Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Preparing for a sabbatical

It is now the last day of April and that means I have one more month until my sabbatical. I'm taking a break for a moment from trying to write some help notes abut weddings and funerals for the student who is coming to Cotton End for two months during my sabbatical and the church leaders who will be taking all the responsibility for the life of the church while I'm away. Trying to think of everything I should tell them about funerals is taxing my brain somewhat.

I never quite realised how many things you have to think about for something like a funeral. The list of possible scenarios seems to grow as I write. I guess that means that most of what I'm trying to put down on paper is actually just stuff you learn along the way. Things like how to handle choosing hymns and readings at the simplest level, how to work with funeral directors and the folk at the crematorium. But there is so much more to the practice of ministry in these situations than organisational skills.

Until I began trying to write it down I don't think I honestly knew what I do when a funeral comes up. I just carry the experience with me in my head as I make visits, talk to Funeral Directors and work with crematoria staff etc. So, for example, do I include some notes about what to do if it's going to be a Royal British Legion funeral with parades, and flags and bugles? What about the heart breaking scenario of a funeral for a child? And so on. 

Perhaps the next time someone compliments me on how I handled a funeral, I won't be so quick to think of it as a small thing that I just do, but realise that it's a part of the much bigger thing of being called and gifted by God to do this thing called ministry.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Three simple lessons

As I've been reflecting on the year so far, there are three things that seem to have arisen from the teaching programme at church.

Lesson 1: How it feels is not how it is

I'm no sure where this came from, maybe it's just the simple truth in all that we've been through so far this year. I know it's only April, but we seemed to have lived a lifetime in four months. The tragic death of two teenagers can do that to you, but it's more profound than this. Jon Ortberg wrote a book called Everybody's normal 'til you get to know them. In he argued that what we experience now is usual but it isn't normal. Normal is defined by the Kingdom of God. 

Lesson 2: You can't rush God's promises

Abraham waited 25 years to have a son, and to become a nation, let alone the father of many nations, which was a far longer wait. Joseph spent 13 years in Egypt, Moses spent 40 years in training and then another 40 before he even saw the Promised Land. And even then he never set foot in the land until he joined Jesus on a mountain top. Daniel was in captivity for 70 years. The list goes on. You can't rush God's promises.

But even though you can't rush them, does that mean that all we do is sit back and wait for them to happen? There has to be a relationship between waiting for God to do what he promises and being active as we wait. The danger is that if we put activity first, we're in danger of doing the wrong thing. But doing nothing doesn't feel like the right thing either.

3. You can take the slave out of Egypt but it's much more difficult to take Egypt out of the slave.

The problem that Israel faced when they left Egypt was that although the location changed, who they were had not yet changed. God didn't do an overnight transformation. They were still slaves, they acted like slaves, they moaned and complained like slaves. Slavery was what they had known their whole lives, being slaves is what they were and moving into the desert didn't change that.

God was less interested in how long it was going to take to make the journey from Egypt to Canaan than he was in who the people would become along the way. The journey was not just a means to an end, it was an integral part of becoming the people of God.

Happy Birthday Dear!

Today my wife, Anne, is 50. It's okay, she isn't overly concerned about her age. Although she may be now that I've published it on the internet–perhaps I should have thought about that before I began this post! Anyway, this means both of us are now eligible for Saga holidays (I was 50 last October). Just over three weeks ago we celebrated our 28th wedding anniversary. 

It just doesn't seem possible that we've known each other for over 30 years but we have. We have come a long way since we sat next to each other in the biology lab. at UWIST dissecting earthworms. 

Over our 28 years of being married we've lived in 7 homes in 5 locations. When I went back to college to study theology, Anne continued to work, and when I told her about two struggling churches in Newark that had no money and no vision and wanted some help, she took on the challenge with me. She has always fitted her career in around serving the church as we've moved up and down the country.

Being a "minister's wife" cannot be an easy title to bear. There have been times when the expectations placed on her, simply because she is my wife, have been quite unreasonable. 

But we're still going and we're still committed to serving God together.

So, happy birthday to Anne, now 110010 or 32 in hex.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Notebook and Scrivener: take the two together!

Okay, so I'm taking a break from writing an outline for something I need to present in the next day or so, and I thought I post some final thoughts, or maybe not so final thoughts, on the merits of Notebook and Scrivener.

I like both these products and so it has been interesting to try and think what I would do if I had to choose one over the other.

The simple answer is that I wouldn't choose, I'd have both. If we were living in Microsoft land, then choosing would have to happen because I suspect I wouldn't be able to justify buying both. But I don't dwell there, so I don't have to choose.

Notebook ($50) is great for collecting and organising information and ideas. Scrivener ($40) is great for writing about them. Scrivener's interface is so good when it comes to the thinking process for writing. You can write small sections and simply move them around, and better still look at them in two panels within one window, or as a collection with each alternate section highlighted.

Working with iClip, which I use to grab things quickly that I want for a while but not long-term, I think I've got a good set-up for all my research, study and writing projects. All I now need is a good Bible Study package to replace what I had on the PC.

If you're a PC user them I'd suggest you check out Pagefour ($35) as an alternative to Scrivener, and Surfulater ($59) for Notebook. 

If, like me, you live in the UK then the strong pound means you can get Notebook and Scrivener for less than £50.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Online alternatives to Notebook et al

I've done a few posts recently about information gathering and organising tools, but the one thing I haven't mentioned are the online tools that are available. 

I'm a Google home-page person, and my home-page is personalised with my calendar, local weather information, a couple of news feeds and my RSS reader. Recently I've added two Google products namely, Google Notebook and Google Groups.

Google Notebook is probably at least a year old and provides a good, online, alternative to products like Surfulater, Together or Yojimbo and even Circus Ponies Notebook.

Google Notebook has an extension to make clipping information from the web easier.

Google Groups is a new offering allowing online collaboration. I've played with it a little bit, setting up a couple of groups for church. It's not dissimilar to setting up a private online wiki, something I've also tried used

If you collaborate a lot, then these online tools are probably of more use that the software you'd run on your own machine. They also have the clear advantage of being able to access your information from anywhere that you can connect to the internet. Of course for some this is the best reason for not using an online tool! And, of course, Google tools are free. The downside for me of these two products is that they do not support Safari, my preferred browser. Das, but not insurmountable.

Stephen Fry wrote recently that he saw a day coming when we will all work using open source tools and software. Perhaps wikis, groups, readers and notebooks are a step towards this.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Seeing it from heaven's point-of-view: John 6

As I make my way slowly through the text of John's gospel I wonder how Jesus had some of his conversations with his disciples. In John 6 the narrative focuses on the "Bread of heaven" and it begins with Jesus sitting down with his disciples on a mountainside watching the crowd coming towards them.

John tells us that Jesus already knew what he was going to do, so the conversation with Philip is not in search of a solution but more in search of faith, finding out where Philip had got to on his spiritual journey. I imagine that Jesus sits down, leans across to Philip and casually asks him, "Philip, where shall we buy food for all these folk?"

The deeper question that might be hidden in that simple question is: Philip, what do you see, a problem or an opportunity? Can you see things from the perspective of heaven or can you only see them from an earthly perspective?

As I sorted out the photographs from the Wixams, I thought about the perspective I have as I look across the barren expanse that will eventually become village one. Do I see all the obstacles, all the reasons why we can't hope to reach all those new homes, new people, new families. Or do I take a heavenly perspective, offering the little I have in order to see the wonderful multiplication of the kingdom, the perspective from which Jesus sees things. 

Information organising (2)

I have to say that after using Notebook for a week or so I think I might buy it. The way it auto-indexes everything you add, the way you can layout the pages and dividers is really useful. The overall look and functionality (clipping, outlining, writing, note-taking) of Notebook is definitely worth looking into if you're an information collector like me.

Having said last time that I didn't really get a long enough look at Together, I decided to buy the licence and give it a fuller trial. I have to say that I'm inclined to agree with Jeff when he says that it takes the edge over Yojimbo. The issue for me is whether the software takes an image of a webpage or just indexes a link to the site. The problem with Yojimbo is that it appears to do the latter. That means that if the webpage should move or get removed, the information is lost. Surfulater was great for this because it kept a copy of the webpage, and for being able to add your own files and links, building a comprehensive knowledge base for a given subject. Notebook is a good alternative for this approach.

Where Notebook lets itself down is the inability to duplicate pages easily and the occasional crash when you've been editing a clipped webpage. The latter is easily avoided by not editing the clipped page, but that's inconvenient when you want to strip out the non-vital information. Perhaps this will be fixed in version 3 which looks pretty impressive. 

Wixams underway

A few weeks ago Ally, David and I went over to the Wixams development site to take a few photographs. Currently the work is almost completed on re-routing the A6, and work has begun on laying out the infrastructure for village one of the development.

There's not a lot to see, but the photographs will give you and idea of what's taking shape.

The Flickr widget on the right is showing a few more of the site photographs.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

John 5

The encounter between the Jesus and the man by the pool has always intrigued me. Jesus never comments on the question of how or whether an angel stirs the water or not. He simply asks a question: Do you want to get well?

In trying to look at how John has structured his gospel, it's interesting the look at the characters Jesus encounters in the first few chapters. Each of them has to set something aside in order to experience what it is that Jesus offers. Nicodemus has to set aside his religious safety net, his position of power and authority and respect. The Samaritan woman has to set aside her sense of worthlessness. The man at the pool has to set aside his sense of hopelessness. Each of them has a choice to make each of them must decide if the offer Jesus makes is worth more to them than staying as they are. 

The fist five chapters of John's gospel open the door for us to see that Jesus can, and does, change lives. Not just some lives, not just lives that are of a certain quality, but any life that is willing surrendered to him.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Information organising

I've blogged before about Scrivener as a tool for organising thoughts and sermons etc, but I'm still looking at ways to gather together information from a variety of sources. Actually you can do this with Scrivener if you wish too, but there is an alternative or three.

Jeff Noble pointed me towards two possibilities, KIT, now called Together and Yojimbo. A third possibility that I'm playing with at the moment is Notebook from Circus Ponies.

Notebook looks just like, well a notebook. You can insert pages and dividers to organise your data, and you can use the OS X services via Safari to clip information to your notebooks.

Another clipping style application is iClip. And I'm pretty sure there are others out there too.

When I was a PC user, I used Surfulater to group data together. I found it a very useful application and if it were available for the Mac, I'd probably still be using it.

Of all the Mac applications I'm trying, Yojimbo has won out over Together, but I would have liked a longer run at Together to get a real feel for it. 15 days is just not long enough in my time-pressed world.

I use iClip to grab bits of data quickly that I may want later. In essence I use it like a glorified clipboard to drag and drop stuff in outlines and documents.

If I didn't already use Scrivener quite a lot, I might be tempted by Notebook. It has a nice feel to it and I like the auto-indexing feature. I'll explore it further and see if it offers me something the others don't.


Sorting through various archived articles in my database, I came across these self-leadership questions from Bill Hybels:
Is my vision clear?

Is my passion hot?

Is my character submitted to Christ?

Is my pride subdued?

Are my fears at bay?

Are interior issues undermining my leadership?

Are my ears open to the Spirit's whisper?

Is my pace sustainable?

Are my gifts developing?

Is my heart for God increasing? 

And is my capacity for loving deepening?

You can read the whole article here.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Keeping on, keeping on

Tomorrow I'm meeting with a father to plan the funeral for his teenage son. This 16 year-old boy was knocked of his bicycle and killed a couple of weeks ago. As I sat with him a few days ago we remembered how we'd met in January and talked about the tragic loss of another teenager for whom I also did the funeral. Neither of us would have dreamt that we would be sitting together doing the same for his son. Why would we?

When I have my days when I wonder why I keep doing what I do, I think about the privilege that comes with serving people in situations like these. It seems to me that in a crisis such as this, the church can express what it truly is about. It can demonstrate the love, grace and forgiveness of God to hurting, dazed and confused people. It can take the opportunity to express that for which we stand rather than that to which we are opposed. 

I hope that through our ministry many people in our community will be touched by the hope that comes with the gospel of Jesus Christ. I remember reading three of Jurgen Moltmann's books at college. One of the ideas that struck a chord with me was the concept of the kingdom of God breaking into our present reality and bringing with it all the hope that it carries.

Having just returned from Spring Harvest which followed the theme "One Hope", and having just performed a funeral in my own family, I hope that God's hope penetrates Friday's funeral. Personally I can't think of a better message to present than the hope that death is not the defining event of life.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Between failure and fraud

I read this article in Leadership Journal and was both moved and encouraged by it.

My life swings between voices calling "failure" and "fraud." The key is not listening to either. I'm not as bad as my critics accuse me of being, but I'm not as good as I've led some to believe. And right there, in the truth somewhere in between, is where we hear the voice of God. He still says to me, and to everyone called to follow Jesus, "I want you and I will use you."

In ministry performance matters, but grace matters more.

Between "Failure" and "Fraud"

No Master Plan

I was at a prayer event last night with a few folk from church and some friends from another local church. As we began I shared some thoughts which, in a nutshell, focused on the desire to see what God is doing in our communities and then seeking to connect with and become involved in that. Quite simply it's about asking the question: Lord, what are you doing and how can we help?

It can't be a coincidence then that this morning a post from the Doable Evangelism blog should pop into my feed reader. Here are a couple of quotes from the post.

Quite frequently, when doing a DE Seminar, I get asked how a church can become more “user friendly”. My initial response is that the church is people, not a building or program, and so the solution at the core is to get your people to become user friendly, which is what OA’s can help do. Once people start seeing evangelism as a spiritual practice (instead of a program) and actually celebrate ordinary attempts at it, the whole atmosphere in the “building” begins to change. Your people begin to see everything through the eyes of “outsiders” who now matter to them deeply. That will affect how you do business in the building eventually.

Whilst this does not connect directly with the question about what God is doing and how we can help, it does make the point that evangelism should be a  spiritual practice (instead of a programme). The thing I love about doable evangelism is that it is just that, doable. It's uncomplicated and therefore ordinary. When I ask, "Lord what are you doing, and how can I help?" I'm not looking for a programme, I'm looking for ordinary points of connection where the kingdom of God is breaking into the present reality of ordinary lives.

The second quote is a description of one church's attempt to build these values into their mission.
I and a hand full of mavericks here are in the process of spilling some ‘new Kingdom wine’ into a neighborhood where a lot of kids we are mentoring in a public elementary school live. Lots of needs. We are going organic, so there is no master plan.

This is exactly the kind of church of which I want to be a part.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Weary traveller returns home

Okay, so I was only away for one night, but the way things pile up around here I felt as if I'd been gone a month! I was actually in Nottingham, the family home (on my side of the family that is), performing the funeral of my sister's mother-in-law. 

These are somewhat strange occasions, mostly because I know a lot of the congregation, they are my family after all, but they are not the church family. Seeing them all sitting there takes a little getting used to. It was strange too being back in the crematorium chapel where I did my father's funeral a few years ago.

After the funeral I called in on Phil and Erica. Phil is another church leader committed to working out this outward focused thing, and it's always good to talk with with a fellow traveller. And then it was the drive back down the M1. It's not a long journey, but at the end of that kind of day it's far enough. Perhaps it was the toll of the day, perhaps my advancing years, but I felt the weariness of driving all too quickly and pulled off the motorway to give my brain a rest as much as anything else. Given that it's only two hours, it was odd to have to stop like this. 

When I got home, there were messages on the answering machine, emails and post. It's taken me until 11:00am this morning to even feel as if I've caught up with it let alone get to a place of control over it. So it was a pleasure to catch up with Jeff Noble's blog and read his post about GTD and David Allen's book. It gave me a renewed hope that all it takes is a little self-disciple and organisation will come, serenity and stress-relief is only a few steps away!

With that in mind I have emptied my email inbox and the desk is next on the hit list along with my weekly review. 

Here's to a more organised life in leadership and ministry.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Silver Service

I always thought a "silver server" was something you put food on to bring to the table. Apparently not so these days according to an article I read recently.

A "silver server" is a volunteer who is 50+. They say you increase your happiness in retirement if you volunteer in this age group. What with the "grey pound" and "silver surfers" (the post 50 internet users), it's no wonder the church has discovered the "silver servers".

Perhaps the volunteer force of the future will be drawn primarily from the early-retired. More so than from a younger, seemingly over-worked and over-stretched generation. 

Day Five

The key thought that I’m taking away from Spring Harvest is the need to encourage and teach the church how to live in the big picture of what God is doing. I’m aware that for many folk the pressing needs of the present can hinder them from seeing the bigger picture and the bigger opportunity and the bigger urgency of need that has to be addressed.

The big challenge, you might say, is making the choice about how much of your life you are willing to invest in God’s big picture or as we explored last year in church, God’s Big Plan. Many of the things that we’ve heard this year are things we’ve been talking about in church for some time. I’m not claiming to be ahead of the game, just simply in line with it.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Presentation Software

While we were away at Spring Harvest we came across ProPresenter from Renewed Vision. I'd be interested to know if anyone has experience of this package. From what I've been told it looks very good.

Given that there are only four of us who use Macs at church, it might be an uphill task to get the church to go Mac for presentation software, but the ability of this package to queue DVD's could swing it.

I know there are other Mac options too that might be worth a look.

Day Four

This morning’s Big Picture Bible reading was going along nicely when two things happened. First, two black birds began chasing each other around the Big Top, much to the consternation of many of the members of the audience. Second, the speaker spoke about some of the profound changes we are experiencing in our society. Changes like moving from consequences to options. There were others, but I can’t recall them at the moment, I may buy the CD.

The point is this, our society is changing and the church needs to change in response. As evangelicals, change often scares us. We fear that change means altering the fundamental truths we hold dear, but some of those truths are the very things that have got in the way of engaging with our communities. 

I’m not suggesting here that it’s time to change the message. The Gospel will always be the Gospel, any change to the fundamental message of the cross would be a dangerous strategy. But some of the “thing we hold dear” are less gospel than we think they are. 

As the morning speaker unfolded the message of Isaiah 42-43, I heard echoes of something I’ve been saying for years. I believe that the best question we can ask as a church is this: Lord, what are you doing and how can we help?

How different might church be if we only did what we saw the Father already doing? I fear there is a real chance we'd do nothing because we are too often unaware of what God is actually doing in our communities.

Day Three

Best quote of the day:

Holiness is not something to be defended, it’s something to be unleashed in the world.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Day Two

They always say that you should pace yourself through the programme, and over the years I’ve become quite selective about what I go to and what I don’t attend. Usually we go to the Bible exposition in the morning and then spend the rest of the day doing other things, dipping into the occasional seminar if we want. In truth, there’s little that is new about the programme, so it becomes easier to pick and choose.  

This morning’s Bible reading was thorough and thoughtful. There was one massive assumption made about the authorship of Isaiah that probably passed unnoticed by many, and to be honest didn’t alter the importance of what was being said. Is it wrong to have my theological head on? I don’t think so. And I’m not criticising the speaker, you can’t cover every stream of theological thinking every time.

I’ve now moved into an open area to do a little work rather than sit in the chalet. I have yet to decide whether I’ll go into the Big Top again tonight or not.

The odd thing about Spring Harvest is the diversity of people. It’s a nice reminder that not everyone in church is “middle-class”. It’s probably a more realistic expression of what the church should look like. To one side, there’s a family sitting eating lunch, to the other a young woman rolling her own cigarettes (I trust she will go outside to smoke it). In the background there are competing worship CD’s playing.

At times my view of church can become so sanitised. I get myself surrounded by nice people who do nice things and behaviour nicely. It would be easy to fall into the trap of thinking that this is normal, but it isn’t. The cigarette rolling twenty-something may have a more vibrant spiritual life than the man with the pleasant smile holding the door open for the lady with the pushchair. Thank goodness Jesus loved all sinners.

First night

In the end end I decided to go to the first night celebration in the Big Top. For those who’ve never experienced Spring Harvest, the Big Top celebration is, for most people, the key event of the day. Years ago this was true for me, but not so much these days. 

When we first came to SH it was the place where we would learn all the new songs that would be added to our worship portfolio that year. Unlike some people, we didn’t ditch the previous year in favour of the new stuff, we just added them together to build a wider worship base. Nowadays we find we know many if not all the new songs that are introduced. That’s probably because there is a much wider availability of new worship.

The disappointing thing about the music is that each year new songs are added to the book, but you never get to hear or explore them. I’m waiting for the day when they will issue a simple CD with the melody line for every new song in the book so that I can hear the tune and read the words and then make a decision about whether I want to learn the song and use it. There must be a whole mass of really good worship material that we never get to explore because we don’t have the skills to learn directly from the music. Maybe it’s something I need to commit to learning how to do.

Anyway, the first night went well and the worship was positive, well lead, in my opinion, and quite refreshing.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Adjusting to being at Spring Harvest

The odd thing about a large Christian conference is that you never quite adjust to being around so many people that you think share your point of view! I find the whole thing a slightly strange experience. Do you think Christians behave differently when they are at an event like Spring Harvest? They must do, they buy books like they’re going out of fashion for one thing. I wonder how much of Wesley Owen’s annual turnover comes through Spring Harvest?

Events like this have their flaws, but they have good points too. For a smaller church like ours, mixing with such a large group of fellow believers is a bit of a release. 

From where I am currently sitting I can watch people as they wander through the main centre-point of the site. Some look lost, others look distinctly found, if you know what I mean. You get the feeling that this may be the only place in the whole world where it’s actually more cool to be a Christian than it is to not be one.

Day One

So, we’ve arrived at Spring Harvest 2008 and I’m off later in search of a Wi-Fi connection. Having checked with BT Openzone and The Cloud, I’m sure there is one but sadly the man in the internet cafe didn’t even know what wi-fi meant let alone whether it exists on the site. Not a promising start!

The problem is that you can check the internet to find a hotspot, but there is no guarantee you will find one when you get there! I guess as time goes on, wi-fi will become more and more available but it doesn’t look promising here.

Been away

The reason things have been quiet is because we've been away at Spring Harvest and beyond the reach of the internet. 

I wrote something for the blog each day, which I'll post over the next few days. Next time maybe I'll have an iPhone!