Thursday, December 31, 2009

Is it Monday?

I don't know if it will help, but on the back of my previous entry about journal writing, here's an extract from 2009:

Monday 2nd March '09

Is Sunday or Monday the first day of the week? I know technically it's Sunday, but it always feels like Monday. Perhaps this is because we build up to Sunday. It is the high point. This makes it feel like the end of the week more than the start.

Odd really, because in many ways we are trying to launch ourselves into a new week. Do we come (to Sunday) with all the burdens of a week gone that we have no room, no energy for the opportunities of a new week beginning?

"Lord, I offer up my week to you before it's all used up. There are jobs to be done, sermons to write and things to plan. But before I get too busy, here I am. I give myself again for your purposes. I look not for the grand opportunities but for the simple ways I can serve you. Open my eyes to see where you are at work and show me how I can be part of your big plan."

Another year over

Well, it's the last day of 2009. It's all gone rather too quickly for my liking, but there's little I can do about it now! Slowing down time has never been one of my gifts anyway.

Somewhere around the end of the year I usually read through some of my journal. This year I seem to have written more than in the combined previous two years. Obviously the new pen inspired me! Some of what is written is deeply personal and I hope no-one ever reads it, although I guess when I'm long gone it might provide an interesting insight into the vague wanderings of my mind and emotions.

The year began with lots of entries around the topic of moving on. I really struggled with not being able to talk it all through with the church. I know it would have been more difficult if I'd have told everyone up front what was happening, but that didn't make the not telling any easier. Maybe I'm just unusual, but if I could have found a way I would have made the journey something we all shared.

Perhaps, if you're in a similar position this year, and if you asked me what I thought, then I think I'd say that if the question is do I go or stay, then you can probably involve one or two in the process and maybe more if relationships are good and they understand. If it's just a matter of having decided it's time to move, then wait until you know when and where before you start telling people. Fortunately I was surrounded by a great group of ministry friends who helped me reflect and who prayed with me. Bless them.

With hindsight I can honestly say that I didn't realise how much of an impact we'd made during our time in Bedford. We built some great relationships and we have never felt quite so loved as we did the day we said our goodbyes. I hope every ministry ends as well as ours in Cotton End did.

As the summer approached it became more about the transition and making the move. Eventually we moved in September, and a new ministry began.

My journal is full of all sorts of things. About how weird the book of Daniel gets, irritations over blocked ears and odd 'phone calls from complete strangers perturbed by a documentary and wanting to know about Christian faith as a result. There are deep questions and there are trivial questions. There are prayers and funny stories, and not enough of both! Maybe in 2010 I'll make sure I write down the funnier things of life and ministry, if only to balance out the tough days.

If you don't journal, do give it a try. And persevere. Don't just say it's not for you because you don't write anything for weeks on end and then don't know what to write. I think it took me several restarts and two or three years to get into the habit, a habit I'm still working on and developing.

There is no secret to journalling, you just have to make a start and stick with it. You will be surprised how it helps, especially if you take the time to review. Big themes from your life will emerge, trust me, I know. As I reread my journal one year I realised just how much I'd written about frustration and decided that I needed to refocus my attention in a more healthy way. Without my journal I would probably never have done that.

If I have one personal secret it's having a nice fountain pen with which to write. I love writing in ink. It's not the neatest handwriting, but it just one of those things I like to do. I don't use the pen for anything else, and so if I want to use my fountain pen I have to write in my journal. That keeps me writing.

So go out and buy an A5 wire-bound notebook and make a start. Tomorrow might be the first day of a great journalling journey!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Pastoral Care Training

I'm working away at setting out my notes for a Pastoral Care training day that I'm doing at the end of January. It's quite a challenge because, as usual, I've got lots of ideas and no logical pattern to them! But isn't that always the way.

I'm really pleased to have been invited to do this and I'm looking forward to it, but there is a lot of work to do. I've decided to divide the day into four sessions covering a broad overview of pastoral care, the health-check document (the invitation specifically wants this covered), and then two sessions on practice and skills. My plan is to talk some of the time and then get the attendees to do some work. Rather than give them a model to apply and definition with which to work, I thought it would be better if they came up with their own definition and plan to implement in their church.

I'm using a few resources I've got including David Beer's book on Strategic Church, and two training programmes I've got on the shelves. I hope it will be a valuable day for everyone who comes along. If it works well enough, we will repeat it as part of our training schedule at UBC. If it doesn't then we'll do something different!!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Bill Bailey's guide to the orchestra

I was given Bill Bailey's remarkable guide to the orchestra for Christmas. I saw this some time ago on TV and really enjoyed it, so I was rather pleased to get it for Christmas. I love the bits about the bassoon and the trombones.

Many favourite bits, but here's Bill doing the Doctor Who theme!

Too Ordinary for Hollywood

My Father-in-law likes a good war movie. The only problem is that he usually falls asleep and misses quite a lot of what he's watching. Anyway, because we know he enjoys the bits he sees, we sat together yesterday and watched "The Heroes of Telemark", a classic 60's production that retells a true story with a lot of "dramatisation" thrown in. Which is a polite way of saying history is rewritten to make it a bit more exciting.

The true story is far less glamourous and altogether more ordinary. But since when did that make a good film? I'm not blaming the culture of film-making for the rewriting of history, although one does wonder why they don't set the film in a fictional town with fictional characters rather than tempt you with the idea that what you are watching is true. But this is the essential difference between life and film, reality and drama. Who, for example, in their right mind would move to Midsomer?

No, ordinary life is just that, ordinary.

In our dreams it's a different matter. We are all heroes in our dreams. I don't remember my dreams for very long after I wake up. I know that 45 minutes ago, just before I woke up, that I was having a truly vivid dream, but now the details have faded away almost completely. What I do recall is that it had something to do with saving the world again, I always manage to save the world, and it seemed to involve being able not only to survive the vacuum of space without a pressure suit, but I could hold my breath for an inordinately long time! True Hollywood!

I'm not going to go all psychological about why we dream what we dream. They are just dreams after all! The point is that real life is not a dream and it's not a TV or film drama either. It's ordinary.

In a few hours we're off to see yet more relatives for what will be an ordinary lunch with ordinary conversation. I doubt that we will encounter too many aliens on the Southend arterial road or need to find a diversion around a suddenly erupting volcano. We live ordinary live with ordinary friends and ordinary families.

And yet, it is in this very ordinariness of our lives that our extraordinary God wants to share himself with us and to work through us. He invites us to live our ordinary lives inside his extraordinary mission.

2010 is unlikely to find me involved in solving some intricate conspiracy. I doubt I'll be dodging bullets by hiding behind a car door or abseiling down the outside of a tall building using a fire hose. At least I hope not (I don't do heights very well!). What I will do is meet people, hear stories, share memories, give of myself and seek to follow Jesus Christ as closely as I can. And I'll pray that through sharing in ordinary life, ordinary people will be touched by the wonder of God's love, mercy and grace.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas

Well everybody else seems to be wishing the world a Merry Christmas, so I thought I'd join in!

My plan for the day is a simple one. We've got our Christmas Day celebration at church this morning, then the in-laws will arrive and we will do the present opening. It's all very civilised as we sit down and take it in turns to open presents. After that it's the ubiquitous Christmas lunch. I'll try and get out for a walk in the afternoon, but sometimes lunch can take so long to have and clear up afterwards that we run the risk of being out in the dark!

Hopefully after all this I'll get the chance to do a little reading. I'm currently reading both Crazy Love by Francis Chan and To be Told by Dan Allender. Both interesting books.

Boxing Day is a big day as we travel to see the wider family. It will be a longer journey this year because we've moved further away, adding an hour at least to the travelling time. That leaves little time to make sure everything is ready for Sunday, so I might even grab some time today to do a bit of work.

I know, I should have been more organised and got it all done earlier in the week, but I didn't and I enjoy the quiet of Christmas Day anyway. We don't have a house full of relatives with which to contend! So doing some work doesn't really interfere with the day.

Hope you all have good days too, the kind of Christmas Day you enjoy.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Recycling Bag Stand

I made this simple bag stand for Ally. It's a little more sophisticated than the one I made very quickly when we were in Bedford. That one is still in use, but may get replaced with a version of this one in the future.

Using 34mm square timber, I constructed a simple frame using butt joints strengthened with dowels. I'd never tried this before, so I'll be interested to see how the stand up to regular use in a student house.

There's not much to say about the construction. The two sides are made up first and joined with the three rails to create the frame. It's not just an aesthetic thing to have the bottom open. It makes getting the bag out a little easier. I've also considered making one with a crate on runners for bottles or cartons at the bottom. Version three perhaps!

The top is just another rectangular frame made like all the others. The case clips are on both the front and the back, allowing the bag to be put into the frame and then clamped in position with the top frame. You could just as easily hinge the back. I added some soft closure bumps for cabinet doors to give the frame more grip on the plastic bag.

So far the reports have been good, it's working fine. Another successful piece of utility woodwork!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Seen at last!

Ever since we came to Upminster we've heard the stories about the wild parakeets that live locally. In the summer we could hear them calling, but never quite got to see them. Well, as I opened the curtains this morning, there they were sitting in the tree just outside the window.

With the light behind them it was almost impossible to photograph them, but I gave it a go and although not very clear, here's the proof that these birds really do live wild at the bottom of our garden!

In the first picture you can just about make out the bird sitting in the far side of the tree near the centre of the photograph.

When they fly, they are really obvious as these brightly coloured flashes cross your field of view. But sitting in the tree they blend in rather too well at times! There are at least two others in this picture but I can't see them!

In the second picture there's a solitary bird sitting on a branch on the edge of the tree. If only it was in the afternoon the sun would have been from the right and he would have been beautifully lit! Oh well, at least I've seen them close up (the tree is only 6 or 8 feet from the window).

Friday, December 18, 2009

Today's devotional

More from Desiring God

You can duplicate the words and deeds of a spiritually mature Christian, but you cannot inherit his or her walk with God. Christian maturity takes effort; it comes over time. If you ignore the place of prayer and if you neglect your relationship with Christ, you will not grow in your faith. Imitating the faith of others will not give you victory. Only as you nurture your own relationship with Jesus will your life be filled with spiritual maturity and power.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Discipline and effort

In these days of quick fixes and instant solutions, it's helpful to remember that few things come so easily. Our neighbour teaches the piano. Sometimes I can hear the effort of the pupils as they strive to get their fingers moving to the right keys at the right time. It doesn't always work. The truth is it takes a lot of hard work to become proficient. And I think that's true no matter how much natural talent you might have.

Following Jesus takes hard work too. We'd like to think that it wouldn't, that somehow everything would fall into place. We'd like to think that once we've acknowledged Jesus as leader and forgiver everything would be good and we'd slip easily and neatly into a fulfilling devotional pattern of life. All our prayers answered, no questions left hanging in the air.

But spiritual growth does not happen by accident. If we don't plan to grow then we rarely will grow.

I was reminded of this as I read yesterday from Desiring God:

The Christian life is hard work. Christianity involves systematically striving to implement the truths of God’s Word into your life. Spiritual depth and maturity do not come without consistent effort... There are no shortcuts to spiritual maturity. Maturity only comes through hard work and obedience to what God says.

Perhaps now would be a good time to set some spiritual goals for next year.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Wrong place at the wrong time

I've reached the part of king David's story where he meets Bathsheba. It's a turning point in his life, to state the obvious.

There are very simple lessons to learn and I think of them every time I read the narrative of this sorry episode in David's life.

1. Am I where I ought to be?
2. Am I looking at things I shouldn't be looking at?
3. Am I serving only myself?
4. Am I covering up my errors?
5. Is God going to be happy with what I'm about to do?

I'm sure there are more questions that come from the story, but I wonder what David would have done had he stopped at any of the first three? Had he been elsewhere the opportunity would not have arisen, had he looked elsewhere he would not have been tempted, had he accepted that Bathsheba was another man's wife, he would not have got himself into the mess he did.

Ah well, hindsight, as they say, is the only exact science.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Sacred space/missional space

So the two questions are these: Are we creatively using our sacred space and making it missional? Are we taking space in our community and making it sacred? It's in this intersection where Jesus becomes real to us, and to our neighbors through us.

These are great questions, especially if you are on the edge of making some major decisions about buildings as we are going to be in the next year or so.

How we invest, where we invest and why we invest are all big questions. These two questions are raised in an article that you can read on the Leadership Journal part of the Christianity Today website.

I've been thinking about sacred space in the community, it's one of the main reasons I go to Costa Coffee on a regular basis. I'm not sure how much my being there turns a coffee shop into sacred space, but I'll keep going until I figure it out!

I was thinking the other day about one of the empty units on the high street and whether it cold be turned into an art gallery, a space for reflection. So often our normal Christian response to the high street is to open a book shop, but we all know that these days bookshops, particularly Christian bookshops are struggling. So why not something different?

How else might we create sacred space in the market place?

Three down, one to go!

This is the first year in ages that I've done any Christmas events beyond the typical carol service and all-age nativity. I've had two play group Christmas nativity plays (last week), a parent toddler event today and tomorrow I'm off to one of the local care homes.

The play group events were really good and we must have had over 100 adults in the audience on each occasion. I did the "What's in a name talk" that I'd prepared for that. The parent toddler event was a little more chaotic. You really can't expect such young children to sit still and be quiet, so it was a bit noisy but we had a good time. I had other things to attend to afterwards, so I couldn't stay around and chat which was a shame, but there we are. One can't be everywhere!

Tomorrow's event at the care home will be a challenge apparently. Again, I'll do something really simple and short. Maybe I'll rework the names talk, I haven't made a final decision yet.

After that it's all-age and Carols on Sunday, then Christmas Day and then we're at the last Sunday of 2009.

Monday, December 14, 2009

What kind of church?

This is not an original thought of mine I must point out, but it's a useful observation that bears some thought. It's about defining the kind of church we are, and it goes like this:

There are ABC churches. Attractional, Buildings, Cash.

And there are MRI churches. Missional, Relational, Incarnational.

Now here's a question: If we focus on the ABC's will the MRI's happen? However, if we focus on the MRI's will the ABC's get done?

If we live missionally, build relationships, incarnate the gospel, then will that not produce fruit that makes the community of faith attractive? And it turn might that not cause the church to grow releasing resources for the kingdom both of people and finances?

But then again is that actually the point?

Perhaps the ABC's will take care of themselves, but if we're not careful, even assuming that to be true once again makes them the focus of our efforts not the things that might just matter most to God.

Maybe we need to remember that the only things we can take with us into heaven are our friends and family who find faith.

I guess what we need to do is carefully and prayerfully discern God's call, to seek to join him in his mission and seek out more opportunities to do the work of the kingdom by being followers of Christ.

It got me thinking about something John Ortberg once said about the shadow missions that some churches have. These are the unwritten missions that can draw us away from the mission to which God calls us all. They are not far away from the true mission, but they are far enough to deflect us from our true target.

Perhaps the MRI/ABC question is related to our shadow mission. The need to fill seats, to raise budgets and enlarge buildings could all be positive aspects of our true mission, but they could equally be a distraction from it.

On the other hand I could just be rambling!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

God bless the sports commentator

During the presentation of a year in sport on the BBC's Sport's Personality of the Year, I heard one of those wonderful commentary moments. I can't remember the commentator being referenced but I remember the line:

It's deja vue all over again.

Only a sports commentary is worthy of such a line!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Whose Mission?

I came across this great quote from Rowan Williams that certainly provides a great summary of the perspective I think we need to understand, apply and articualte about the church:

“It is not the church of God that has a mission. It’s the God of mission that has a church.”

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

A chance to talk misisonal?

Is anyone interested in having this kind of conversation here in the UK?

If you have a look at the website you will see that there are book discussions and panel discussions and other conversations, all of which look quite interesting.

My friend Andy White organised a "round table" event a few years ago now to talk about servant evangelism, and this could follow a similar format. Nothing fancy or flash, just a gathering of people willing to encourage each other in the formation of deeper, missional communities.

It's just a thought.

Basic assumptions?

David Fitch discusses the small church as a training ground for new pastors and leaders in a recent post in response to something Tim Keller raised. The post is well worth a read because of some of the important questions it raises both directly and indirectly. I was particularly drawn to his description of the small urban/suburban church:

Their people are living deep within the Christendom assumptions of the West. They still ask question that address “how can we attract more people into our church services?” They largely see outreach as church building centered. Most know few if any non-Christians in the regular rhythm of their lives.

I'm drawn to it because I think it probably describes much of the challenge we face in many of our churches. I've been around church for a long time now, over 30 years, and these questions about why people don't come and how can we get them into the building, our building, have constantly been asked.

I for one am glad that we are finally waking up to the reality that filling our buildings is not the whole answer. There is more to be done in the community, with the community and for the community that just cannot be done from the safety and security of our religious fortresses.

Anyway, have a read of Mr Fitch's post and have a think for yourself.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

If God asked you for advice

This is my draft of the second talk I'm planning for a short event.

Imagine for a moment that God gives you a call to ask your advice.

“What is it God? Do you want my help choosing the name of a new species or is it the colour of a new tree that’s got you stumped?”

Perhaps you’d wonder if it was an issue of world peace or solving the problems of poverty once and for all that had caused him to look you up. Of course you might be a little surprised that he called you, but once you’ve calmed down you’re ready to listen.

“I’m thinking of paying a visit and I was wondering what you thought of the idea?”

“Sounds like a good idea, what exactly were you planning?”

“I’m not too sure, what would catch your attention?”

“Well, if I were planning your visit then I think the first thing would be choose a time when communication is good. If you wait until say the 21st century there will be all sorts of communication media available to you. There’s 24 News from the BBC, ITV, Sky CNN etc. We can have you on every channel within minutes and they’ll keep repeating it every hour. That should be good basic coverage, but I think we’d need to do a bit more. You could have you own website and keep a blog. Then there’s Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, and even Saga has a social networking site if you’re particularly interested in reaching the over fifties.

I’d suggest a talk show interview and maybe even a documentary series. Perhaps a weekend with Louis Theroux would be an idea. Oh, and have you thought about writing a book or releasing a CD?

I tell you what, we could podcast your messages. Do you have access to a computer in heaven? SMS would be good too if you’ve got a mobile. There will be so many ways to communicate in those days, getting the message out shouldn’t be a problem at. We could even do a free DVD in the Daily Mail.

Having said all of that, you’d need to make a big entrance to get noticed. There’s always things happening in the world, so you’d need to make sure your visit was quite spectacular. And don’t use CGI, they got in trouble for that at the last Olympics, not good publicity. I’d suggest maybe a smoke and light show as you descend from wherever you descend from. That should get you noticed. And do it in America or Europe, somewhere well known. Don’t choose some backwater place, they’ll never get the cameras there in time. Invite a few world leaders and celebrities too. Nothing attracts people quite like a red carpet occasion with everyone dressed up for a party.

Lastly, and most importantly, avoid busy times of the year. Don’t do it at Christmas time. There’s way too much going on. People are stressed out enough doing all that shopping and cooking and eating to cope with anything else.

“So you wouldn’t arrive as a baby then, born in a stable in an obscure town in the Middle East about 2000 years earlier?

“Oh no.” you reply, “that would never work, no one would remember that.

What's in a name?

I have several talks to do over the next two weeks for various Christmas events. Here's a draft one I'm think of using for a parents' group talk.

I guess most of us choose our child’s name on the basis of what we like, or maybe a family name or tradition. Rarely do we think about choosing a name that means something. For other traditions names are chosen more carefully. In the Ancient Near Eastern world, names often came from circumstances of birth. The Bible records many such names. One example is Jacob. I have a great nephew called Jacob.

Some of the names dictionaries have tried to soften the original meaning of the name. One dictionary I found online defined Jacob as meaning conqueror, another said it meant “following closely”. The Bible simply tells us that it meant “he grasps the heel” because that is what he was doing when he was born, hanging on to his brother’s heel. But it was more than just a description of how he was born, it carries with it the connotation of being a deceiver, a con-artist.

I’m not sure my great nephew would want to know this about his name, nor that his illustrious counterpart lived up to his name as he conned his brother, his father and his uncle before God took hold of him and changed his name and his attitude.

It’s not easy choosing a name, and in the end most of us seem to grow up wishing that either our parents had given our names a little more thought or looking for an alternative. And it’s not just the name we are given at birth that matters. There are the unwritten names we are given as we grow up. He’s slow and awkward, she’s not too bright, he won’t amount to much, she isn’t pretty.

Such names can have a profound affect upon us as we progress through childhood and teenage years into adulthood. We carry the scars of all the names that have been written on our souls.
But here’s the good news. We don’t have to carry those names forever. Because of one child who came into the world 2000 years ago, who bore two significant names, who carried those names with him throughout his lifetime and beyond, we do not have to be defined by the names we’ve been called.

As Mary and Joseph prepared to become parents to their first child, a child conceived miraculously by the power of God and according to the purposes of God, they received very clear instructions about his name. He was to be called Jesus. Why? Because it means something special. It means he will save his people. Who are his people? Well the Bible makes it clear that anyone who chooses to trust their life into the hands of God becomes one of his people.

There was a day when some members of his family were asking questions about the sanity of Jesus. “Your mother and brothers are at the door”, he was told as he sat in a crowded house teaching those around him. “Anyone,” Jesus said, “who does the will of my father is a member of my family.”

He was also called Immanuel, which means “God with us”. Not just spiritually present, but physically present. Not just pretending to be human but actually being born as a baby, growing up into a man. Fully God and fully human. As one of the gospel writers put it, “he became one of us”

He had other names too. Names given to him that described what he did: teacher, healer, Rabbi. Others that would describe what he would experience. Man of sorrows, for example. Some names were meant as insults. The religious people called him “friend of sinners”. Personally I think he probably liked that one best of all, for that is what he was and that is what he remains, a friend to all those who know they need forgiveness for their mistakes and the opportunity of a new start in their lives.

So, if you are having or planning to have another child, give their name careful thought. And as you look at the Christmas pictures of the baby in a stable, remember that he grew up to fulfil the meaning of the names he was given. And because he did this, you can find freedom from the names that have brought pain and suffering into your life as you discover the power that is in the name of Jesus.

An answer to my question about gold

A few weeks ago I posted one of my rambling questions that cross my mind. This one was about the advertising campaigns for those companies wanting to buy your unwanted gold. They all naturally tell you they will pay you the best price for your gold and that now is a great time to cash in on your own personal treasure trove hidden away in the jewelry box.

Well, surprise surprise, the best price is well below the real value.

The BBC has done a small survey and discovered what I guess most of us were probably thinking. They took £300 worth of gold, as valued by an independent jeweller, and sent it off to a few companies. The best offer was around £60 which rose to over £100 when the first offer was turned down. Hardly the best price.

So as ever, beware the smiling faces on the ads that promise much but in the end deliver much less. I know these companies will have overheads and processing costs, but just remember they are in it to make money. Quite how much they make from your old gold is up to you.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Who am I?

Who am I, O Sovereign Lord, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far?
2Sam. 7:18

David's question is brutally honest. I don't think he's asking it in the way we sometimes ask. The depressive, woe is me way we might frame such a question. I think he is just asking out of sheer amazement that God could have such a high view of someone like himself.

We've been doing a series about people at church. Just ordinary folk who made mistakes, poor choices and bad decisions. But God remained faithful in the face of their frailty and still used them and blessed.

When I have one of those days when I feel useless and out of place in God's work, I choose to remember that despite my best efforts, God chose me and loved me and called me. And before he ever called me to do anything, he called be to be something. First and foremost I am a disciple of Jesus Christ. That will never change. Anything else comes second. Ministry comes second. Mission comes second. Preaching and pastoring come second. If I am not a follower of Jesus, then I am nothing.

So when I ask, "Who am I Lord, that you have brought me this far?" it's more a question of wonder that the God who created and sustains the universe is concerned for me and has something he wants me to do for him.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

New books

Okay, so I've only read one of the last two new books that came in November, but I couldn't resist the review of Crazy Love by Francis Chan on Jeff Noble's blog and Unfashionable: making a difference in the world by being different by Tullian Tchividjian caught my eye as I browsed Amazon.

So, I think I'll read Crazy Love first, just because I'm intrigued by the bit I've dipped into so far. I've still got other books to get to grips with, but you can never have enough new reading about the place!

Friday, December 04, 2009


Our local fishmonger has a sign up: Now taking orders for Christmas turkeys.

How exactly does a fisherman catch a turkey?

With a line or a net?

I wouldn't want mine caught in a net just in case an innocent chicken or duck gets caught by mistake.

Maybe a more intriguing question is this: Who teaches the turkeys to swim?

Wedding videos

I'm sure by now you've all seen the video of the couple updating their Facebook status at their wedding. If not you can see it here. I for one thought it was really funny and am in no way offended.

But thanks to Ed Stetzer, I came across another great wedding video of the most unusual entrance of the bride. Ed threatened to post it if too many angry pastors commented on the other video. Well here's the link for you watch it for yourself.

Weddings are significant markers but they are meant to be a celebration not a dirge. Well done to everyone who makes their wedding a celebration and who also go on to make their marriages a celebration too.

Desperately seeking connections

As I sat in my favourite public place yesterday I began to wonder how I might connect with people far from God. They were all around me and yet I knew none of them and stood little chance of getting to know any of them either. Simply being there is not enough. But how do I connect, what can I do?

I've had a couple of ideas. A book club is one of them. Not a Christian book club, just a book club. Read a book, talk about it, build some relationships. I always remember Bill Hybels talking about choosing to sail with an unchurched crew, and I think Rick Richardson says something along the lines of doing the things you enjoy doing with folk who are far from God.

As I look at my diary and all the church focused things that I do week by week, I realise how intentional I must become in order to be amongst unchurched people. In fact, if I don't go out to the coffee shop or to the gym, then I am more than likely never going to be anywhere where God could use me if he wanted to. Apart from a few brief conversations at the checkout in the supermarket, I'd always be church-bound.

And that's not good.

If God chooses not to hide in heaven, why should I hide in the church?

So I'll continue to do things others might feel should be reserved for my day off as part of my daily routine in order simply to be available for the work of the kingdom beyond the confines of Christian community. Says he, writing this from the safety of his church study!

Books I've finished!

Yesterday I finished two books. The first to be completed was Rick Richardson's Reimagining Evangelism, and then later in the day I finished off Frank Viola's Reimagining Church. Perhaps there is little left to reimagine, although a friend suggested any Microsoft product but my imagination won't stretch that far!

Both of these books gave me plenty to think about, although much of Rick's book was familiar ground but still very helpful. In fact if you haven't read anything on evangelism for a while and if you've never thought of evangelism as more than a guilt driven task that you ought to be doing but just can't bring yourself to engage in, then this might be the book you need to read.

For a long time now I've thought in terms of a spiritual journey that begins well before "conversion" occurs, for most of us at least. Personally, I can trace God at work in my life back to being 4 years old when I rejected believing just because an adult told me I should. And there were many other transformational moments, some small some big, until I finally understood the extent of God's love for me and the response I needed to make. The book helped underscore these thoughts.

Reimagining Church was a tougher challenge. there were times when I thought about putting the book down because I almost felt it was too critical of the established church. But Viola's heart is in the right place and the established church needs to be challenged. I think he shares a passion for the local church just as much as I do or as a Bill Hybels does.

And let's face it, the business model or military model of doing church hasn't been massively successful in the grand scale of things. We can't all aspire to big budget mega-church programming and neither should we. Small churches have a lot to offer if they can get the model right for their setting. Being set free from understanding the church as a pastor-led, top down, building bound, budget driven organisation that demands constant maintenance is something towards which we should be moving with rejoicing and expectation. At the end of the book there is a really helpful and interesting critique of many of our current models of church. It doesn't set up any particular model as a straw man, and because of this, it is possible to think about what makes for a good model for the church of today.

So, Amazon should drop off a couple of new books today and I'm still trying to get into Allender's To be Told. So I shouldn't run out of things to read this side of Christmas. Although knowing me, I'll need to make sure I have something to do on Christmas Day. I'm usually pretty bored by about 2:00pm!

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

iPhone on Orange

I was hoping that the introduction of the iPhone on other networks might just spark a little competition, but so far no luck. I was just looking at the tariffs on O2 and Orange only to discover that they appear to exactly the same.

So once again the myth of competition working in favour of the consumer drifts into the ether. Maybe things will be different in March when my contract comes up for renewal!

How do we talk about sin?

I've always thought that the best place to start in evangelism is wherever people find themselves. And by that I don't mean geographically, rather I mean spiritually, emotionally. I remember well the struggles I had personally with the methods that I was taught to take people through a gospel presentation. I remember being mildly castigated for not following the the proper order during one conversation but rather starting with the question I was being asked.

David Fitch has written an interesting post about sin, how we understand it and how our treatment of it impacts our evangelism. I thought his opening up of the basic understanding of sin that most evangelicals carry around with them is really helpful.

sin in the Bible is not only about transgression – (i.e. breaking the law), but also about missing the mark. Sin is not just about guilt but about the powers that enslave us. We therefore have to approach each person with the knowledge that sin will manifest itself in different ways. Our job is to listen and probe for the manifestations of lostness, emptiness, enslavement, and yes guilt, and be available to reflect with the person … always waiting patiently for the Spirit to reveal any sin, brokenness, hurt and/or enslavement that might be going on.

This seems helpful to me because, if the truth be told, most of the people with whom I might have a spiritual conversation know about breaking the law (most of them do it regularly when they drive) but little of the consequences. Therefore rules are to be broken and often there is no price to pay. But ask them about guilt, about loneliness through fractured relationships, about repeating patterns of behaviour that they just can't seem to break, and they will know exactly what you are talking about.

Now I know that there will be many a good evangelical who will throw their hands up in horror at the thought of not taking the earliest opportunity to point out the sinfulness in the human heart. In fact many would accuse me at this point of trying to remove sin from the equation altogether. But that's not true. Like Fitch, I'm wondering if the language we use and the concepts we carry make it harder to get the message across than it ought to be.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Google Wave Preview

Google Wave is now in preview and it is looking rather good.

For anyone involved in group discussions, planning, project writing or anything else that happens by collaboration, this might just be the online tool to do the job. When I posted a link to the video I thought then that it had real potential if it could live up to its billing. Well, my early looks suggests that Google Wave might just be able to do exactly what I want it to do.

I've set up some waves for things like Advent planning, deacons' meetings and thinking about pastoral care. The true test will come when other people start interacting with these waves.

I'll keep you posted!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Disposable camera?

I know it's a serious thing, throwing objects onto football fields during matches, but I did have to laugh when I heard that someone appears to have thrown a camera on the pitch at the Chelsea Arsenal game yesterday.

I wonder if the camera included pictures of them all in the pub before the game?

They may regret throwing it unless the took the memory card out first!

Images of Jesus

What image of Jesus do we present?

Two things came across my field of view that raise this question. One was an article from the Daily Mail about the inaccuracy of many traditional Christmas Carols and the consequent inaccuracy about the picture of Jesus and the nativity they present. The second was a reflection on a similar question in one of the books I'm currently reading. Here's how Rick Richardson characterises the kind of pictures we sometimes present of Jesus:

Tall, blond, blue-eyed and Swedish
Always nice
Cuddles sheep and children
Mystical, melancholy and other worldly
Hates conflict

With Christmas just around the corner, do we try to dispel the sugar-coated images of Jesus the baby who doesn't cry, the meek and mild, well-mannered, obedient child, or do we start with the story as people know it? If they know it.

Martin Lloyd-Jones

When I became a Christian in the 1970's I got the opportunity to Martin Lloyd-Jones preach at the church I attended in Cardiff. He came on a Wednesday and did an afternoon and evening event. I went to both.

I remember little of what he said, but I remember the deep sense of a man committed to the purposes of God, and one who loved the church dearly.

So I read with interest the comments recorded on the Church Matters blog about him. Here are the three main points:

The man deeply felt his conversion. Dr. Lloyd-Jones never got over the Lord’s mercy to him in saving him and this was clear in his preaching.

The underlining issue behind his preaching was the glory of God. Behind all of his preaching the main point and main issue was always that God be glorified and exalted. He never treated the Lord casually.

He had the presence of a man who dwelt with the Lord in prayer. When he preached, he sincerely preached as a man that had consistently lingered truly humbly before the Lord and had dwelt on the Truth of God in Scripture. He brought those meditations and that posture to the people.

As a preacher, I sometimes wonder what people will say about me, not that I expect anyone to ask! There is also the challenge of the last observation: He had the presence of a man who dwelt with the Lord in prayer.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The grand story

So, if we live amongst a story people, communities that are both familiar with and interested in narrative, then how do we best communicate our faith? Which story method is most useful? Can we actually reduce it down to method anymore?

The last question might well be the easiest to answer. In these days of multiple platform digital media, people engage with narrative through video games, TV and film, reality TV, makeover and cooking shows, through the theatre, art and music. And the list goes on. There is probably a genre of entertainment or information that appeals to everyone but not a single genre that appeals to everyone at the same time in the same way. So it's not possible to define a method for sharing the grand story we have to tell in a single model, a one size fits all narrative.

The challenge then is to take the grand story of the God who comes looking for relationship with humanity, the God who loves unconditionally, pursues relentlessly and redeems graciously, and allow it to live within the many genres of narrative that make up our daily lives. In other words our task is not to reduce the gospel down to its propositional elements but to allow it to flourish in its all-of-life pervading glory. We need, to quote Rick Richardson, to be telling stories of transformation more often that we tell stories of conversion.

Telling such stories does not exclude the challenge to change, to repent and believe, but it does put them into a context with which our hearers are likely to be more familiar. Instead of trying to convince them of the veracity of the gospel we expose them to its transforming power.

Is that incarnational, even missional?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

No Comment

And there I was, thinking I'd not had a comment on my blog for ages and ages only to discover I'd forgotten to change my email address for comment notification! Oh well.

So this is a short post by way of apology to David, who was the last person to make a comment on the blog, but whose comment I didn't notice until today.

I don't write in order to get comments. Good thing really because comments are rare in these parts of the blogosphere. I write to stretch my mind, clarify my thoughts and hold myself accountable. That people read what I write and occasionally find it interesting, funny or helpful is nice, even encouraging.

I have now changed the email address so comment away and I will know about it!!

The power of story

In view of the Allender book I'm reading, I thought this was an interesting quote from Rick Richardson's Reimagining Evangelism. It comes in his discussion of the power of story in evangelism and is a quote itself from Sarah Hinckley.

We have every little inconsequential thing, Nintendo 64s and homepages and cell phones, but not one important thing to believe in. What do you have left that will persuade us? One thing: the story. We are a story people. We know narratives, not ideas. Our surrogate parents were the TV and the VCR, and we can spew out entertainment trivia at the drop of a hat.... You're wondering why we're so self-destructive, but we're looking for the one story with staying power, the destruction and redemption of our own lives. That's to your advantage: You Christians have the best redemption story on the market.

My own anecdotal feeling is that people today are more interested in whether faith works that whether it is true. It isn't that truth doesn't matter, but that a series of propositions and proofs simply doesn't cut it with today's post-modern thinker. They want the story, and they want the whole story not just the success story.

Reading backwards

Started to read Dan Allender's book To be Told.

Instead of a search for personal fulfilment through finding oneself in a 1960's kind of way, To Be Told encourages us to listen the the narrative of our our lives in order to see God at work. From there we can engage in the process of coauthoring our future with God.

I'm' only at the beginning of the book, but what caught my attention was this quote:

God is constantly writing our story, but he doesn't send us the next chapter to read in advance. Instead we all read backwards–finding the meaning in our stories as we read what God has already written.

Interesting inasmuch as it would seem to me that our present culture is much more predisposed to story, to narrative, than was the culture in which I grew up. During my early years we were still living in the light of the scientific era where propositions and theories ruled. Understanding one's life was about fitting one's experiences into a predefined model. But now it seems that we are more willing to allow the story to unfold and to provide the parameters, the shape.

And yet there is one more twist. We still want life to have meaning and value and therefore we still look for purpose, direction and significance. Which in turn always brings me back to my favourite phrase from Colossians: The reality however is found in Christ.

Equally, Allender's point of looking backwards runs almost counter to our desire to know what comes next. How often have you heard someone say, or said it yourself, "If only God would tell me what to do?" Not in a question for direction and guidance but as a desire to know the details of the next year or month or two at the very least. Fixated on the idea of some divine blueprint for our lives, we are desperate for revelation.

But I think the point of To be Told is that in many ways we should give up the search for the blueprints and choose instead to partner with God in the writing of our story. Informed by the past we can move more confidently into the unknown future, knowing all the time that God is in the unfolding narrative.

Anyway, the book looks interesting and I will blog more about it as I process it.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Do I look that old to you?

It must be one of those, "Dad it's time," moments. You've seen the ad I'm sure. Two young daughters worrying about their father's graying hair. Well it wasn't my daughter, but I went to get my haircut today and when I was ready to pay the young lady who had cut my hair, just out of Primary School by the look of her, asked "Are you over 65?"

Shocked cannot sum up my feelings at that point. Me, a mere 52 being asked if I was enjoying my pension!

Quickly regaining my composure I replied, "No, I'm not over 65, just tired!"

Honestly, do I look like that old. I thought trimming my beard from full face to goatee was supposed to have taken years off me. Apparently it's not been that effective. I'll have to reach for the Grecian 2000, or maybe something stronger. Do they do a 4000 version?

But before I succumb to some artificial colouring agent I ought to remind myself that there is great comfort in the wise words of the Old Testament.

Youth may be admired for vigour,
but gray hair gives prestige to old age.

Mind you, I'm not too keen on the old age bit.

So I think I'll stick with a symbol of prestige rather make an attempt to cover up the fading colour, and give thanks that there's still plenty of hair to cut even if it leaves the floor looking like there's been a short flurry of rather unusual snowflakes.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Doulos going to an early rest

I am actually old enough to remember the Doulos being launched, and now it's coming to the end of its serviceable life. For those who don't know what on earth I might be talking about, the Doulos is one of Operation Mobilisation's two ships that tour the world bringing educational resources and mission to all sorts of communities.

Now it has to be said that memory does not allow me to recall if it was the Doulos or the original Logos that came to Swansea during my time at University. I suspect it was the Logos because that was bought in 1970 and the Doulos might not even have been commissioned by the time we left Cardiff in 79. But I do remember boarding whichever it was and actually buying something from the onboard bookshop.

OM continue to engage in mission and they intend to add a replacement for the Doulos when they can. After 95 years at sea it's probably time for a rest for what is currently the oldest ocean going passenger ship.

But more importantly than the history is the contribution that has been made to the great mission of God through the use of these vessels. It is surely a reminder that we have a big God who can do big things. Too often our vision is small and limited, confined by what we think we can manage to do within the financial constraints that face us. But organisations like OM remind me that we are a people of big vision and limitless resources.

So I just wonder what might be next, not only for OM but also for me in my corner of the world engaging in God's great mission here. How big should our dreams be?

Monday, November 23, 2009

Settling in

It's been only two months, well nearly three I suppose since we moved from Bedford to Upminster. The induction is long gone and the busyness of everyday life is once again established. I did my first funeral, which in itself feels almost like a marker.

Today I had a go at sorting out my filing box system. Things have just got stuffed in there and it is high time I got back on the organisation wagon and got myself properly organised once again. I had been promising myself a good old admin day, but you know how it is, things get left to accumulate and as the pile grows the heart sinks.

As I began my sorting out I reminded myself of the do, delegate, defer or ditch model and managed quite a lot in a fairly short space of time. The good thing about having a trusted system and GTD-ers will tell you is that you can trust it, and the thing I have learnt is that when I let it all slip it actually doesn't require a lot of effort to re-establish it.

So, while there is still much to do, there is less to do tomorrow than I had at the start of today.

Rain, rain rain, beautiful rain

As a regular visitor to the Lakes I just wanted to record my feelings of shock and wonder as I watched news footage of the recent floods in Cockermouth. Having walked the 10 miles form Plumbland to Cokermouth a few years ago, I remember the bridges that have now gone and I remember walking through the town looking at the shops and sights.

I think of friends who made their home in the town and wonder how they are doing.

And as I do this I could be listening to some of my favourite music from Lady Smith Black Mobasa. Listening to them softly sing "rain, rain , rain, rain, beautiful rain." The irony is that the lilting lyric has the rhythm of welcome rain after a long dry summer, not the surging floods of the last few days.

May the people of Cumbria and particularly Cockermouth and the surrounding area find great comfort in community as the rebuild their lives and may the churches serve the people well in these difficult times.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Mission on the High Street

I mentioned one of Simon's posts about the high street recently and it's developed into a series of posts that are really worth reading and thinking about. I have to say it's the kind of thing about which I get really excited.

You can read Simon's most recent reflections here.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Meet the squatters!

A little while ago we went up into the loft of our new home to put down some flooring so that we could use the space for a little bit of storage, and I mean storage! Christmas decoration, suitcases. Not the stuff we ought to throw away but can't bring ourselves to throw away!

Anyway, while we were up there we discovered we had some uninvited guests in the shape of two wasp nests. And when I say nests I mean two large nests. I've seen nests before, but nothing quite like the large one in the picture, and two of them is quite disconcerting when you come face to face with them.

They'll be going soon, most of the wasps are gone, at least I hope they are. I'm not intending to poke these things with a stick anytime soon to find out either!

So, for your amazement, here are our two nests.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Those annoying telemarketing calls

I know it's a job and someone has to do it, and I'm guessing it's not the most rewarding job to do, but I really don't like dashing to the 'phone only to hear a recorded message about how I can be free from debt or make a high return investment. At least with the recorded messages you can just hang up, it's a little more difficult for me if there's a real person on the other end of the line.

I'm normally quite polite but there are days when I just don't have the time nor the patience to help them with their survey.

So the other day when I was interrupted by the offer of another wonderful opportunity I tried very politely to tell the marketeer that I was busy and didn't have time to help him. But he persisted, demanding my attention for only a minute. So I timed him. He was on a loser although he didn't realise it at the time.

He began by asking me to confirm my identity which I didn't do. It wasn't my name he used because the 'phone number has been reallocated. So by the time we got through all those bits his minute ran out and I informed him that his time was up and that I had no more time for any more questions.

"I haven't asked you any questions," he complained. "But you have," I responded. "You've asked me who I am, what my postcode is and whether I'm over 18. It's not my fault you didn't estimate how long it would take to do this and answer the survey. Good bye." And with that I hung up the 'phone, half expecting it to ring again and to get told off by his supervisor. I've had that before.

The point is that each time I get one of these calls and each time I get frustrated and angry about being interrupted in mid conversation or mid thought, I remember one call I had a number of years ago. I can't remember the context of the call but I remember somehow we got on to what I did for a job. "I'm the minister of a church," I said, and thought nothing more of it. A few moments after hanging up the 'phone rang again. The voice on the other end was quiet but recognisable as the telemarketer who had just called.

"Sorry to bother you, "she said, "but could you pray for me?" I'll have to speak quietly otherwise my boss might hear what I'm saying and I might lose my job, but life is hard at the moment and I could do with someone to pray for me."

So I listened to her brief story and then we prayed together. I actually found myself engaged in ministry on the telephone with this person who's job it had been to interrupt my day. She, apparently, was sitting in her little cubicle in South Africa and I was in my study in Bedford.

I don't know what happened. I never got a call from her to tell me any news, but I'm not surprised. I doubt that she could have found my number again and I doubt that she would have risked her job twice. But maybe she's one telemarketer that I will see in heaven and hear the rest of the story.

I guess you'd have to say that God took an ordinary baptist minister working away on something of great theological importance (well I can dream can't I) and connected him to someone he cared about in another country using the technology available and marketing strategies of the 21st century. Why, I don't know. But I dare to dream that God did something amazing in that person's life because I took the time to share my life when perhaps no one else would have done so.

So I'll continue to try and be polite and friendly when the telephone rings and not set a timer going every time.

Nostalgia doesn't help

Have a read of Simon's recent post about nostalgia and missional thinking.

A couple of weeks ago now, maybe even three, I posed a question at church about Sunday shopping. (I blogged about asking the question here). Recently the department store in Upminster took the decision that it would open on Sundays throughout the year. They've been taken over and this is a decision of the new owners.

My question was simply: How could this be an opportunity for us rather than a threat to us?

Understandably there is great concern about 7-day shopping as a threat to family life and a threat to rest, but the simple truth is that some families actually enjoy wandering around the shops together. They may even find it restful! And they do it on a Sunday because Sunday is just another day to them. We have, dare I say, over spiritualised Sunday. In some Christian circles we even call it the Sabbath when we should know better.

But our ability to answer such a question in innovative ways is directly connected to, and probably in proportion to, our ability to learn from the past but not to live in it. The more we are tied to an historic candy-coated view of the church and the more we contemplate wistfully a return to the old ways, the less likely we are to think imaginatively about what could be and possibly the less likely we are to notice where God is at work.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

What's up with gold?

If your business was based upon buying and selling gold, would you be trying to buy gold while it's at near all-time highs? This is what confuses me about the current of spate of ads encouraging us to turn our unwanted gold into cash. Companies are even offering to double other companies' offers in order to get their hands on your old jewelry.

They must know something we don't know or they are not telling us because I can't make sense of it all. Thankfully I don't have any old gold to convert into cash, so I need not have any sleepless night about it all.

Advent Conspiracy

I first came across AC last year but had completely forgotten until someone else I know blogged about it. How could I have forgotten!

I'll probably use the videos to promote alternative gift ideas for Christmas. The last few years we've done alternative gifts as well as the more usual gifts for each other.


How available am I? I don't me available to folk at church, and in a strange way I don't mean available to people beyond the church or on the fringes of the church. I actually mean "How available am I to God?" As I continue to walk with the question drawn from John 5 in my head, I wonder about how available I am for to God to use in his mission.

At times we confuse availability with usefulness. We feel useless and then think we are useless to God. But that's simply not true. If he can make dry bones live, who can ever consider themselves useless in his hands?

So I look for opportunities to be available and yet they seem so rare. Why is that? Is it busyness or just an inbuilt inability to see opportunities as they arise. A combination I suspect. And here's another thing. Being available or being more available isn't just about more conversations, or is it? If evangelism was just a numbers game, then it would be a simple matter of having enough conversations to secure success.

But it's not a numbers game.

God is on a mission and I want to partner with him in his mission. Because I'm not surrounded by people who are far from God all the time, actually I am but I don't have contact with them, I have to become more intentional about being amongst them. This is why I go to Costa Coffee. I don't have shares and I don't drink coffee, but where else can I make myself available. The same is true about going to the local rugby club, joining a a walking group, taking an evening class. It certainly doesn't come from sitting at either of my desks!

Somehow we need to liberate evangelism from a programme we do, to becoming a life that we lead.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Reimagining Evangelism

I’m really enjoying getting stuck into Rick Richaradson’s book on evangelism. It’s another of those books that sits very comfortably alongside many thoughts and ideas I’ve been having about evangelism over the last few years and, as with other books, provides a vocabulary for making evangelism doable for everyone.

The key principle of the book I guess is summed up in the concept of collaboration with God. Jesus only did what he saw the Father already doing (John 5), and we are to follow his pattern. Richardson argues that our focus becomes listening to the Holy Spirit’s direction and leading as he guides us to people in whose lives he is already at work. We then play our part, whatever part that is, at his prompting and leaving the rest to him.

Nothing that I would argue with there. And neither would I argue with his desire to move us away from evangelism as closing a sales deal and reimagining it as a journey. I have long been of the view that everyone can be considered to be on a spiritual journey that is either taking them closer to God or further away.

So collaboration with the Holy Spirit replaces activism as the model, community replaces the individual as the vehicle, friendship replaces agenda as the pattern, and story replaces dogma as the context for telling the “good news” that we all long to communicate more effectively.
But maybe one of the most challenging aspects of the book focusses on the big story being good news about the kingdom more than it is good news about the afterlife. So much of our ols-tyle outreach has been focused on asking the question: “If you were to die tonight and stand before God…” But are today’s people interested in the afterlife or are they interested in the present? Making life work now is a more pressing issue than what to do with eternity, no matter how important we think the later should be!

So it’s a good book, one worth reading if you share a passion for rediscovering effective outreach in today’s culture.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

New books (and a day out at Twickenham)

I ordered a couple of books from dear old Amazon earlier this week. Tuesday I think, and they duly arrived today. One was a recommendation from the ministers' fraternal and the other has been on my wish list for a while.

Finding a sacred oasis in grief by Jeffers and Smith was recommended during the fraternal by the chaplain at the local hospice. I haven't looked through it, but I will do so in the next few days. The second book, from my wish list, was Reimagining Evangelism: Inviting friends on a spiritual journey by Rick Richardson. I listened to his talk from the Conversational Evangelism Conference and thought the book sounded interesting. A quick flick through the contents and the opening bit of one of the chapters tells me I think I'm going to enjoy this book.

And as if new books was not exciting enough we journeyed west to Twickenham for the England Argentina match. Too much aimless kicking and not a lot of invention behind very slow ball made for a mediocre England performance at best. Perhaps there isn't the strength in depth in English rugby that some would want us to think exists. The most telling moment was when the big screen showed a shot of Martin Johnson with his head in his hands.

Still with England changing their away strip to purple it meant I picked a bargain red shirt for half price!!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Found it!

To paraphrase U2, I found what I was looking for"

The dream was from Irving Bible Church and you an read the dream here. A quick glance at the website suggests that they have far from settled for the dream, but are activley engaged in reimagining the church towards the goal.

In search of vision

We need t begin to work on developing our vision here in Upminster, and one of the ways to start that process is to talk about the dreams we have. Vision often arises out of passion, and the dram is about seeing the different way whatever that way might be. Perhaps Andy Stanley puts it well when he says:

Visions are born in the soul of a man or woman who is consumed with the tension between what is and what could be. Anyone who is emotionally involved-frustrated, brokenhearted, maybe even angry-about the way things are in the light of the way they believe things could be, is a candidate for a vision. Visions form in the hearts of those who are dissatisfied with the status quo.

Anyway I was thinking about how to start this process. There's so much business to do, things to keep up with and tasks to complete, that we just don't seem to get the time to stop and pray and reflect and think and dream. It's not a criticism, just an observation.

So I thought I would see if I could track down a few things to help nudge the process along by giving us all something to reflect upon. I began looking for something I read years ago that began, "We dream of a church..." It came from a church in Texas I think, and I know I've got it somewhere on paper if not electronically. Sticking the phrase into Google yielded a few interesting results that I thought I'd post here.

First up was Dream UK, a network as far as I can see of Christians in and around Liverpool. What was interesting was their guerrilla worship. You can find out more by going here and here.

Then there was the dream of Hope Community Church. Ten years on it still has an authentic ring about it in terms of the fundamental purposes of the church, any church. Take this for example:

We have a dream of a church where everyone counts, where everyone is appreciated, where everyone is valued, not because of who they are down here, but because of who they are up there.

One could go on multiplying similar sites. The question I'm asking myself is what kind of church do I dream about? And if I have a dream, and I do, then how do I translate that into a vision and then a reality?

Okay, so the church that we will become is not about me and my thoughts and my ideas. Not even our thoughts, ideas and plans, but of course it is about what God is doing, wants to do, invites us to join him in doing. That's the vogue spiritualisation of it all if that's not too provocative. And it's a position with which I have a great deal of sympathy.

I would hate for our dreams to remain just dreams with no practical outworking that changes and transforms lives as God goes about his daily business and we tag along.

Anyway, I should get back to trying to find the things I want to use as the building blocks for our reflections rather than write about it!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The saga of a simple piece of office furniture

All I wanted was a simple three-drawer desk pedestal to go under my desk in my new study at home. My old desk, with a pedestal, is in my study at church because it's too big for the study at home, so I've gone back to the desk I bought when we first moved to Berkhamsted and we were living in rented accommodation.

You'd think it would be an easy thing to acquire, but not so. I searched and searched. Eventually I decided upon this one. It's simple, and reasonably priced, but not cheap by my reckoning.

So I ordered one and waited. That was on the 29th September and I soon got a call to say the item was out of stock. To be fair to the company concerned they gave me the choice to swap to a different model or wait. I chose to wait because I wasn't in a particular panic.

Eventually delivery was arranged for the 28th October and I organised myself to work at home that day. The bell rang. The box arrived. Excitement filled the air, quickly followed by disappointment as I discovered it was badly damaged.

Today, the 12th November, the replacement arrived. Now personally I think that is a long time. The problem is that the company from which I bought the item didn't have another way to deliver a replacement than to put it through the same process as a normal delivery.

In my frustration at waiting, I took the broken unit into the garage, dismantled it (it was put together with those pins and capstan things beloved of Ikea) and set about repairs. Only the back panel and the drawers had survived intact, but some careful gluing and a little wood filler fixed all the problems.

So now I have two, and I'm rather disinclined to start trying to return the repaired pedestal, wasting more of my time into the bargain. Perhaps two for one isn't a bad result. The question is where to put it?

Back at the bench

The last couple of weeks I've managed to carve out a little time to get on the bench. Now I have an indoor space in which to work, I can do more projects without having to worry if I'm going to get things done before it rains.

The first thing I made was a stand for a recycling bag that Ally asked me to do for her new house at University. Recycling bags are a pain because they sit on the floor and spread as they fill. I made one for us last year or the year before, just before Bedford introduced orange bins!

Ally's stand was little more sophisticated with a clip-on top frame to hold the bag. If I get her to take a photograph I can post in on this blog.

This week I thought I'd have a go at making a simply bird table. I had an idea in mind, and the result looks quite nice. I used a small piece of 12mm ply for the table, the rest is 34mm square planed softwood left over from the bag stand project.

The foot consists of a simple lap joint for the base, drilled through and into the upright and then secured with glue and a dowel. I'd already used 6mm dowel to reinforce the butt joints on the bag stand, so there was some left and this seemed like a good use for it.

I then cut four angled supports, all with 45deg angles and drilled 6mm holes through the bracket and into the foot and upright, again secured with glue and dowels. It takes a bit of time and patience to hold everything together for drilling, but it's not too hard.

I assembled the foot and upright and then clamped a square to the foot and used this as a reference point for the opposite angled bracket. That sounds more complicated than it was!

The top is secured with four screws into a simple square assembly under the table. I cut the pieces for the support and glued them together around the upright but not to the upright.

Using a pencil, I'd already found the centre of the table top by drawing the diagonals, so it was fairly easy to square up the top by making sure these diagonals passed through the corners of the support.

A 6mm hole on the table top and in the upright allowed me to locate the top properly with another piece of dowel. And using a couple of scrap pieces of wood I could mark the outer edge of the support on the top side of the table so that I could drill the pilot holes for the securing screws.

The top is trimmed with more of the 34mm square timber mitred at the corners and rebated to take the table top. I set the groove off-centre to give a deeper lip to the top than the underside. No reason, I just thought it looked nice.

All that left is to get some weather proof finish for it before it goes out into the garden. I might add a hook or two for some hanging bird feeders, but I'll leave Anne to tell me if she wants me to do this. There's still some 6mm dowel left, but I think I'll use a couple of brass cup hooks I found the other day.

I wonder how long it will take for Sid, the local squirrel to work out how to get onto the top?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Publish and be...?

There are some blogs that I follow that often post stuff that I find interesting, challenging and sometimes disturbing. I sometimes think about commenting, but I don't for a very simple reason. Mainly I don't comment because I don't want to get into a long exchange of short comments and posts seeking to correct my errant theology or in which I am expected to justify my thoughts and ideas by careful reference to this passage and that scholar.

Now I'm not say that this is what is going to happen, it's just what I fear it might happen. It's like the time I published the notes I used for a sermon about tithing and got a very long response detailing the error of my ways for teaching an Old Testament principle in the era of grace.

You see, sometimes I wonder if all we're doing is seeking to justify our position on this doctrine or that practice when what we ought to be doing is focusing on the person of Jesus. It is, after all, all about him.

It's not that I think theology is a waste of time. It isn't. I should know, I spent four years at college and the last 30+ years trying to learn everything I can about the God whose love for me took him to a savage death on a Roman cross. It's just that I'd rather be around a group of people with bad theology and a passion for Jesus more than I want to be around people with good theology and no passion.

Back in June Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola published A Jesus Manifesto. There are some parts with which I struggle and need to think through more fully, but there are many parts that I found, and find, refreshing. A timely reminder of some of the things that would distract form me from the focal point of my faith: becoming more like Jesus, deepening my relationship with him and sharing his mission in the wider world.

This I do through exploration and discovery not by crossing t's and dotting i's in a never ending quest for the perfect systematic theological exposition with which even God could not disagree.

I am, after all is said and done, just a man seeking to love God with all his heart, soul and strength. A man desperate to know God and to be known by him.

So here are a few choice words form the Jesus manifesto of Sweet and Viola, picked at random because why should I do it any other way?

It is possible to emphasize a spiritual truth, value, virtue, or gift, yet miss Christ . . . who is the embodiment and incarnation of all spiritual truth, values, virtues, and gifts.

The meaning of Christianity does not come from allegiance to complex theological doctrines, but a passionate love for a way of living in the world that revolves around following Jesus, who taught that love is what makes life a success . . . not wealth or health or anything else: but love. And God is love.

If Jesus could rise from the dead, we can at least rise from our bed, get off our couches and pews, and respond to the Lord’s resurrection life within us, joining Jesus in what he’s up to in the world.

Christians don’t follow Christianity; Christians follow Christ.
Christians don’t preach themselves; Christians proclaim Christ.
Christians don’t point people to core values; Christians point people to the cross.
Christians don’t preach about Christ: Christians preach Christ.

As Steven Curtis-Chapman is singing at the moment from my iTunes library "Jesus is life, yes he is!"

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

You know the church is in trouble when...

I got pointed to this post by one of my regular news feeds. It lists 15 signs that a church is in trouble, among them are the following:

– When excuses are made about the way things are instead of embracing a willingness to roll up the sleeves and fix the problem.

– When the church becomes content with merely receiving people that come rather than actually going out and finding them…in other words, they lose their passion for evangelism!

– The leadership begins to settle for the natural rather than rely on the supernatural.

– Scripture isn’t central in every decision that is made!

– The church is no longer willing to take steps of faith because “there is just too much to lose.”

– When the leaders/staff refuse to go the extra mile in leading and serving because of how “inconvenient” doing so would be.

The ones not quoted are no less important or less worthy of thought. It just seems silly to reprint them all when you can go and read them for yourselves!

Strength and courage

Today's Bible reading was 1 Samuel 30. A key phrase that stood out was: "But David found strength in the Lord his God.

I then opened up my Desiring God devotional and saw that today's reflection was about "pressing on" from Philippians 3:13, and yesterday's reading was Isaiah 40 under the title "New Strength"! Blackaby observes:

At times you may feel so worn out and stressed that you are not sure you can take another step. you may seem to spend all you time running from crisis to crisis and to be constantly giving your time and energy to others. Your Lord wants to renew your strength and enable you to enjoy the abundant life He intends for you. The key is to wait upon Him to do so.

Do you think God is trying to tell me something!!

Now I ought to stress here that I am not running from crisis to crisis and I am not constantly giving my time and energy to others. I do not feel so worn out and stressed that I can't take another step. But I can't ignore the sense of pressure that comes with a new ministry and I'm grateful that God knows my needs and reminds of where to go for strength.

What is it that Psalmist says:

I lift up my eyes to the hills—
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the LORD,
the Maker of heaven and earth.

Psalm 121