Tuesday, January 29, 2008

God, are you listening?

I'm taking my time reading through Solomon's prayer in 2Chron.6. What struck me today was the repeating pattern of "if" something happens, "and" someone or the people pray, then "hear" from heaven. It's almost as if Solomon tries to work through every possible scenario where the people wander far from God and then choose to come back. Solomon's question seems to be: "Will you still be listening God when we return?"
And the simple truth is that he is. 
God's faithfulness is tested again and again, but he remains faithful. His response to Solomon is well known: "If my people, who are called by name, will humble themselves and pray... I will hear from heaven.."
Isn't it good to know that God is still listening, even in those times when we are no longer sure it's true.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Seasick Steve

It's possible that many of you know about Seasick Steve, most famous for playing a three string electric guitar. He is an amazing exponent of blues and this was him performing live at New Year 2008.

What a day

Today was one of those special days in the life of the local church when we listened to the story of one person's journey with God. It was a baptismal service for one of our young people. Friends and family came, and we had a good time.
Such occasions are personally both draining and exciting. Baptising someone is one of the great privileges of ministry, one I particularly enjoy. Our theme for the day was the life of Esther, looking at how she rejected the stereotype of what everyone expected her to be, in favour of fulfilling the mission God invited her to be part of. 
All in all in went together very well.
Here's to the next baptism!

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Interesting welcome message

Click here to visit the Worship House Media website and watch this video. 

Might not to be to everyone's taste, but it got me thinking about what kind of message do we present about what it means to come to our church.

Of dates and calendars

Had a busy time of late working out (playing with) ways to integrate my calendars between my Mac and Google calendars. There is a practical application to this inasmuch as I have a church calendar on my Mac and one in Google calendar. Rather than enter the data twice, I'm using a trial version of Spanning Sync to keep them up-to-date, only having to enter data in one place. 

This kind of functionality makes life a lot more simple.
There is an outstanding issue with Spanning Sync and Leopard, but I'm sure that will get resolved at some point.

If you're a windows user, and you are using a compatible version, there's a piece of software available that will synchronise Outlook and Google Calendars called gsyncit

There are undoubtedly other ways to do this kind of thing, but we're experimenting with Google Calendars in order to enable everyone at church that uses the web to connect with current events.

Something I found for Mac users is a dashboard widget that lets you put your Google calendar on your dashboard. You need the xml for your chosen calendar, and you can have more than one online calendar listed.
The widget can be downloaded from the Apple website:

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Today's new experience

Today I've taken my MacBook out on the road. To Twickenham to be precise. Ally is having her first university interview and I've travelled down with her by train. I now find myself sitting in a Caffe Nero using the wireless hotspot just because I can!
It's not a nostalgia thing, but it makes me think about my own university days, about how much I actually miss an academic environment. University is such a significant time in the lives of most undergraduates. For me it was about being away from home, taking responsibility for myself. Learning some lessons about self-discipline and motivation. I was a fairly independently minded teenager, so some of those things were not as big a step for me as for others. In fact the truth is that I looked for a college that was far enough away to make weekend visits home or from home a bit of an expedition. And when the opportunity to stay at college over a holiday period like Christmas or Easter came my way I looked forward to it. Being independent suited me just fine. 
Today, so I am told, more and more students go to university locally and live at home for the duration.  That seems a little sad to me. I get the impression that this is more an economic choice than anything else.
Still, things change and thirty years ago a wireless hotspot was probably something generated by the microwave experiments in the physics department. I remember one experiment in the field of radio and microwave technology that took all day to complete, large parts of which were spent trying to figure out where radio 4 was coming from!
In the 70's computers were big, room-filling machines that were far from under-friendly. My one and only use of a computer at college was to experiment with a computer model for controlling a pest population on a fruit farm (I did a very varied first degree!)
Of course the other thing about university was meeting Anne. It wasn't exactly the most romantic of first meetings. We were, as I recall, dissecting earthworms as part of the biology course unit. Anne was not at her best taking small animals and the like apart, me on the other hand, I rather enjoyed the whole thing. At school a fellow biologist and I were standing in line for lunch one day and noticed that people just in front of us kept leaving the queue for some reason. To this day I don't know why, but I have wondered if it had anything to do with our conversation about the stomach contents of the dog fish we were dissecting that morning (the dog fish, if you didn't know, is a member of the shark family and quite a fascinating fish to dissect on account of this).
Anyway, Caffe Nero is filling up with mums and babies out for morning coffee and I need to turn my attention to next Sunday and my talk on Esther.  

Monday, January 21, 2008

The cross

At Sunday's celebration, as we sang about the power of the cross, I saw this in my music book:
The Cross
The cross
Where God meets with man
Where humanity encounters divinity
Where passion bleeds forgiveness
Where shame and guilt decease
Where man faces eternal destiny
Where pain and suffering collide with joy and life
Where punishment brings peace
And where our wounds are healed
The cross.

Mark Tedder

Like trees walking

How do you see others? How do I see them? 
I was reading Monday's thought from a book of 365 thoughts through the year, you know the kind of thing I mean, and the central thought was about the man Jesus took two shots at healing. The story is in Mark's gospel and  the subject of many a learned paper I'm sure. But my little devotional book wasn't concerned about delving into the theological nuances of the text or trying to come up with a workable solution as to why the Son of God couldn't do in this instance what he does in every other story. No, the question was about how we see people.
When Jesus first asks him what he sees, the blind man says he can see people but they are like trees walking. After a second touch, his sight is fully restored. Very interesting. My question is this: Do we need another touch from Jesus in order to see people properly?
Is it possible that we've spent so long looking at trees walking around that we don't realise that's all we can see? We think our view of people, of this person here or that person there, is as it should be. But maybe it isn't. Maybe it's flawed, maybe our sight is not as restored as we think it is.
Perhaps today is a good day to ask Jesus to touch our eyes again so that we might see every person with whom we come into contact in the same way he sees them. Not just as fallen and lost but as worthy of rescue. 

Sunday, January 20, 2008

When God turns up at church

Ministry has a lot of pressures. I don't know if it's the pressures or just the way I'm wired but I'm not given to "feeling God's presence" in worship. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying it doesn't matter or denying the reality of another person's experience. It's just that personally I don't have to feel him there to engage in worship. Do you understand what I'm trying to say?
Anyway, I have to say that this morning at church there was a tangible sense of God meeting with us. Maybe it was the heartfelt prayer of a visitor with us, or the natural flow of the worship, but I'd have to say that God made himself known this morning and I'm glad he did.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Outlining for preaching

I may have mentioned this before but I can't find any record of it, so I'll mention it now! For many years I used a straightforward word processor to create sermons. I'd bash away at the keyboard generating my notes for each talk in a different file. The only way I could get an overview of what I was doing was to look at all the file names and hope they made sense. But frankly speaking that was not good enough. What I really wanted was a tool that would let me switch between ideas and research and outlines and plans etc. Step into the frame OmniOutliner and Scrivener.
An outliner is a nice tool for doing exactly what it says it does. It outlines. It allows you to create an outline of a project or a to-do list or, as I use it, to outline an upcoming sermon series. I can see quite easily the order and I can change things around as I wish. I can also add notes and dates. Of course you can do this in a spreadsheet or word processor document, but an outlining tool has some advantages.
Scrivener, on the other hand, is a step beyond mere outlining. It's a word processor designed for writing books or scripts, but it's actually very useful for sermon preparation too. You create a project, let's say "Characters" and you can have a separate page for each character. But here's the neat thing, you can see all the characters at once, and you can edit the whole lot or an individual page or collection of pages.
I know both these tools are Mac utilities, but a good alternative to Scrivener to use in Windows is Pagefour. It is similar to Scrivener and I used it a lot before I switched to Mac.
So if you are looking for a new way of working with your sermons, try these alternatives and see if they suit you.

Waiting for God

Currently I am preaching a series on characters and how their lives unfolded in the hands of God. Last Sunday we looked at Abraham. I began with a question:
If I were to make you a promise today, how long would you be willing to wait for me to keep it? A few hours, a day, a week, a month, a year? Now of course it depends on the nature of the promise. When I promise Anne that I will do the shopping, she expects it to be done quite quickly. But what about the promise to love and cherish that I made 28 years ago this April. That's an ongoing, enduring promise. Making it through the first year didn't mean that promise was kept and after that it could be taken fro granted.
When it comes to Abraham, God takes 25 years to keep his promise ( it may have been longer if the promise was originally made in Ur and not in Haran), and even then the full realisation of his promise I will make your descendants as numerous as the sand would not be realised in Abraham's lifetime.
So let me rephrase my original question: If God makes you a promise, how long are you willing to wait to see it realised?

Light shines in the dark places

It's a been a couple of weeks since I put finger to keyboard and blogged. The reason is simple-lots to blog about, few words to express it all. It has been a challenging start to the new year. Over Christmas one of the young men at church went missing and eventually his body was recovered from the river that runs through the town. It is a truly tragic event, made more tragic (if that were possible) by the likely nature of his death. It would appear that he was involved in some sort of incident with a small group of other young men and somehow he ended up in the water.
There is currently, much debate in the British media about the levels of violence and poor behaviour in our so-called binge drinking culture. Lots of questions about how and why and what we should do to change things. I have no easy answers. Whether Robert's death is in any way due to this cultural acceptance of bad behaviour fuelled by excessive alcohol, is not the point and certainly doesn't change the nature and impact of the tragedy. But I wonder what a Christian response, a truly Christ-like response should be?
Robert's parents are acting with enormous grace. But on a wider scale what are we to do? Again I have no 7 or 10 point action plan. I do have one commitment though, and it is this: No matter how dark the darkness gets, I am not going to forget that light always overcomes the darkness. It would be so easy to throw up hands in horror and give up on a society so full of problems and so far from God that any sane Christian would see that the job is too big, the effort to costly to try and change a thing. But it's always worth the effort. If God will send his Son and if his Son will go all the way to the cross on our behalf, then it's always going to be worth the effort to try and bring the grace of God to bear on our world.
In 1985, or thereabouts,  I heard Clive Claver address the Baptist Assembly of Great Britain. He spoke with great passion and the sense of something he said that evening has stayed with me ever since. He spoke about the darkness. About how it was the nature of darkness to be dark. About how we could not blame the darkness for being dark because it was it's nature to be dark. The problem, he said, was with the reluctance of the light to shine in the dark places.
So, even in the context of this tragedy, I will continue to be committed to letting light set the agenda. Instead of condemning the darkness I will call forth light, I will seek God to act but not in judgement or vengeance but with grace and compassion.
The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.

Friday, January 04, 2008

On being left-handed

I am one of those people who is left-handed. I've spent almost all my life adapting to a right-handed world, but also enjoying some of the benefits that come from being left-handed. What benefits you ask? Well there aren't that many unless you play sport. In any racket sport there seems to be a presumption that playing against a left-handed opponent is more difficult. Probably because it's all reversed, so what you think should be their fore-hand side turns out to be their back-hand and vice versa. The end result seemed to be that the right-handed opponents spent so much time trying to remember this that they forgot the simple principle of playing the game.
Anyway, I decided it was time to strike back and I've treated myself to some left-handed things. First up are the scissors. Made with the blades reversed, I'm having to relearn how to cut. It's nice to be able to see what you're doing without the blade getting in the way, but after all these years of manipulating right-handed scissors, it's a bit odd having some specially made for my south-paw world. Second on my list was a left-handed can opener. This is going to very practical, I've always felt awkward working the conventional ones, but I think just having it in the drawer and watching right-handed people pick it up and try to use it is going to give me a certain degree of pleasure too!
Next up was a left-handed ruler. Yes they really do make these along with tape measures, protractors and other measuring devices. It's marked from right to left so that you can read it without your hand getting in the way. 
Two fun things I bought are the left-handed note pads and the left-handed pencils. The pencils have a motto on them that you can only read properly when you hold them in your left-hand, there's really no such thing as a left-handed pencil.
It's funny really because you don't notice how many things don't suit left-handedness for the most part. For example, automatic ticket barriers invariably require you to use your right hand to insert your ticket.
What started all this was my interest in handwriting and how to improve my own. Being left-handed is often treated as simply a matter of doing things "the other way around" but actually that's not true. Forming letters following right-handed practice is quite unnatural for most lefties. And it was almost always assumed that by being left-handed your were destined to have bad hand writing. But I like using a pen and paper, and have developed a rather unusual personal style. The easiest way to describe it to imagine a pad of paper on your desk, then turn it 90 degrees anti-clockwise and then, using your left hand, write vertically up the page! The only problem is that I can't write on a flip-chart or an interactive whiteboard.
In my search for left-handed handwriting tips I came across some really interesting helps. There is a mat that you can buy that teaches left-handed writers to write more conventionally, along with books and pens designed to learn writing skills from a left-handed perspective.
If you are left-handed or have young left-handed children, you may want to check out some of these resources. You might even consider getting some for your local school to encourage them to see left-handed writing from a new perspective.
So with that in mind I think I might rearrange a few things around a left-handed view of the world and see who notices!

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Now showing on youtube!

A number of years ago I worked with a friend to make some one minute programmes for television. The idea was to produce something that Christian broadcasters could use to fill the gaps that occur in schedules when programmes are shorter than the time slot allocated. I'd more or less forgotten about these, but my friend Jeremy has made them available on YouTube for the world to see.

If you want to have a look at what we did, then just follow the link!