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

Monday, November 09, 2009

Another new constitution

It was time. Time to settle down and read the document I've been avoiding for a few days. Purposely I left the email in my inbox. I'm usually pretty quick to archive these kind of things and delay reading them until I absolutely have to. Nothing cures insomnia quite like a legal document!

Well I sat down this morning and trawled through the BU's proposed new constitution for churches. The need for a new constitution has to do with the need for churches to register individually with the Charity Commission as I understand it. Generally speaking we don't change our constitutions just for the fun of it!

What struck me as I read through the document before me was the emphasis on prayer and worship as the cornerstones of church meetings and the meetings of the charity trustees (deacons to you and me). The actual phrase suggested is: Worship including prayer and the reading of Scripture shall be a key feature of the Church meeting. Similar wording is suggested for the trustee meetings.

Now we all know the importance of worship and prayer and Bible reading, but do we do it, in the context of a meeting, to get it out of the way before we get down to business? In the last year or so I've tried to pay more attention to the need to pray about all the things over which we deliberate, even to the point of stopping a meeting to pray. The problem is that we get very busy and I forget as easily as the next person to do this.

But how interesting will it be if we adopt the suggested constitution. How will our meetings change and how will the processes by which we conduct our business have to be reshaped in order to work in line with this new constitution?

I think we have more to discuss that we might have first imagined!

Decision-making in the Local Church

As many of you know, I'm a baptist minister. I use the lowercase intentionally at this point. As a baptist we're governed by the church meeting, the gathered people charged with the shared responsibility of discerning the mind of Christ together. Over the years, even centuries, this has created much debate about what it means to lead in such a setting, and we're still wrestling with that one. Perhaps the church's (not just baptist churches, but churches of all flavours) current confusion over leadership is because we are appointing people who are CEO's first and pastorally motivated second. Perhaps that is too convenient a generalisation.

Anyway, I wanted to think about how we make decisions rather than leadership. I'm still reading Reimagining the church. I take longer to read a book these days. Something to do with being busy and something to do with getting older and weakening eyesight! I've just finished the chapter on decision-making and was struck by a really helpful term Viola uses at the end of the discussion. He describes churches as guided democracies.

His argument is that the most biblical and God-honouring way to make decisions in the local church is by consensus. Hard as it is to achieve, it has to be our goal, even if it takes longer than we would like it to take to reach a decision. Now I know how frustrating consensus can be to achieve, and I know how frustrating it is as a leader to have to wait for consensus to surface. It would be far easier simply to delegate all responsibility for making decisions to a few people who could be relied upon always to get it right!

But that dis-empowers the church and robs the members of their full responsibility to share in the process. It's far less convenient to make decisions this way, but it might just be far more effective in the long run in terms of re-motivating the church for involvement in God's mission.

I was intrigued to listen the Bill Hybels talk at last year's GLS about how Willow Creek had been learning new ways of developing vision. He talked about how they took early ideas and thoughts to different groups within the church and asked questions like, "What excites you about this?" and "What scares you about this?"

With all the recent talk over the last ten years or so about how raising the bar when it comes to membership is the way to get people involved and committed, in other words make it more difficult to become a member, I wonder if the answer actually lies in calling people into deeper personal relationships. Relationships that are willing to work through the tough things and search out the mind of Christ through consensus rather than call for a vote and settle the matter by majority.

So perhaps we should have a simply mantra for church meetings and the processes by which we come to any and all decisions: Pray more, vote less!

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Update to isync script

Back in February I delved into the shallow waters of Apple Script in an attempt to automate the process of synching my Nokia 'phone with iCal and Address Book.

Well this week I refined the script a little more having discovered how to quit a programme (tell "application" to quit, not exactly rocket science), and how to delay it so that it didn't generate an error by trying to quit before synchronisation was complete.

I also discovered along the way that you could tell your mac to inform you that the task was complete using one of the voices.

The finished script is as follows:

tell application "iSync"

if last sync is less than ((current date) - 3600) then


repeat while (syncing is true)

delay 5

end repeat

end if

end tell

tell application "iSync" to quit

say "synchronisation is now complete. Have a good day" using "Zarvox"

You can add a line that hides isync if you want, but it's not that important.

Friday, November 06, 2009

From impossible to possible

From Experiencing God:

Christ will lead you into many situations that will seem impossible, but don’t try to avoid them. Stay in the middle of them, for that is where you will experience God. The key difference between what appears to be impossible to us and what is actually possible is a word from our Master! Faith accepts His divine command and steps out in a direction that only God can complete. If you only attempt things that you know are possible with the visible resources you possess, those around you will not see God at work. You will be the one who receives the credit for a job well done, but God will have no part in it.

What strikes me in this devotional is that too often we work within the limits of our resources. We let budgets and finances dictate the vision instead of the other way around. I remember an old treasurer we had in the first church of which I was a member. whenever anyone asked if we could afford to do something his reply was always the same, "If you give, we can do it." Now at first thought that sounds rather narrow, but there is something of Blackaby's point in there too. Because if we believe that God is calling us to a particular ministry, then why would we doubt that he would provide the resources, and that he might call on us to be the providers of the resources needed.

Maybe the point of the feeding of the 5,000 (the subject for this devotional) for us today is that we need to put all our available resources into God's hands and let him do the miracle of multiplication.

Now I wonder where that train of thought is heading?

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Not so good, but why no comment?

David was far from perfect. The story of Bathsheba tells us that much. But there are other things that this "man after God's own heart" did that leave me puzzled, especially when there's no commentary about how God sees the situation.

I was reading the part of the story where he goes to live in Philistine territory to stay out of Saul's way. What bothers me is that he goes off raiding this settlement and that village and then lies about it. In order to secure the lie he kills everyone in the places he raids so that nobody can report the truth to the king under whose protection he is living.

It just doesn't strike me as a particularly God-honouring thing to be doing for the future king of Israel, and yet God is silent according to the text. I don't have a neat answer for this question, I just have more questions. But perhaps the thing is simply this: godly people don't always do godly things.

Somewhere in the twists and turns of a messy life, God shows up and nudges us in the right direction. Because of his grace we can go on making mistakes, not because they don't matter, but because God's love is greater than our failure. I don't know if God ever spoke to David about what he was doing or what he did during this part of his life. But what I do know is that David didn't slip onto plan B for his life and then plan C all the way down to plan ZZ.

I don't think there is a single blueprint for our lives and that if we miss it we're doomed to a life that's basically outside of God's plan. Somehow God is able to turn our mistakes and mess-ups into something that in the end brings glory to his name. That doesn't mean I live my life as if nothing matters, but neither do I fret about dropping down the list from best to least worst plan.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Church Growth for sale?

I was doing a quick search for some information on the internet and I noticed a link that didn't seem to have much to do with my search but was about church growth, so I followed it. It was set out like one of those long, long pages of advertising. you may know the kind of thing. It reads like a JML ad. "Would you pay $100 for this package? Well we're not asking a 100, we're not even asking 50. And wait, get this free gift worth another $37 absolutely free." And so it goes on with various bits of text in bold, underlined and even highlighted.

The point of this web page was to convince the reader that if they were serious about growing their church then they would naturally want to sign up to the free newsletter and buy the programme.

Now I don''t know how effective the programme is (they claim you can double you attendance in 90 days!), but I was struck by the obvious marketing nature of what was on offer. I'm sure there are some good, even sound Biblical principles in the programme, but nothing got mentioned on the web page. And God seemed rather conspicuous by his absence too.

Do we really want to grow churches that are built around good marketing strategies? What if ours is a time like Isaiah's when the challenge was to stay faithful in the face of diminishing faithfulness? And then again, is the goal to fill our auditoria to overflowing? Bigger buildings do not make a Biblical community. It takes more than that.

I guess what bothered me most apart form the apparent absence of God for the strategy, was the presentation of a quick fix for declining church attendance. It was as if I was being invited to become the envy of my friends by having a new building and a bigger congregation of apparently more committed members than the church down the road. I fear such a strategy simply moves the sheep from one pen to another.

The church is neither mine nor yours. And Jesus did happen to point out that he would build the church, which sort of suggests our role is that of partner not entrepreneur in this kingdom project.

In the end our gifts and skills and drives have to be subservient to God's greater plan and purpose. I will keep reminding myself that it is God's mission in which I'm an invited partner, not the other way around.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Remembrance Sunday is coming

When we were in Cotton End, Remembrance Sunday involved meeting the members of the British Legion outside by the memorial that was in our grounds. We read the names, paid our respects, heard the bugle and stood in silence.

I can't remember how many names are on that memorial, even though I read them every year for seven years. For what would have been a very small village at the name it seemed like a lot.

Now we're in Upminster and I wandered up to the memorial in the town yesterday to have a look. I'd been searching the internet to see what I could find, but there was very little information. I don't know how big Upminster was during either conflict, but the list of names runs to 207. 66 from the first war and 141 from the second.

My view of war will not change, but just because I will always argue against armed solutions does not mean that I do not have the utmost respect for everyone named on this memorial and all the memorials up and down the country.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Threat or opportunity?

Well I asked my question in church this morning about Sunday trading and how we might seize the opportunity rather than fret about the threat. I got some very positive and interesting ideas, and in a couple of conversations after the service I could feel a sense of excitement rising at least in my heart.

Later in the afternoon Anne and I took a walk up into the town centre. It was fairly quite with only a few shops open, but that could easily begin to change if the local department store deems their experiment a success. And at least by asking the question now we are thinking ahead rather than playing catch up. I even saw an empty shop, but that might even be stretching my crazy mind a little too far!