderness of the Western Lakes. I have my GPS (that the thing that tells me just how lost I am), I have my whistle (although with my young great-nephew in tow, one is not often in need of anything else that would fall into the broad category of “loud-noise-making-device”), and I have my walking pole, waterproof jacket, walking shoes/boots (depending on terrain, weather and blister count), embarrassing hat (not to me but to those with whom I walk) and most important of all…. fruit cake. No adventure is complete without a suitable piece of fruit cake to enjoy on the way.

    So why do I do it? If I end up with sore knees and sore feet and temporary deafness (don’t forget the nephew) why do I keep walking? Well I guess it’s because I enjoy the walk and I enjoy getting slightly lost and found. Unless I’ve walked the route before (and that offers no guarantee) I usually take a wrong turn here and there. The GPS has been a great blessing over the years I’ve had it. At least now I can look at the position and check where I am on the map. I’ve never been great at map reading anyway, the GPS helps solve that problem.

    Discovering an old path, getting back on the right path and emerging at your final destination after anything from a few miles to too many miles, is just plain simple fun. And then there are the views. If you’ve never explored the Lake District, you won’t know what I’m talking about, but if you have, or if you know a similar hill strewn landscape, you may well know the joy of climbing a few hundred or even a few thousand feet just to see what it look likes from there.

    The other great delight is the food you can eat, because you know that tomorrow is another calorie burning adventure. So, as I write I can hear tonight’s chefs rummaging in the kitchen. Very soon the air will be filled with the wondrous smells of “Italian night”, and the pastor gets to eat the pasta!

    A Proud Dad

    We've been away on holiday this last week, and so we were not around the radio or the TV much to hear the annual debate about GCSE's getting easier year by year. As a father of a 16 year-old I've sat up at night trying to help and support my daughter as she dealt with the pressures of coursework for a wide range of subjects. The pressure she felt was enormous and I'm glad it's over for her at least until next year and A Level deadlines start to appear.

    Anyway, whether you think GCSE's are easier now than ever before, I want to celebrate my daughter's achievements. So here's the news...

    Ally sat 10 GCSE's and got 8 A's, 3 at A* and 2 B's.

    Way to go Ally, I'm really proud of you.

    Now, what did we decide was the going rate for A's, I think I owe you a small fortune!

    Friday, August 18, 2006

    The Subversive Church

    Over the next 10 to 15 years, the landscape of our ministry here in Cotton End is going to change significantly. Within 3 miles of us an expected 5,500 to 8,000 new homes are being built. A whole new town is under development, and it’s really exciting. I can’t imagine ever being presented with such an opportunity more than once in a generation or more as a church. But when I talk to people about this opportunity one of the first questions that I consistently get asked is: “are they building a church?

    Why, when we all know that church is about people not buildings, do we constrain our thinking about new church in new communities so quickly to buildings? And anyway, with 8,000 new homes being built, why can’t we see them all as possible places of worship, places from where we can serve the community? If you’ve got a building, you need a minister, and if you’ve got a minister you need a house for the minister and family. Suddenly starting a church is about having thousands of pounds before you start. When you start with people, all you need is imagination. When you need a building, rent it.

    I think we can be, should be, more subtle than bricks and mortar. I want to do something subversive. It seems to me that Jesus was subversive. He undermined the common viewpoint, he chipped away at preconceived ideas and challenged conventional wisdom. He dropped thoughts and ideas into the hearts and minds of his hearers, he offered love unconditionally, he called the people to follow him and he went to them in their places of need and lived among them. He started a worldwide movement without a building and without a budget, although he had access to all the resources of heaven.

    For me the excitement comes from the thought of doing church in a new way for this new community. I want the church to grow with the community, to become part of the community’s DNA, so connected with the community that it influences and affects and transforms the community as it grows. It means meeting the community where it is, serving it where it is, and influencing it where it is.

    I guess that’s harder work. It’s much easier to open a building and then blame the community for not wanting to come and share in worship it doesn’t understand and talk a language it hasn’t learnt.

    Friday, August 11, 2006

    A great post

    Jeff Noble has written a great post about forgiveness and the problem of sin that I really enjoyed reading. Check it out here.

    Wednesday, August 09, 2006

    The men of Issachar again

    I asked some time ago where the men of Issachar had got to, and I'm still wondering about it. Like fellow blogger Jeff Noble, I'd like to be one if only I could figure out what it means to be a man of Issachar.

    If you remember, they understood the times and knew what Israel should do.

    To be a modern-day man of Issachar may not relate to making political decisions (the context of the OT verse), but maybe it does. Maybe it's time we thought less about whether we elect the right Christians to office and more about whether we are electing people who can understand the times and act accordingly.

    Anyway, when I began thinking about men of Issachar, I was thinking primarily about the church and the need to understand the times and act accordingly as God's people as we seek to bring his message of hope and transformation to a world desperately in need of both.

    I just wanted to let you know that I'm still thinking about it, and while I'm thinking about it, here's a description of someone who might fit the bill.

    Ezra had determined to study and obey the law of the Lord and to teach those laws and regulations to the people of Israel. (Ezra 7:10)

    According to the context, this was the reason that the gracious hand of his God was with him.

    The wonder of God's mercy

    The wonder of your mercy Lord
    The beauty of your grace
    That you would even pardon me
    and bring me to this place
    I stand before your holiness
    I can only stand amazed
    The sinless Saviour died to make
    A covenant of grace

    Justice is getting what you deserve. If you want justice, then God will give you justice.

    Mercy is not getting what you deserve. If you will forgo justice, then God offers you mercy. God does not punish us as our sins deserve (Psalm 103)

    Grace is getting what you don't deserve. I don't deserve his love but I receive it as the free gift it has always been.

    Today is a great day to live in the grace of God.

    Perplexed and concerned

    As I watch the events unfold in Lebanon and Israel, I can't help but wonder about where it all fits. I know Christians who are strong supporters of Israel and I don't want to cause offense, but it bothers me that the evangelical community seems unwilling to challenge Israel in almost any circumstance.

    The political situation in Palestine is volatile and complicated. I know that. I know that Israel suffers attacks from all sides too, but I'm not sure that justifies what I see on the news in these days as Southern Lebanon is bombarded from the air and from the ground. While we argue about the theological implications of the State of Israel, and wonder why other countries continue to supply arms to both sides, people are dying. Violence begets more violence and the innocent seem to suffer most.

    Has our theology of Israel in some way contributed to the problems? Have we unwittingly given credence to a skewed view of what is right and wrong for the Middle East?

    And still the innocent suffer.

    For all those verses in the Bible that speak powerfully and profoundly about the place Israel and the people of Israel have in the heart of God, it also speaks boldly about responsibility too.

    As I casually read Habbakuk again this last week (I was looking to put to a particular verse into it's wider context) I came across this comment from the prophet.

    The violence you have done to Lebanon will overwhelm you and your destruction of animals will terrify you. For you have shed human blood; you have destroyed lands and cities and everyone in them. Hab.2:17

    Wednesday, July 26, 2006

    Do something radical

    Reading Shane Clairborne's book Irresistible Revolution reminds me that we are called to live radical lives for Jesus. The question, for me, has always been: What does a radical life look like in my world. Now, I don't mean my world in the sense of the world I make, simply in the sense of the world I currently inhabit. What does it mean to be a radical follower of Jesus Christ in 21st century rural England?

    In the end it might mean pretty much the same as it does in metropolitan London, or suburban Wimbledon (I've experienced both). Perhaps we look for radical in the wrong place. Perhaps, for some at least, radical means rethinking one's perspective on the job and career you choose. For some a change is in order, for others the job remains but the ethos changes.

    Perhaps the most radical thing we can do is to love each other, and to keep on loving each other despite our best efforts to be unlovely. When I seen pain and heartache in the church, I remind myself that Jesus said that our love for one another would be a symbol of our having been with him, of being his followers.

    Perhaps today is your day for doing something radical and loving the person who has hurt you most deeply. It won't be easy, but I guess radical never is.

    Thursday, July 20, 2006

    Where's the fruit?

    Came across this quote from Mark Twain on the Ordinary Attempts blog.

    Go out on a limb. That’s where the fruit is.

    Wednesday, July 19, 2006

    Finding Jesus in the real world

    A recent comment on this blog got me thinking. How do we find Jesus in the real world? More to the point, what makes this the real world in the first place? I guess we mostly use “real world” to define what we experience day-by-day. But just because it’s our daily routine, it doesn’t necessarily define what’s truly the “real world”.

    As a Christian the kingdom of God, not my usual daily experience, defines my normality. As Jon Ortberg might say, what I experience as normal is actually usual, normality is the kingdom.

    So, with that in mind, finding Jesus in the real world becomes an expedition to discover examples of the kingdom of God breaking in to our current “usualness” and transforming it into God’s normality. I don’t believe in a fully realised kingdom, I believe in a now-and-not-yet kingdom. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t expect God to break in and change my reality into his reality.

    Perhaps then, finding Jesus in the real world isn’t as hard as it might look. I can see Jesus in the work and ministry of the church as it seeks to serve and care for the community, as it seeks to share the good news of Jesus in both practical and verbal ways. I see Jesus in the real world when the church gathers to pray for someone recently diagnosed with cancer. I see Jesus in the miracle of their healing and I see him too in the gentle ministry of the church as it offers comfort when healing doesn’t come.

    As a minister of a local church, I’m privileged to see Jesus at work through his people almost everyday of my life. The truth is I’m not very observant so I don’t readily recognise it. Oftentimes I'm so preoccupied with the state of my own soul that I just don’t see the hand of God in anything. But then I remember a man called Jacob, whole stole his brother’s birthright and as he ran away encountered God in the most unexpected place. His comment was simply this: Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.

    Wednesday, July 12, 2006

    The men of Issachar of Issachar, who understood the times and knew what Israel should do... (1CH 12:32)

    I wonder where the "men of Issachar" are for our times?

    David was about to crowned king. This was God's plan and purpose, but it hadn't been an easy journey. Saul had tried to kill him, and David had spent a long time as king-in-waiting. But it's these men of Issachar that intrigue me. How did they read the times? How did they know what was the right thing for Israel to do?

    As a church leader I look for my own men of Issachar, who can help me as I search for God's pathway for the local congregation I'm privileged to lead.

    Tuesday, July 11, 2006

    Has God ruined my life?

    When was the last time you heard someone share their story of a relationship with God and say, "God ruined my life." We're so used to the language of blessing that I suspect we've forgotten what being blessed is actually about. It's not about having all the stuff we want, or all the security we want. I'm not too sure exactly how to quantify it because quite honestly I'm very comfortable thank you very much. I am blessed in so many ways.

    Perhaps that's why I get concerned some days. Perhaps it's because I wonder if being a Christian ought not to be a little less comfortable and a little more challenging. I've bought into the spiritualising mythology that makes this dangerous, exciting and mystical journey with the awesome living God something more docile and less demanding.

    I believe that we're facing the opportunity of a life-time. An opportunity to do church differently, to become the ordinary radicals (to quote Shane Clairborne) that can, in God's hands, become world changers. I dream of being part of a local community of faith that lives a radical Christianity. A place where wholehearted following of Jesus is normal. The problem is I'm not sure what it looks like in rural Bedfordshire.

    But this I do know. There are opportunities coming, opportunities that God is going to put before me--is putting before me--to live a different life. I'm guessing I'll still have stuff, I'll probably accumulate more, but I want to love God with all my heart, soul, strength and mind. I want his purposes to be my highest priority, and I'm so grateful for his grace and forgivenness when they are not.

    Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined.

    Soren Kierkergaard, quoted by Shane Claiborne in The Irresistible Revolution p71

    Saturday, July 08, 2006

    Love, courage and wisdom

    In responding to the comments on the Quiet Revolution post (thanks guys), I thought there was something I'd read in Shane Claiborne's book that was relevant. Having found it (it was right at the front!), I'm not sure it quite touches the spot I thought it did, but for the record here's the quote:

    Love without courage and wisdom is sentimentality, as with the ordinary church member. Courage without love and wisdom is foolhardiness, as with the ordinary soldier. Wisdom without love and courage is cowardice, as with the ordinary intellectual. But the one who has love, courage and wisdom moves the world.

    Ammon Hennacy (Catholic activist 1893-1970)

    I'm not sure where it touches on the idea of optimist and pessimist, but I do see a line to follow when it comes to loving and criticising the church. I need love, courage and wisdom if I'm going to help the church become what God wants it to be, if I'm going to help it move. I guess I need a dose of humility too, so that I remember that I'm not all I'm cracked up to be, and might not always be right!

    Friday, July 07, 2006

    July 7th remembered

    I can't begin to imagine what it must have felt like in those moments directly before and after the detonation of the bombs on buses and trains a year ago. I can't imagine what it feels like now a year later for those injured or bereaved or both. I don't want to insult or upset them. I want to remember.

    I want to remember that violence is not the answer.

    I want to remember that there is a better way, that the world can be different if we will only follow the One who truly makes a difference.

    War is not the answer.

    I believe it is time that someone took the brave step and declared peace rather than war in the world.

    The battle of the Somme, the London bombs, the devastation in Iraq and Afghanistan, the weapons of war being built in North Korea and Iran, in the UK and USA. Have we learnt so little from a century of wars?

    A Quiet Revolution

    I've just finished reading Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell and started on The Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne. Both these books were recommended to me by my friend Andy White, to whom I'm very grateful for two good reads.

    In the early pages of Irresistible Revolution I read this:

    There are those of us who, rather than simply reject pop evangelicalism, want to spread another kind of Christianity, a faith that has as much to say about this world as it does the next. New prophets are rising up who try to change the future not just predict it. There is a movement bubbling up that goes beyond cynicism and celebrates a new way of living, a generation that stops complaining about the church it sees and becomes the church it dreams of.

    Irresistible Revolution p24

    I love the idea of becoming the church we dream of rather than complaining about the church we are. If it's time for a change, then it's time we changed, it's time we made the changes.

    Over the last few years I've been deeply moved by the sense of vision and commitment our predecessors had when they built the church in which we currently worship. Without their commitment and courage, we wouldn't have a church over which to get frustrated. We owe them a lot. We owe them the drive, committment and passion to leave a legacy for future generations. They left us a building and a history. It may be time that leaving a building is less important, but a history will always be significant.

    I've listened to the cynics who reject the church (not just here but all over the country) and I remember the words of the song Jesus loves the church. Imperfect as it might be I want to be someone who makes a difference. I want to part of a generation that stops complaining and start becoming the church of God's dreams.

    Tuesday, June 27, 2006

    Living the life

    On another blog ( Andy White has been reflecting on some obstacles to living an outward focused life. I wrote one post about misunderstanding as an obstacle. It's made me think about some of the issues surrounding living a life for and with Jesus as leader and forgiver, Lord and Saviour to use more traditional language.
    I thought about this and began to wonder about the concept of holiness. I've always found holiness to rather like a bar of soap in the shower. The more tightly you try to grip it, the more likely it is to slip out of your hand. Sometimes it seems that the more you try to define holiness, the more it eludes you and you drift towards legalism as a solution.
    So I'm not going to define it as anything more than living like Jesus lived, and that's where I see the hurdles appearing. How do we live like Jesus lived? How do we do what Jesus would do?
    As a local church leader I get plenty of opportunities to see what happens when we don't manage to live like Jesus lived. And I'm not just talking about other people's lives I'm talking about my own life too.
    This isn't a one size fits all solution, but I've noticed that sometimes the root issue is trying to live a double life. In other words we live like followers of Jesus when we're around other followers of Jesus, but we live like non-followers when we are with non-followers.
    I remember Jim Packer saying: The problem with North American Protestantism is that it is 3,000 miles wide but only half and inch deep. The double life approach leads to shallow Christianity and shallow Christianity will not produce lasting fruit.
    So I ask myself: How am I doing? Am I living like a follower of Jesus?
    This isn't a complete programme, perhaps there isn't one. Maybe it isn't even a complete thought! But as a work-in-progress I wanted to think out loud for a moment.

    Friday, June 23, 2006

    The priority of serving

    I'm reading, on and off, a book called Quick to listen Leaders by Dave Ping and Anne Clippard. I've mentioned it before when I blogged about the miracle question. Here's another quote:

    The "barefoot pastor" [a name given to missionary pastors in India] name comes from the unique way they've found to multiply themselves. Once a leader establishes a church with more than twenty-five members, he selects a few of his disciples, usually ordinary villagers too poor to afford shoes, to become missionaries to the next village down the road. They walk to the next village and meet the people. Then they begin serving, sharing the story of Jesus, and praying until they have made enough converts to establish a church. When that church is ready, it sends its disciples on to the next village. (p41)

    Hidden away in this description is one really key thought. There are times when have in the past defined evangelism as parts two and four of this process-the preaching and converting. We do pray, but don't often see service as a key aspect of outreach.

    Last night I was at he members meeting of a church I serve as moderator. We got talking about one particular group that uses the church premises, that once was part of the ministry of the church, but is now run by folk from outside the church. There was talk about how to bring it back into the life of the church.

    My solution? To get in there and win it back by serving. Rather than just a take-over bid, I believe that the way forward is through serving. As people experience the love of God as we serve them I believe that it will open doors to sharing the gospel.

    I guess it's summed up in the concept of loving people into a relationship with God rather than trying to talk them into it.

    The other thing that attracted my attention was the size at which the church was expected to multiply. Can you imagine most UK Christians being happy to send out missionaries when they reach 25 people? To most of us, we're not even sure we want to multiply our housegroup when it gets the 25 because won't that mean we'll no longer be together, and anyway, if not everybody comes there might only be 15 of us!

    We have an opportunity coming our way in Cotton End that I think will challenge how we see church planting. To begin with small groups that can multiply quickly and move on to new areas may be key to our ability to impact the new housing developments that are coming our way. I know we're not going barefoot, and we probably won't walk too far, but we will serve and pray to earn the right to share the good news about Jesus.

    Thursday, June 22, 2006

    The Four Essentials

    Having just posted a short entry about my dream, I thought I'd add what I'm calling the four essentials or the four non-negotiables of church life.

    A Biblical Church

    This is a church committed to the Bible as God's word, relevant and life changing today just as it has always been.

    A Mission-involved Church

    A church committed to reaching out to a lost or missing world with the good news of forgiveness and reconnection with God.

    A Relational Church

    A church committed to building positive relationships.

    A Praying Church

    We all believe that prayer is significant, we need to be 100% committed to pray.

    The church of my dreams

    Part of the process of putting big picture into small boxes for me is to dream. Some time ago a colleague sent me something that began We dream of a church... It was from a church in Texas, Irvine I think. Anyway it got me thinking, and for what it's worth this is my work-in-progress dream of church.

    As I think about the future my dream, my vision is for a church that is actively meeting the needs of those within the church and those beyond the church.

    I dream of a church with a wide diversity of ministries balanced between spiritual and practical (although I'm not trying to suggest that something spiritual is not practical or the other way around).

    I dream of a church that is growing in a sustainable way and a church that is always thinking creatively about how it can touch the wider community through kindness and in service, and open the door to a clear and compelling invitation to respond to God's love shown through Jesus Christ.

    I dream of a church that is willing to take Holy Spirit inspired risks in order to make a difference in the communities it serves.

    I dream of a church of radical believers who live wholeheartedly for Jesus Christ and will do whatever it takes to drive back the kingdom of darkness and usher in the reign of Christ.

    Saturday, June 17, 2006

    Jesus loves the church. Honest!

    When we first came across a song the first line of which was Jesus loves the church, I thought it was a bit twee to say the least. But I then realised that the real struggle I had was with the truth behind the song. Jesus really does love the church. The struggle arises because there are times when I am not so inclined.

    So I prayed, and asked God to help me love the people he loves, to love the church he loves and commit myself to the church as he has always done. It's a work in progress.

    Here's a quote for fellow lovers:

    There is nothing like the local church when it is working right. Its beauty is indescribable. Its power is breathtaking. Its potential is unlimited. It comforts the grieving and heals the broken in the context of community. It builds bridges to seekers and offers truth to the confused. It provides resources for those in need and opens its arms to the forgotten, the downtrodden, the disillusioned. It breaks the chains of addiction, frees the oppressed, and offers belonging to the marginalized of this world. Whatever the capacity for human suffering, the church has a greater capacity for healing and wholeness... No other organization on earth is like the church. Nothing even comes close.

    Bill Hybels Courageous Leadership

    Wednesday, June 14, 2006

    Big pictures and small boxes

    Since my confession about leadership in my last entry, I thought I ought to do some thinking about what makes leadership hard, at least for me. We are all wired in slightly different ways. As far as I know I am wired with an inclination towards a more visionary mindset than towards a management mindset. This has caused me some problems from time to time, mainly because I don’t see my role as a manager and others have seen it that way.

    The difficulty comes when you try to translate the vision into a workable reality. To do this I have cone to the conclusion that I need to surround myself with people who are pioneers. Pioneers are the kind of people who can hear the dream and are willing and able to turn the dream into reality with the minimum of information. I always remember during my previous life in R&D for a big multinational company, taking a rough sketch of an idea for a piece of equipment to our engineers for fabrication. It was amazing to see this sketch turned into a real piece of kit by someone who could recognise my concept and make it work. With all the will in the world I could not have done that.

    Of course not everyone is a pioneer. Some are settlers. Settlers are so important to the vision because without them there would be no food on the table. Settlers settle. They build farms and houses. They make sure everything runs as it should. Whilst the visionaries are off dreaming new dreams and the pioneers are out charting new courses, the settlers keep the garden under control.

    Each of these groups needs a different amount of information to help them see what is going on around them. The pioneers are happy with the big picture, the settlers need the small boxes.

    So here I am, trying to work out what goes in which box and how to package it so that everyone can get a piece of the picture that is manageable for them. It’s my heartfelt desire as a leader to help everyone get in on the action, to understand the important role that they play in fulfilling the bigger vision of our life together.

    So I recognise that for me doing this work of translating vision into reality is hard, but I’ll do my best so that everyone around me has the chance to do what they do best for the glory of God. I’m off now to draw some big pictures and try to stuff them into some small boxes!

    Saturday, June 10, 2006

    Being a leader

    A confession: I find being a leader hard sometimes. There are days when leadership is the last thing I want to do with my life, but I know it's a core part of my call to ministry. So what do I do? Well I look for stuff that inspires me and motivates me to keep going. I'd like to think that I look for stuff that helps me improve, but then again I sometimes feel like Edward Bear in the opening paragraph of the Winnie The-Pooh story.

    Here is Edward Bear, coming downstairs now, bump, bump, bump, on the back of his head, behind Christopher Robin. It is, as far as he knows, the only way of coming downstairs, but sometimes he feels that there really is another way, if only he could stop bumping for a moment and think about it. And then he feels that perhaps there isn't.

    Anyway, to get back to the question of leadership, I have on my wall opposite my desk a number of things. Photographs taken by my daughter Ally, the dates for Easter up to 2024, my personal mission statement and my ministerial recognition certificate just in case I forget who and what I am! There are other things and maybe I'll describe those in another post.

    One of the things I have is an interesting one page description of leadership. I'm not sure where it came from, a website I think or an email newsletter of some sort, but I find it a helpful reminder of a few things. Here it is.

    Effective leadership today is not about helping people find the answers they need; it's about asking the right questions in the right context at the right time. It is less about being a gladiator in control and more about being anirritatorr who asks thought-provoking and disturbing questions like Jesus often did.

    Leadership is less about teaching specific skills; it's more about leaders being in close relationship with God, understanding their gifts and passions, then walking alongside others so they learn from the kind of person you are rather than from the things you say.

    Leadership is less about setting vision, reaching goals, motivating, and inspiring others—important as these can be. Leadership is more about helping people create environments where they experience community with others and loving relationships that move everybody forward.

    Leadership for a new era does not make sure that people are thoroughly trained before they are turned loose. The new model is on-the-job learning where the leader and everybody else is learning constantly and pouring their lives into others. The sooner people begin serving together, the sooner they experience God's presence and guidance in their lives.

    Tuesday, June 06, 2006

    Through the gates

    Reflecting on the story of the five missionaries (Jim Elliot, Nate Saint et al) it's easy to think that their story sets the bar too high for our mission endeavours. I happen to see it somewhat differently. Personally, the simplicity of their whole-hearted commitment serves as a constant challenge.

    I'm getting towards the end of the book now. I know what's coming, yet I still feel a strange emotional tug as I realise that as they spoke of their willingness to die to bring the gospel to an unreached people, this would indeed be the price they would all pay. They were not adventurers setting off on some exciting road trip. They knew the risks and they prepared for them as best they could.

    The section of the book I've just finished included some of Roger Youderian's journal. For me it was deeply moving to read of his personal struggle with the value of what he was doing. He had decided that it was time for him to leave Ecuador because, as he put it, of a Failure to measure up as a missionary and get next to the people.

    There are days when I feel the same about ministry, days when I sense a failure to measure up as a minister. To me it's comforting to know I'm not alone. Minister, missionary or just a follower of Jesus Christ, I guess none of us are far from these feelings of uselessness in the kingdom of God.

    Had Roger Youderian decided to go home, he most certainly would not have found himself in the jungle seeking to extend the hand of friendship to the Auca, he would not have died that day in January 1956. But even through the darkest night of his soul he sought only to love God and follow him wholeheartedly. This surely is one bar that can never be described as set too high.