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.