Friday, December 21, 2007

Where is God?

In my devotional times I've been reading the stories of people in the Bible. Okay, so that's not difficult to do because the Bible is full of stories abut people. But I wanted simply to spend some time reflecting on the whole God and people thing. How does he involve himself in the lives of ordinary people? How do they know what is going on? Do they even recognise him at work?

You see, it seems to me that when we read the stories we usually know the outcome. But how did Joseph feel when he found out that Mary was pregnant? Would you have believed her story? Jeremiah in the mud-hole, Daniel in exile, Moses in the wilderness, Joseph in prison. What they have in common is that they only experienced life in the present. They could not see the future. 

All of these people faced the same challenge we do: To see God's hand at work in our lives. How many times have you heard someone ask where was God in this or that circumstance. Perhaps the real challenge is to trust him even when we don't see any evidence of his involvement.

Perhaps the real test of faith comes when we have to apply our knowledge of God's faithfulness and trustworthiness when we can't see clear, unequivocal evidence that he is at work.

I recently read the story of Ruth and at the moment I'm just finishing off the story of Esther. In the first of these God gets mentioned, but only in the context of expectation. There is no, "and God..." moment to speak of as I recall. Esther of course is best known for not mentioning God at all! But as you read both these stories, you cannot escape the conclusion that he was clearly at work in the detail of all the lives described.

On my bookshelf I have a baseball. Unusual for an Englishman, but this is a special baseball. 

In 2001 we visited America as a family. We spent about a week of our time visiting some friends in Florida and while we were there we went to a baseball game. I thought taking home a baseball would be a nice memento of the trip but only one came in our direction and someone else caught that one. The following evening we were out near the ground when I sat down on a bench and prayed. We were about to return to the UK to face a time of uncertainty. We knew we were leaving the church we had served for three years and that meant leaving our home too. But we also needed a school for our daughter and my wife's job was also uncertain. So, no long-term home, no school place, no ministry, uncertain employment. 

So I did the logical thing, I prayed for a baseball. 

I said something along the lines of: "God, it's not really important, but it would be nice if a baseball would come over the corner of the stadium and land down here." Now I've prayed a lot of prayers like this in my life and I've gone away empty-handed a fair number of those times, but this time God was gracious and before I finished praying over the wall came a baseball. 

As I sat there somewhat stunned and amazed, holding my new prize, I sensed God speak to me: If you can trust me in this small thing, what can't you trust me with?

I have my days when all I need to do is hold that baseball. Days, if I'm honest, when all I can do is hold onto the baseball. It's all I need as a reminder that God is faithful and trustworthy. And if I can't see him at work, that doesn't mean he isn't at work, because he is always at work.

If you don't have an equivalent of my baseball, then you can share mine with me, even if only vicariously! 

I need grace

At the foot of the cross, where grace and suffering meet.
You have shown me your love, through the judgement you received.
And you've won my heart,
Yes, you've won my heart.
I was thinking about these opening lines from the Kathryn Scott song the other day as I thought about the relationship between Christmas and Easter and the need we have for forgiveness and grace.

Situations constantly arise where we think we have no options left to us. We find ourselves facing issues and challenges that make us angry or resentful or just leave us in pain, and we think we have only one option left. That option is often either to lash out or walk away. Get angry or get even. But when we do that we walk away with all the pain and guilt and judgement still in our hearts. 

The cross of Jesus gives us another option.

It offers us grace as a solution, an alternative response to any situation. 

If Christmas truly is a time of goodwill to all people, then it's probably a good time to experience the giving and receiving of grace. So have a grace-filled Christmas and carry that grace into and through the new year ahead.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Hope in the darkness

It's advent again, and we're into the second week having just had our second Sunday in advent celebration yesterday. Our theme for advent this year is hope, and yesterday we looked at hope in the darkness. We heard the words of Isaiah 9 read and we thought about how light brings hope and the connection with Jesus as the light of the world and therefore the hope of the world.

Whenever I start to preach on a topic like that, I can feel the passion rising. Maybe it's because I'm not at all successful in evangelism and mission, that I feel it so keenly. But as I think about the mandate we have to bring good news to every corner of the earth, to every person who lives in our neighbourhoods, villages, towns and cities, I can't help but feel the pain and disappointment of not seeing folk being added to the kingdom of God. Where are the people who are being added daily to the church? Where are the stories of how we're touching lives and seeing them transformed by the gospel of grace? 

And so I'm forced to my knees to ask God's forgiveness for my shortcomings and to ask for his empowering to get involved with evangelism, to influence my friends, my family, my neighbours, towards a relationship with God. To do whatever it takes to help someone see how much God loves them, how deeply he cares for them and how far he has gone to win for them an eternal future they could never win for themselves.

Perhaps 2008 will be a better year, a more successful year. Whatever the outcome though, I'm still going to commit myself to take every opportunity that comes my way and make myself available for God to use how he wants, when he wants, where he wants and to what ends he wants. To take every opportunity to bring light into darkness so that no one near me needs to stumble around in the gloom.

Friday, November 30, 2007

The price of Christmas

Here's a quote from Max Lucado:
The blood of Christ does not cover your sins, conceal your sins, postpone your sins or diminish your sins. It takes away your sins, once and for all time.
If you are human then concealing sin is probably your preferred option. Failing that you might try to diminish them by comparing them to sins that are, in your opinion, much, much worse.

But you can't do either of those. 

A final option is simply to ignore your sin, simply postpone dealing with it.

But God sees, and God has chosen to act on our behalf.

Perhaps we are overly familiar with forgiveness to remember the awesome nature of what God has done for us. It's good to be reminded that we stand forgiven at a high price. In these days of super discounts and cash-back offers, The price for our forgiveness remains out of reach, too high for you or I to pay ourselves. 

That God steps into our history to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves is still the amazing message of Advent.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Reading Ruth

I don't know how you organise your devotional reading, but I've decided to try a fresh approach for a while, and read the stories in the Bible of people and their lives and how their lives were impacted by God. Now I know the Bible is full of these stories, and I know that the story of the Bible is the story of God interacting with people. But what I'm trying to do is read the stories as biographies rather than part of the bigger narrative of Scripture. I hope that makes sense.

Anyway, I decided to read Ruth, starting yesterday. As I recall, Ruth is the only book in the Bible where God is not mentioned in terms of active involvement in the story. He gets mentioned, but he doesn't appear so-to-speak. But that doesn't mean he isn't there.

The story opens unpromisingly. There's famine, relocation, death, loss, despair and separation. Not an uplifting picture. And the author never tells us that it's okay because God has it all in hand and Ruth will marry, have children and become David's great-grandmother.

It made me wonder: How many lives are lived in the gloom of chapter 1 rather than in the light of the hope that unfolds through the story? How many people do I know who, because things are not going well, cannot see the hand of God anymore?

And then I thought, and why can't I?

I am no different, I have good days and bad days. I have days when life and busyness overwhelm me and I'd rather be anywhere else, doing anything else, than what I have to do. But I am not called to give up, I'm called to persevere.

As a follower of Jesus I have a hope that ought to infect everything I do. I can live with hope, I can grieve with hope, I can face challenges with hope, I can face failure with hope. I am not defined by any of these obstacles, I am defined by my relationship with Jesus. I am, first and foremost, "in Christ" . That is who I am and that is what defines me.

And what of Ruth? She got on with life, and as she persevered she discovered God's involvement and care as he met her needs and the needs of the despairing Naomi, and then went way beyond just meeting her needs and gave her a fullness of life no one could have predicted when she left her home to travel with her mother-in-law.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Omnifocus now available

I've been waiting for this to come out of the early beta phase before trying it. I also had to wait for a Mac!

Anyway, Omnifocus is now available and I'm giving it a try.

You can download it from the Omnigroup website.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Goals for reaching others

I was wandering around the internet this morning and decided to revisit the Withreach website to see if there was anything new. I began to read the article about an example of a withreach strategy. What caught my attention was this list of goals:
  • My first goal is to create meaningful conversations.
  • My second goal is to create meaningful friendships.
  • My third goal is to discover the treasures and God-given dreams in those friendships (I see them as prime community assets) and to find out how God is already at work in their lives, and work alongside Him, rather than pre-judge what should come next.
  • My fourth goal is to see how God incarnates the conversation and the dreams of this small group in a way that brings creative transformation to the community.
This struck me as a good starting point for any approach to reaching the missing (that is, those formerly known as the lost). That it doesn't start with looking for an opportunity to share the gospel isn't a problem for me. If I'm in the right place at the right time, that opportunity will come, of that I'm sure.

What I like is the intentional relationship building that is at the heart of these goals. Caring about a person's eternal destiny must begin with caring about the person. They must matter to you if you are ever going to help them see how much they matter to God.

Thursday, November 15, 2007


As you know I've been working at improving my organisation and to that end I've used Thinking Rock on my PC to help plan projects and keep track of my to do lists. Since moving to the Mac I've started to use iGTD.

It's taken me some time to adjust to i'GTDs way of working compared to the world of Thinking Rock, but there are some nice touches.  For example I like the way the date  displays as "Today" or "Thursday" rather than just a plain date string. I also like the way you can put stuff in the inbox from other applications. Being a new boy on the Mac block, I'm not really familiar with things like Quicksilver, but there's QS functionality in iGTD too.

Then there's the ability to synchronise iGTD with iCal and even Mail, so that your to do lists are all the same. This isn't for everyone, and it's a bit unsightly to have a new calendar for every context. I'd prefer to have a single iGTD calendar although I can see the point of having a calendar for each context as long as there aren't that many contexts. In fact having started to use this, I've narrowed my contexts down somewhat. I did create a separate iGTd folder for all the context calendars so that I only see iGTd in the list, which looks a little neater.

Another feature I like is the way all my projects get put in alphabetical order. This makes it easier to find a project compare with TR.

I'm sure there are more functions and tweaks to discover as I get to grips with iGTD, but first impressions are that it's a positive alternative to TR.

Are you Church of England?

There are moments when God surprises me as he shows me a glimpse of his purposes through everyday conversations. I live on the church site. The church is 30 seconds walk from the house and there are days when I wonder about living so close. But then there are days when I realise that it's a gift from God to be where I am. Today has been one of those days.

Because we're only five minutes walk from the local school, we open our car park for parents to use at the beginning and end of the day. If I'm outside I chat freely to some of the parents and wave at them as I go out and come in from walks or visits or trips away from home.  I never really know if this has any value or meaning but it's the kind of thing I imagine Jesus would do if he lived in my house! Today was no different except for one thing. A conversation. 

One of the parents was checking the oil in his car while he waited for school to end. We spoke and chatted about cars for a few minutes and then he asked the question: Are you Church of England? That took us into a short conversation about being baptist and then he told me he'd given up going to church when he was 25 but he had never stopped believing in God. He's 40 now and I get the feeling that as he has sat in our car park day after day God has quietly been working in his heart.

I don't know what the outcome of this will be. I took the chance and invited him to church and maybe he will come. I simply don't know. What I do know is that God so loved the world that he went to extraordinary lengths for this parent, his partner and his whole family. And if I have to spend a bit more time in the car park to help him move closer to discovering that for himself then the car park is where you will find me.

Pastoral Care Training

Further to my post recently about Pastoral Care Training, I came across a resource on the Methodist Church website called Encircled in Care. Having bought the pack it does look rather helpful.

The course, for want of a better word, is broken down into three foundation sessions:
Why we care
Developing skills
Good practice
and then there are 9 further modules that look at:
Prayer in pastoral visiting
Connecting care and discipleship
Children, young people and pastoral care
Across the Generations
Extended communion
Health, healing and Well-being
Mental Health issues
Loss and Bereavement
Domestic Abuse

Each session had a Bible passage for reflection and useful handouts, and itt's all on a CDRom too.

I hope to run the three foundations units as an introductory course in the New Year.

Monday, November 05, 2007

The MacBook

So, it's been almost one week in the company of the new MacBook and I think I'm beginning to understand the thing. It's a very different beast compared to a PC running XP. I've eventually found the forward delete key and I'm getting used to using the key instead of the key.

What has been really useful is having two people nearby who are Mac users. Ally has made me a list of useful commands and hints, and Mark, a friend from church, has loaned me two books by David Pogue (Switching to the Mac and Mac OS X Tiger edition). I'm actually running Leopard, but the book is still very handy. Without these I think I might have wondered what on earth I'd done moving away from a familiar interface to this strange new world. There's just so much to learn but I'm surprised how much I've got used to already. 

Something that came with the package was OmniOutliner. I've been experimenting with this today and I'm quite impressed. There are some helpful introductory tutorials on the website (Omnigroup) which helped me get started and I think it will prove to be very useful for all sorts of things. 

So overall, I'm pretty impressed with the MacBook.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

And so the revolution begins...

Although my previous story about the barefoot man may lead some to think I gave up on pursuing the MacBook dream, the truth is that I was only waiting for Leopard to arrive. 

The trip to the Apple Store was a convenience precipitated by a journey through London. 

So, here I am sitting with my new MacBook trying to figure out if I've made a sensible or crazy choice! My daughter is of course convinced that it's the best decision her father had made for some considerable time!

What I have learnt so far is this:

1. When you get a new toy the 'phone never stops ringing
2. Staying up late to play with said new toy does not help you get started the following morning
3. A new MacBook is no substitute for a conversation with your wife, whom you haven't seen all day.
4. It's not like Windows!!
5. It's addictive
6. I think I'm going to like it

All jokes apart, it's a very streamlined little machine. I chose to have the extra gig of memory added in the hope that it will whizz along and I won't spend too much time waiting for an application to run.

There's a lot to learn and the curve looks quite steep, but I'm pleased that I've already figured out how to run a presentation using the remote control and how to build transitions for a slide. I've added some photo's from my digital camera and I've got a trusty little list of useful commands supplied by my Mac-crazed daughter. 

So here we go, a brave new world is dawning on my desk!

Monday, October 29, 2007

A funny thing happened on the way to the Apple Store

My Daughter, Ally, and I went to an Open Day at a University in Twickenham the other day. We chose to go by train because it's easy and we like travelling by train. The journey involves travelling to London and then across town to Waterloo and from there to Twickenham. Because we were going through London we decided that on the way back we'd drop into the Apple Store and see if there was a sneak peak at Leopard. We knew it wasn't due for release until the Friday, but hope springs eternal where Ally and Macs are concerned.

So, having finished in Twickenham we returned to Waterloo and then made our way to Regent Street to visit the store. Turning the corner onto Regent Street you can see the Apple logo beckoning you down the street. Secure in the knowledge that we were going in the right direction we plunged through the crowds of people avoiding the temptations of all other retailers.

And then I saw him.

Sitting, shivering, ignored but not unnoticed by everyone who passed him by. It's not an unusual sight on any street in any town or city, but what really caught my eye was the fact that he was barefoot. No shoes. No socks.

In the rush we too, like everyone else, hurried on to our destination, but as I wandered aimlessly through the cavernous Apple Store, I could not get the image of this man out of my head. Here was I working out how much a shiny new MacBook was going to cost me, and there was he, barefoot and shivering. I couldn't just keep walking past.

So we left the Apple Store and I told Ally what I had seen. Being the amazing daughter she is, she understood and agreed that we should do something so we did. It wasn't some grand gesture, we just bought socks. Eventually we found him again, he'd moved because two policemen were patrolling nearby, and we handed over the socks. I wish I'd have done more, I wish I'd known his shoe size so I could have bought him shoes too, but I did the simplest thing I could think of to do so that I could at least let him know that he had been seen. Seen not as a nuisance nor as a beggar but as a human being, loved by God, noticed by God, someone who deserved the dignity of a pair of socks.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Staying healthy in ministry

One of the blogs I track is A recent post was titled 10 Tips to prevent scandal, but I think it has much to say about ministry anyway. Here's the post:

The world has seen quite a few ministry scandals over the past year.
Fortunately, Charisma magazine’s J. Lee Grady has 10 tips on how you can prevent scandal in your own life. Here is a summary.

  • Live a humble, transparent life.

  • Stay open to correction.

  • Audit your actions regularly.

  • Stay in touch with the real world. Ministry is about loving people. But you will never develop compassion unless you are close enough to the grass roots to smell the poverty, lay hands on the sickness and cry with those who are in pain.

  • Don’t allow people to make you a celebrity.

  • Make family a priority.

  • Live modestly and give extravagantly.

  • Don’t build your own kingdom.

  • Develop keen discernment.

  • Maintain your spiritual passion. People who experience moral failure almost always lose their spiritual passion first.

Now it seems to me that this framework provides a good basis from which we can all develop a checklist for ministry health.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Pastoral Care Training

Does anyone use any form of training for their pastoral care team/ workers?

At Cotton End, we're looking into how we can develop a better model for pastoral care in and through the church and we're looking for training material to help our care team in their role.

If you know of anything that might help, please point me in the right direction.


Simple theology

I dip into and out of a variety of "thought for the day" style of books. One I may have bought or been given some time in the last year or so is a daily thought from Max Lucado. Now I like Max. I like the simplicity and clarity with which he writes, and I've read most of the books he's written that are available in the UK.

Today's thought centres on the atonement. This is how Max describes it:

In an act that broke the heart of the Father, yet honoured the holiness of heaven, sin-purging judgement flowed over the sinless Son of the ages.
And heaven gave her finest gift. The Lamb of God who took away the sin of the world.
"My God, my God, why did you abandon me?" Why did Christ scream those words?
So you'll never have to.

When I think about the hours of theological study that have gone into trying to unravel the meaning of those words, that cry of abandonment, the simple truth is that it was all for you and all for me. Simple, yet deeply profound.

We're accepted, we're forgiven, we're united with him.
Not rejected, not forgotten, not abandoned in sin.
(From Jesus loves the church
by Michael Sanderman Kingsway music 1999)

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Make a difference

According to UNICEF, 30,000 children die each day due to poverty. That's one every 3 seconds, 210,000 children each week, or just under 11 million children under five years of age, each year.
According to the statistics there are 2.2 billion children in the world. Almost half live in poverty (1 billion). 1.9 billion of these children live in the developing world. 1 in 3 (640 million) are without adequate shelter, 1 in 5 (400 million) are without access to safe water, 1 in 7 (270 million) have no access to health services. There are an estimated 120 million children out of education.

When it comes to child mortality, 10.6 million children died before the age of 5 in 2003 (same as children population in France, Germany, Greece and Italy). 1.4 million die each year from lack of access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation. 2.2 million children die each year because they are not immunized. 15 million children orphaned due to HIV/AIDS (similar to the total children population in Germany or United Kingdom).

Basic education for all would probably cost around 6 billion $US. That 2 billion less that the US spends on cosmetics and 5 billion less that Europeans spend on ice cream. Military spending in the world is 780 billion.

Basic education, health care and safe water would cost an estimated 28 billion dollars. That's less than 4% of the military budget.

All these numbers can seem overwhelming and leave you feeling like there's nothing you can do that could ever make a difference. But you'd be wrong.

For less than £20 a month (40$), you can change a child's life through a sponsorship programme. Sponsorship helps to break the cycle of childhood poverty, through education, health and welfare. Often, child sponsorship is connected to a wider project in a local community. You not only change the life of a child, you are influencing change in a community.

Go on, make your own dent in those numbers!

Compassion; World vision

For UK readers:

Compassion; World vision

Monday, October 15, 2007


I wonder what things you notice that no one else sees? Maybe it's not so much that they don't see them, it's just that it doesn't bother them like it bothers you.

If you asked folk at Cotton End Baptist Church what bothers me, they'd probably mention the chairs! I'm not obsessive, but I do like them to be right, or at the very least look fairly neat and tidy. Other people of course are less worried and just stick the chairs roughly where they think they remember them being. And that sentence in itself probably tells you a lot about how I like to see them!

I guess there are things about me that people see that I don't see. And when they point them out, as some are apt to do, it can be quite painful to hear. How you handle such moments is truly a measure of one's maturity.

This train of thought was triggered by something I saw this morning in today's post. My denomination has an annual assembly around May time each year, and today the early publicity for it dropped on the door mat. Inside the envelope was a glossy flyer all about next year's event. So what caught my eye, and maybe only my eye? On the inside page there's a photograph of the worship band leading a song during a past event. The photograph is a good photograph, nicely composed from a good angle. And it's printed the wrong way around. It's a mirror image of the real thing. How do I know this? The first clue was that both guitar players are left-handed according to the picture. I notice this because I'm a left-handed guitar player and I thought 'how odd, two lefties on one platform'. Then I realised that the writing on the amplifier was in fact backwards (it's a Marshall amp by the look of it, and the M is on the wrong end). Thirdly I realised that the cello player had the cello over the wrong shoulder.

Now none of this is really important. I guess graphic designers invert pictures all the time and no one really notices. It's not the key feature of the brochure, it's just an illustration of how sometimes we notice things that others might not notice. to us they become important, to the other people around us, they are less important. And it just got me thinking about the whole subject of spotting the difference between the important things and the less important. Seeing a thing is one thing, understanding how important it is is quite another.

Electric cars

A few weeks ago we were out shopping when we came across an exhibition about environmental things. Among the exhibits was a new, electric Smart Car. Now if you don't know what a basic Smart looks like, it's a simple two-seater car designed for city driving. The electric version has a range of 50 miles, which would actually suit us fine for getting in and out of our local town. Anne could use it everyday to go to the station, and a single charge would most likely last her a week.
But here's the catch. I've always had a concern about electric cars because the electricity you use to recharge them comes from power stations that burn fossil fuels or maybe even from a nuclear station, which while CO2 clean, is not that environmentally friendly over the long haul. So while the car may be clean, the power generator is isn't. But now there's a choice. Green energy. I'm seriously considering switching to a green energy supplier like Good Energy. By doing this an electric car, I think, becomes an option because neither the energy generator nor the consumer product produce CO2 emissions. The downside? For some reason it seems that Smart are only releasing the electric Smart to companies, not the ordinary consumer.
There are probably good alternatives, especially for longer journeys. I particularly like the look of the hybrid technology that's available. The problem here is that the choice is also limited, but maybe that's just an excuse.
I guess the point is that I really don't have to keep buying cars that burn lots of petrol or diesel anymore, and next time I change my car, I'll give some serious consideration to buying something that's good for the environment and good for me too.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Me and my environment

It's very easy for Christians, especially those of us from an evangelical perspective, to become complacent about the environment. After all, we have the eternal destiny of humanity on our minds and hearts, is there really enough room for the environment too?

Well, the short answer is of course that there has to be room for it. After all we are stewards of creation and I can't imagine that anyone of us would interpret the Bible as giving us the authority to strip our small blue-green planet of all it's resources and drive it to near extinction. Whatever our theology, we can all take seriously the challenge to do something that will make a difference to the health of our ecosystem.

In my ideal world these are some of the things I want to work towards doing:

1. A carbon neutral church. I know it will cost money, but I'd like to see the day when churches lead the way in using renewable energy. We have a large, south-east facing roof. I'm sure there's room for a big PV cell and/or solar panels. I wouldn't be surprised to find that we could derive a considerable amount of heating and hot water resources this way, even in our northern climate. If ever I'm involved in a new-build project, I will be a strong advocate of such a system.

2. Recycle what we can. Recycling is still a bit hit and miss in many parts of the UK. Different councils use different systems. Unfortunately it's not possible to recycle everything that could be recycled in my local area, but I'm sure we could do more. I watched as we cleared up after an event the other day and was saddened to see how much recyclable stuff was just thrown away for the sake of convenience. Recycling is not pain free. You have to sort your rubbish and that take more time and effort than simply tossing it all in the same bin.

3. Change the lights. Low-energy lightbulbs are getting smaller and more cost-effective. It's time to get the ladders out and change the bulbs in church. We must have three to four dozen lights in the main building alone that we could change to low energy versions.

4. Walk when ever you can. I once saw an interview with a man in his 70's who was very fit. When asked how he'd stayed so fit his answer was simple: If it's less than five miles, I walk. Whilst I can't imagine walking five miles and carrying all the equipment and stuff I sometimes have to carry, it is possible for me to arrange some things in a way that means I can walk. And you know what, when I walk I get to meet more people. As a church we could at the very least organise our housegroups so that everyone could walk if they are able. And just think what that might mean for the neighbourhood.

5. Change the car. I'll confess I drive a people-carrier. And I'll also confess that when I next change my car I'm going to have a good look at the current crop of hybrids (it shouldn't take long I only know of two in the UK!) We're also considering a small, maybe even electric, car for those short journeys of 5-10 miles. Now I know that an electric, whilst it sounds good on paper (zero emissions), it has to be recharged using electricity normally supplied from a power station that does produce greenhouse gases, but there are renewable energy suppliers out there, and maybe it's time to switch to one of those.

I could go one and write more, but I guess the point is simple: work out what steps you can take and then figure out how to take them. Remember, God gave us the responsibility to care for our environment, let's not shirk that responsibility.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Things I remember

Here's a random list of things I remember from growing. It's in celebration of turning 50 and a vain attempt and seeing what actually sticks in my memory. So in no particular order...

I remember:

Neil Armstrong stepping onto the surface of the moon
England winning the football World Cup in 1966
The day decimal currency was introduced to the UK
The assassination of JKF, his brother Bobby and Martin Luther King
William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton and John Pertwee as Doctor Who
Black and White TV
Only having two TV channels to choose from and no day-time programmes at all!
Penny chews
Making ice slides in the school playground
Fred Truman playing cricket
Aztec chocolate bars
My first trip to casualty (the "emergency room" and the first of many I have to say)
My first broken bone (left jaw fractured by my own knee having fallen off a roof.)
The chimney sweep who had a heart attack in our lounge (I don't remember what happened to him)
The first flight of Concorde
My first try in a rugby match for the school (Actually I only scored two tries in my whole school rugby career and both came in the same match!)
The only hat-trick I ever took in cricket (Also for the school. I actually took four wickets in five deliveries that day)
Walking on the cliffs with my father (we didn't do many things together, but we always went for a walk on holiday)
Lucky bags
The first X-men comic (Oh, if only I'd kept the thing in a plastic cover along with all those small cars and Meccano bits)
Fireball XL5; Stingray; Thunderbirds; Joe 90
My first chemistry set (And the first experiment I did, which was to add water to anhydrous copper sulphate and watch it turn blue. Not very exciting, but I soon graduated to trying to blow things up as I recall)
My first school prize ( I was "top boy" for three years and then they changed the prize to "exceptional effort" and a friend of mine won because he made an exceptional effort, whereas I hadn't!)
The first time I opted for the truth over a lie. It wasn't a big thing and I was no angel believe me. I remember it because it was the first time I realised there was a choice to make. I was about 8 at the time.
Sitting the 11+ (I passed and went to Grammar School as a result)
Having dark brown hair

And many more things I'm sure.

On turning 50

So on Sunday morning I turned to Anne and asked her, "Do I look a day over fifty?" The reason for the question was quite simple, on Sunday I was a day over fifty. Fifty. I remember when 34 seemed old!
When I was about 8 or 9 I used to look through my father's copy of the Observer a Sunday newspaper here in the UK. The only thing I remember from my Sunday reading was an article about people who had left the rat-race in the city behind them and bought General Stores, or something similar, in some village or small town in an idyllic corner of Cornwall or Dorset. 34 seemed so old then, I never really thought I'd ever get to be that old. And yet here I am at 50!
Now without being morbid, if I live to a similar age to my parents, I've got another 30 years left to make a difference somewhere, somehow. I'm not a driven kind of person, but I do look at my life and ask myself what exactly it is that I can do to influence the people around me.
Being the leader of a local church is an enormously privileged position of influence. It carries great responsibility along with the potential for influence. Just the other day we were talking about what has changed during the time I've been the minister here in Cotton End. It was deeply encouraging to hear the positive things that were being said. I'm truly grateful to God for the opportunity I have here.
So, given that it's "pastor appreciation month", at least in the US if not in the UK, let me encourage any other minsters out there to keep on doing what you do to influence the people you serve to become more and more like Jesus and to make a difference wherever you are and wherever they are. Especially if you to have reach the gran age of 50. Now, has anyone seen my reading glasses and that over 50's vitamin supplements catalogue?

Sunday, October 07, 2007

GLS 2007

Once again the Global Leadership Summit did not disappoint. Bill Hybels was inspiring in both sessions, Jon Ortberg was moving and insightful in the way he unpacked the story of Esther against the background of a leader's greatest fear and Marcus Buckingham was outstanding in his presentation. The interviews with Richard Curtis, Carly Fioria and Colin Powell were all different and all challenging in their ways.

If you haven't had the opportunity to attend one of these summits, either as a live, satellite or videocast event, then I encourage you to consider signing up for next year as soon as you can. For me personally, it's becoming a "never miss" part of my year. Even if I can't get to the event, I'll buy the DVD's and share them with my leaders. (I buy them anyway so that we can keep the material at the front of our minds throughout the year).

This year three members of the core team plus myself and two ministry leaders outside of our core team attended for all or part of the summit. I'm seriously considering making attendance at the summit an essential part of being a leader in our church. I'd do this because it's such a great event.

So get the brochure and mark off the dates in your diary. I absolutely believe that you won't regret it.

For UK based leaders go here, for non-UK leaders start here.

Tap guitar

Sometimes you come across something that just blows you away.

This is one of those times, at least for me. Watch and marvel.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Energy for life

One of the regular feeds I read was talking about managing your energy levels. It mentioned the "four dimensions" of energy and focused on physical energy.

Well I was intrigued and thought I'd do a bit of research. I found my way to The Energy Project and listened to a couple of the video FAQs to see what I could learn. The main thrust of the site is that you manage energy not time, and energy falls into four categories: Physical energy defined as the quantity of your energy; mental energy (energy of your mind) defined as your focus; your heart energy which is the quality of your energy; the energy of the human spirit which they define as the force of your energy.

The focus of all this discussion of energy is productivity. Getting more done with a better quality of life.

Before I read the website, my initial thoughts about what the four dimensions of energy might be were: Physical energy, mental energy, emotional energy and spiritual energy. Not massively different then to what I found on the website, but there are some differences in application and interpretation.

I'm not sure, for example, that I would define the energy of my heart (emotional energy in my list) as the quality of my energy. I think it's something different. In fact I might even go so far as to suggest that each dimension has both a qualitative and a quantitative aspect to it. Emotional energy them becomes a matter of how we deal with things that move us, irritate us, ager us. It's our capacity to respond to humanitarian crises, human experiences. It's our compassion quotient if you like. Similarly I'm not big on the energy of the human spirit, but I am big on spiritual energy in the context of our relationship with God.

However we define energy, or energies, I'm guessing that we know they need managing. We all know, for instance, about the need to look after ourselves physically in order to be able to do what we need to do. Not having enough physical energy to get through the day is seriously going to dent our ability to do anything let alone be productive about it! We all know, but do we do anything proactive about it?

The same is probably true about the other dimensions of energy too. We know about the need to cultivate them, to replenish them, but do we take the time and make the effort to do anything about it?

As someone who is deeply involved in Christian ministry I know what it feels like to run low on my stocks of energy. I know how easy it is to minister tiredness, frustration and apathy. I know too what it means to minister the alternatives, just in case you were worrying about me!
What might be interesting would be to explore these dimensions of energy and think about how we cycle through them, cultivate them and deploy them. I'm not so interested in doing that for the sake of productivity as I am in doing it for the sake of growing into the person God wants me to be. As I often say, "I am what I am, but i am not all that I could be."

So, over the next few weeks, I might try to explore some thoughts about these energy fields, and I even have two more to add to the four I've already mentioned: Creative energy and social energy.

It would be great to hear some thoughts from others along the way.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

My new diary

I like gadgets. Honest I do. I like my GPS that I take when I go walking, and I like my Palm PDA. I like my ipod, especially when I have to wait around in airports. But I also like pens and pencils and paper. i like having different notebooks for different jobs. I have notebooks with ruled white paper and one with yellow paper. I have a tabbed notebook for sermon ideas and outlines. I have a nice new plain paper notebook for doing hand drawn mind maps. And I have a paper diary. More to the point I have a new paper diary.

For what must be the better part of 25 years I've used a Filofax diary system. I started out with the slimline version but very quickly moved to the larger ring system in the personal sized binder. I've worn out two binders and have been using my third for some time now, but it was time for a new experiment.

On Monday a bright new A5 Filofax binder arrived on my door step. The bigger size is more awkward to carry but it looks more flexible and easier to manage than the smaller version. I've already printed out my address book from Outlook using Clickbook to format the pages into A5. And I also created some diary pages to take me through this year.

I like the size of the diary because the notepaper and other pages are easy to use. I've created a section for Actions/To Do and one for notes. My actions are printed from Thinking Rock via a two column Word document. I just find it easier to work with the two column format. Again Clickbook is the easy way to resize and print the pages back to back.

So, overall I'm happy with my new diary. We'll see how it performs over the next few weeks as I use it day by day.

If you're interested, I got my new binder from The Organiser Store and I opted for the Metropol binder. There's also a website full of templates for Filofax style diary systems at DIY Planner.

Do what it takes

I was thinking the other day about how to help a friend who was asking me about how to be a better follower of Jesus. We talked about many of the usual things, but it became clear to me that in many ways my friend was really waiting for something "spiritual" to happen in the hope that this would bring about the changes he so desperately wants in his life.

It was as I thought that this question came to me: Perhaps we were looking at the problem from the wrong end. Perhaps trying to deal with all the old stuff that my friend feels is holding him back was the wrong approach. Perhaps we should actually concentrate on where he wants to be. So I asked him: What would a fully devoted follower of Jesus do? And then I said: Do that!

Sounds really simple doesn't it? I know it's not that easy, but I think it probably is that simple. We must choose to do what a fully devoted follower would do in order to become a fully devoted follower. If you are wondering if that works, then think about becoming a really physically fit and healthy person. Does that happen overnight or do you need to train? My point is simple, in order to get fit you have do the things you would do as a fit person. You won't do them very well to begin with, but as you continue to practice the lifestyle of a fit person you will steadily become a fitter person.

Can this not also be true spiritually? Do you want to be a persistent and consistent person of prayer? Well the only way I know of becoming a person of prayer is to pray, to actually get to the job of praying.

So my challenge to my friend remains: Do what a fully devoted follower would do if you want to be a fully devoted follower.

Thursday, September 20, 2007


I was sitting this morning just thinking and reflecting and I began to think about ministry. It has its ups and downs, and it would be really easy to get frustrated and cynical about the church, but as I sat and thought I realised something quite profound.

I'm still passionate about ministry.

If the truth were told, I think I'd do it for free. Actually I do if you understand the technical nature of a stipend rather than a salary. But that aside, I found myself praying a simple prayer of surrender this morning.

Years ago, before I went to college to study theology and train for whatever ministry God had for me, I remember sitting in my car in the car park at work one lunchtime. Things were not great at the time, and I remember saying the kind of thing everyone says once in a while about getting out of a place and doing something different. Then I felt prompted by the Holy Spirit to think about what it might mean to stay in that place. It was not a pleasant thought but the question was simple: What if God wanted me to stay working in that place for the rest of my life?

It was then that I guess I first thought about the idea of totally surrendering my dreams and ambitions, hopes and desires, into the hands of God. So I prayed something like this: "Lord, I don't want to stay, I'd do almost anting to not stay, but if you want me to stay I'll stay. I'll stay and serve you as best I can for as long as you ask.

Well, about a year later I was off to college. I knew it was right because I knew I'd surrendered.

So there I was this morning remembering that sense of surrender and praying again. My prayer remains as simple as ever: "Lord, I surrender."

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Still getting most things done!

It's now almost two months since I changed my way of working to become more organised. I now have an empty inbox at the end of almost every day (I think I missed one in the last 6 or 7 weeks that I know about) and that's pretty impressive for me. What I like is the sense that I should be able to find a home for every thought, idea, piece of paper and just about everything that comes my way on a daily basis.

What I also like is knowing that whilst this is a "work in progress", it's really paying off in the way I do things. What I still need to do is to organise my books and my files. I also need to give some close attention to the clutter of gadgets and bits that accumulate in my life. I have draws and boxes with stuff in them that needs to be processed. But here's the thing. I can schedule that task, I can reschedule that task, I can delegate it, defer, even do it. The one thing I don't have to do is let it bother me that it's undone. By regularly reviewing my action lists and projects, I can see where things like "sort out books" fits in the overall scheme of things.

The next thing I like is the sense of control. Without going into detail, I've got a list of some 60 projects in which I am involved. It was the realisation that I was trying to navigate all these projects in my head that made me realise I needed to change my habits. Now I can sit and look at the projects, I can see the connections, and I'm working out how best to negotiate my way through them all. They each get the attention they need because they have a place on a list.
There's an interesting knock-on effect too.

When I look around my environment, I see stuff that needs processing. Clutter that's just built up through busyness in church, and that is crying out for someone to deal with it. I'm not becoming obsessively tidy, but I am becoming more aware of the need to process and review what's lying around the place. And I think that's healthy.

Lastly, I'm less stressed about what I have to do. There are still times when all the demands I face seem to pile up before me, but I certainly feel as if it's more contained, less overwhelming. It's a healthier place to be.

For me, the key next step is to take this new system and create the space in my day to process everything properly and thoroughly. In other words, to give myself the time to really do what really needs to be done.

But as I said, this is a work in progress.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Am I all that I am?

Jon Ortberg has written a number of books, some of which populate by bookshelves. among the ones I've read are: If you want to walk on water you've got to get out of the boat, Everybody's normal 'til you get to know them, The life you've always wanted and God is closer than you think. In one of these he quotes that most famous of maritime philosophers, Popeye the sailor-man, who said, "I am what I am." Actually he said, "I yam what I yam," accourding to Ortberg, but's it's difficult to write with Popeye's accent!

How many times have you heard yourself, or someone else, say something similar? We use it all the time to excuse our behaviour, to excuse our failure or simply to avoid change. And yet, all the time we make excuses we avoid responsibility. We go on doing the same old things because we believe that we simply can't help it. It's who we are. It's what we do.

But wait a minute, doesn't the Bible offer us hope? Doesn't the Bible hold out the potential for change? Isn't the core message of God's great story that while it may be true that I am what I am, it's also true that I am not all that I could be?

Perhaps we need to remember that we are best defined by reference to God's great and redeeming love for us. We are not defined by our failure and failings. In God's hands, our potential s unlimited, the possibilities are endless and the opportunities inexhaustible.

Thursday, September 06, 2007


Clickbook adds a "virtual printer" rather like many of the pdf creator programs you can get. If you don't have a pdf generator, then you could try PDF995 which is what I use. But there are lots to choose from. You get single click access in Windows applications and there's a MAC OSX version too.

When activated, Clickbook allows you to choose the style of output you want and then configures your printer to give you that output. And there are a lot of styles, although no Pocketmod style that I could see. So, for example, I tried printing my contact list from Outlook in the form of pages for my Filofax planner. With a little work form the guillotine and my hole punch, I had all my contacts on paper and with my diary. Something I've been wanting to do for many years but never been able to crack it.

If you're printer has duplex, it will use that too.

I have a Samsung CPL500 and Clickbook adjusted the output to match the paper and the auto-duplexing. Very neat.

I'm using the 15 day trial version, but I'd seriously consider buying the full version if my initial test runs are anything to go by.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

7 Summers

If you haven't seen this short video yet, you might want to check it out here.

Managing change

I was at an Inset (In Service Training) day at the beginning of the week and came across this:

Vision + Skills + Incentives + Resources + Action Plan
= Change

Skills + Incentives + Resources + Action Plan
= Confusion

Vision + Incentives + Resources + Action Plan
= Anxiety

Vision + Skills + Resources + Action Plan
= Resistance

Vision + Skills + Incentives + Action Plan
= Frustration

Vision + Skills + Incentives + Resources
= Treadmill

Saturday, September 01, 2007

My wedding talk

It's been a busy few weeks, what with one thing and another. What's made it unusual is that August is typically quite quiet as I wind down and take the opportunity to rest and relax a little.

This August has been busier than usual, with two weddings and two funerals, all in 17 days. Now I know that's not a lot for many a minister, but it's more weddings that I usually do and the funerals are normally spread out over the year.

Anyway today was the second wedding and although technically it's September, it felt like August. I have several wedding talks, but I tend to revert to one in particular. It's not wholly original to me, the basics of the idea were shared with me by a older fellow minister. The outline of the talk is this:

3 great questions to ask.

1. Where do you want this marriage to go?
2. How will you get there?
3. Are you willing to do whatever it takes to reach that place?

21 important words for the journey

First six: I am sorry, I was wrong
Next five: How can I help you?
Then four: What do you think?
Now three: I love you
Two : Thank you
One to go: We

I guess, looking at my diary, I won't be using this until October next year, but then again I didn't think I was going to use it this year at all!

Friday, August 31, 2007

Have you discovered Pocketmod?

As I continue to work with Thinking Rock, I discovered the other day that it can produce a report in a format called "Pocketmod". Now I'd never come across Pocketmod before so, intrigued as I was, I ran the report and was quite surprised by what it produced. A quick search of the internet found the pocketmod website and it all began to make sense.

If you don't know, pocketmod is simply a way of printing out useful things which you then fold to produce a small booklet to carry in your pocket. One or two people have produced templates, but I want to be able to do a little more and so designed my own pocketmod print.

Taking my Next actions report that I've already translated into a Word document in order to be able to put it on my PDA, I've simply created a template in Publisher into which I can paste the data form the report. Because Publisher allows you to have text upside by inverting the text boxes, you can get an easy to fold booklet of all your next actions or any other form of list you might want.

Here's my pocketmod of next actions.

To be swallowed up in eternal life

But we continue to preach because we have the same kind of faith the psalmist had when he said, “I believed in God, so I spoke.” We know that God, who raised the Lord Jesus, will also raise us with Jesus and present us to himself together with you. All of this is for your benefit. And as God’s grace reaches more and more people, there will be great thanksgiving, and God will receive more and more glory.

That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.

For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing. For we will
put on heavenly bodies; we will not be spirits without bodies. While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh, but it’s not that we want to die and get rid of these bodies that clothe us. Rather, we want to slip into our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by everlasting life. God himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee he has given us his Holy Spirit.

So we are always confident, even though we know that as long as we live in these bodies we are not at home with the Lord. For we live by believing and not by seeing. Yes, we are fully confident, and we would rather be away from these earthly bodies, for then we will be at home with the Lord. So whether we are here in this body or away from this body, our goal is to please him. For we must all stand before Christ to be judged. We will each receive whatever we deserve for the good or evil we have done in this earthly body.

This was New Testament reading today and it blew me away. This is Paul at his eloquent best, and personally I found it deeply moving today.

Look how he begins, reminding us that our faith is a faith shared through the generations and the basis that it gives for our future hope. Look at the foundation of our endurance-the grace of God drawing more and more people into his kingdom. “That is why,” says Paul, “we never give up.” Even though everything around might scream, “give up”, our spirits are renewed and we go on, looking forward into the future that God has planned for us. An eternal future that puts our present troubles in perspective.

And here’s a great phrase, “We want to slip into our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by everlasting life.” That’s a great picture. One day eternal life will consume us.
Out of all this comes our desire to please God, and so “we live by believing and not by seeing.”
Maybe it’s just today and the spiritual place in which I find myself, but these words seem to soar with a majesty that draws me into thanksgiving for the goodness, the grace, the wonder of all that God has done for me, is doing for, and will do for me.

An opportunity we can't afford to miss

For the last couple of years we've been watching the progress of a project to build a new community just two miles from our village. Almost 10,000 homes will be built over the next 10 years or so and currently the infrastructure is being prepared. The first residents are expected to move in some time in 2008.

By comparison the village in which we currently and minister has 300 homes and the nearby village of Shortstown has about 1,000 homes (set to double in size in the next year or so). It seems obvious to me, and to others at church, that this is a God-given opportunity to engage with a new community from it's very beginnings. An opportunity to do mission in new ways with new people.

This has demanded a lot of thought and prayer about what this might mean, and I believe it's really important that we get committed Christians into the community as early as we can. This is an opportunity to serve a new, emerging community. It's an opportunity to contribute to the DNA of a neighbourhood, a village, even a town from its beginnings and as it grows.

Will you pray with us that God will bring to these new communities Christians who will connect with their neighbours, Christians who will be able to connect with us and partner with us in reaching this new community?

If you're interested in what's happening in these developments, you can visit the main developers site here.

What kind of thinker am I?

The BBC website has a section devoted the Leonardo da Vinci, quite why I'm not sure, but it does have another of those wonderful personality tests to work out what kind of thinker you are.

My results were:

You are a Linguistic Thinker

Linguistic thinkers:
Tend to think in words, and like to use language to express complex ideas.
Are sensitive to the sounds and rhythms of words as well as their meanings.
Like linguistic thinkers, Leonardo made meticulous descriptions in his journals. He also made an effort to learn Latin - a foreign language

Other linguistic thinkers include William Shakespeare, Sylvia Plath, Anne Frank; Careers which suit linguistic thinkers include: Journalist, Librarian, Salesperson, Proof-reader, Translator, Poet, Lyricist

Sad that "church leader" doesn't fall into career choices. Perhaps, having inhabited both the scientific world of research and development and the "humanities" world of theology, I'm too complex a thinker to fit neatly into a category. Well I can only hope!

Take the test yourself at the BBC website.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

The weekly review

I came across an interesting post about using a weekly review check list. The checklist in question looks like this:

It's a very comprhensive list, and not everything would apply to everyone, but it might be a place to start if you need a plan (like me!)

You can find the post here.

Organising actions and projects

As I continue to develop my GTD-based system for organising my life, I find I have to keep making adjustments and trying new things. This is to be expected, and I wouldn't have assumed that I'd drop into a system that did everything the right way for me first time.

One of the things I've noticed is how easily it is to write an action that is actually a project. When you push yourself to consider what the "next action" is, the absolutely next thing you must do to take a step forward, I at least begin to see that more things are projects than they are single actions. I do have single actions: "Send Matt the contact details fro the architect", is a single action, but I also have some things that look like single actions, but quickly emerge as projects in their own right. For example, I created an action to build a new team for a particular ministry at church. I very quickly realised that there were several steps that needed to be completed in order to build that team, so I set about turning this apparently single action into a project and then I worked out what the true "next action" needed to be.

With this in mind I took a long look at all my "inactive" actions, actions that do not have a scheduled date or a delegated flag, or even a "Do ASAP" flag for them. I decided that I needed to organise these, which I do as part of my regular review. Some of these actions are inactive because they are future events, but I don't want them to drop off my radar so-to-speak, so I keep them in my current projects and actions. There are some actions which I've completed, but in fact are not completed. I know that sounds crazy but for example I have a task to connect with another local Christian worker. This I've done through a 'phone call, but I got their answering machine. So I've half done the task because I'm waiting for a response. These inactive tasks, or incomplete tasks clutter my actions list (remember I'm using Thinking Rock). So, I decided to use some gtd terminology and delegate these tasks to a series of @x tags. So I now have tags for actions that are waiting for a response (the classic @waiting for gtd tag), @review, for actions I need to pay attention to and schedule at some point, @maybe for tasks that are, well "maybe tasks", you get the point.

What's nice about doing this is that I can filter my actions by "delegated" and sort them once filtered. This allows me to see at a glance what tasks are waiting for something or someone else and I can decide how to follow that up.

I'm conscious that I may be over complicating things, so I'll have to test drive this for a while and see if it's a help for a hindrance, but I thougt I'd drop the idea into the mix.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Airport extreme is go!

Ally, my daughter, and I have just set up our new network using an Airport Extreme base station. I have to say it was a bit nerve jingling, replacing a working system with an unknown one, but everything seems to be working fine. In fact it's working better than the system it replaced.

So, bring on the MacBook!!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Perfect Pastor

Came across this snippet while in the process of sorting out my filing system.

The Perfect Pastor

The results of a computerised survey indicate the perfect minister preaches exactly 15 minutes. He condemns sin but never upsets anyone. He works from 8:00am until midnight and is also the caretaker (janitor). He earns £50 a week, wears good clothes, buys good books, drives a good car, and gives about £50 a week to the poor.

He is 28 years old and has preached for 30 years. He has a burning desire to to work with teenagers and spends all his time with senior citizens.

The perfect minister smiles all the time with a straight face because he has a sense of humour that keeps him seriously dedicated to his work. He visits at least 15 people a day including families, shut-ins, and those in hospital.

He is always in his study when needed.

Blog action day

I came across this through another site via a blog entry elsewhere.... The internet is a wondrous place for "rabbit trails" of the unexpected!

Anyway, Blog Action Day (Oct.15th 2007) is for everyone who has something they want to say about the environment. It's a sort of mass action via the blogosphere. I'm going to take part and post some thoughts about the environment. It's an odd things but I actually studied environmental science back in the 70's when I went to university in Wales. It wasn't a particularly fashionable thing to do then, I actually applied to do biology. But when I saw the environmental studies course that was on offer, I knew it was what I wanted to do. It just really appealed. Ever since I've taken an interest in the environment although it has been an obsessive one.

Anyway, I just thought I'd mention it in case you wanted to get involved too.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Curing a slow computer

Just recently I've begun to notice how slow my computer was getting and, not wanting to jump through too many hoops to sort this out I did a little research. Now I know that all you tech. savvy folk out there will already know this, but then again there are plenty of people like me who haven't had, or taken, the time to find it out yet.

So, the first thing I did was run a thing called registry patrol. It doesn't seem to have done any harm to my system, and there was a noticeable improvement in some things. I know that it has had some poor reviews, and there may be a better tool out there, but this worked for me. I should also say that I regularly run spyware to clear out any nasty bits and pieces that have crept in through the firewall.

The other things I've done is reduce the number of desktop icons I have. I thought I'd go for the "no icons at all" approach, but decided against that because Anne, my wife might think there was something wrong if no icons were showing. I use a black background anyway, so it might look like the system had crashed! I now have only three icons on my desktop: "My computer", "Recycle Bin" and Unused Icons".

Things have improved a little, in fact I think they've improved a lot. All those icons take time to draw and therefore take up cpu power, diverting it away from other useful things like opening applications. And everything is still accessible through the menus.

So if you're experiencing some similar problems because you've added programs and applications and let them put an icon on the desktop, trying removing them and see if it makes a difference.

PS I also cleaned up the files and defragged the hard drive.

Star posts

I thought I'd check out some of the blog posts that are "starred" in my Google Reader set up. It's an interesting mix! Here are five of my starred items.

In no particular order:

Is productivity contagious? raises that simple question. It asks whether we fall into the patterns around us and therefore also poses the question, for me as a leader, what kind of standard am I setting?

14 numbers your cell phone can't live without. This was fun. I wonder if "Your pastor" should be number 15?

Jim Wideman’s 3 Questions for Effectiveness and Efficiency. Unfortunately the link doesn't appear to be working for this one, so here's the gist of the entry.

Jim Wideman recently shared 3 questions he often asks to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of his ministry:

1. What am I doing that someone else can do?
2. What do I need to be doing that only I can do?
3. Is there a better way to do what we are doing?

Train yourself to regularly ask these questions. If you do, you will develop better leaders, be a better steward of your time, and consistently be improving your ministry.
On missing Q… This a post by Jeff Noble, someone I've come to know and respect through the world of blogging. In this post Jeff shares four points about missional imagination gleaned form another blog which I also follow called

the parable of bullhorn man Conrad was my New Testament tutor when I was doing my masters degree some 17 years ago (sorry Conrad!)

Love, above all else

I remember hearing about Tim Sanders Love is the killer app book when I was last at the Willow Creek Leadership Summit in Chicago. I was reminded of it when I read the opening of 1Corinthians 14, where Paul says, "Let love be your highest goal". A literal translation of the Greek might be "Pursue love", in other words go after it, make it a consuming passion, don't let anything else take the priority position that love should have amongst the range of spiritual gifts that are available to you.

Of the three that remain (1Cor.13:13), love is the greatest. Paul says they remain whilst all the other gifts that are so eagerly pursued, and trumpeted, will pass away. But love remains with hope and faith. You probably don't need me to remind you how often faith, hope and love come up in Paul's letters.

The question I'm asking myself is: "How do I purse love as my highest goal?" When I did ethics at college we studied various approaches to issues, one of which was always to do the most loving thing. The problem was defining what the most loving thing was. Everyone had a different perspective.

Perhaps, from a Christian perspective, the most loving thing is always going to be the thing that most honours God. It's the thing that Jesus would do if he had to make the decision. It would be the thing most full of grace and most reflective of his character. It would understand the predicament but always point to a better way. It wouldn't judge and condemn but rather forgive and restore. But there would also be a sense of challenge too (... go and sin no more {John 8:11})

It's a balance we find difficult to maintain. We worry that if we don't do something about discipline, then the church will fall apart; that if we don't root out sin, we'll be seen as condoning patterns of life that are are far from God's ideal.

So when I read Paul's words I ask myself: How did Jesus make love his goal? And then I see the shadow of the cross and suddenly my perspective changes.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son....

Monday, August 20, 2007

Rediscovering my PDA

A long time ago I had an ipaq. I liked my ipaq. The problem was that:

a. I couldn't easily see a week at a glance or a month.

b. It would lock up for no apparent reason and I couldn't get access to anything.

c. It didn't respond well to being driven over in the car park.

This last point was an accident, but it did demonstrate that a paper diary system is much quicker to restore, doesn't have battery failures at inconvenient moments, and is infinitely adaptable.

So it was that I reentered the digital PDA world last year with a little hesitation. I finally chose a Palm Tungsten E2. Loved by some, hated by an equal and opposite number and thereby causing the balance of the universe to remain intact. It is a fact that what one person finds a wonderful, life-enhancing tool, another finds to be the very antithesis of all that is good and wholesome.

Anyway, getting the Palm gave me a chance to reevaluate my relationship with paper and electronics. I have to say I still like paper, I still love writing with a foutain pen in my journal, I still love having a notebook to jot down ideas and other stuff, but I'm warming to my Palm.

Ever since I began to explore the basics of GTD, my Palm has taken on a whole new role in my life. Not only can I keep my task list up-to-date and take it with me wherever I go, I can keep all the other data up-to-date too. It's a laborious job writing 'phone numbers in my diary, the PDA makes it very easy. My Palm uses Documents to Go, which allows me to synchronise Word and Excel documents on my PDA and computer.

Thinking Rock, my GTD application, produces reports of actions and projects (to name just two). Because I'm not running the posh version of Documents to Go, I can't synchronise the pdf reports, but I can copy them into Word and then synchronise the resultant file. It take a little longer but it's not brain surgery.

So now I can have a regularly updated report on what needs to be done and what projects are on the go. The project file gets updated each week, and the actions as and when it's needed.

The other neat thing about having the PDA look after this is that I can label the tasks. That means I can view them by context (a GTD expression for where or with whom one completes an action) using the tags I've created. So on my Palm I have an easy way to see what calls I need to make, what errands I need to run and what books I want to read. It would take me an age to write all this stuff down for my paper system. I do keep a printed copy of actions in my diary, which I can use when I'm out, but the Palm is a better option.

I don't suppose I'll be ditching the paper and pen any time soon, but the combination of paper, pen and stylus is looking promising.

Software for creative writing

I've been looking for software that will let me outline ideas for a sermon series or even a book or a website or anything else that requires more than, or less than, the processes offered by the likes of Word. A standard word processor is fine for churning out letters and notes and even sermon outlines, but it's not very helpful for setting out the big picture of a series or even a stategy document. Take for example a series on "The heart". I did one of these a long time ago and if I used Word to do that the easiest way was to start each sermon idea on a new page. The problem was, that unless you used the indexing system and produced a contents page that you regularly refreshed, you never got to see the bigger picture of the overall series.

So I had a look for something that might help and I came across two pieces of software, one Windows and one for the Mac. Given that I'm going to buy a Mac in the autumn, my daughter graciously let me download Scrivener and play with it on her Mac mini. The Windows product I'm playing with is called Pagefour.

This is how Scrivener looks:

So far I have to say I'm really liking it. The cork-board is really useful and there are some very nice touches. I have a feeling this will become a standard part of my set-up when I migrate to Mac.

I'm thinking of writing a book, and Scrivener, like Pagefour, is expressly designed for this kind of task.

On the left of the screen you have all your pages and projects. You can edit them individually or, by selecting a group, you can edit them as a single document. On the cork board you can rearrange the index cards and your pages are rearrange too.

Pagefour is not quite so pretty, but function is more important. At the moment, because I'm living in two worlds, I'm playing with Scrivener to outline an idea for a book based on my recent foray into the world of getting organised. Having worked through David Allen's Getting Things Done, I wondered if there was a place for a book you could read in an hour to kick-start getting hold of all the disorganised stuff. Anyway, that's a good project to try out this kind of software.

In Pagefour, which looks like this:

I'm setting out a major teaching series for the church. Having recently read The Connecting Church by Randy Frazee, I thought I'd look at setting out our core beliefs, practices and virtues, and try to work them into a series for Sundays.

In Pagefour you have a basic set-up with your list of notebooks top left and below that a list of pages and folders. Folders are useful because you can have a topic as a folder, which you can then break down into smaller pieces.

If you're involved in developing the teaching programme in any setting, I think either of these programs will be useful to you. I like being able to see the overall picture as well as the detail and these two applications let me do that.

You can get a free trial of either of them from the websites linked above. Neither is an expensive piece of software.

On a different topic, I wanted to include a screenshot with this post and wondered how I'd do that. I had a look for a screen capture program and found several, one of which I've downloaded but not installed yet because I found a really neat solution. As a Windows user, you can use the facility to capture a screenshot quite nicely.

Open the application you want to capture, press and then open an image editing application (I use Photoshop) and then paste the clipboard into a new image and hey presto an instant screen shot.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Making a start in self-organisation

Jeff said:

Ooooo aaaaah. More more..! ;)Still trying to find time to
take this plunge. I know that sounds like I'm not committed to wanting to be
organized, but give me a first step here...

So here’s my first step.

1. Plan the date you’re gong to do this. Don’t think about it, plan it, make the decision to deal with all the stuff and set the time aside to do it. If necessary, plan several dates for the different parts of the process like stray papers, books, desk drawers. I know that David Allen advocates doing the whole sweep in one go, but I’ve found it more rewarding planning different things for different days. It was a big win for me to get my desk clear and tidy and it encourages me to attack the filing and the bookshelves.

As a recovering disorganiser, I know it’s a disciplined choice to change the habit. So take out your diary now, block out a couple of days in a week’s time and keep the date.

2. Go shopping! If you want to make this fun, and believe me it can be fun, go shopping for some supplies. My friend Mark introduced me to the really useful box idea (You can just see it sitting to the right of the picture) and so I went and got a box and the 1-31 and 1-12 files. You can make your own of course with square cut folders. If you can get them, the tabbed folders are really useful and the post-it tape also very useful. I’m an A4 person and the 9-litre box takes the A4 files and folders nicely. In the UK you can get A4 versions of the index files from Amazon. I also bought a label maker (I said you could have some fun, although a label maker might not strike you as fun!)

3. Collect all your unprocessed stuff into one place. If you’re going the whole hog, then that means everything, but if you want a step-by-step approach like I’m using, then start with all the paper that’s accumulated. I took over the dining room table for several days. Fortunately we have a separate dining room so it wasn’t going to be a problem for a couple of days and the truth is, a lot of stuff gets left on the table anyway.

4. Begin to process it. My first pass through all this unprocessed paper was to separate it into discrete piles. I know this isn’t necessarily the GTD way, but it worked for me. I had a pile of recyclable paper, a pile of stuff that needed shredding, a pile of stuff that related to church, school etc. I then did the recycling and the shredding. It would not be an exaggeration to say that two thirds of the paper disappeared at that point. I then took the stuff that just needed to be filed and filed it. I’ve deferred actually doing a filing purge until another day.

I then took each pile that was left in turn and made a decision about each piece of paper. The decision was simply a choice between “do it”, “defer it”, “delegate it” or “dump it”. At this point “defer” simply meant putting it to one side, whereas “do it” was for things that I could sit down right then and deal with very quickly. Eventually the “defer it” pile got turned into scheduled actions or moved into a review folder to come back to at review time.

This narrowed the piles and daylight began to appear.

As I went I also began adding things to my task list, my diary and TR (Thinking Rock). I must admit I put some easy wins in the list because that made me feel good about what I was doing. As an aside I actually found it quite refreshing to write something on the list, then do it, then cross it off. It sounds silly, but it really helps to see those tasks disappear and feel like you’re winning the battle.

After about three days of sifting and processing I had a clear desk and all my stray paper had a home. That doesn’t mean it was in the right place, there’s still a lot of files to sort out, but I’m on the way.

I found that as I processed there were many things about which I felt I couldn’t make a decision in the moment. So I deferred those into the tabbed files for review at the end of the week. This really helped as fatigue set in and my mind was slowing down.

The key is to keep reviewing. I now check my lists and files everyday.

I’m refining how I use my tabbed folders. For example, I have a tab for receipts. When I come home, I take my receipts and put them in the tab. Then, when I get a space when I need a break from a more demanding task, I open the tab, take out the receipts and start entering them into my accounts software.

Remember: Collect; Process; Organise; Review;Do. (As David Allen says!)