Sunday, March 29, 2009

Easter artwork

For our special event later today I wanted to create some sort of visual aid in the form of a large puzzle. This is what we came up with:

As you can probably see, we've used boxes onto which we've painted our simple scene of the empty tomb. These are packing boxes that we turned inside out and reassembled so that we had a plain surface on which to paint.

Many thanks to Roy and David for all their help. David did the sketch and supervised the painting. Here they are standing beside our work of creative genius (I did the rocks and the clouds!)

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Easter reflections

The previous series of posts owe a lot to Max Lucado. I wrote a lot of them, but they were definitely inspired by several of Max's books, and his writing style was the basis for how I tried to write these reflections on the passion story. If there are bits that come straight form the books, I freely acknowledge them. I just can't say if there are any or not. It's such a long time ago that I put them together for an Easter reflection.

We'll be using them again this year at our "This is Love" presentation on Sunday in the village hall at Shortstown. Which reminds me, I need to pop to Maplins before they shut to get a few things.

The Greatest Miracle

unny how close the end of the tax year and Easter can be. Sometimes coinciding. always within a couple of weeks. With apologies to the Inland Revenue, one seems very heavenly, the other very earthly. One minute it's Calvary, the next it's the calculator. One is a reminder of how God paid it all, the other a reminder of what we owe the government. But then again, if the cross doesn't make sense in a common week full of common tasks, when does it make sense? That is the beauty of the cross. It occurred in a normal week involving flesh-and-blood people and a flesh-and-blood Jesus.

Of all the weeks for Jesus to display his powers, his final week would be the one. A few thousand loaves or a few dozen healings would do wonders for his image. Better still a few Pharisees struck dumb would make life simpler. Don't just clean the temple, Jesus, pick it up and move it to Jericho. When the religious leaders mutter, make it rain frogs. And as you are describing the end times, split the sky and show everyone what you mean.

This is the week for razzle-dazzle. This is the hour for the incredible. You can silence them all, Jesus. But he doesn't. Not in Jerusalem. Not in the upper room. Not on the cross. The week, in many respects, is run-of-the-mill. Yes, it’s festive, but its celebrations are due to Passover, not Jesus. The crowds are large, but not because of the Messiah. Jesus wasn't displaying his power. It was an ordinary week.

Nature gave no clue that the week was different than any of a thousand before or after it. The sun took its habitual route. The clouds puffed through the Judean sky. The grass was green and the flowers danced in the wind. Nature would groan before Sunday. The rocks would tumble before Sunday. The sky would put on a black robe before Sunday. But you wouldn't know it by looking at Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday, or even Thursday. The week told no secrets.
The people gave no clue either. For most it was a week of anticipation; a weekend of festivities was arriving. Food to be bought, houses to be cleaned. Their faces gave no forecast of the extraordinary for they knew of none. And most importantly, Jesus gives no clue. His water doesn't turn to wine. His donkey doesn't speak. The dead stay in their graves and those blind on Monday are still blind on Friday.

You'd think the heavens would be opened. You'd think trumpets would be sounding. you'd think angels would be summoning all the people of the world to Jerusalem to witness the event. You'd think that God himself would descend to bless his Son. But he doesn't. He leaves the extraordinary moment draped in the ordinary. A predictable week. A week of tasks, meals, and crying babies. A week which might be a lot like yours. Doubtful that anything spectacular has happened in your week. No great news, no horrible news. No earthquakes shaking your house. No windfalls. Just a typical week of chores and children and checkout lines. It was the same for the people of Jerusalem. On the edge of history's most remarkable hour was one of history's most unremarkable weeks. God is in their city and most miss him.

Jesus could have used the spectacular to get their attention. But he didn't. Even when he emerged from the tomb on Sunday morning, he didn't show off. No angelic choir announcing the event. He simply walked out. Mary thought he was a gardener.

Do you see the point?

God calls us in a real world. He doesn't communicate by performing tricks. He doesn't communicate by stacking stars in the heavens. He's not going to speak to you through voices in a cornfield or a little fat man in a land called Oz. It doesn't make any difference if you are an Aquarius or Capricorn or if you were born on the day Kennedy was shot or England won the World Cup. God's not a trickster. He's not a genie. He's not a magician or a good luck charm or the man upstairs. He is, instead, the Creator of the universe who is right here in the thick of our day-to-day world who speaks to you more through cooing babies and hungry stomachs than he ever will through horoscopes, zodiac papers, or weeping Madonnas.

In the final week those who demanded miracles got none and missed the one. They missed the moment in which a grave for the dead became a throne of a king. Don't make their mistake.
It's ironic isn't it that the Tax Year and the empty tomb come so close together. Maybe it's appropriate. Don't they say that the only two certainties in life are death and taxes? Knowing God, he may speak through something as common as the second to give you the answer for the first.

Friday, March 27, 2009

The Final Journey

All the Gospel writers agree, a day came when Jesus would make his final journey to Jerusalem. For Matthew it's the first and last time we will see Jesus in the capital city. For John it's the last of his regular, faithful journeys to fulfil his duties as a Jew. Whichever gospel you read, one thing is clear Jesus knew what to expect and he knew how things were going to turn out. Several times he warned those closest to him that he would be betrayed into the hands of the religious leaders. Leaders who ought to have recognised him as Messiah, but who preferred to call him a charlatan, a trickster, not the real thing.

Strange really, when you consider what he'd been doing for the last three years. Healing the sick, setting free those who had become oppressed and possessed by evil spirits. He'd even fulfilled their signs of the Messiah—raising a dead man, healing a man born blind and curing the leper. But still they couldn't accept him. How true John's words: He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognise him.

But still they, like many since, missed the signs. They asked, sometimes they even demanded that he show them a sign to prove his credentials. But the truth was they didn't want to believe. A country preacher from Galilee wasn't going to upset the apple cart of the well trained theologians of the capital city. They knew what Messiah would do, and Jesus wasn't doing it, at least he wasn't doing it their way.

And so he had to go. They'd been plotting for a long time, almost since the beginning when he first broke their rules and performed a miracle on the Sabbath. But the truth was that no matter how much they plotted and schemed. No matter how much they bribed witnesses, or even paid off a traitor, Jesus was always destined to make his final journey to the cross.
Many men and women may be born for greatness, destined to lead countries or make great discovers or journey on great adventures. The destiny of Jesus was none of these. He never rose to high political office, although Isaiah said the government will be upon his shoulders. He never made a scientific breakthrough, although he was involved in the work of creation. And he never made a incredible journey, although he came down from heaven to the earth.

Jesus was born to die.

As we wait in the shadow of the cross, there is little to break the growing darkness except the sound of people. We can hear the soldiers as the mock and curse. We can hear those passing by asking questions, wondering and debating. We can hear the sound of women weeping. Above all this, we can hear the sound of the men who are dying. It’s not a pleasant thought, to consider the crucifixion, but ti is the reality of what was happening. Three men, cruelly exposed, judged and executed. As the hours pass the groans diminish until, with one final thrust of strength fighting against the pain, Jesus cries out, “It is finished.” “What is finished?” we cry in return, but Jesus does not answer. He draws his final breath.

The religious leaders thought they had finally rid themselves of this troublesome preacher and his message of forgiveness and reconciliation. Little did they know that the cross was the completion of God’s great plan not the end of some great dream. Two days later, on the third day, Jesus would rise from the dead. Suddenly it was far from over. Death couldn’t hold the Son of God, it still can’t.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Final Inscription

Suppose for a moment that you had been asked to write the final inscription, the epitaph for the life of Jesus Christ. What would you write? Pilate had already upset the religious leaders by having the inscription "King of the Jews" written above the cross, and now they wanted you to come up with the words to put on his tomb. So what would you choose?

You'd have to be careful of course. It's probably more than your job's worth to upset the establishment, so you ask around, you have a think and come up with a short list.

Here lies Jesus of Nazareth, "He was trouble". At least that what the elders thought. They were deeply disturbed by almost everything he did. The problem was that he threatened their position, he disrupted their power. Until he came along the people accepted their authority as the only authority when it came to religious questions and practice. But now here was this country preacher from Nazareth, teaching all sorts of new things, making all sorts of new claims, backing it all up with all sorts of miracles, and doing it with an authority they could never muster.

To the religious leaders, Jesus certainly was trouble.

Here lies Jesus of Nazareth, "An enigma". One of the problems we all seem to have with Jesus is trying to understand what he was really all about. He works miracles, but doesn't parade his ability like a side-show act or carnival performer. He doesn't line up the people he heals and delivers to act as character witnesses. In fact he goes the other way. Having healed them he simply sends them on their way. Having delivered them he says, "Go home". Having forgiven them he says, "Stop sinning". No big show, no big tent, just a simple, ordinary getting on with life, albeit a changed life.

Even in the last week of his life he performs only two miracles according to the Gospels: healing a severed ear in the garden did someone a favour but it didn't win him any friends; the withered fig tree made a point about empty religion, but it didn't draw a crowd. The things he said, and the things he did, the withdrawing from public view and the very public turning over of tables in the Temple. Turning water into wine at a wedding, yet drinking vinegar on the cross. Raising Lazarus from the dead, yet allowing himself to be crucified.

Truly, to some at least, Jesus was an enigma.

Here lies Jesus of Nazareth, "A Great Teacher". Most of the people would agree to that. They would walk miles across the countryside just to hear him speak. When he went into a synagogue they were often stunned into silence by his speaking. Was it because he was so eloquent or persuasive with his words? No. It was because of the authority with which they heard him speak. He actually sounded like he knew what he was talking about.

Of course the highly trained official teachers wouldn't like it. After all they were the ones who had spent years learning all the answers so that they didn't have to think and it certainly wasn't the job of the people to think for themselves. Relating to God was far too complicated a matter to leave to the common person to think about for themselves. They needed rules and regulations. The Law was no longer enough, they needed precedents and the wisdom of those who had dedicated their lives to teasing out the minute details. Some out-of-town, untrained carpenter was not their idea of authority.

But the people loved his stories, they were filled with things and people to whom they could relate. They saw the hollowness and emptiness of the religious system that sometimes was peddled in their direction. And Jesus, well he turned things on their heads, he seemed to be able to make sense of that which had confounded the theologians for centuries.

The problem is that he was far more than just a teacher. But maybe "Good Teacher" would have to do.

There is one other possible epitaph. It's simple and to the point and was said at the site of the tomb where Jesus had been placed after the execution on Friday. By the time these words are uttered it's Sunday and we've reached the "third day". The Sabbath is over and it's time to perform the proper burial rights for the one they called Rabbi. And so they set off, a small group of women intent on doing for their Lord what needed to be done. Confused? Probably. Sad? Very likely. Prepared for what they would find? I doubt it.

They talked about who might move the stone that had been placed across the entrance, only to discover it had already been moved. They came with spices and oils to anoint his body only to discover it wasn't there. Whatever you make of those events that first Easter morning, one thing is universally true. The tomb was empty.

Whether you believe that Jesus walked out having revived in the cool air, or whether you believe that someone came and took the body, or whether you believe that he was raised from the dead, the truth is the tomb was empty, the body was gone.  It was at this time that the words most fitting as an inscription were said, "He is not here, he has risen."

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Cursor or the Cross?

I'm working on the narrative for a special event we're having on Sunday. It's a sort of Easter celebration, but I'm trying to write something that will draw the listener into the big questions that Easter poses. Some time ago I wrote something similar and I'm just editing it at the moment. As I read the following i thought I'd share it with the wider world. If it's helpful in any way, please feel free to make use of it.

The Cursor or the Cross?

What I don't like about computers is that they do what I say not what I want. A computer computes. It doesn't think. It doesn't question. It doesn't smile, shake its monitor and say, "I know what you are tying to do. You didn't mean to hit the delete button, removing the very letters you wanted to keep. If you'd look at your screen you would see that. But since you won't and since you and I are good friends. and you leave me plugged in I'm going to give you what you need and not what you request."

Computers don't do that. Push a button and you get a response. Learn the system and get the printout. Blow the system and get ready for a long night. Computers are heartless creatures. Don't expect any compassion from your laptop. They don't call it a hard disk for nothing.

Some people have a computer theology when it comes to understanding God. Call it computerised Christianity. Push the right buttons, enter the right code, insert the correct data, and bingo, print out your own salvation. It's professional religion, you do your part and God has to do his. The problem is that God hates that sort of religion, How do we know? Jesus said so. He condemned religion by the rules, he refused to let a relationship with God be reduced to doing the "right thing".

Let me see if a simple exercise will clarify the point. How would you fill in this blank? A person is made right with God through—? How you complete the sentence is critical; it reflects the nature of your faith.

A person is made right with God through... Being good. Pay your taxes, do good, Don't drive too fast, or drink too much. Be kind and considerate. Good conduct, that's the secret.

A person is made right with God through  suffering. There's the answer. That's how to be made right with God. Suffer. Sleep on dirt floors. Stalk through dank jungles. Malaria. Poverty. Cold days, colder nights. Long vigils. Vows of chastity. Shaved heads and bare feet. The greater the pain the greater the saint.

No, no, no. The way to be made right with God is doctrine. Cross the t's and dot the i's. Dead-centre interpretation of the truth. Airtight theology which explains every mystery. The millennium simplified. Inspiration clarified. The role of women defined once for all. 

All have been taught, all have been tried, all have been demonstrated. But none are from God.

If we are saved by good works we don't need God. Weekly reminders of the do's and do nots will suffice. If by suffering, all we need is a whip and chain and a gospel of guilt. If we are saved through doctrine then let's study.

But be careful. For if you are saved by having the exact doctrine, one mistake could be fatal. If by good deeds, how will you know when you have done enough. And if we are saved by suffering how will you ever know how much suffering is required? That's the problem with computerised religion, it depends on you doing enough, knowing enough or suffering enough. It's all about what you do. 

It was the apostle Paul who first wrote the line: A person is made right with God through...
He got his training in front of a theological terminal. He was an up-and-coming religious technician trained in the ways of the Pharisees. He could answer the pickiest question and solve the most beguiling riddle. But the big question, the question Jesus asked the Pharisees in his final week, Paul couldn't answer that.

What was the question? After denouncing the hollow legalism of organised self-righteous religion, Jesus asked: "How will you escape God's judgement?"

The Pharisees had no answer. No one who tries to save themselves does–Dare you stand before God and ask him to save you because of your suffering or your sacrifice or your tears or your study? Nor do I. Nor did Paul. It took him decades to discover what he wrote in a single sentence. "A person is made right with God through faith."

How will you escape God's judgement? Through faith in God's sacrifice. It's not what you can do for him. It's what he has already done for you.

Missional Habits

Have you read David Fitch's post about Instilling missional habits in a congregation? In it he outlines nine old habits to reject and offers alternatives along the way. It makes interesting reading. For example:

Kindly Reject doing Outreach Events. Instead direct imagination towards ways of connecting with people where they are.


Kindly reject the Sunday morning gathering as an evangelistic event for it cannot be that in the new post Christendom cultures. Instead fire up imagination for the formation that comes from a communal encounter with the living God in Jesus Christ.

Worth a read.

Pursuing God or pursuing self?

As I continue to think about 2Peter 1:3 and the idea of having all we need for life and godliness, I was drawn to Col.2:17 where Paul makes a wonderfully profound statement that the reality however is found in Christ. It got me thinking.

It got me thinking about how much we shape our spirituality to suit our personalities and how little we invest in the practical discipline of studying the scriptures. We prefer a walk in the woods because we feel closer to God that way. But feelings can deceive.

How can we discover the reality that is found in Christ if our only pursuit of that reality ignores the Biblical narrative? Note I didn't say text, because I know that not everyone is able easily to access the text. But those of us who can, should access it as much as we can. We need both the experience of God and a deep, profound knowledge of God. Experience without knowledge leads to addiction. We need a bigger experience to maintain our sense of connectedness to God. Knowledge without experience becomes a dry intellectual pursuit of information without inner change. Experience and knowledge lead to a secure relationship where transformation can take place.

Study takes discipline and work, it takes effort. Ultimately it is always going to be worthwhile.

As Peter says:

make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Total Church and Pastoral Care

Pastoral Care in the local church vexes me. I worry about it. I wonder about it. I wish we, I, did it better. And I wonder where it's all gone wrong. Is it the way we are turning out leaders rather than pastors or is it about the context in which we understand pastoral care to happen?

I've always seen pastoral care as a whole church thing. Something we all do because we are all part of the community. We may express it differently, but we all do it. Some people are wired up to turn up at the first sign of trouble, others are not. Some worry about appearing to interfere, others don't see it that way at all. It's all part of the rich diversity.

Our problem is that we live in an individualistic society where self-sufficiency is the rule of the day and interdependence the unacceptable face of a nanny culture. But we were not created to live as individuals, we were created to live as community.

As I continue to read Total Church I've reached that part of the book that looks at pastoral care, hence the blog post! I would almost say that the book is worth it just for this chapter, but that would be overstating things a little too much. 

Early in the chapter we are pointed towards the work of Frank Furedi and the issues that arise from a therapy culture. A culture that, according to Furedi has made, "individuals disinclined to depend upon each other in the normal routine of relationships." Relationships thus become 'professionalised' as we seek the help of trained counsellors and therapists to help solve our problems and address our issues.

The impact on the care life of the community of faith is such that we see our pastors as professional dispensers of 'proper care'. Now I think we are trying to break that barrier down, but if we don't put in place good structures to encourage accountable relationships and to support the wide diversity of care that we should be experiencing through community, we'll end up back at square one, the professional pastor model.

I worry that we presume we only grow through the teaching and discipling ministry of the church and not through the many relationships we have. As a result we don't build those relationships, we don't share our lives and we become increasingly reliant on the professional services of the church. I think we also begin to think we don't have anything to offer as 'ordinary Christians' struggling to make sense of faith and life.

As Timmis and Chester point out, when it comes to addressing our problems:

While the need for specific counselling sessions in a more formal setting will remain,  healthy engagement with others in committed relationships will deal with so many of the presenting and underlying causes

After all, when did we start sending our children to schools and clubs in order to learn how to become adults? Don't they learn that from us as parents? Don't we set the example? And if we do, then maybe that explains a lot about our current societal ills!

My point is this: When we abdicate our responsibility for setting the example, we force others to become the professional guides. Living a mature life, a dedicated life, a submitted life, whatever life it is, becomes something beyond the reach of ordinary folk. That cant be right. 

The kingdom of God is not beyond our reach, it is among us.

And so it is with all our care. It is not the preserve of the professionally trained. Life is lived by everyone. There should be no better place to learn to live than the community of faith that is deeply connected to the gospel because, as Peter says: 

His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. 2 Peter 1:3

The Pain and the Promise

An inspirational friend has resurfaced with his blog and posted a really challenging piece about his inspiration and frustration here. I share some of his frustrations, and I guess at times I am the source of them too as a leader in a local church. I have, throughout my ministry, sought to follow a different path. I've tried to inspire people to see church differently, to see mission and ministry differently. I have sought to find new ways of expressing what we've always maintained we believe-that church is a team thing, not a one-person band.

And yet to a large extent it still is just that, and I feel a great sense of failure. It's still about doing the same things we've done for years and wondering why they still aren't working.

I read Andy's post and felt my heart heave and break and crack and cry and yearn. Will we ever get it? There are hundreds, probably thousands of books about the church, but what is actually changing? Everything must change if we are going to become the church that God is calling us to be. I wish I knew more clearly what that was. Perhaps if I knew it more clearly I could pursue it more vigourously.

And this is not a whinge. It's more the cry of my heart. I long to grasp more fully the vision God has for us. But the closer I get the further away I feel I find myself. It's like the horizon on a good walk. You think it's not far when in fact it's much farther than you think.

Should I give up the pursuit? Should I settle for something that meets the needs but somehow fails to fulfil the potential?

Somewhere, in the deep recesses of my past, I came across a quote that I can't remember verbatim but I remember the sense of it. 

There are two kinds of people, the compliant and the challenging. Compliant people seek to adapt themselves to the world, challenging people seek to adapt the world to themselves. Therefore all progress relies on the challenging people.

The words aren't right, but the sense is.

Perhaps I'm just one of life's awkward, challenging people. Maybe, as long as I don't try to adapt God and his kingdom to me, I can be useful in reshaping and challenging church to adapt to the kingdom. 

So here's to all the mavericks who find themselves living in a world they know should be different, but having to live with the tension of what is and what could be. Remember this:

There is no future in frustration 

Friday, March 20, 2009

Buses, adverts and humour

On "The Now Show" on BBC Radio 4 recently, one of the comedians had a pop at Christians over the atheist bus ads again. I do get tired of the cheap laughs derived from faith bashing, but it's just part of our culture, and we do give them plenty of fuel.

It also has to be said that we do our fair share of laughing at the humanists and atheists.

So, off the top of my head, here are my ten reasons not to complain about the atheist bus adverts.

1. It's funny.
2. Everyone is entitled to an opinion. If we stop these adverts then we will have to stop Alpha from advertising too.
3. It's focusing on the wrong thing.
4. It makes us look like narrow-minded fools more that it makes us look like anything else.
5. God does not seem that concerned. Is God not more concerned with how to reach people than how to judge them?
6. If it provokes discussion isn't that a good thing?
7. Self-righteousness is not an attractive quality.
8. I'd rather be known as being for grace than against atheism.
9. Why rise to the bait?
10. How can we draw people towards God if we are constantly erecting barriers to keep them out.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Advertising Easter

Do I now need to worry about the commercialisation of Easter as well as Christmas?

Apparently I do, and I have to worry about it from a position of guilt too! According to an advert on a Christian website I visit from time to time, I'm not just to give Easter eggs to the family but chickens to Africa. This is "a real gift" that can enrich diets and save lives. How true. No disputing the nutritional value of chickens on this blog! 

But have we actually reached the point where Easter is a spring version of Christmas? Are we going to start gathering around a large roasted bird, buy Easter cards, Easter wrapping paper, erect and decorate Easter trees? I hope not.

Are we reducing Easter to a time of personal reward for having made it through Lent?

I worry when I see the latest Nintendo DS system being advertised as the ideal Mother's Day gift as if a bunch of flowers, a hand made card and a big thank you is somehow less than meaningful anymore.

Perhaps I'm over-reacting. Perhaps it's a good thing that someone has taken an early step to challenge the potential for reducing Easter to just another opportunity for marketers to grab our attention and drive us to empty our wallets in the pursuit of material gain. Maybe I shouldn't worry until my local supermarket starts to stock Happy Ascension Day, and Merry Pentecost cards. Or worse still, a three for one offer on Trinity Sunday!

At least this truth remains: There is nothing you can do to buy God's love for you. It is a free gift, made at great personal cost, but free nonetheless.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Is it me?

I have, for some time now, held to the view that while we may be able to explain our behaviour, we must never let those explanations become excuses. For example, the failure of my parent's relationship and the impact it had on me as a child, may explain why I struggled to trust others during my teenage years and even why I carried a sense of personal responsibility for what had happened. But that doesn't excuse any ongoing issues with trust. I must deal with the problem, and grow, and learn how to trust.

I am responsible for my actions and responses.

Now, by the grace of God, I have learnt these lessons, although I'm sure there are times when old wounds open and history begins to repeat itself. However, I refuse to give in to those fears. I choose to seek God's way forward, to live in the light of the Gospel that I continually preach as the good news that transforms lives. A message I could not preach unless I too am experiencing the transformation it promises.

The point of all this is to draw your attention to something Chester and Timmis say in their book Total Church.

If we subscribe to a view that makes our 'complex aetiologies' [the root causes of our problems] responsible for our behaviour and attitudes, then we put our lives at the mercy of our genes or our parents or our chemistry or our past. Ultimately we make those multiple factors sovereign over our lives. Of course they can be significant factors, but we have in the precious promises of the gospel all we need to respond to those factors in a way that results in godly behaviour and godly attitudes. such a response may not be easy. It may involve a daily struggle. But it is possible.
Total Church p128

Surely this is what it means to be submitted to Christ, to make him sovereign, to declare him Lord. Anything less denies the power of the gospel to transform.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

No, not that programme!

I was looking at a website earlier today and wanted to know if the product I was thinking about buying had the ability to accept data from a similar programme made by Microsoft. I couldn't find anything on the site, so I tried their search facility. 

Entering the programme name, I clicked search.

The first result was:

Fatal error [name of programme].

Was that their comment on having used a Microsoft programme rather than their software I wonder? 

Sorry Microsoft, it just made me laugh.

Monday, March 16, 2009

SMS from the Dashboard

Because I came to Mac after the launch of Leopard, I was never aware of Tiger's useful ability to send SMS messages from Address Book. But when I was told about this, I thought it was worth seeing if anyone had produced a plug-in or widget that would give me that option in OS X.

Of course there was. We are, after all, talking Macs here!

Enter emitSMS. EmitSMS is a dashboard widget that does exactly what I wanted. Either by choosing a contact from your address book or by typing in the number directly, you can send short or long messages via your mobile 'phone using the Bluetooth connection. And the cost of the message is just the standard network cost.

I have a Nokia 6085 and it works fine. Although of  course I had to create the original phone plug-in for iSync which may or may not be relevant. Perhaps, because it's only the Bluetooth connection, it might work with any phone, but there are no promises. It was originally developed for the developers own Nokia mobile.

There is an application available from Novamind called phoneplugins that probably supports more 'phones and offers more options and only costs about €12.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Inspired and thoughtful

I'm a contemporary worship person myself, although I'm not averse to using hymns, they are just darn difficult to play on the guitar. And I'm not so protective of either resource to ignore the fact that there are as many poor excuses for worship songs as there are poor examples of hymns.

But every so often I'm reminded of the thoughtfulness of many of the old hymn writers as they crafted a song to express theological truth and heartfelt worship. I think many of the modern-day worship writers are trying to do the same, and often they succeed only to be thwarted by the way we over sing and under think their songs.

Anyway today, at a local conference in which I was privileged to take part, we were pointed to a Frances Ridley Havergal song: Take my life. Whilst it can often sound a bit of a dirge when you hear it sung, the words are testimony to the art of thoughtful worship writing. 

We are taken through a series of acts of submission as everything about us is given over to God. Hands, feet, voice, lips, silver, intellect, will and heart are all committed to God's purposes. All these constituent parts are submitted to God wrapped up in the context of "my life, consecrated Lord to thee" and " myself... ever, only, all for thee.

And if you don't know the words, here they are in full. You might even want to make it your prayer for the weekend.

Take my life, and let it be consecrated, Lord, to Thee.
Take my moments and my days; let them flow in ceaseless praise.
Take my hands, and let them move at the impulse of Thy love.
Take my feet, and let them be swift and beautiful for Thee.

Take my voice, and let me sing always, only, for my King.
Take my lips, and let them be filled with messages from Thee.
Take my silver and my gold; not a mite would I withhold.
Take my intellect, and use every power as Thou shalt choose.

Take my will, and make it Thine; it shall be no longer mine.
Take my heart, it is Thine own; it shall be Thy royal throne.
Take my love, my Lord, I pour at Thy feet its treasure store.
Take myself, and I will be ever, only, all for Thee.

The joy of direct mail

Like everybody I know, I don't particularly like junk mail. If every insurance company and utility company could save me the money they say they can, in three years time they should all be paying me to take their product rather than the other way around. Just occasionally though you have to laugh.

Today's post brought the following direct mail-shot from a denominational insurance company:

Introducing our new home insurance policy...
At (company name) we know that everyone's home is different and we don't believe one size fits all when it comes to home insurance.

This is just as well because the person to whom the letter is addressed has never lived in our house! If it's the David Russell I know, he lives in Berkhamsted and has never graced the open fields of Bedfordshire. At least not to my knowledge.

On the other hand, should I be worrying that he's planning to move in? Or worse still, that he's taken to giving out my address in order to avoid dealing with his own post. Just like gravy, the plot thickens.

I suppose it might just be that this particular insurance company is so forward thinking that it allows you to insure your contents in a cheaper postcode just to keep the cost down.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Looking for accounts software for the Mac

Previously I had a look at Money Dance as a replacement for Microsoft Money, the accounts package I was using on my PC. Sadly I found the colour balance in Money Dance difficult, being a chromatically challenged person as I am!

For a long time I gave up the search and just kept using Money on my laptop. But it's inconvenient to have keep getting out the laptop, firing it up, waiting for it to try and search out all possible updates before finally opening Money and doing the accounts. Consequently I've slipped out of the habit of doing it and quite frankly that frustrates me.

So I thought another search was in order and came across two possibilities that I thought I might look at. Liquid Ledger was the first. It looks like the kind of package I'm used to using, although they are all slightly different. Second on the list is Checkbook from Splasm Software, and a third option that popped up as I checked the url's to paste in this post is iBank.

I have no experience of any of these, but might have a look at all three, starting with Liquid Ledger. Downloading the application was easy and installing it as straightforward as you'd expect. They provide you with a licence key for a 60-day trial, which in itself is a generous trial period. You also have the option of importing data via what is euphemistically called the industry standard QIF format. 

The problem is that in my experience, including Liquid Ledger, migrating from one package to another using this file format simply doesn't work. Is it me or is this par for the course? Going from Quicken to Money was just the same. You export the file, import it and voila, a total mess!

Argh, it's so frustrating! Accounts are wrongly named, balances have disappeared and transactions are all over the place. The bottom line is that it looks like I will have to start from scratch, and with 13 different accounts to set up, that takes a long time.

Does anybody have any suggestions, apart from going back to large notepad and pen!

Monday, March 09, 2009


...discipleship is as much about a new relationship with the world as it is about a new relationship with God. 

Here's a really great post from an old college friends, Simon Jones, on discipleship. Well worth a read. I've put on my starred list in Google Reader!

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Book Reviews on Guidance

There's a useful and interesting list of reviews on books about guidance at the 9marks blog. Here's the list of books covered:
  • Adams, Jay. The Christian's Guide to Guidance
  • Blackaby, Henry. Experiencing God
  • Edwards, Brian. How Do We Get Guidance?
  • Elliff, Jim. Led by the Spirit 
  • Friesen, Garry. Decision-Making and the Will of God
  • Jensen, Phillip. Guidance and the Voice of God
  • MacArthur, John. Found: God's Will
  • Packer, J.I. Finding God's Will
  • Sproul, R.C. God's Will and the Christian
  • Waltke, Bruce. Finding the Will of God
  • Willard, Dallas. Hearing God

If you visit the blog and try to follow the links you may get an error message. Hopefully they will fix the links, but in case they are still not working, click the link and then edit the url replacing with and it should work.

Friday, March 06, 2009

All Stand for the grumpy old man please!

Feeling somewhat Victor Meldrew-ish I wish people would use their spell checking facility properly, and by properly I mean use the correct one! It frustrates me enormously that when I receive a news feed from a UK based website it's obvious that they haven't checked the spelling using a "British English" dictionary. So we get pressurized and legalized and other misuses of 'z'. 

Now I'm not the perfect speller of words and my grammar and syntax often leave a lot to be desired, but at least I make the effort to spell according to my received conventions!

So, if you use a computer and you have a spell checker, please make sure it's set to check for British spellings if you're British. All members of the colonies are excused, naturally. After all, we're not a nanny state now are we boys and girls!

And while we're at it, how about we try to remember when it's practice and when it's practise, licence and license, different from and different to (my Dad's favourite linguistic conundrum). And don't get me started on ending sentences with prepositions!

It's "For what am I on earth?" not "What am I on earth for?"

The interesting thing about all of this, well interesting to  me, is that when I'm writing I often find myself backtracking over sentences because I start them in the wrong place and can't make them make grammatical sense until I fix the beginning. I can't think of a good example, but I'm sure to produce one as I prepare my notes for Sunday morning. I might even manage before the end of this post. I think it has to do with over qualifying what I've already written. That and starting with the wrong part of the sentence, as in the example above. 

Perhaps I need to read Eats, Shoots and Leaves properly! If you don't know about the book, it is subtitled The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation. The title comes from the story of the Panda who went into a restaurant, ordered a meal, ate it, got up, shot the waiter and left the restaurant. When asked why he'd done this, he replied, "I looked up Panda in the dictionary and it said, "Panda: eats, shoots and leaves: so I did."

And I guess if you don't know why that's funny, you may need to read the book too! (The comma is in the wrong place, in case you hadn't noticed-remember I'm in grumpy old man mode for the duration of this post).

Anyway, I guess I ought to check this piece for split infinitives, misplaced punctuation and improper sentence structure, but I won't. There actually are more important things to do and I've had my little rant about the abuse of 'z'. Maybe it's because we don't have that many words to use in everyday conversation that include a 'z' that we want it not to feel left out. Or maybe it really is the pernicious subversion of our language by the almighty Microsoft. It will all end in tears I'm sure. They might even take a nice word like vista and name an operating system after it! 

No, that could never happen, could it?

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Sanders says...

I read this latest post from Tim Sanders and as I read I wondered what it has to say to the way we do church in these credit crunching times.

These days, I'm working hard to save my customers and partners money.

I'm not cutting my speaking fees or discounting my consulting, either. I firmly believe that when you focus on price, you start down the slippery slope to the no-profit zone. Instead, I am focused on reducing my costs to customers and partners.

For example, I've trimmed back any luxuries on the customer's dime. No more first or business class, unless it is a bargain. In fact, Southwest Airlines and Jet Blue are looking pretty good these days. No more upgraded hotel rooms, standard works fine for me. Yesterday I drove my car to the airport, because it will save today's customer $100.00 over a taxi or car service. The meal I had last night was under $20.00. Etc.

This sends a signal to my customers that "we are in this together". By cutting my costs to the customer, I'm helping them get by with less during these tough times. That is one of the most socially responsible habits we can develop over time.

For my partners, I'm cutting back on requirements that cost them money too. Gone are overnight packages (ground or regular mail now works fine). I'm happy to receive all communications via email, so very little paper or plastic needs to be bought or shipped. Additionally, I'm NOT asking any of my service providers to cut their prices either. I want them to remember my loyalty during this period for a long time. By looking out for their bottom line, I'm preserving my business eco-system.

I say all of this because we seem to be so focused on OUR bottom line, and as a result we've started to squeeze our partners and customers for every dime we can. If they don't survive, how will we? I truly believe in "The Law Of Interdependence" -- our success depends on the success of others.

How are you helping your customers and partners save it forward? Post your innovations under comments so all of us can continue to innovate in this area and make a difference.

Honestly I don't know what it says, but something struck a chord. Maybe it was the use of words like loyalty and references to looking out for the customer and being in  it together. There's just something about the way do church, particularly in hard financial times but not exclusively that seems to connect. I just don't know where yet.

Does it stir your heart or is it just me?

Introducing Amar Sagoo

I don't actually know Amar Sagoo but I do know Tofu, his ingenious little application that lets you read text in columns. I downloaded it a few days ago and really like it (see my quick post about it.) 

In the comments I noted that Tofu doesn't support Pages documents or Scrivener, two applications I use a lot. There is a solution to this problem because you can copy text and drag it onto the Tofu icon, thus opening it in columns. you can do the same for long blog posts or web pages.

But that's not all Amar has produced. If you visit his website you will find some other interesting little applications. There's Deep Notes ( a simple outliner/note taking application), Cambio (a unit converter for iPhone/ iPod Touch), Licensed ( a place to store all your software licence information), to name three. And they are all free although you can make a donation.

So, not only will it cost you nothing to visit the site, it won't cost you a penny to try out his applications. and if Tofu is anything to go by, I think the others should be rather good too!

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

I'm rich!!

I've made $10! 

Okay so I've got a long way to go to making my fortune, but Spanning Sync is helping. Since I posted the link on my Blog, two people have bought Spanning Sync. Now at One purchase a month I'll have made my first million by this time in the year...18,668. Oh dear, I think I might need another income stream!

Disciple-making in the local church

Yesterday's seminar posed two key questions:

1. What is spiritual growth?

2. How can it be a key part of church life?

In order to answer these two questions we need to look both at what the Bible has to say about spiritual development and at how that can be done most effectively in the 21st century. Of course we learn from history, but simply looking back at some imagined golden age of strong devotional living won't necessarily help us here and now. And of course if we wanted to go right back to the New Testament Church, we'd have to ditch our Bibles in search of a pattern of discipleship because the New Testament largely didn't exist at the time!

I'm not going to try and blog about answers to these questions just yet, but I do think it's worth the effort to give it some thought. As a place to start I was reminded of something I heard on a podcast. Can't remember when or what the source was, but I did write down the following note.

For spiritual formation to happen we need:

  • A theological understanding of what it means to be a disciple

  • Self-awareness (if you learn a lesson about joy you need to know where you are with joy)

  • Redemptive relationships (I'm guessing this means things like accountability and positive relationship with other believers).

So there you go, a simple starting point to think about what spiritual growth might mean for the 21st century church. 

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Tools For Growth

No, not a review of gardening equipment but a one-day seminar about discipleship, mentoring and coaching. 

This was an overview of three techniques that can be used together or discreetly to help promote spiritual growth in the local church. Discipleship, mentoring and coaching were given specific definitions that may not align with how these terms are used generally in church and almost certainly not in other contexts. I say this partly because I've yet to come across a widely accepted definition of mentoring and coaching certainly means different things in different circles. 

The definitions we were provided with were:

Discipleship: An older believer who is committed to following Jesus helps another believer move forward in their growth on Christ.

Mentoring: someone more experienced in the faith imparts specific skills and knowledge of their faith to a less experienced person.

Coaching: someone facilitates another to take the action they require to produce desired growth.

After exploring some myths about spiritual growth we were presented with three vital steps for spiritual growth.

Step one: Develop a vision (a personal vision for one's own growth)

Step two: Decide that you want to change

Step three: Diarise regular spiritual practices

I thought that this really needed a fourth step which I suggested could be Determine measurable outcomes. Whilst I recognise that somethings are difficult to measure, I do feel that there are times when our failure at least to try to measure our growth leaves us assuming we are growing when in fact we might not be growing.

We did some work on a series of scenarios, looking at what approach we might take and how we might do things in a range of situations.

Overall it was a helpful day. The framework was useful as was some of the Biblical context. Reflecting a little on how Jesus did things and hearing the perspectives of others is always valuable.

Next up is a seminar about self-esteem and a leaders event.

Swurl becomes history?

It looks like Swurl is no more:

Hello Swurlers,

We built Swurl as two guys doing something we love in our spare time.
Unfortunately, due to the pressures of our day jobs and other
distractions, we can no longer support or maintain the service at the
level that we think our users deserve.

Building Swurl has been a great experience for us. We want to thank
all of the folks that used Swurl as a way to document their lives
online and share with their friends and families. Thanks a bunch to
those users that gave us lots of valuable feedback and encouragement.

Oh well, it was a really good idea and better than other things I played with. Perhaps someone will take up the idea and it will reappear somewhere.

Monday, March 02, 2009


Tofu is a really neat little application that takes documents and allows you to read them in columns.  It's free and worth trying, especially if you find text on a screen difficult or tiring to read.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Love never fails

Here's a link to a preview of a one minute video we used this morning for the set up of our continuing series on 1Corinthians 13.

It was a great little set up for our All-Age worship.

Time to replace the car

I have to confess that I've always liked new cars. It's just one of those things. I know everyone says you lose a lot of money as soon as you drive it away, but there's just something nice about the new car smell and being the first person to drive this particular car.

Anyway, my current car is four years old and in the past I've generally changed after three years. I kept this one an extra year because a friend of mine was interested in buying it last year but he didn't have the money and I couldn't find a deal I liked or a car I particularly wanted.

A year on he has the money so we set a price and now I need to look for a replacement. I need, or rather want, something with the carrying capacity to take Ally's stuff back and forth to university. I also like something that allows me to sit a little more upright. The Grandis, my current car, meets all these needs and has the added advantage of being the nicest people carrier I've driven. The rear row of seat are full size and fold into the floor. No other people carrier does this as far as I know.

So, my current shortlist include the Mazda 5, the Ford S-Max, and Nissan Qashqai+2. The Seat Altea XL is a five seat alternative, and in truth the extra row of seats in the S-Max and Nissan are useless unless you're under 7 years old. I could of course simply replace the Grandis with another Grandis, but I'm not sure I want to do that.

I've driven all but the Mazda so in the end it will probably come down to price and maybe even colour! I could be swayed on colour if the deal is too good on an S-Max I saw earlier! It was silver and I like black or red.