Sunday, November 30, 2008

A public service announcement!

If you are a UK Driving Licence holder and you licence was one of the first batch of photocard licences issued in 1998 it may very have expired!

I didn't know this, or at least I'd forgotten about it until I got an email from my friend Andy. Because of the nature of ministry, we've moved a couple of times in the last 10 years so our licences are current.

The dates are on the front or your licence, and there's a pdf available from the DVLA all about it.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Is this church?

A couple of days ago I was asked to think about speaking at a friend's church. They are experimenting with a different format on a Sunday evening, doing more 'in-depth' studies. The question is, what do I speak about?

So I had a think and two areas of personal interest came to mind, one of which is the church. This phrase shot into my head:

We shouldn’t confuse establishing and building our personal relationship with God with what constitutes church.

Now it's not a well researched idea, it was just a passing thought, but I wondered if it connected with anyone. It seems to be that we've made the church into an organisation primarily focused on the people inside it rather than the people outside it. It's become an institution, and institutions are usually places designed to keep the insiders from getting out!

So I'd be interested to know what thoughts my phrase stirs within our thinking. I'm not suggesting personal discipleship and corporate worship are unimportant. On the other hand I do question their importance and priority in defining what is church.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

One Prayer

I'd be interested to here what others think of this idea and if you were involved last year. I've often wondered if it would ever be possible to unite the churches in my local town around a common theme in this way, although I'd never considered it in quite the way One Prayer does it. In Newark, where I began my full-time ministry, there used to be an annual pulpit exchange, but this is a much bigger concept than that.

The basic idea is to bring together churches across the world for a month of focused teaching, prayer and service. The first week you preach on your 'one prayer' theme and then the next three weeks you use video teaching from other churches.

And it's not just about preaching. There's an offering for projects across the world amongst other things.

Craig Groeschel ( introduces 'One Prayer by asking, "If you could pray one prayer for the church that God would answer, what would it be?"

What an interesting question! My one prayer would probably be around becoming passionate about the missing, although there are many other 'one prayers' that I find myself praying. 

You can visit the One Prayer website here and read more about it.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

And now our best guess

I'm not sure what to make of yesterday's pre-budget speech by Mr Darling. What has always worried me about this government is its consistent over optimistic assessment of economic growth. I seem to remember previous budgets and pre-budget reports announcing growth that never materialised. On the other hand, ideologically, the alternatives are not very attractive.

Not that I assume that all that has gone wrong in the economy this year is because of this government and this government alone. There are decisions that were made in the early 80's that must surely share some of responsibility.

The question for those of us who say we trust in God is how exactly do we express that trust in times of economic turmoil. Jon Ortberg, in the talk I watched yesterday, spoke about three expressions of faith: public, private and core. The public expression consists of those things we say we believe but that aren't true. For example, Herod told the Magi that he too wanted to visit the new king, but that wasn't his intention at all. 

Secondly he talked about private expressions of faith. These are things we think we believe but when push comes to shove it turns out that we don't truly believe them at all, or at least don't act upon them as we ought. Peter's denial of Jesus is an example of this. When Jesus tells the disciples that he is going to be arrested and they will all desert him Peter says, "Not me, I won't desert you." But he did.

The third expression of faith are our core beliefs. These are the things that truly shape our behaviour. According to Ortberg we can never deny these core beliefs, we will always act in accordance with them. 

The goal of maturing faith is to align our core beliefs with those of Jesus. When it comes to facing economic uncertainty I suspect our core beliefs about money and financial security, about the kingdom of God and whether we do or don't worry about what to eat and wear will come into clearer focus.

Perhaps Alistair Darling is over optimistic about future growth, perhaps his plans will plunge us into the worst national debt crisis history has ever seen. Perhaps not. I don't know, but what I do know is that if my core beliefs are truly aligned to those of Jesus then my perspective on these things will be different. I'll still question the wisdom of government at times, I'll still seek to steward my finances wisely, but I won't lie awake at night worrying about it all. 

At least that's my intention.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Missional values

I've recently begun to follow the Church Planting Novice Blog. Here are some missional values and practices to consider from a recent link.

Here are five characteristics or “rules of order” for a missional community taken from Frost’s Exiles: Living Missionally in a Post-Christian Culture.

  1. Bless. We will bless at least one other member of our community every day.
  2. Eat. We will eat with other members of our community at least three times a week.
  3. Listen. We will commit ourselves weekly to listening to the promptings of God in our lives.
  4. Learn. We will read from the Gospels each week and remain diligent in learning more about Jesus.
  5. Sent. We will see our daily life as an expression of our sent-ness by God into this world.

Here are the Four Practices we developed for our church, which are grounded in Four Gospel Principles. These principles and practices shape all our City Groups (what we call missional communities).

SHARE life and truth through stories and Scripture

PRAY for one another and the city

ENGAGE people and culture of your community with the gospel

LOVE one another by eating and exercising hospitality

There are elements of real challenge here... eating with others at least three time a week, but that's no reason to pass over the basic principles.

I've almost finished Michael Frost's book from which these principles are drawn.

Understanding History

I'm not a great student of history, never have been. But I don't know if it's as I get older or just as I understand more about the world around, but I'm increasingly interested in understanding history, particularly 20th century European history.

On our recent trip to Barcelona I was intrigued by the presentation of Catalonia's history and the strange gaps as they seemed to me. The complexity of European history seems quite daunting, but worth at least a little dip of the toe in the water. 

So, does anyone know of a good book, or have any suggestions about where to start?

Better Christians or more disciples

When I went to the leadership day with Bill Hybels a couple of weeks ago I was given a DVD in the seminar pack. It was a talk by Jon Ortberg from the 2008 Reveal Conference. Must watch that I thought and finally today I did.

Amazing. Truly amazing. My honest opinion is that if you can get hold of this talk then you quite simply must. It's a powerful presentation of the need we face to challenge ourselves and those around us to become followers of Jesus at the deepest level.

In the talk Jon asks: "Do we admire Jesus or do we follow him?" "Admirers are impressed, followers are devoted", he says. 

The problem is that the Western Church has probably focused most of its efforts on making admirers more than followers. As Jon Ortberg points out we've reduced the gospel to the level of the minimum requirements for securing a place in heaven. We've created users of Jesus and not followers.

A great talk that needs a second and third watch with a notebook open and a prayerful heart.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

There's this church...

There's this church I came across called Homepdx. It's a church for homeless people. But it's far more than that. I've just looked at their website and been moved and challenged by their perspective on church.

Their banner line is: 

There is no us and them, only us

Have a read of their "About Us" page, and ponder some of the things they have to say.

Myers-Briggs for Blogs

One of my regular blog feeds pointed me to a site called Typealyzer. It provides a Myers-Briggs style analysis of your blog.

Here's what it said about me:

ISTP - The Mechanics

The independent and problem-solving type. They are especially attuned to the demands of the moment are masters of responding to challenges that arise spontaneously. They generally prefer to think things out for themselves and often avoid inter-personal conflicts.

The Mechanics enjoy working together with other independent and highly skilled people and often like seek fun and action both in their work and personal life. They enjoy adventure and risk such as in driving race cars or working as policemen and firefighters.

And apparently this is a picture of what bits of my brain are engaged when I write.

Hmmm. Very interesting.

You can check your type by visiting Typealyzer.

Thanks to Ian's Messy Desk for sharing this site.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Christmas CD

First of all, what great service. I only emailed them yesterday to ask for a sample and it arrived with the post this morning. First rate!

Having listened once through I must say I'm rather impressed with the collection. I know it won't be to every taste but it's very pleasant to listen to and acoustically well worked.

So, all I have to do now is convince everyone else that it might make a good give away for the village.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


Must be the day for finding stuff about Christians and compassion. Here's another video that came via an email from Jim Henderson of Evangelism without Additives

Unfortunately the code doesn't work to embed the video in this blog post, so you'll have to follow the link and watch the video there. Just click on Maria Ruiz. All the people nominated are great adverts for selfless commitment to others, the kind of thing you'd expect more of the church to know for.

Maria has been nominated as a CNN hero and you can vote for her if you want to via the CNN website.

Christmas CD

Okay, so I may be jumping the gun here, but I received an email today from someone called Eddie with an offer that looks very interesting and I wanted to pass it on. If, like, me you tend not to open unsolicited emails, then you may have had the email but rejected it. I don't blame you, I normally do the same, but this time I took a chance and read it.

The idea appealed to me straight away. 

I'm always looking for something to give away, especially around our village and especially at Christmas. This year I'd thought about doing little notebooks for shopping lists, but this CD at 53p a copy, might be a really good alternative. Looking at some of the comments on the website (I'll do a link in a minute), a lot of people have been impressed. That's why I'm posting this now before I've had the chance to even listen to the CD.

So. please forgive me if it turns out to be a dud, but I just get excited when I see an opportunity like this. I quite like Celtic music, so I'll probably like the CD anyway!

Here's the link to Beacon Music

Moved to wonder why

I just watched the video on the Compassionart website. Made me wonder why we get so worked up over so many small things when God wants us to have a much bigger heart towards the poor and oppressed.

Once again, Micah 6:8 rings in my ears:

He has shown you O man what is good, and what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with the Lord your God.

I first underlined those words in 1978. I wish they'd been more fundamental to my thinking over the last 30 years than they have. Maybe now is the time, as the church rediscovers God's heart of compassion, for which God placed those words on my heart all those years ago.


I read recently about Compassionart in an interview with Martin Smith, but wasn't really paying attention to release dates but a friend sent me the link to the site this morning and I wanted to post it here.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Barcelona in pictures (2)

The full album of Barcelona pictures is here.

Church Blog gets a comment!

Wow! The Church Blog elicited a comment for the first time in 8 months and what a comment it's turned out to be. I have my suspicions that the comment comes form someone who trawls the internet seeking to right the wrongs of errant doctrine in the church, but a comment is a comment and deserves to be heard.

What created the stir I hear yo ask? Or maybe it was just a mumble in the background somewhere. Well, it was the the subject of tithing. I preached about it on Sunday and posted the outline on the blog. That's what created the response. 

Tithing always seems to raise the temperature somewhere in Christendom. 

Let's get it straight, I don't think that tithing earns you any brownie points with God and I knows it's all too easy to reduce this thing about giving down to a "what's the least I can get away with" theology rather than a joyful expression of outrageous generosity in response to the grace we've experienced from God.

But I still believe there's merit in the tithing principle as a guide to keep us from getting too proud or too miserly.

So what do you do? Do you tithe? If not, why not? How do you "measure", for want of a better word, your giving if you don't tithe? Is it just a matter of what feels right for you?

I don't ask to be difficult but because I'm interested. Anne and I decided to tithe a long time ago and we do it based on our income before any deductions for tax etc. It just seemed logical to us, and we've been comfortable with that. For us it's never been about the money, it's been about a heart-response to God.

But the comment on the church blog, whilst clear about why the church shouldn't teach tithing, offers little help in terms of working out what an appropriate level of giving is except to say:

NT giving principles are: freewill, sacrificial, generous, joyful, not by commandment or percentage and motivated by love for God and lost souls.

All of which I endorse, but what am I to say to the person who comes to me asks how they are to work out what to give?

Blogging Commandments

Whilst searching for something else I came across these ten commandments for Christians blogs. They come from the Evangelical Alliance, and the original post is here.

1. You shall not put your blog before your integrity.

2. You shall not make an idol of your blog.

3. You shall not misuse your screen name by using your anonymity to sin.

4. Remember the Sabbath day by taking one day off a week from your blog.

5. Honour your fellow-bloggers above yourselves and do not give undue significance to their mistakes.

6. You shall not murder someone else’s honour, reputation or feelings.

7. You shall not use the web to commit or permit adultery in your mind.

8. You shall not steal another person’s content.

9. You shall not give false testimony against your fellow-blogger.

10. You shall not covet your neighbour's blog ranking. Be content with your own content.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Artwork at the docks

The old docks were redeveloped for the Olympics as far as I could tell.

This piece of sculpture stands at the gateway to the port area. It's quite impressive on either a sunny day or even a dull, rainy day. 

Under the sea

Fancy setting sail in this submarine? This is a replica of a very early submersible vessel. 

There's a cutaway version in the museum of Catalonian history that you can stand in to get a feel for what it was like.

I can't imagine it was particularly pleasant!

Bikes for hire

You see these bicycle racks all over Barcelona. For a fee you can get access to these bikes. From what we saw, you enter a key-code and the bikes are unlocked so that you can lift one from the rack. 

When you've finished with it, you just leave it in any one of the 200 racks around the city. 

Barcelona has a network of bicycle routes criss-crossing the city, so this is a really convenient way of getting about with using a car.

We walked everywhere, the knees aren't up to cycling anymore, but we saw plenty of people using these community bikes to get about.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Me and my camera

I've always enjoyed taking pictures, ever since I was given a Box Brownie and a roll of 120 film to play with on holiday in Wales one year. A couple of years later I got my hands on a Kodak Instamatic and colour film, which I think came in a cassette. I'd be about 12 and I took it on holiday to my Aunt and Uncles in Dorset. 

I set about taking photographs rather than just holiday pictures as I told my sister, and talked about framing the shot and looking for light and shade. I don't think I really had a clue what I was talking about, but some of the resultant pictures turned out okay as I recall. 

The cost of a good camera was way out of reach, so it wasn't until I got to University that I had the money to buy my first 35mm camera, a Zorki 4K range-finder. I quickly learnt to use a light meter and make adjustments for the idiosyncrasies of the camera. The shutter speeds never quite matched the numbers, but then again every camera is different.

My next move was to a 35mm SLR with a built-in light meter. This time it was a Practica with a 50mm thread mount for the lenses if I'm remembering correctly. I had several prime lenses and a telephoto. What I do remember was the weight of the thing. But it performed really well and I had many years service from it until it was stolen in a burglary

I replaced it with a Miranda. The name had just been bought by Dixons and the cameras were manufactured under licence somewhere. This was semi-automatic, with a full manual mode. The single point metering meant that you could choose your light source so-to-speak and the manual focus was simple and straightforward. I used this camera for a long time until I just drifted out of taking photographs for a while.

Then, one half-term, I took Ally out with the camera and let her try her hand. She really enjoyed it so we bought a pair of Minolotas. A Dynax 4 for Ally and a 5 for me. With a shared long lens we had a lot of fun exploring photography together.

Eventually we bought a Nikon D50 to try digital and this became Ally's camera more than mine although we always saw it as a shared camera. Wanting to make use of my nice Sigma 105mm macro lens I always dreamed of getting the Minolta Dynax 5D until the stopped making them when Minolta withdrew form camera manufacturing a few years ago.

So that brings me to the present day and my recent purchase of a Sony Alpha 300. The 300 is a special edition version of the 350. Same camera but with a 10 mega-pixel sensor rather than a 14.2 mega-pixel sensor. Given that pixel count is not the be all and end all of digital photography and the 10MP version has some better reviews, I took the plunge and bought the camera.

The Barcelona trip was my first opportunity to give it whirl and whirl away I did. 205 times in fact. That's a lot of pictures and would have involved at least 6 rolls of film. The nice thing of course about digital is that you can check your picture there and then and don't need to take two or three extra ones just in case you missed something the first time around.

The Alpha has all the usual features as far as I can tell of a typical DSLR, but with a few interesting quirks. It has a button on the top to tun the live view screen on and off, I don't remember that on the D50, but I haven't used it that much. But the most novel feature is the fold out screen function. The, quite large, LCD screen has a hinged bracket and it can be folded out to give you a horizontal screen. This means you can hold the camera at waist height and view the image on the screen. Very neat. The camera also has built in camera shake correction and a nifty tele-converter, although this only works in live view.

Overall, my first impressions is that this is a very nice camera and I look forward to discovering more of its abilities.

Telefonica Tower

A truly iconic 20th century piece of architecture. This is the Telefonica tower at the Olympic Park. It's 188 metres tall and I got dizzy just trying to photograph the thing.

It's not your average telephone mast!

Barcelona in pictures

Here are a few of the photographs I took on our recent trip to Barcelona. It's a city of architectural contrasts and bold planning decisions. There are old alongside new, renovated and rebuilt across the street and sculptures on almost every corner.

There are old fashioned squares where the tall buildings create a calm interior space.

On the redeveloped waterfront there are floating sculptures looking skyward with a star hidden behind their backs.

This tree stands in a square beside the Church of Santa Maria, near a memorial with an eternal flame burning.

The church itself is big and imposing. The odd thing is that it doesn't appear to dominate the area, it just fits in. When you get to the Cathedral and then the Church of the sacred family, these two buildings definitely dominate your view!

Iron work is all over the place too, and not just in the streetlights but intrinsic to the architecture. Cast carvings decorate everything.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


Been in Barcelona for a few days. Very nice. Took my new Sony Alpha DSLR with me. 200 photographs to sort through. Will blog all about the trip and the camera soon!

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Politics and faith

I guess the debate about the place of faith in the world of politics will continue to simmer even now that the Presidential election is over. Faith will always, probably should always, present a challenge to politics and policy at all levels of government. 

I certainly would not be original in suggesting that no one political party can ever hold claim to being the true politics of faith. And I'm certainly not alone in worrying about the polarising of politics on and around single issues amongst evangelicals. Our problem is of course that we elect a government with whom it's inevitable we will disagree over some things. But a choice has to be made if we are going to exercise our democratic responsibility.

So how do we make that choice? It was interesting to read recently what Alan Beith had to say about liberal politics and faith. There's a short article about here.

What I thought was most interesting was his comment that:

The tolerance which is a hallmark of liberalism does not rest upon a visionless and lifeless political creed, but on a passion to serve humanity without enslaving it.
Is it me, or does that not sound a little like the kind of thing you'd expect to hear from Christians who are grace-filled and who share God's heart to love others. With vision and passion we seek to serve humanity in order to demonstrate God's love and earn the right to share the message of the cross. 

So, is it possible for a committed Christ-follower to be liberal? That, in part, seemed to be one of the many question being asked about Obama, his faith and his politics. 

You will have to answer that question for yourself. As for me I'm probably more liberal than conservative, just in case you were wondering!

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Leaders Gathering

So I got the invitation to this thing called a Leaders Gathering a couple of weeks or so ago I guess. A day with Bill Hybels talking about leadership issues. Interesting I thought, and the day was free in my diary, so I booked myself in.

It seemed like a good idea right up to the point where I had to get up early this morning to catch a train to London. To be honest I didn't feel particularly well and wondered all the way down whether to just turn around and catch a train home and go to bed. But I didn't. Which means I can tell you about my day with Bill rather than my day in bed feeling sorry for myself.

The format of the day was simple, we asked questions, Bill answered them and we clarified, added to and generally explored the issues being raised. Most of the day followed this pattern. We talked about how to handle conflict, how to share with the church the new things God was speaking to you about, what impact the downturn might have on budgets. This last point raised some helpful insights.

Firstly, don't look at the potential for the pot of available finance through giving to shrink, rather look at the reasons some people don't tithe. Willow's own research suggests that of the highly committed group within the church, less than 50% actually tithe. That suggests that there is a large resource that isn't being released for ministry. And then came the question. Do these particular people not tithe because out of fear or rebellion? In other words do they not trust God to have their best interests at heart and their future in mind. Interesting.

Another good area of discussion was the vexed question of meetings. One comment stood out: Don't have meetings to manage people. Have meeting to energise someone or something.

Leadership capacity also came up. Romans 12 speaks about ministry being done according to the measure of faith given, or words to that effect. We were challenged to fulfil our potential and neither under-do or over-do our ministry. 

Someone else raised the question about how divorce rates, abuse etc don't look statistically different between Christians and non-Christians. Bill's take on this was quite interesting. While not denying the truth of such statistics he suggested we looked at where a person began rather than their current behaviour in order to make our assessment.

If a Christian's behaviour portrays them as difficult, abrasive or generally downright nasty, they may have started out life much worse! Where they are now is a point on a journey, it's not the end of the journey.

We finished with some reflections on how to guard your heart as a leader.

Overall quite a tiring day, but there was enough in it to have made the journey worthwhile. And although I don't feel great, I'm glad I chose not crawl back under the covers.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Serving in the midst of grief

I've blogged before about the privilege it is to walk alongside folk through times of grief, but some times are more difficult than others. In September a young man in our community took his own life. He was 31 and for whatever reason had reached that point of despair that resulted in his choice to end his own life.

Today was his funeral. It was a quite affair. In many ways the people that attended were still struggling with the issues surrounding his death. You wouldn't expect them not be. His family are in South Africa, so today we said good-bye and committed his body to be cremated so that the ashes can be flown home.

His name was Aidon, and although I didn't know him very well at all, today I stood with his family and friends, both absent and present. Suicide is hard to comprehend and almost everyone I know who has been close to someone who has completed an attempt on their own life asks exactly the same question: Why didn't we see it coming?

I'm not sure you ever can. You can sometimes see the signs that they are vulnerable, but you rarely see the signs that today will be the day.

And what does God make of it? A friend of mine once suggested that he rather thought that God's response was to wonder why you'd arrived early. It was not meant to be trite or flippant. It was a serious attempt to say that he didn't think that God condemns a person because they reach such a point of despair that they see no other options. I tend to agree. 

Lord, may we be a place to which anyone can turn at any time. Let no one go unnoticed in our community. May we be a place where hope, faith and love are lived out and open for discovery.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Shoe boxes

We had a shoe box party at church this afternoon. It was a lot of fun. I covered a lot of boxes and other people filled them with gifts. For those who know, this is an annual appeal with shoe boxes being packed all over the country and in fact the world. 

I should have taken pictures but I was too busy wrapping!

We managed to wrap and fill 54 boxes this afternoon, which was a great effort and hopefully we'll have a few more boxes before the collection day a week on Thursday.


I checked in with Henry T this morning. Here's a quote from what I read:

Have you done what you know to do?

When we encounter God and he gives us a direction, it is not enough to write down the date in our spiritual journal, or even to tell our friends and church of our "decision". God's call is not to "make a decision" but to obey! Deciding to obey is not equal to obeying... Making commitments, even publicly, is not the same as obeying our Lord.
From Experiencing God Day-by-Day