Monday, September 28, 2009

The big day looms!

So, on Saturday I will be inducted into my new church. It's an odd event. Like most people I know in ministry, and contrary to popular belief, I don't like being the centre of attention. But, having said that, it is an important part of the life-cycle of ministry.

Being me, I've edited the words of the induction. They are not sacred and so I don't feel at all worried about changing things. For example I've included in the church's responsibilities the challenge to share in discovering God's vision and I've used the language of being partners with God in his mission. The other thing I've decided to do is to move off the platform for the act of induction and stand among the congregation as far as we can. I suspect we will be in the aisle, there's nowhere else to go, but I want this to be a part of what we do as a family together not as professionals on the platform with every one else looking on and up.

So, if you are coming on Saturday, I'll see you there an I look forward to your contribution to our celebration!

Arks, covenants and Philistines

I'm reading through 1Samuel at the moment and I've come to the part where the Philistines have captured the ark of the covenant. In fact I read today the plan to return the ark to Israel. What intrigues me about the story is the way God deals with the situation.

Israel take the ark into battle because they suppose it has some power. But unlike Raiders of the Lost Ark, there is no outpouring of power through the ark. Israel is defeated and the ark is taken away.

But the Philistines discover that although the ark has no inherent power, God is not disinterested in it's whereabouts. Now I was thinking about why it was that the Philistines suffered so when the ark came to town. Later, when David brings the ark back, there is great blessing where it stops, but this time there is judgement.

Perhaps it's to do with the contents and the lack of blood covering the law. When God looks at the law without the blood of the sacrifice, then the holiness of God and the sinfulness of humanity collide and judgement is the only avenue available. When there is the blood, the law is covered and judgement turned away. The holiness of God encounters the grace and mercy of God and forgiveness is possible.

Maybe this is something of what is gong on in the story of 1Samuel and the ark's journey.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A strong, surrendered will

I enjoyed this article by John Ortberg about The strong-willed Leader. There are times in ministry when we get things wrong, when we are too stubborn or arrogant to bend and move. But there are other times when we are perceived to be both or either of these things when we are not.

Leadership demands a determined commitment to the driving force of whatever it is that you are leading. In my case the driving force is the mission of God. I cannot afford to be distracted from that, for when I am I become driven by other things.

John Ortberg rightly points out that  stubbornness blocks both learning and effectiveness whereas humility gives flexibility and encourages learning as we seek to fulfil our goal and calling. Therefore a strong will must be accompanied by a humble heart for the effective leader. When Jesus declared, "Not my will, but your will," he was surrendering his will not giving in. He needed a very strong will in order to maintain his focus and commitment to fulfilling his Father's purposes.

Of course we are far from able to discern clearly when we are being strong-willed in this surrendered sense or simply stubborn, but there are some hints in the article about what might be our best indicators. For example, we are being stubborn when the focus is on ourselves. When self-gratification is the goal, stubbornness is most clearly at work.

Probably the best defence against arrogant stubbornness on the part of the leader is time spent with God. As I prepare for my induction I'm reminded once again that the single most important thing that I do is pay attention to my own spiritual growth. If I am not walking with God, I can't lead anyone else along that path either.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


"Jesus would have shopped at Aldi, says Bishop" read the slightly provocative headline on the news-feed today. But Stephen Cotterell, the bishop being quoted, was making an important point. Talking about the perspective some people have of who can, and more importantly, who can't or doesn't come to church, he said:

“How did it come to this, that we have become known as just the Marks and Spencer option when in our heart of hearts we know that Jesus would just as likely be in the queue at Asda or Aldi?”
So his point isn't the Son of God's supermarket of choice but the very significant question of how the church has become that which God may never had intended it to be. Possibly a more important question is how we become the church that God wants us to be!

Whether it is a perception of education or class or something else, the simple truth is that church has become a place where church going people go rather than a place where non-church going people might consider visiting. Whether we're doing Alpha or Emmaus, back to church Sunday or Scottish country dancing, it's church for church people in many a missing person's eyes.

From a missional church point-of-view the challenge is to get back to partnering with God in his mission to the world. Easy if you know how, but we don't seem quite to have worked out the how bit just yet.

But, by the grace of God, we will.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Books, books, books, and more books

I can't believe how many books we have. Note "we". I'm not the only book addict in the house. In fact I might even dare to suggest that the majority of "our" books are in fact not "my books"!

Okay, I think that might be the proverbial straw towards which I'm stretching a tired hand this afternoon, but I think I've almost unpacked my study books bar a box I must have missed (my NT Dictionary and a few others haven't surfaced yet). I've collected the equivalent of two boxes to recycle and my bookshelves are pretty much full now.

Then there's all the other paraphernalia I had in my study. I can't believe the amount of stuff I've still got to sort out. High time some might say. I think I agree. The problem is deciding what to ditch and what to keep. For example, I have boxes of photographs. Boxes of the things. I hardly ever look at them, so why do I keep them? Perhaps it's laziness. Perhaps it's history.

Another box is full of audio and video leads and connectors. Now I did throw some of those away before we moved (does any normal person need 12 power leads?). Envelopes is another box that desperately needs pruning. If you ever need an envelop, just come and see my collection! Some have come because I've ordered cards that come with envelopes, some I've bought because I thought I needed more. More? If I find anymore of the things I'll start serving meals in them just to use them up!

So I'm in a bit of mess but slowly things are being sorted out. I have a box of things to sort out and two boxes of books to re-home. Another couple of boxes have been opened and then quickly closed because it was too much to take seeing their contents and not knowing what to do with them! Out of 20 odd boxes I think I've done quite well and when I've fed the cats (I'm being told it's tea-time as I type, I think I'll attack one more box and then start cooking. Or maybe I'll just cook.

Maybe I should look for a recipe book!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

A quiet Sunday afternoon

I believe that I can hear one our cats getting acquainted with Bill, the cat who lives next door. They appear to forming a choral society. Anne has found her iron, which means she is now ironing away while she watches a film on TV. For my part I fixed the drain for the washing machine and the catch that operates the micro-switch on the tumble dryer. She'd be lost without me!

We're settling into our new home quite nicely. I've just set up my new broadband provider (which reminds me of the need to cancel the other one) and I've also sorted out a few address changes for important things like the car insurance. Anne was organised enough to do that before we moved, I decided to wait until I couldn't get to the filing cabinet to get the details I needed!

The point of all this is that life is fairly normal for us, we're just in a different place. It's odd, I don't think that it's because we've moved so often that we're used to it. I actually do think it's a grace thing. I'm sure that a day will come when we settle down to our nice retirement location, but until then God seems to help us settle quickly wherever we are.

Some place of course feel much more like home than others, and that was certainly true of Cotton End, but Upminster is great. On Friday I met Anne at the station and as we walked home we talked about what we were going to eat for dinner. In the end we just picked a takeaway on the way home.

Church was good this morning and I'm really beginning to look forward to getting stuck in and getting to know everyone and figuring things out. The induction is coming up in a couple of weeks, so I need to get a plan sorted out, or at least something that looks like a plan. If you're coming, we're looking forward to seeing you there.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Finding my way around

So today's big adventure was to locate he nearest Staples store and buy some really useful boxes. If you don't know what a really useful box is, the you need to find out! Put simply they are really useful boxes in a variety of sizes from something that you keep business cards in to something that could house a small family (well maybe not but they do get pretty big). Anyway, I digress.

Using the internet I searched for my nearest store but unfortunately the postcode wasn't recognised by my navigation system and it took me three goes to find the place. Eventually I did and bought my boxes. I also discovered the roads that criss-cross the A127.

On the way home I came through Hornchurch, our neighbouring town, and saw a great sign in a shoe shop window:

Buy one get one free

Now forgive me for stating the obvious but isn't that the least you expect from a shoe shop? You don't go in to buy a single shoe normally, and you don't expect the matching shoe of the pair to cost extra!

They are strange folk with strange ways down here!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Study or office then?

So here I am, sitting in my new study at home watching the occasional learner driver reverse around the corner opposite, and wondering quite where all my books are going to go. It's what you might call a compact space but it will be fine. Some of my books will go into my church study/office. So, in effect I will have more space than I've ever had.

Having a study/office at church (I still haven't decided what I will call it-more of that later maybe) is a new thing for me. I'm quite looking forward to being able to go into church in the mornings and work. I had an office at Winthorpe Road (my first church along with Collingham), but since then I've always tended to work from home. In Bedford of course home and church were on the same site, but then I didn't have a church based study or office.

So, should it be a study or an office? I prefer study because of the obvious nature of ministry. Well obvious to me anyway! It's not a job, it's something else. And it's quite hard to explain exactly what else it actually is!

I suppose the point is that it doesn't really matter what it's called. If people want to call it my office, that's okay, if I choose to call it my church study, then that's my preference and the world won't stop turning because of it. I won't be doing all my "work" in either place, and that means that the house can be home, maybe more so than when we were living on the same site. It will be an interesting journey of discovery I'm sure.

New Beginnings, old reminders

Here's a good verse from Titus (2:7-8) for anytime in ministry, but especially at the beginning of a new one.

you yourself must be an example to them by doing good works of every kind. Let everything you do reflect the integrity and seriousness of your teaching. Teach the truth so that your teaching can’t be criticized.
 As I begin my ministry here in Upminster (officially not for a few weeks), this just seemed very personal and pertinent as I read it last night.

Anne and I are reading through the New Testament together in the evenings, and sometimes it's very easy just to let the reading pass by. To get it over and done with and put a tick in the "I've read my Bible" box, you know, the one we all keep in the back of our minds. Graciously God accepts our little foibles and still speaks, catching our attention now and then.

I'm glad he caught my attention last night.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Tag lines

See as a tag line on a message thread:

The box said 'You need Windows XP or better' .... so I installed Linux.

It just made me smile

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Moving in

Surrounded by boxes, we've made it into our new home. There is much unpacking left to do, but Anne has been working through the rooms. I've been sorting out the kitchen. Our cooker is wider than the original gap between the cabinets, and I thought it was just a simple matter of moving a single cupboard a couple of inches to make room.

Not quite so easy, I needed to make some alterations to the worktop on the other side so that the lid opened into the gap between the wall cupboards. Having done that, I connected up the cooker only to discover that there was no gas! It appears that the supply line from the meter has been re-routed and no longer supplies gas to the cooker point. Ah well, these things will get sorted out eventually. It will have to go on the list along with the TV arial that's there but not providing a signal.

On a positive note, the new wardrobes look good, just the handles to fit. Both 'phone lines have been installed and BT have connected Anne's business broadband without a hitch.

Today we will be off to church for the first time. It will be really good to see everyone and get a feel for things as they are. I wonder how long it will take for me to learn all the names and connections!

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Moving Day Approaches

So, tomorrow the packers arrive to start putting our stuff in boxes. Moving day is most definitely upon us. For those unaccustomed to moving house and home, it's not a thing to which I look forward with any great relish. I may have mentioned before that this is our eighth move in 29 years, which doesn't sound to bad to me, but my in-laws have lived in the same house for 42 years. They've moved maybe three times in over 50 years!

Moving is made easier by having all the packing done for us. We've packed for ourselves previously, but last time we moved we decided to have the removal company do the packing and it was well worth the extra cost. In one day one person packed our whole house.

So tomorrow we don't know how many packers will arrive and how much they will pack in a single day, but it will be practically everything. Our job is simply to make sure they don't pack anything we need in the next few days, or anything we want to take with us, or indeed anything we don't want to take. Beyond that we just need to stay out of their way.

I wish that I'd got rid of more stuff I really don't need, but what I've done will have to do.

By Thursday we will be on our way and by Friday all our belongings will have been delivered to our new home.

Then it's sorting out the boxes and of course getting broadband up and running! So, if all goes according to plan, I'll be reconnected fairly quickly. In the meantime I have a mobile modem that I can use if I get withdrawal symptoms!

Wednesday, September 02, 2009


A little late to the party I guess, but I decided to read Frank Viola's book about organic church.

I started it while away on holiday last week and I'll try to finish it in the next week, although moving house might just get in the way a bit. I really do need to become a bit more disciplined about reading again.

Anyway, if you've not read the book this might give you a flavour of what it's about:

The fact is, many of our present-day church practices are without scriptural merit. They are human-invented practices that are at odds with the organic nature of the church. They do not reflect the desire of Jesus Christ, nor do they express His headship nor His glorious personality (the very things that the church is called to bear). Instead, they reflect the enthronement of man’s ideas and traditions. And as a result, they smother the church’s native expression. Yet we justify them by our cut-and-paste hermeneutic.

70 years

I'm not a great student of history, so it was only as a result of the news yesterday morning that I was aware of the significance of the day. 70 years ago yesterday Poland was invaded and the Second World War became inevitable.

As we travelled to Canterbury, Ally and I talked about it. We discussed how inevitable it was and what contributed to it. Was Russia's non-aggression treaty with Germany significant, was Poland's relationship with Germany important? How much influence did the Allies treatment of Germany after the first war affect the precipitation of the second?

All big questions to which I certainly don't have a definitive answer. But I do know this, that if we take a small and narrow view of history, we rarely get the big picture, and that seems to lead to much faulty thinking and rash decision-making. The problem is that we seem to be living in a narrow view society. We have 24 hour news and yet it's filled with 30 second summaries. We may get the facts, but we don't seem to get the time to reflect on those facts.

At the moment the news is filled again with the events surrounding the release of Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi. I'm not sure I would have wanted the responsibility for making that decision. How do you decide? Do you go for the simple legal approach of a conviction and sentence, do you go the compassionate approach of being gracious towards a dying man, which do you choose? I really don't want to start a debate, but given the pictures of his welcome home and the way those pictures have been used, it makes you wonder how much of a martyr he would have been had he died in a British prison.

All very difficult.

Of course we can't go back and see how history unfolds against the backdrop of a different set of decisions. We just have to live with the consequences of the decisions we've already made.

It's always easier to lead from an armchair.