Friday, February 29, 2008

Being Jesus to others

I'm coming to the end of Seeker Small Groups by Garry Poole, and very interesting it's been too! Anyway, I just want to share with you part of a very moving poem that is cited in the book:
Do you know
do you understand
that you represent Jesus to me?

Do you know
do you understand
that when you treat me with gentleness,
it raises the question in my mind
that maybe he is gentle, too.
Maybe he isn't someone
who laughs when I am hurt.


If you care,
I think maybe he cares-
and then there's this flame of hope
that burns inside of me
and for a while I'm afraid to breathe
because it might go out.

Do you know
do you understand
that your words are his words?
Your face, his face
to someone like me.

Please, be who you say you are.
Please, God, don't let this be another trick
Please let this be real

What moved me about this poem is the significance of relationship in the whole process of evangelism. We've reduced becoming a Christian to nothing more than giving assent to a series of philosophical-religious principles and concepts that we think our role is simply to convince someone that our position is the right position. We seek to win the argument, but in so doing we always run the risk of losing the person.

The person who wrote this poem eventually came to faith. And the reason they decided to trust Jesus, the final compelling argument that tipped the balance and convinced them?

It was nothing like that. It was simply that I met a couple of people who were like Jesus to me. That's all it took.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Larry Norman

I discovered yesterday that Larry Norman passed away earlier this week. Some may know of his music, perhaps many will not. I remember him as the first Christian musician I went to see live. It was in 1977 or '78 in Cardiff. I remember listening to him as he stood alone on the stage and held the attention of the audience as he told his stories and shard his songs.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

On grace

In a prayer meeting with other church leaders today we got talking about grace and the gospel and church discipline and truth and so on. The question seemed to come down this: How do live by grace without compromising the truth. Now there was a lot of discussion which I can't remember or do justice to without writing a long essay, but two things stood out in the discussion.

First, we all tend towards having rules because it's a safe way to live, so we all want rules. Grace doesn't abandon rules it just says that keeping the rules isn't the solution to the root problem, sin. Judaism understands this because, when all the rules are listed and a few added in for good measure, if you ask the question, "What does it mean to walk with God?" the answer that comes back is, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind, and love your neighbour as yourself." In other words, it's not about the rules it's about grace.

The second thing that painted a wonderful picture was the phrase: Wide arms and high standards.

God's arms are wide, wide enough to be inclusive of anyone who chooses to be included. But the standards are high, too high for us to achieve on our own. That's why we need Jesus, it's why we need the cross. And if you imagine wide arms set against high standards, the shape you get is the shape of the cross.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Pdf-Pen and me!

Perhaps it is just me and maybe I haven't really tried hard enough to get to grips with pdfpen, but it hasn't worked for me.

I don't have to edit many pdf files, but the ones I've tried to edit with pdfpen haven't worked too well. I suspect that this is mostly down to the way the files were generated, but having said that, if all files are generated in similar ways then I'll have similar problems.

Things that didn't work for me included the rather laborious method required to edit a simple text box. First you needed to select the text and then you had to replace it with and editable text box, then you could edit the text. The problem as that the selection tool would pick up some text and not others. In the end  it turned out to be much quicker to recreate the whole document and start over.

So my verdict in pdfpen is that it didn't make my life any more simple when it came to handling pdf files. I think I'll give Preview a closer inspection.

Church Leadership

I was wandering around the Internet looking for inspiration and ideas about leadership and I came across this outline of leadership in the church:
1) Visionary leaders
• They help us see what those good works may be that God "prepared in advance for us to do."
• They help us see the potential God has for us.
• They help us "press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold" of us and not get stuck where we are or to think that we "have already obtained all this" (Phil. 3:12).
2) Administrative leaders
• They help us implement the tasks effectively remembering that we were "created in Christ Jesus to do GOOD works."
• They help us "do it all for the glory of God" (1 Cor. 10:31).
• They help us by designing procedures and coordinating programs that enable us to do those good works.
3) Shepherding leaders
• They help us be prepared spiritually to do those good works as "WE are His workmanship."
• They help us by feeding us, protecting us, comforting us, encouraging us, warning us, and guiding us.
• They help us by their example to remember that we must do all we do willingly in and because of love. (1 Pet. 5:2-3; Jn. 21:15-17)
We need all three kinds of leaders because . . .
1. People matter. – "we are His workmanship" Shepherding leaders tend to be more people-oriented.

2. Task matters. – "created in Christ Jesus to do good works" Administrative leaders tend to be more task-oriented.
3. Goals matter. – "which God prepared in advance for us to do" Visionary leaders tend to be more goal-oriented.

I like this outline because it identifies three clear areas of responsibility for leadership without necessarily assuming that a single individual has all three qualities in equal measure. The challenge, in a local church, is to find these three qualities and deploy them across the leadership team.

Maybe this is the role of a small team of elders, or the core of the leadership team. We consistently review our leadership structure, seeking to develop a team model that serves the whole life of the church,  carries and casts the vision, and does not rely on a single person to achieve all of this. This outline may help us better understand the nature of this leadership.

The website where I found this outline is

Monday, February 25, 2008

Seeker Small Groups

Sitting on my pile of books to read has been Garry Poole's Seeker Small Groups. I've been meaning to read this book for quite some time, and a gentle prod from the author via a comment on a blog entry I made spurred me on. I'm very grateful for the prod, because it finally made to the top of the pile and I discovered that it's a great book.

I've still got about 100 pages to go, but I think this is a book that deserves to be read, especially by all those Christians who embark on running Alpha courses without doing the training. The reason for this simple: most people don't listen enough and tend to talk too much. This is especially true of evangelical Christians who lead small groups of any kind. Too many times I've heard a small group leader talk about "the curriculum" as if it's something they must deliver to group. What I like about Garry Poole's perspective on Seeker Groups is that they are a safe place for a seeker to be heard. That's very much the position that should be taken when running Alpha. It's an opportunity to explore not an opportunity to be lectured.

This is how Garry describes the purpose of a Seeker Small Group:
We want to give our seeking friends an opportunity to identify their toughest objections and obstacles to faith in Christ–and, by thinking out loud, process them within the safety of our group. We want to provide a forum in which our seeking friends can safely address their toughest spiritual questions and investigate the claims of Christ at their own pace...

Important in this process is our determination to listen and to listen well. Describing the progress of one small group towards the point of being ready to hear spiritual truths explained, he makes this observation:
Looking back, I feel I didn't talk any of them into the kingdom; I listened them in!

... my role of doing more listening than talking, more facilitating than teaching, and being more relational than intellectual, played a crucial part in the process where they were ready and willing to learn spiritual truths from the Bible.

These truths are just as valid whether you're running a long-term small group for seekers, whether you are looking to start such a small group, or whether you are using a tool like Alpha to help you engage with spiritual seekers. That makes this book worth reading.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Prayer month (week 4)

Here's the outline for week four

Monday 25th Feb.

We want to share God’s heart for the marginalised in our world. Thank God for the work of organisations like Fair Trade and Stop the Traffik. Ask God where we can be most effective in relieving poverty and oppression in our world.

Tuesday 26th Feb.

Pray for our communities. Pray that God’s grace would be seen throughout our neighbourhoods. Pray that Christ would be honoured, and that many would begin to seek a relationship with God.

Wednesday 27th Feb.

Pray for the church during Richard’s sabbatical. Ask God to provide people to meet the ministry needs of the church during that time. For those who will teach and preach and for those who will perform any funerals or other services on our behalf. Pray that Richard, Anne and Ally would benefit greatly from this time of rest and reflection.

Thursday 28thFeb.

Thank God for the part you play or the part you can play in the future life of the church. Ask him to give you the gifts you need to fulfil his purposes in and for your life. Ask him to renew your passion for ministry and mission and to fill you with his Spirit. Commit yourself to honouring and serving him with your whole life.

Friday 29thFeb.

Give thanks For God’s deep love for us as his church. Thank him for the way he has blessed us and spoken to us. Thank him for the month of prayer.

Saturday 1st Mar. & Sunday 2nd Mar.

Take some time to reflect on this month of prayer. What things has God brought to your attention? What things need further prayer? What are you going to do next?
Has God spoken to you about something that the whole church needs to hear about? Do you have a story about this month of prayer that you could share with the church on a Sunday morning?

Friday, February 22, 2008

Helping people grow

There's an interesting article on the Christian Today website about tools they use at Saddleback to help people grow in their relationship with God. Rick Warren begins by saying:
All living things grow. Growth is evidence of life. If a child doesn’t grow up, that’s a tragedy. If a believer never grows to spiritual maturity, that’s a tragedy.
He then outline the tools they use at Saddleback:

The first tool is to put everyone into and through six levels of spiritual growth:

1. Community (everyone in driving distance)
2. Crowd (regular attenders)
3. Congregation (part of the family)
4. Committed (living a disciplined Christian life)
5. Core (committed to using their spiritual gifts in a ministry)
6. Commissioned (these are described as the people who take the Great Commission seriously)

The second tool is a weekly commitment card. Everyone is encouraged to make a practical application of the weekend message.

The third tool is the weekly message notes that are made available.

Clearly it's a very strategic approach, (you'd expect nothing less from someone with Rick Warren's gifts) that might not suit everyone. But I have to say that there is a lot to be said for raising the level of expectation of a response from folk if we are truly concerned for their spiritual development.

I think too, that the six levels raise valuable questions about how we get people to move from one level to the next, and how we measure the effectiveness of the process and the growth that comes from it. Given Willow Creek's recent discovery that programmes alone don't guarantee growth, we wouldn't want put all our discipleship eggs in the one basket, but then again we don't always appear to put them anywhere anyway!

You can read the full article here.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Numbers of Hope (2): God's whoever clause

The Number of Hope is not a hard read. That much we know. Like all of Max Lucado's books there is a wonderfully simple narrative style that I enjoy as I've already said. But it's the way this narrative style draws you into the unfolding story of the book that inspires me to want to write.

Take chapter 7 Heaven's "Whoever" policy.
Whoever unfurls 3:16 as a banner for the ages. Whoever unrolls the welcome mat of heaven to humanity. Whoever invites the world to God.
I love the image it evokes and the narrative that Lucado then uses to explore the length and breadth of the "Whoever clause". It's a great explanation of the core of the gospel message, that God's grace is truly available to anyone and everyone who will come and take it. Anyone who will believe and receive what God freely offers.

Thank you for the cross

After all the recent debate over the atonement, sparked by to comments made by Steve Chalke a few years ago, I still find myself in awe of the amazing self-sacrifice God made on my behalf. 

Whether you got hot under the collar about the "cosmic child abuse" comments or not, this much is surely true: if it were not for God's intervention on your behalf you would be facing an eternity dealing with the awful price sin exacts from every one of us. 

That God loves me so much that somewhere in eternity the Father, Son and Spirit resolved to deal, once for all, with sin, my sin, humbles me. That the Son offered himself (and therein lies a crucial truth for the atonement) as the carrier of the weight of the sin of the world and that the Father agreed that this was indeed a sufficient price to be paid, is surely an amazing expression of love and grace.

Reading Hebrews just brings all this home to me once again. The theological arguments may rise and fall, the nuances of language and syntax may continue to challenge and perplex, but the cross stands over all and indeed has said it all. It has the final word. But for the willing sacrifice of Jesus Christ the lost remain lost, and always will until they are found, and I would still be one of them.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

How does God feel about me?

I'm currently preaching a series on various characters in the Bible. This coming Sunday it's David. Having just done Peter, it's interesting to do another great character who was flawed and made mistakes, and yet, because of the grace of God, still found a place in his purposes and plans. But then again how many biblical character wouldn't you describe that way?

I do not believe that there is ever such a thing as God's second best for us. The grace of God can take all our errors and bring about something that will glorify and honour God's name.

Anyway, as I think about David and some of the things I might include on Sunday I was reminded of a quote we used at Christmas in our Carol Service. There's a great Max Lucado book called One Incredible Moment, that contains extracts from many of his other books around the theme of Christmas. Near the beginning, in fact it may be the first chapter, he says this:
Here is what we want to know. We want to know how long God's love will endure... Does God really love us forever? Not just on... Sunday when our shoes are shined and our hair is fixed. We want to know... how does God feel when I'm a jerk? Not when I'm peppy and positive and ready to tackle world hunger. Not then. I know how he feels about me then. Even I like me then.
I want to know how he feels about me when I snap at anything that moves, when my thoughts are gutter-level, when my tongue is sharp enough to slice a rock. How does he feel about me then?...

The Numbers of Hope (2)

Just a quick thought, maybe a way to have an online discussion about the book would to be open up a wiki? I don't too much about how to do this (I'm experimenting at the moment with a church based wiki for other things), and I'm not sure even if you could subscribe to a wiki in the way you can to a forum or blog.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


One of my favourite questions comes from Bill Bright, the founder of Campus Crusade. Apparently he used to ask this question of the staff at CC. I don't know if he only asked it once or if he asked it consistently, but it is becoming a question I've asked a lot and a question other people around the church are beginning to ask too.

And the question is:

What three things can we do in the next ninety days that will make a fifty percent difference?

Trying asking yourself that question in whatever setting you're in today and see what you come up with. It could be a productivity issue, a ministry issue or even a personal growth issue. I've used it in a lot of settings and it has helped me focus my attention on the positive thing or things I can do rather than the negatives of what I can't do.

I rather suspect too that there are some minor variations that you could use from time to time. For example, Ally, my daughter, has a lot of coursework and home to complete at the moment and it can seem overwhelming. I guess she could ask herself the same question but make it 90 hours instead of days. It's almost GTD-like in that it focuses your attention of the next action you can take to move a given project along.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Creating pdf's from any document

Like me you've probably suffered the frustration of someone sending you a document only to discover that you can't open it or when you do, you get a whole host of messages telling you that you don't have the right fonts installed etc. If this never happens to you, then ignore this post, if on the other hand it does, read on.

My biggest problem always came with Microsoft Publisher files. If you didn't have the same version as the sender, you almost always got stuck with a file you couldn't read. Now I've gone to Mac, I have some problems with all Office files, whatever version they are. And you don't have to be a Mac user to experience this. I'm sure there are still some Lotus users out there and other applications with which people struggle.

The answer of course is a universal format that will look the same whoever opens it on no matter what platform. The pdf file is one such format. Everyone knows Adobe Acrobat Reader, and I've blogged before about pdf generators, although I've never gone into detail. They're simple "virtual printers" that will produce a pdf file from any application. Just hit print and choose the pdf generator rather than your usual printer. Pdf995 is one such application and Primo is another that I've heard people talk about.

If you either don't want to or don't have permission to download and install a pdf generator onto your computer, you might be interested in pdfonline. As its name suggests, pdfonline is a web-based application that will take your selected file and generate a pdf for you.

I've given it a try and it works a treat, although I'm yet to try and edit the generated pdf. I think it's a handy site to be aware of in case you're away from your system and need to create a pdf for emailing or printing purposes.

What car?

On Saturday we had a day away for the leaders. As we began, we asked ourselves this question:

If the church was a car, what kind of car would it be?

My favourite answer was: "A new VW Beetle–a modern version of an old classic"

I thought that was a really interesting take on church. It was meant positively. We have a classic message that doesn't change with time, but the way we do things has changed.

We then moved on and asked ourselves what kind of car would we like it to be. This turned into a drawing of a bus with all sorts of interesting things going on as we added to our picture.

Sometimes these sorts of exercises can run away with you, but by thinking in a different way to the way we might normally think we have the opportunity to be creative in ways we may not normally be creative. I remember listening to an interview between Bill Hybels and Steve Sample, the President of USC (University of Southern California). During the interview he told the story of how he developed the concept of an electronic controller for a dishwasher or washing machine (I forget which). Apparently he lay down on the floor and thought about how a small insect might control the machine.

So, if you're a bit stuck today because you can't see how to get from where you are to where you want to be, you might want to try something that might at first appear really odd, but in the end might just open your eyes to a possibility you can't quite see from where you are currently sitting.

If drawing cars or imaging how ladybirds might run your church are not for you, you might like to try mind-mapping or spider diagramming. I use this technique for developing sermon ideas and presentations. I start with my central idea or proposition in a box in the middle of the page and then branches of words, ideas and phrases. From there I try to pick out the recurring and bigger themes.

I know some people have very precise rules about how to mind map, but I just get the paper and a pen and go for it. If you haven't tried it, give it a go, you might be surprised by the outcome.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

What happens when we preach?

There has been a small discussion once again about the place of the sermon in modern church life. Are they too long for the modern mind? Whilst I'm not advocating long sermons for the sake of it, it does seem to me that one of the things that needs to be considered in the sermon is the opportunity for God to interact with preacher and congregation alike.

Over the years I've prepared and made notes in all sorts of ways. I've preached well and badly, with and without notes. The older I get the more script-like my notes have become. I think that's because I'm increasingly aware of the importance of every word I use and every point I'm trying to make. So, I'm just becoming more careful, not leaving it to chance that I will remember that neat turn of phrase that came to mind on Wednesday afternoon. 

What hasn't changed is the way in which I sense that God takes my preparation and uses it in ways I haven't imagined. As I preach I feel the nudge of God to read something or share a story not in my plan. Take today for example. Our current theme is all about characters. We've studied Joseph, Esther and Abraham. Today we looked at Peter. It just so happened that today was also communion and, as I took us through the preparation and experience of sharing the bread and cup together I sensed God point me towards the story of the foot washing. I hadn't planned this, to be honest I hadn't even given a thought in my preparation for some reason. 

But as I stood in front of the congregation I sensed the pull of God's Spirit to read the story. So I had a quick, silent read as the bread and wine were being distributed and as we came to a quiet moment after the wine, I began to read. 

We had already explored Peter's beginnings as a fisherman and the change Jesus promised about becoming a fisher of men. We'd reflected on the highs and lows of Peter the one who walked on water and the one who denied Jesus. We'd seen him at his best and his worst. We looked also at his reinstatement and the simple, non-accusing question of Jesus, "Peter do you love me?"

So, as I read the story from John 13 it became clear that the one thing God wanted us to remember was that no matter what mistakes he made Peter was above all clean.  

I'm not suggesting that we would not have reached that point through a ten-minute sermon, well prepared and well delivered. I'm just saying that because we give ourselves time we also give ourselves the opportunity to connect with God and hear what he has to say in that moment of sacred space where the Spirit of God touches the hearts of ordinary human beings.

I'm afraid that if we move too far towards settling for short attention spans, we loose the chance to dwell. Given how little people remember of our sermons, perhaps it's the dwelling that's the most important aspect of preaching not the length of time it takes to present it.

Having said that, I do remember Steve Gaukroger once saying, "I'm not going to bore you with a long sermon today, because I'm quite capable of doing it with a short one!"

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Round in circles or up a spiral?

We had another of our regular away days for leaders, and very helpful and useful and encouraging it was too. There is much to process from it all.

What always fascinates me is how differently wired people approach the same thing. I'm wired up in a way that means I work best when I'm involved in an ongoing conversation. Although I write stuff down, I carry a lot of things in my head and a lot of thoughts pass through my brain as I think and ponder ideas. Writing them down is important, but there are things about the spark of a conversation that get my thinking juices flowing. So, for me to be effective I need to keep talking with everyone about everything.

For other people it can seem like we're having the same conversation over and over again without actually get anywhere at all. We go full-circle and end up exactly where we started and apparently we're no further forward. Sadly sometimes that's true.

But sometimes it isn't.

What can get missed is that we're having the same conversation but in some way we have moved on from the last time. It's as if we go around the block, but on a spiral. So, when we get back to the place we began, we're actually just a bit higher up, a bit closer to the solution. If you go and find a screw or a bolt or a spring (you could take the spring out of your ball-point pen if you want), and then run your finger around the thread, you will keep coming back to the same point in one plane, but you will be at a different point in the plane at right angles to that plane.

If that sounds too complicated, just go get the bolt and you'll soon see what I mean!!

So, the next time you think you've gone around in a circle, check your position, you may have moved further than you think!

Friday, February 15, 2008

The price of brand loyalty

I was quite amazed when I discovered that my car insurance company appears to think that just because I'm a loyal customer that I don't deserve the best deal. 

Last year I heard a piece on the radio about this. The reporter pointed out that if you get a fresh quote as a new customer even with your existing insurer, you can often save money. So I tried it and it was true. My loyalty was costing me nearly £200. 

Well, the long and short of this is that because of a claim I'd made a few years ago, it wasn't worth my while changing insurers last year, but this year it was. So I did, and it was still almost £200 cheaper.

Now what bothers me is that my loyalty to one company was not being rewarded. I find it's the same with my ISP. They even told me once that it was my responsibility to keep a check on their packages and find the cheapest package that suited my needs. Their responsibility was obviously the opposite of this, to charge me as much as they could get away with charging.

So the simple moral of this tale is that, in the market place economy, brand loyalty no longer pays, from the point of view of the customer that is. If, of course it ever did.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Geoff joins the bloggers

It's time to welcome a new inmate to the world of blogging. 

Geoff Colmer is another Baptist Minister who currently serves as a Regional minister and team leader in the Central Association. You can pick up his blog here.

Go and visit his blog and encourage him to post!

How do I remain in Jesus?

If you remain in me, and I remain in you, you will bear much fruit and glorify my Father in heaven.
This verse caught my eye as I sit at my desk thinking about the sermon for Sunday. It has nothing to do with Sunday's theme, but it's on a piece of paper tacked to my wall. I think it was last year, maybe early summer, when I decided to spend a day reflecting with God on church and life and connecting the two. I scribbled random thoughts and ideas down on a flip-chart, and this verse was one of those thoughts. I haven't the checked the wording for accuracy, it is as it came to mind that day.

Anyway, it caught my eye again today and I thought, "Why don't I do a series on remaining in Jesus?" So I might. I began to scribble a few ideas down in my notebook set aside for future preaching themes. But what does it mean to remain in Jesus? When you hear that phrase what runs through your mind? I began to think about different words that might connect with remaining, here's my list, what would you add?

Remain: abide, dwell, rest, make your home, commit your long-term future, put down roots, prioritise, focus, follow closely, abandon selfish goals and ambitions for the sake of the kingdom, get to really know-deeply, passionately, unconditionally....

Does this fit with a Biblical view of remaining? What would Jesus have said were the one, two or three key elements of remaining?

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The simple things in life

Foe some time now we've been discussing and considering our photocopying needs at church. Being a smaller church, and not having had good copying facilities before, it's really hard to work out what was a good plan and was not so good a plan. We looked at the typical kind of contracts and I guess in the end they were a little expensive for us.

Anyway, we finally found an alternative and today, with great excitement, we took delivery of a nice little Canon copier. Now it won't make the big boys gasp, but it certainly brightens my world.

The model in question is the iR1022A, not much bigger than my colour laser printer it produces very good copies with a host of options. I can use single sided originals and get single sided copies, or I can get double sided copies, or I can get two originals on one side copies, and yes, I can even get double sided, two per page copies from four single sided or two double sided originals. Marvelous! I wonder if it makes tea?

It's the simple things in life that can make an otherwise drab, foggy Wednesday in February seem so bright. I think I might go and copy something.

The Numbers of Hope (1)

I began reading The Numbers of Hope today. As usual with a Max Lucado book the imagery is strong and yet the book is not difficult to read. There's an easy flow to the prose that I find draws me along as I read.

Chapter 1 is titled The most famous conversation in the Bible. There's no escaping the centrality of the words at the heart of this conversation (John 3:16) to evangelical Christian faith. What struck me most as I read Max's picture of the unfolding conversation was the contrast between the worlds represented by Nicodemus and Jesus.

Behold the Continental Divide of Scripture, the international date line of faith. Nicodemus stands on one side, Jesus on the other and Christ pulls no punches about their differences.

Nicodemus inhabits a land of good efforts, sincere gestures, and hard work. Give God your best, his philosophy says, and God does the rest.

Jesus's response? Your best won't do. Your works don't work. Your finest efforts don't mean squat, Unless you are born again, you can't even see what God is up to.

This is not about who Nicodemus is as much as it is about what he represents. Just as the woman at the well in the next chapter of the gospel represents the other end of the social and religious spectrum.

Whatever we think we know, Jesus blows it out of the water, and he challenges us to rethink what it means to connect with God.

The ease with which the words of John 3:16 fall from many a Christian's lips rob them from time to time of their majesty and their simplicity. "God loves, God gives, we believe, we live", as Max would say.

Something has to change

Two days after Christmas 2007 our world at Cotton End Baptist Church began to rock. The telephone rang and the voice at the other end said simply: "Robert is missing." At first we thought that Robert, a young man of 17 in our congregation, had walked away from his family or possibly that something had happened as he'd made his way home the day before across the fields and foot paths between villages. Maybe he'd gone off the stay with a friend. Many 'phone calls were made, and we walked some of the routes he may have walked. A week later his body was recovered from the river and a murder investigation was underway.
On Monday of this week, February 11th, we said our farewells at his funeral. Friends, teachers and family members spoke about him and shared their memories with the congregation of over 300 people. "It was a great send off for him," was one of the comments I heard. But the problem is this, we should not have been giving a 17 year old young man a send off at all. Something has gone terribly wrong in our world that young men like Robert can lose their lives in the way he apparently may have lost his (a trial is set for later this year for three young men arrested in connection with his death).
Robert was not the first and he hasn't been the last person who appears to have lost his life to the angry and violent night-time society we have these days. And it has to change. The question is how do you change a society that has become increasingly touched by violence and disorder. Is it time to accept that while action films and violent films and TV do not produce violent behaviour in most people, there surely must be a connection with the things we watch and the way we act? When the only difference between the hero and the villain is that the hero shoots straighter and hits harder, does that not desensitise us to the fact that violence is not an acceptable way of solving a problem or asserting our point of view?
The poet in the psalms has a challenge for us all in these days of media bombardment when he says: I will set before my eyes no vile thing (Ps. 101:3), there is a choice to be made.

And if the root of our anti-social behaviour problems is alcohol, then maybe if we can't drink responsibly as a society it may be time that as a society we choose not to drink at all. Or at the very least make it easier to say no and more expensive to say yes. It would be interesting to know how the price of alcohol relates to the disposable income of teenagers and young people today compared with previous generations. How we make the changes needed I don't know, but somehow we have to find a way to break the chains of addiction that have brought us to this place.

And then I remember the cross. I remember that this exactly the reason that Jesus came into this sorry state of a world and exactly the reason he was nailed to a cross. The only hope our society has is in the cross, and the church, as the messenger for the message of the cross, is the the vehicle of hope God has chosen.

So we pray and we work and we live for the sake of the kingdom of God, to see lives changed, redeemed, restored and rescued. We know that only through Christ can things ever change. We can't legislate morality, we can only point to a better way.

Our society is probably safer than it was for many of our forebears. Many of the footpaths I walk for pleasure I suspect were not even safe during daylight hours in past centuries. The 21st century is no better and probably no worse. Whether it's safer or not, the simple truth remains that Jesus is the only hope for our nation.

Prayer month–week 3

Here's the outline for week three of our month of prayer:
Monday 18th Feb.

Everyone is on a spiritual journey. Some people are moving away from God, some are moving towards him. Our role is to be there when people need a spiritual guide. Who are you helping with their spiritual journey? Has God placed any particular person in your life who you can help? How can you help them take another step towards God? Ask God to speak to you about these things.

Tuesday 19th Feb. & Wednesday 20th Feb.

Take a little time to review what you feel God has been saying to you over the last two weeks about spiritual growth, involvement in ministry and outreach. Ask God to confirm these things and help you refine them into to achievable goals. Ask him to help you see these goals through.

Thursday 21st Feb.

Give thanks for the grounds and buildings that we have available to us. Thank God for the vision of our predecessors who built the church, the manse and the hall and cottages. Ask God to give us a clear vision and purpose with regard to our buildings. Pray for the planners, that they would understand what we are trying to do with our buildings and that they would be sympathetic to our need for change. Pray for wisdom for all those who are working on building projects at this time.

Friday 22nd Feb.

Our nearby communities are set to grow significantly beginning this year. Pray for the new developments at the Wixams. Ask God for one house in the first village that will give us a place from which we can reach out to that new community. Pray for the new homes nearing final completion in Cotton End and pray too for the expansion plans in Shortstown. Pray that God will help us to be creative in the ways we connect with our new neighbours.

Saturday 23rd Feb.

Pray for the emerging Pastoral Care Team. Ask God to help us establish a strong pastoral network in the church. Ask him to raise up pastoral carers in the church and to give us a deep pastoral concern for each other.

Sunday 24th Feb.

Our vision is: to build a great church. Pray to day that God would bless the whole ministry and mission of the church and that he would add significantly to our numbers. This is not about becoming a big church, but a great church with great influence for the glory of God in our communities. Seeing people come to faith is an important part of this vision.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Our survey says...

Nearly three quarters of Christians say the Bible challenges them to live in a way that runs counter to today’s culture, a survey commissioned by Bible Society has revealed – but they still struggle to apply that challenge to their daily lives, the organisation warns.

This comes from an article on the website.

It seems that the ordinary Christian has a hard time applying what they read in the Bible to their everyday life.

So it's surprising that at the same time that Christian's are admitting that they find application difficult, the use of Bible reading notes and helps is in massive decline. So maybe Scripture Union's new web based devotional is a timely idea.

Daily Devotions for the internet generation

Scripture Union has launched an internet based Daily Devotional with podcasts, audio readings, reflections and questions. You can take a look by visiting the SU website and following the Wordlive link.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Going Public

One of the things I love about blogging is the unexpected relationships that form through the comments and feedback you get. I don't get that many comments, but then again I don't blog in order to get comments, I blog as part of my ministry and as aprt of my personal process of reflection.

Anyway, a recent post about sharing faith produced a comment from one of the authors, Bill Peel, of the book Going Public with your Faith that gets mentioned. That set me off on a search and I discovered, the website associated with the book.
Bill's blog is here and is worth a look if you are involved or want to become involved in helping people live out their call in the workplace.

What I like about the book are the four big ideas that are developed. You can read more about them on the blog or in the book, but here they are in headlines:

  • Big Idea One: The workplace is the most strategic place of Kingdom influence for most Christians.
  • Big Idea Two: Evangelism is a process, not an event.
  • Big Idea Three: Our job in evangelism is to discover where God is already at work in people’s lives and join him there.
  • Big Idea Four: Being a person of spiritual influence is every Christian’s calling, not just the responsibility of a gifted few.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Book Club rules!

Thank you Colin for wanting to join the Book Club. The rules (so-to-speak) are very simple:

1. Read the book over the course of the next few weeks. 

2. Post some thoughts and reflections.

This is the tricky bit, exactly how to do the reflecting via a blog.

Maybe the simplest way is for me to post some thoughts and then for others to post comments to that post. I might then take the comments thread and turn it into a post, we'll see how we go.

If anyone has experience of running a reading group via the web, let us know how you did it.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

How to share your faith?

I was talking to Anne as we went for our Saturday morning walk around the local wood. She's recently discovered the Christian Group at her workplace and she was telling me all about their plans.  Apparently they've been discussing how they can share their faith more effectively in the workplace and are about to embark on a training course to that end. I mentioned a book I read a little while ago (kindly sent to me by Mike Olsen who I got to know through the Ordinary Attempts blog) called Going Public with your Faith

What interests me is that when Christians think about how to become more effective in sharing their faith, they tend inevitably to gravitate towards a method of presentation. It's as if we've grown accustomed to a diet of words as the key. Get the words right and effectiveness will increase. Now I know that getting the words right is important, we all want to make the most compelling presentation of the truth that we can. But I can't help thinking we keep missing a trick or two. I remember the 1990's when we had the decade of evangelism in the UK. Millions of pounds were spent on new initiatives, new training programmes, new "How to share you faith" seminars. The nett result was that over a million people left the church. 

My current reading is a book by Garry Poole called Seeker Small Groups. In the book he develops a strategy for launching small groups for spiritual seekers. He talks about the phases seekers go through and he sets out some key principles for making invitations. One point that sticks in my mind is this: Hang out with seekers.

If we are going to win friends and influence people for the kingdom, then we need to spend time with them. All the training in the world won't make any difference if we are not in the world rubbing shoulders with hurting people and letting them into our lives to see the difference Jesus makes.

Back-track to the post about Sunday lunch and the way Christians are despised in the restaurant business for being difficult and stingy. How can we sit and listen to the narrative of grace for an hour and then go and be so ungracious afterwards? It doesn't make sense! We should be learning to live out the grace we've experienced not just talk about it. As Eliza Doolittle so rightly said, "Words, words, words. I'm sick of words, show me!"

So, while we learn how to verbalise our faith, let's learn how to share it through our lives, our generosity, the time we give to others. Let them know they matter to us and maybe we will earn the right to tell them how much they matter to Jesus as we go.

Tip for the joy of it

I'm always intrigued in a restaurant when people start trying to work out what tip to leave. So, further to my last post pointing to the piece about how the "Sunday crowd" are perceived by those who serve, let me share with you something I picked up from a friend of mine.

I have a card the size of a business card when folded with a simple message of thanks in it. The point is not the message or the card, but the thank you. I've always been taught to be polite, and anyone who knows the British at their best will know that we even apologise when it's not our fault, and say thank you even when there's not much to say thank you about. I grew up being polite. I still open doors for other people, mainly because I can hear my mother's voice telling me to hold the door for someone.  

So when it comes to leaving a tip after a meal, I really want to be generous. In an odd way my little thank you card helps me to do that. It's a useful way of reminding myself that while this might be their job, they are serving me, and I want to honour that.

So, if you are going out for lunch on Sunday, or dinner on Saturday, or maybe for Valentine's, then be a generous if not extravagant tipper and put a smile on a waiter or waitress's face. 

Friday, February 08, 2008

Grace at Sunday Lunch

Do you ever wonder what the world makes of us as followers of Jesus? Ever wondered what the waiter or waitress makes of you in the restaurant? If you are planning to go out for lunch after church this Sunday, you might want to read this first:
How have the people entrusted with the amazing message of grace, forgiveness, and love been reduced to being known in the serving world as demanding, obnoxious tightwads? As someone not only making a living in that world, but also trying to incarnate Jesus to my co-workers, this leaves me deeply grieved.
Read the rest here.

Prayer month (week 2)

Week 2 of our prayer month:
Monday 11 Feb.
Give thanks for Robert’s life. Pray for the funeral today. Pray for those who are struggling to handle all the complex emotions and issues surrounding his death. Pray that the gospel will be clearly presented at the Thanksgiving Service.

Tuesday 12 Feb. & Wednesday 13 Feb.
Part of our individual journey is our journey together as the local church. Here are some questions to reflect upon.

How connected do you feel to the journey of the church? Are you part of a house-group? Where do you currently serve? How are your personal relationships with other people developing at church?

Don’t just answer these questions with little more than a yes or no, take some time to reflect upon them. Ask God to speak to you about what you can do with respect to each one. Ask God to show you how your answers to these questions relate to the outcome of last week’s spiritual health-check.

Thursday 14 Feb.

Pray for the opportunities that Hope 08 will give us to connect with our communities. Give thanks for the “taster-weekend” at the beginning of the month. Pray for the Re:Act fun-day in August.

Friday. 15 Feb.

Pray for our Children’s and youth ministries. Pray for the outreach that happens on Fridays and the discipleship ministries on Sundays. Pray for Becky and Amanda as they coordinate these ministries. Pray also for the outreach work in Shortstown and for Barbara as she leads this.

Saturday 16 Feb. 

Pray for the Exercise classes that happen on Saturday. Pray that God will use these events to help us build strong relationships with friends outside of the church. Also pray for the leadership team as they spend the day away together.

Sunday 17 Feb.

Thank God for the vision he has given to us. Ask him to give us the courage and determination to see the vision become a reality. Ask him to add to our regular congregation those who are seeking him in our communities. Pray that God would show you what part you can play in seeing the vision become a reality.


There's a new resource for churches wanting to help people struggling with debt. It's from Stewardship and it's called Red2Black. You can check out the new website at RedtoBlack.

Book Club

We've just launched a Book Club at church. A small group of people have agreed to read the same book and then meet together to talk about it. If you are interested in joining in via the blogosphere, our first book is 3:16 The Numbers of Hope by Max Lucado.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

An organised prayer life?

We're currently having our annual month of prayer at church and this year I've produced a prayer guide. I thought it might be helpful, maybe even inspiring, to share it with you, so here's week 1.

Some of the items are clearly specific to our situation, but you could substitute similar things from your own circumstances. Just change the dates to suit your starting point.

I'll post weeks 2 to 4 next week.

Prayer Guide: Week 1

Monday 4th Feb.

Pray for the leaders of the church. For the core leaders who serve as deacons (insert names); for all those who lead our ministry teams. Ask God to be preparing those who will take up leadership roles this year.

Tuesday 5th Feb.

Give thanks for Light Lunch, for the growth in numbers staying for lunch and the opportunities this presents to share God’s love.

Wednesday 6th Feb. & Thursday 7th

Take time today and tomorrow to seek God about your own spiritual journey. Ask him to show you what area of your character he wants to develop next; what next in your ministry; what next in your family.

Take a spiritual health-check: How are you doing as you seek to follow Jesus wholeheartedly? Try to be specific about what you are going to do with respect to any change you feel you need to make.

Friday 8th Feb.

In November we set what we called an aspirational budget. We realised that this budget was beyond our current means to meet and therefore calls for a measure of faith. Pray about our finances, about how we can meet this budget. Ask for wisdom for those who are responsible for looking after our money and pray that we would all give according to what God has put in our hearts.

Saturday 9th Feb.

Pray for the mission of the church. Pray that we would reestablish a pattern of regular involvement in outreach through things like Servant Evangelism, Ordinary Attempts, Just Walk Across the Room. Pray for some specific opportunities for you to share something of God’s love with another person. Ask God if there is a particular person he wants you to invite to church or Alpha.

Sunday 10th Feb.

Thank God for the opportunities we have to meet together to worship him. Thank him for all those who serve us on Sundays. In particular pray for the worship group and for those who run the sound desk and projector. Pray for the people who preach and teach and share God’s word with us throughout the year.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Mac Mail's annoying little habit

There are things about Mail that I like, but there are some things that frustrate me! For example, why doesn't Mail have a button so that you can step through your messages? And why does Mail check the spelling of the whole message each time you send a reply?

For the last point I found a solution quite by accident. If, like me, you have "check spelling" set to happen when you send a message, a second click of the send button stops any further checking and sends the message as it is.

So, once you've checked the bits you want to check, just click send and you will avoid all the unnecessary checking of the rest of the message.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Handling disappointments

So there we sat, looking at the screen.
The previous day we'd all been to Canterbury because Ally had a University interview. This was the course she really wanted to get on and it is heavily oversubscribed. Last year there were 9 applicants for every place. A lot of people faced disappointments.
Things had gone well and now, the day after, Ally and I sat looking at her computer monitor, open on the web-page for UCAS, the university admissions service. "Your UCAS form has been updated" was the message. This was it. Had Canterbury turned her down or offered her a place? Ally didn't want to look.
So we talked about disappointment. About the fact that 90% of applicants were going to be disappointed, and she could be amongst them. We talked about the fact that she already has an offer from another college. We talked about how we would feel, and how we would deal with the sadness of not getting in.
What a waste of time! They've offered her a place for September. 
Disappointment is never very pleasant and we would have dealt with it and moved on, but as I sit here writing this blog, I have to say that I am so very thankful to God that he has opened this particular door for my daughter. Having been dragged around the country as we've sought to follow God's leading in our lives, she has had to face losing friends and finding new ones. Moving school, and a few other things along the way. All part of the package that goes with being the child of the manse.
So it's another proud Dad moment to have been there when she found out that she'd got a place at her first choice university, now all she has to do is get those A-level grades. That and think about ordering herself a shiny new Macbook to take with her.