Friday, October 31, 2008

Who votes for whom?

Every four years we get to watch the American Presidential elections from afar and wonder at the processes involved and the apparent polarisation of voting patterns focused on single issues. I suspect that politics is neither more nor less complicated in America than it is here at home in the UK.

There's no doubting that among many Britons, Barack Obama is seen as the man for the job. In fact he's the most popular candidate across Europe. In a recent survey of British attitudes towards the candidates Obama would win the election by a landslide if Britons voted. (I'm sure there is some relief in the States that we don't get to vote!) Why might this be?

Well, according to the same research, Britons are more liberal in their voting strategies than Americans. Here are some figures:

In other areas there are big differences. 7% of Britons would not vote for a divorced person (compared with 30% in the States), 23% would not vote for a gay or lesbian leader (compared with 43% in the States), and 20% of the British public would not vote for a political leader who was an atheist (compared with 53% in the States).

There's some encouragement for me in these numbers, albeit possibly a little odd for me to say so. I'm encouraged because the statistics about British voters suggest that we are less likely to focus on a single issue than I thought we might be. On the other hand the survey does not discriminate between how Christians (evangelical Christians particularly) compare to the general population. Having sat in various political pre-election meetings and listened to the questions Christians ask, I suspect that there's a lot of single issue focus to many an evangelical vote. And that bothers me.

It bothers me because I'm concerned that some of those single issues are not the issues that matter to God. He's probably a little miffed that many people don't give him the recognition he deserves for his creative work in establishing the universe, but I suspect he doesn't see the teaching of creation in the classroom as a truly important political issue. I may be wrong.

On the other hand he does care about the poor and those who suffer injustice. Micah 6:8 ring any bells? Or what about Luke 4?

So I just wonder how different our elections would be if we sought to discover who had the policies that we believe would best fulfil God's heart for justice for the oppressed, the poor, the alienated and marginalised. I wonder how different foreign policy might be if we asked, "How can we help you?" rather than, "Why can't you be just like us?"

My prayer for all American voters is that they will take their responsibility seriously and vote with their hearts and minds engaged with those things that matter most to God. I know no single candidate will ever have the monopoly on these things and, dare I say, just because they express faith doesn't mean they will have it right by default either.

And when our election comes around, I hope that we too will look with fresh eyes at the choices we will have before us.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

When boys ask the wrong questions

You hear the strangest things in the supermarket sometimes. Strange and sometimes truly funny. I remember the day Anne and I had completed the shopping and were proceeding through the checkout when an item failed to scan. Holding up the multi-pack of 20 denier black tights Anne had bought, our checkout assistant called to her friend, "Tracey, what do you put these on?" Without thinking I responded, "I know I'm only a man but I think the answer is 'legs'."

Flushed with embarrassment, our assistant sank into her chair and entered the code Tracey had now helpfully supplied. I smiled, we paid and left.

You'd have thought by now I'd have learnt my lesson, but I still find all sorts of things amusing. When informed by a waitress one evening that the special tonight was corn-fed chicken breast, I had to ask how you get a chicken breast to eat the corn. I blame Gary Larson and the Far Side cartoons. 

Anyway, there we were, Ally and me, in Tescos looking at shower gel. All of a sudden I heard a voice behind me declare, "If they haven't got wings, I don't want them!" Knowing which aisle we were in, I intuitively understood the nature of the product in question, but it still made me laugh a little. But more was to come. Clearly the "winged only" shopper was not alone. Apart from the younger female member of the shopping party there was a younger boy, a brother probably, brothers are always trouble, ask my sister. 

Intrigued by the wings/no wings debate, he wanted to know what was under scrutiny. "They're not for boys", he was told in no uncertain tones but his curiosity was now well and truly piqued. He persisted with his questions and his mother, as I suspect she was, persisted in trying to side-step the issue. 

At this point Ally and I had made our considered evaluation of the shower gel and with said product in our basket we headed for another part of the store. As we went, I wondered to myself if the mystery shopper in the body wash and other items aisle had successfully negotiated a conclusion to the conversation, or had opted for the simpler solution of a trip to MacDonanlds!

One day that young boy will grow to be a man and know not to enquire about such delicate matters. But until then may he bring joy and laughter into many lives, even if it's not his mother's when in Tescos!

Faith in the Future

A couple of weeks ago an interesting monograph landed on my doormat courtesy of the postal service. It had come from my MP, Alistair Burt, who had been involved in a cross-party  committee studying life in the UK. The resultant document is just under 60 pages long and entitled Faith in the Future.

The paper caused some flapping of coat-tails in wonderment that Christians, more precisely Christian politicians, might have ideas and views that were influenced by their faith. Apparently, if some of the articles are to be believed, we are supposed to operate in some sort of faith-vacuum where what we believe about matters theological are not supposed to affect what we believe about matters political.

The report itself is rather interesting. Firstly there are some interesting observations about life in the UK. Based not upon their faith but upon the work of others in the field of social analysis, the writers observe that as a nation we are simply not happy, or at least not as happy as we think we should be (Introduction p10). Furthermore:
For all our material and social progress, as a nation we are still radically dissatisfied.

Again based on survey data, the report observes that:

Although vaunted as the solution to all our problems, and despite having clearly revolutionised the way we interact with our homes and our world, the societal evidence demonstrates that ownership of more 'things'... is not the route to emotional or physical well-being

The conclusion would seem to be that rampant consumerism and selfish accruing of personal wealth have not made us a happy society. In fact one could argue that it's made happiness less achievable than ever because it has pushed society towards independence rather than interdependence.

So, what's the solution? Well our authors don't provide new policy ideas to be enacted on our behalf (hooray!) but they do offer a series of defining questions that, if taken seriously, present quite a challenge to our current way of doing society. Here are their five questions:

  • Does my action encourage people to develop positive relationships in their families and communities?
  • Is my action socially and globally responsible?
  • Does my action promote a climate of trust and hope?
  • Does my action promote self-esteem and respect for others?
  • Does my action encourage people to fulfil their God-given potential?
How interesting that only one of these questions mentions God directly, yet for some people that is once too often. This does not strike me as a bunch of fanatical Christians trying to foist their personal beliefs on the nation as some newspaper article may have suggested.

I find these questions fascinating. I'm not sure they are the questions I would have chosen as defining questions for our age, but I've never really given it much thought more's the pity.

What I do wonder is what shape the ministry and mission of the church should take if these questions truly are the questions we need to answer in order to build a society of hope and optimism. They certainly raise the bar for personal responsibility both for our actions and for the potential for change. 

I am certain that society will only change for the better with both a large scale move of God and a realigning of our lives away from selfish gain and towards generous living. But that doesn't mean that we give up and stop trying. And I wonder too if these are the questions of a missional church?

If you want to read the report, then follow the link of this webpage.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Preach the word of God

Yesterday's Bible reading was 2Tim. 4 as I continue to make my way through the Pastoral Letters of Paul. The first 5 verses consist of Paul's solemn charge to Timothy. 

Paul tells the young leader to Preach the word of God, whether the time is favourable or not, a phrase that makes me wonder what constitutes "favourable". Is it about the general climate of society or is it about the local church's readiness to hear what needs to be said? Given that this sits in the context of the rejection of sound teaching in favour of that which soothes itching ears, it would seem that the context is clearly the church.

Whatever the context, Paul says that Timothy is to teach with patience, encouragement and faithfulness (i.e. not in a way that soothes those ears). 

In order to fulfil this call, Timothy will need to be: clear minded, not anxious about suffering as a result of his commitment to preach the truth, and evangelistically active. He is  to carry out fully the ministry God has given him.

This is quite a charge. As I read that yesterday I wondered aloud what made me worthy of such a call. I've long since stopped wondering why God called me, and I've just accepted that he has. On the other hand, this is still a serious call and needs to be taken seriously.

So as I read those words I wondered about how encouraging the ministry , my ministry, is within the context of the local church I serve. I wondered how committed I am personally to doing the work of evangelism. And I wondered too how clear my own mind is in all situations.

As ever, there is work to be done!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Are you an ipod?

Apparently the Yuppie has been replaced by the ipod.


Probably a good idea, but mock with caution

Christians welcome Atheist London bus campaign

So reads the banner headline for an article on Christiantoday's website

Whilst it's good to see Christians taking a positive and dare one say humorous view of the proposed campaign, I fear that we are in danger of going over the top. The more we ridicule atheism, and who doesn't find humour in the proposed wording that  there "probably" isn't a God as if even the atheist can't be sure, the more likely we are to alienate them from meaningful discussion.

Personally it looks to me like a great opportunity, in the right circumstances, to actually ask people what they think. I just hope we don't add fuel to the fire by getting drawn into some great debate and, heaven forbid, a series of special prayer meetings to pray against the campaign. Some of us remember the calls for prayer about the EU and the beast!

Simon Barrow suggests that the campaign slogan: "There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life" is the unbelievers equivalent of "God may very well exist. Now have a nice day" in case anyone is short of an idea for an answer or an alternative publicity campaign.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


Once again Jeff Noble (now possibly famous in Poland!) has stumbled on another life stream application on the internet. Popego looks quite interesting and I've set up an account to see what it's like. 

At first look it's quite a nice application. It grabs feeds just like Swurl, but it has the edge insofar as it doesn't seem to mind that I'm in the UK. Swurl does seem to have some problems, but, having played with Popego, I may now have more of a clue as to what might be happening at Swurl.

In the end the whole idea is to have one place that folks can visit if they want to see what's happening in my world beyond my blog. Not that I'm necessarily sure that anyone wants to do that, but it's a fascinating next step in the development of a life on the web.

I guess there are ways to use this kind of thing to keep in touch with one's wider family who are spread about all over the place.

Anyway, it's on the sidebar if you want to chck it out or you can just follow this link.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Gospel and happiness

Here's an interesting article by Jon Ortberg on the question of happiness.

But if the gospel really is the announcement of the availability, through Jesus, of the "with-God life," then things begin to fall into place. Grace is not just the forgiveness of sin, it is the power to live the with-God life from one moment to the next. Heaven is not a pleasure factory that an angry God chooses to shut some people out of because they don't pass a theology test; it is a community of servanthood that can only be enjoyed by a certain kind of character.

Live video stream from St Louis

I just got notification of a conference in St Louis run by the Acts29 network. It's going to be streamed live on the internet today, Tuesday, and you can watch it here.

The schedule looks like it has some interesting topics and the it's quite accessible to a UK audience, at least I hope it is because one or two of the topics are things I'd like to hear about. 

Here's a schedule.

Tuesday, October 21
9:15 am - Session #1: Gospel-Centered Repentance - Darrin Patrick (3:15BST)
10:30am - Session #2: Hybrid Leaders - Eric Mason (4:30BST)
1:45pm - Session #3: Christ-Centered Preaching - Dr. Bryan Chapell (7:45BST)

Wednesday, October 22
9:15am - Session #4: City Leaders - Randy Nabors
1:45pm - Session #5: Broken Leaders - Matt Carter
4:45pm - Session #6: Reluctant Leaders - Darrin Patrick (10:45BST)

These are Central times for the US, which as far as I remember means that things will start at 3:15pm BST. I've added BST times in red to the schedule.

What the 16-29 age group thinks about Christianity

Came across these statistics on the churchrelevance blog.
Non-Christians aged 16-29 years old were asked, “What is your current perception of Christianity?”

91% said antihomosexual
87% said judgmental
85% said hypocritical
78% said old-fashioned
75% said too involved in politics
72% said out of touch with reality
70% said insensitive to others
68% said boring
64% said not accepting of other faiths
61% said confusing

Very interesting I thought, certainly something to think about.

Worship First

Noticed the new badge in the sidebar? A recent comment on my post on worship and character prompted a comment from a fellow churchman in New Zealand, one Bosco Peters. He has a blog and website about worship at Liturgy.

Clearly Anglican in its emphasis, that doesn't mean it has nothing to say to those of us who follow a different tradition. In fact I found his piece about the Collect really interesting. In a Baptist tradition we often include an opportunity to pray extempore or silent prayers that are drawn to a close by some one at the front "closing" the time of prayer. It would serve us well to think a little more about both the opening and closing of such times of prayers. The form of the Collect may just help us do that.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Worship and character

I'm dipping into a daily devotional book by Henry Blackaby at the moment and today's devotion was about worship. This is what Blackaby says:

The quality of our worship is not based on our activities but on our character. Churches can mistakenly assume that the better the music, the more impressive the building, and the more eloquent the preaching, the more worshipful the experience will be. Genuine worship, however, originates from within our hearts. If our relationship with God is not healthy, all these things are nothing more than religious pageantry.

If you are not satisfied with the quality of your worship, don't be too quick to blame your environment. Look first to your own heart.

Church Health

After reflecting on yesterday at church, I began to think about what to do to address it. I began by having a quick look over various notes and things I've collected in notebooks and online. This, I have to say, is where a bit of software like Notebook or Together or Yojimbo on the Mac or Surfulater or Evernote on PC's comes in handy. 

I often capture something I read online through one of these tools and it makes a quick look for ideas easier than trying to wade through lots of stored bookmarks.

Anyway it all made me think about the issue of church health, about how we measure that and how we develop it. 

I did come across some Purpose Driven notes and I know that I have some more notes on questions to ask elsewhere. There was also a helpful article I downloaded from somewhere but my indexing system has let me down (I forgot to record the website!). I'm sure I can track it down if necessary.

Anyway, suffice it to say, I think it's time for some serious thinking about church health. Any suggestions? As I research my database of ideas (a posh term for all the accumulated papers and notes and bookmarks) I'll try and put a list together on the blog. If there's something you've found helpful, I'd like to hear about it.

Personally speaking

Still, after all these years, I'm baffled by preaching. When I think I've planned and prepared something that will work, it doesn't. And when I think I've got it wrong, sometimes it comes out right. Yesterday was one of those days when I thought I'd got something right and it came out so flat I'm surprised I didn't fall asleep!

Why was that? Was it because I wasn't prepared, spiritually prepared? Was it because I was concerned about other things and therefore not focused on the right things? I don't know. The previous week was so very different and I'm not aware of having done anything particularly different.

Maybe I'm just being too hard, too critical, too selfish. I want us not only to experience God's presence when we meet together, but also to engage our brains. To be thinking as well as experiencing.

Yesterday, personally speaking, I think we missed that goal. Whatever "IT" is, I don't think we had it yesterday. This leaves me disappointed for sure, but I'm not about to throw in the towel and give up on the pursuit of more of God's presence and power in our church life and ministry. Hopefully I'm not the only one who wants that.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Christ-centred following

As I continue to process my thoughts from this year's GLS, one thing that has been going through my mind is the description Bill Hybels gave us of the church in terms of explorers, beginners, growing Christians and Christ-centred Christians.  It is the Christ-Centred group who are going to be most effective in mission and service we were told and I have no reason to doubt that assertion.

So here's my question: What do we have to do to help people move towards and into Christ-centred living? It would seem that to build an effective church we must find the right questions to ask to make this movement possible.

It's obvious when you think about it. If you want a Christ-centred worship event, you need a Christ-centred congregation. You can't generate it all from the front, although you can help it grow. A non-Christ-centred worship leader cannot lead people into a Christ-centred experience can they?

A question to be answered then is this: What experiences do we need in order to become the Christ-centred followers Jesus wants us to be? Is it more teaching, more discipline, more opportunities to serve? What are some of the keys that will help us all take even a small step forward in our walk with God?

And of course there is the intensely personal question: How Christ-centred is my life at this present moment? When did you last ask yourself that?

Friday, October 17, 2008

Revealing Answers

 I finally bought, and have now almost read, Willow Creek's penetrating analysis of the effectiveness of the local church against its mission. Many people have blogged disparagingly about this survey, it's approach and outcomes. Some have criticised Willow heavily just because they can.

Personally I stand by my comments some time ago that this was not only one of the bravest things a local church has ever done in terms of discovering facts about its effectiveness, but further it reveals many things I've long suspected.

One conclusion that did surprise me was that they discovered that Christ-centred followers of Jesus are more effective or engaged in evangelism than new believers. Like the good folk at Willow, I'd always assumed that new believers were more enthusiastic about their faith than older believers, and that this enthusiasm is what leads them into more evangelistic involvement. That and having some non-Christian friends left! But Reveal suggests otherwise. This begs an uncomfortable question: Why aren't the mature Christians I know, myself included, more engaged in reaching the missing? Could it be we are simply not Christ-centred or motivated to do it.

It's certainly makes me think about the structure and purpose of church and whether we're really doing what we think we're doing. Or more importantly, doing what we should be doing.

I'm going to have to revisit the book a few times I think to really get the picture straight in my head, but thank you Willow for being brave enough to ask the questions we all should have asked, and for offering some ways forward now we know some of the answers.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

At last he swims!

Okay, so I've been swimming for two years now, but until recently I didn't think I was doing particularly well. Last week however I seemed to turn a corner. As with many things it was down to practice, and after a lot of practice I seemed finally to get it right when it came to getting air and not water into my lungs. 

It's odd, but the harder I tried the more difficult it was. My brain was trying to control too many things and I was inevitably over-thinking the whole process. I decided to slow down and focus on one thing, a steady rhythmic breathing pattern. Now I know that you are supposed to take a breath on every stroke in breaststroke, but I find that leaves me breathless, so every other stroke works for me at the moment. Nice steady stretch, pull, kick, glide and breath giving my head the single job of monitoring my inhale as my face clears the water. And I'm away, up and down the pool.

I wondered if this was a one-off last week. A bit like having your best ever round of golf, but this week I feel as if I've improved. I've been swimming every day so far and covered almost 3Km in four days. And, although I'm tired from doing it, I must admit that in the water I feel as though I could keep going for longer than I do. Today, for example, I swam alternate lengths of backstroke and breaststroke, my current pattern, and did 50 lengths of the 13m pool I use. 

Okay so it would be very different I guess in a 25m pool, but the confidence is building and maybe one day I'll go to a bigger pool and put it to test. Until then, I'm still pretty impressed that after two years of effort it looks like it's paying off. I never thought I'd say this, but I truly love being in the water.

Did we have "it" on Sunday?

By now you may have guessed that the most personally significant session from the Global Leadership Summit was lead by Craig Groeschel. His talk, entitled, IT: How  Leaders Can Get IT and Keep IT, touched on many things that were both inspiring and challenging. 

As Craig pointed out, the truth is no one really knows what "IT" is, but it most definitely has something to do with the Holy Spirit working through God's people in a special way.

On Sunday I think we had "IT" or at least a little taste of "IT". It's hard to tell. I certainly felt there was a sense of God meeting with us on a deeper level. Maybe it was just me. Maybe it wasn't "IT" after all.

In the end it raises the question: If that was "IT" then what are we going to do, what am I going to do, to make sure we keep "IT", and if it wasn't  "IT", then what are going to do to get "IT"? Because, if Sunday was a taste, then I certainly want more of whatever it is that God wants to give to us.

Handling Criticism

In the most recent edition of The Pastor's Coach newsletter, Dan Reiland makes the following observations about handling criticism.

Absorb criticism with grace: Taking criticism comes with the territory of leadership, how you receive it is a choice you make. He says: "... it takes less energy to absorb it than it does to fight it."

Learn from criticism and take action when you can: First listen for the obvious, second look for patterns to see if an urgent or slower reponse is necessary.

Ignore criticism when you need to: It's important to discern if it's a productive criticism or not. If not, ignore it. There is one proviso here, if the criticism is ongoing you will need to address the one doing the criticising.

Teach those who criticise when you have the opportunity: If you handle criticism well you can teach others.

The nature of criticism can be extremely draining, but if you receive it with grace, stay focused on the productive criticism, and ignore the rest, criticism can be a good thing and a blessing in disguise.

You can subscribe to the newsletter at the Injoy website.

In it for the long haul

I came across this simple expression of the commitment of a church leader through the Church Matters (9Marks) Blog:

Preach and pray, love and stay.

As I walked around the village where we live and minister the other day I was struck by the number of connections I have. I walked and prayed as I walked. As I passed house after house I thought about the weddings and funerals, the visits and conversations I've been privileged to share with this community. 

We may not have seen large scale growth at church, but we've built some important relationships, relationships that would be lost if I treated my ministry like a career to be furthered by moving on when it suited me. I remember Don Carson describing in one of his books how his father had spent his ministry life serving small churches. I've spent nearly 20 years of my life in ministry and almost all have been in smaller churches. Only three years were in a larger church.

I don't worry that I haven't moved up into a larger church. In fact I rather hope that if God wants me to lead a bigger church, he will grow one with me! And if he doesn't, well that's okay because I'm not in this for the money or the prospects.

So if God calls me into something else, I'll follow, but until then I'll preach and pray, I'll love and stay.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Praying in the current financial climate

A friend from church sent me the link to this video of Max Lucado praying about the current financial crisis. Whilst this is a US focused prayer, the content is applicable across the nations. 

Monday, October 13, 2008

A Franciscan Blessing

At the end of his talk at the GLS 2008, Craig Groeschel used a Franciscan blessing. Here are the words he used:

May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships, so that you may live deep within your heart.

May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may work for justice, freedom and peace.

May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and to turn their pain in to joy.

And may God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in this world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Only do what God wants you to do

Having preached this morning on radical discipleship it's no surprise that one of the things that came up was this business of only doing what God wants me to do. If the Son can only do what he sees the Father already doing, how much more true should that be for those who seek to follow the Son?

But how do I work out what God wants me to do? Well part of it lies in the simple question: What are doing Lord, and how can I help? 

Today, right now, I'd probably say that the three things I feel most passionately that God wants me to do are: Pray, preach and hang out with lost people. 

I wonder if that's the right answer to the right question.

Sobering thought

If you are going to reach the people other people aren’t reaching, you will have to do things other people aren’t doing.
In order to do the things other people aren’t doing you will have to stop doing what other people are doing.

These two comments from Craig Groeschel seem to cut to the heart of one of the biggest questions facing the church today. The simple truth is that the church doing what it has always done is simply not reaching the vast majority of the people whom we say we’re trying to reach. In fact one might go so far as to say that given that more than 90% of the general population doesn’t come to church, most of what we do must be wrong if the goal os to reach people, all people, any people, for the kingdom of God.

Sobering thought isn’t it!

A tired mistake

In my previous post GLS 2008 I made a typographical error. Normally I wouldn't draw attention to these but this one was important. I wrote "yes" when I should have typed "no".

I've corrected the mistake now, but it's important that I own the mistake and tell you I've put it right. 

Here's the pertinent bit from the blog:

Today one of those moments came when I wrote a question in my notes: Do I need God, really need him, in order to keep doing what I do?

The scary thing is sometimes the answer is undoubtedly no. I'd be lying if I said otherwise.

You can see why it's important now! Originally I'd written 'yes' as the answer to the question implying that most of the time I didn't need God at all to do what I do. That's the wrong way around. The scary thing is to realise that it's actually quite easy to do church without him.

Anyway I apologise for my mistake. Sorry.

Friday, October 10, 2008

GLS 2008

Today was the first day of the Global Leadership Summit. I've come to regard this as a key conference for my diary. Each year I feel challenged, disturbed, disoriented and overwhelmed. But I wouldn't miss it for almost anything.

The takeaways from today included an interesting insight into the make-up of a congregation. Bill Hybels spoke about explorers, beginners, those growing in Christ, and Christ-centred believers. He spoke about the gulf that exists between the growing Christians and the Christ-centred ones. Could it be that one of the things that holds back growth in the church is the lack of Christ-centred followers?

Next came a moving and challenging session on justice. A key thought from this session was simply this: If you want your leadership to matter, lead in those things that matter to God.

After lunch we were treated to an interview with one of the most single-minded people I have ever listened to. The interview made me realise that there are lessons to learn about focus and vision and courage to go after the goal.

The final session was in two parts with two speakers. Without looking at my notes, the thing I remember is that when grace is the key motivation behind how we treat people, church gets messy. People's lives are not neat and tidy. Too often the church has demanded a level of tidiness before they are welcome. This has to change.

As I process today and tomorrow I hope I'll be able to blog more coherently. But what I learn is not all that the summit is about for me. Every year I go it would not be overstating it to say that God get my attention within the first few minutes. There's something about being at the summit that I can't explain in any other way than to say that God gets my attention and I feel the overwhelming sense of his gracious love for me. It happens every time.

Today one of those moments came when I wrote a question in my notes: Do I need God, really need him, in order to keep doing what I do?

The scary thing is sometimes the answer is undoubtedly no. I'd be lying if I said otherwise. 

Getting wrecked by God on an annual basis is truly good for me.

Thursday, October 09, 2008


Brad Brisco blogging on Missional Order provides a quick synopsis of what looks like a helpful book on hospitality. Read the piece here.

What caught my eye was Brad's opening comment:
Hospitality is not optional for Christians, nor is it limited to those who are specially gifted for it. It is, instead, a necessary practice in the community of faith. . . . Several aspects of early Christian life combined to make hospitality central to Christian practice.

I remember Simon Jones talking about hospitality on his blog recently too. You can find Simon's blog in the sidebar. If you search his blog for hospitality you'll find several posts with interesting thoughts to ponder.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

On being single and happy

Here's a funny and positive article on being single and being happy and dealing with everyone who thinks you need fixing because of it.

Maybe if we taught folk in church that it's okay to be single; that it doesn't make you a failure at relationships and you can still consider yourself normal, maybe we would have fewer sad singles desperately seeking a partner no matter what the cost may be.

A couple of helpful books on the issue of singleness and the church are:

The Single Issue by Albert Y Hsu

I swam today!

Great excitement today!

I went to the gym to do a little bit of training followed by a swim. Swimming has become an important part of my exercise routine, but I'm still struggling to swim properly (by that I mean fitting in breathing). Ally tells me I'm doing really well given that it's only been two years, but it's still frustrating.

I've been working on breaststroke since the summer when it sort of clicked while we were on holiday. As usual it's the breathing that's the problem. I think that subconsciously my mind is saying to my body, "You're in water, don't breathe", so even when I get my face clear of the water and open my mouth, very little air appears to go in.

But I keep trying and today it seemed to click and I found myself breathing fairly uniformly as I swam the 13m length of the pool. I turned, and swam back again. Now I've done that before but not with the smoothness that seemed to be a feature of today's effort. 

After that I went on to swim one length on my back and one breaststroke for another 20 lengths or so.

Given that Ally wasn't there to witness this amazing triumph I'd just like to take this opportunity to tell myself, "Well done." 

This may of course not be a big thing for you, but for me, after so many years not in the water, I'm really excited about every little breakthrough I experience. And if you think you too old to learn or too old to change the way you swim, then I float here as a reminder that if you're less than 51, there's still time! I can't speak for anyone older!

Which then makes me think: When do we stop setting goals for ourselves? Perhaps when we forget that life is a gift that's worth exploring. Perhaps when we lose the sense of joy that comes from doing something for the first time. For me, I can't wait to go swimming with Anne and/or Ally to show them what I've learnt. I just hope it wasn't a fluke today.

I guess I'll find out on Monday, if that's the next time I go swimming.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

How to get people to commit to ministry

I came across an interesting interview on Ed Stetzer's blog. It's part of a "mega-church" series of interviews, but that's not the point. What caught my eye was the answer to the question about how they involve people in the ministry of the church. Here's a short extract from the interview, which begins with confirmation of a significant rate of growth in the church over the past 5 years:
LWR: What is the team at New Vision doing that has caused such growth?

Brady: There are a couple of things. First of all our location is good because the community surrounding us is growing. Secondly we have cut down on some of our programming so that we could perfect other areas of our ministry. For example, we have dropped our Sunday night worship and have focused on just one weekend worship service. We have really tried to be intentional by creating an environment where the members of New Vision are comfortable bringing their un-churched friends.

LWR: What expectations do you place on members of New Vision?

Brady: We want people to worship, to experience being a part of a group, and to give in ministry or to serve

LWR: If these are the expectations what are opportunities are being offered to members?

Brady: Our staff is constantly scheduling appointments and meeting with people to encourage and help them go to the next level. This could be helping them come to know the Lord or helping them become involved in the ministry. We do not have a great assimilation process other than our ministerial staff helping people get plugged into the ministry.

It was this idea of scheduling meetings. It's not particularly radical or new. It was just interesting to hear someone say that they have no particular approach other than this.

I try this, but at the moment I seem to be rather unsuccessful in getting people to actually see through the commitments they make. But then again, that's not the point either!

What I was wondering was how this could work in practice and if it's a better use of time than say the older principle of pastoral practice that's been handed down over many decades. 

Friday, October 03, 2008

Page Rank

I stumbled upon a site that checks the page ranking Google gives to web pages and thought I'd see what my blog came it at.


Somewhat disappointing but there we have it. 3 out of 10.

So I checked a few other pages. The church blog doesn't even get a rating! Jeff's blog rates 4/10... way to go Jeff! Another friend of mine also rates 4/10... now I feel bad about myself. 

Ah some good news (mentioning no names) I've found a site that rates only 2/10. I'm not at the bottom of the pile!

Hmmm. I wonder where Google rates... Ah, as I suspected... 10/10. Now I'm suspicious.

Anyway if you're interested in your page rank, and you can deal with the disappointment or the elation that may come you way, go to Google PageRank Checker and find out.

Right answers, wrong questions?

So, I'm pondering the whole question of the gospel still, as I continue to prepare for Sunday. To be honest it's got me a little foxed. I know what I'm expected to say, and I know what I want to say that may be unexpected, but bringing the two together in a way that is meaningful and helpful to everyone in church who hasn't been thinking about this for days, and reflecting on it for a long time, is quite a job.

This drew me to cast my eye across my over-full bookcases to see if there was anything there that might help me shape my thoughts more coherently. As I scanned I came across a book called The Provocative Church by Graham Tomlin and I started to read. Originally I bought the book for Ally last Easter because I thought it might engage her mind. She'd not long read Shane Claiborne's book, the title of which escapes me, and enjoyed that, so I thought this might be interesting to her. I promised I'd read it later, and now I was picking it up to give my mind space to think.

Within a few paragraphs I was hooked.

Here's one quote that caught my attention:

… he [the postmodern person], doesn’t sense a need for God to forgive him, teach him the truth, or to satisfy his curiosity about the origins of the universe. Instead, he needs something or someone who can help him learn how to give, to be kind and to love.

This is his reflection on a quote from Douglas Coupland's book Life after death, a book I cannot claim to have either read or heard about before. But the point is fascinating and begs a very very big question about the gospel we preach and the way it connects with the world we are trying to reach.

Now before I get in trouble for appearing to suggest we preach a different gospel, that is not the point towards which I'm travelling. I still preach and will continue to preach about the love, grace, mercy and forgiveness of God that can only be found through the cross of Jesus. But if I go up to the man or woman on the street and ask them a question like, "Can I tell you how to find forgiveness for your sin?" it's highly likely that they will not understand what I'm talking about or even consider it something they are in need of at this time.

If the postmodern person is actually looking for answers to a different set of questions, then maybe it's time to start with those questions rather than our preferred answers. And here's the rub. We might actually have to start living a quite different lifestyle in order to win the right to be heard.

Link for information on "walk this way"

The link for the Spring Harvest event in January is here.

Two events of interest

A couple of events came through my inbox this week. Both look quite interesting. The first is a workshop from CAP (Christians Against Poverty). Looking at the information this is an opportunity to both find out about and learn how to deliver a money management seminar.

You can get more information here.

With debt and "credit crunch" being the flavour of the month (albeit a rather unpleasant flavour), it might not be a bad time for churches to connect with their community using tools like these.

The second event is a Spring Harvest one-day conference to be held at King's College in January. The focus of the day is the issue of how we learn. The advertising says:

In the church we’re forever discussing ‘good teaching’ but when was the last time you heard a discussion about ‘good learning’?

Both look quite good, sadly I can't make the first but I may go to the second one.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Doing church twice

I find myself drawn to the events of Sunday afternoon once again. I'm trying to get my head in gear with Sunday's topic–We believe in the gospel–and I'm wondering what we really mean when we make such a statement. Is it a simple statement of faith, the declaration of a series of key propositions that define the boundaries of our faith or is it life changing truth?

In the comparative safety of the Sunday morning gathering we can explore what we believe but if we're careful enough we probably don't need to worry too much about what it might mean in the wider world. But when I stand in the garden of the local pub, "We believe in the gospel" takes on a whole fresh dimension. 

To begin with, if I don't really believe that God has something to say at that moment, I have nothing to say. If I do not believe that gospel offers the best context through which to process the emotions and questions about a young man's decision to take his own life, I have no context to offer. 

The gospel has to be good news, not just in church, but everywhere I go. Nothing new there then, but there is something that nags away in the back of my mind. I guess I can't get away from the feeling that the afternoon was a more gospel-like event than the morning and I wonder how far we've sanitised Jesus and made faith safe for the few who know and inaccessible for the many who don't.

We will keep doing what we do on Sunday mornings, not because we always have, but because it serves the people of God. But Sunday mornings are not the goal of the church, Sunday afternoon is closer to the goal if that goal is to be a good news people in a bad news world.

I did church twice on Sunday. We may not have sung songs in the afternoon, we may not have used a clever piece of video to illustrate a point and in the afternoon I don't think anyone would have suggested we were a congregation gathered to worship God. But we prayed, we invited God to touch hearts and lives. 

Maybe I'm crazy or confused or both, but I can't help thinking about these things.

Faith is not mainstream

While I work I'm also importing CD's into my iTunes library. I bought a separate hard drive onto which I'm slowly copying all the music I have from Hillsongs to Dire Straits. Eventually I'll add an Airport Express point to the lounge and connect the stereo to it. Then I can play iTunes through the stereo in the lounge. Well that's the idea.

As I do this and work on Sunday's sermon, it made me think. We have Christian bookshops and we have Christian web sites where we can get all our resources. We have Christian radio and Christian TV. We have some Christian schools. 

We are a sub-culture.

But we want to be at the heart of everything. We want our laws and statutes clearly to reflect Christian values. We want all our schools to give Christianity a higher profile. Some even want creation to be taught in the classroom as part of science.

But we are not mainstream.

The kind of radical faith to which Jesus called us does not exist, it probably can never exist at the centre of a secular society. Our faith is a faith lived out on the margins because by its very nature it makes us different. Christians cannot fit in. when we do, we become indistinguishable from the rest of society and our faith claims loose credibility because we are no different.

Of course that doesn't mean that we pull up the drawbridge and separate ourselves off from the rest of the world. It doesn't mean that we stop caring about injustice or that we give up on reforming our legal system and constitution (the one we don't really have anyway). But it does mean that we have to learn to live the uncomfortable life of an exile, a refugee in a foreign, sometimes hostile, land.