Friday, December 31, 2010


I was watching BBC Breakfast the other day and they were talking about New Year's resolutions. Yes it's that time of year again and yes we all know that if we make them we're more than likely to break them, so we don't really focus on making any achievable resolutions in the end.

Making and keep promises to oneself is a subject for another post. The thing that caught my ear was one person's resolution to delete themselves from Facebook. It's a topic that has raised itself over the last few months as privacy settings and security at the social networking site have come under scrutiny. There's also the issue of time spent, or time wasted depending on your perspective, on such websites. Does it have any real value? Does it help or hinder communication?

Most, if not all, of my Facebook communication arrives at the site via feeds from various other sources. I rarely interact directly with Facebook except to check the newsfeed. I also use Twitter and of course I blog away, although rather less so these days. Perhaps that's a resolution I need to make!

But here's the thing. Because of these social sites and feeds, I get to hear stuff about which I'd often be unaware. Some of it is less than helpful, some is just funny. And there are times when I've read a Twitter update or a Facebook status and stopped and prayed.

So perhaps Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, even the Saga social networking site (I'm not a member before you ask!) have a value that we sometimes forget to measure. Perhaps others would have prayed for me had I posted a simple update about the funerals I've conducted, the struggles to get my Spring plan together and the challenges of preparing and delivering Advent Celebrations.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Nativity: Part Two

I just caught up with last night's episode of BBC1's adaptation of the nativity. If you haven't seen any of it, it is worth the effort as far as I'm concerned. At last, a treatment of the story that actually engages with the emotional confusion that must have been felt by all the characters.

One has to wonder why, if they can portray this central story of our faith with such insight and sympathy, that Christians generally get a poor showing. Could it be that we don't live up to the narrative?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Nativity on the BBC

Did anyone catch the first episode of the Nativity on BBC1 last night? If you didn't, you might want to catch up with it via iPlayer. I rather enjoyed it. I'm sure there will be a few angry voices, and maybe it won't all be great. But it was rather a good start. I liked the exploration of the back story, the reflection on what might have been happening.

My favourite line was when Mary's mother looked at Joseph and said simply, "At least he's got teeth."

Beyond that, the thoughtful portrayal of the wise men and the non-ethereal look to the angel were all good. I've often remarked at church that this is a truly ordinary group of people in very ordinary surroundings made extraordinary by the events that unfold.

I'm looking forward to part two tonight.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Monday, December 13, 2010

Psalm 37

As I continue to make my way slowly through the Psalms, I came to Psalm 37. It's quite a long psalm, but these first ten verses are worth spending some time reflecting upon.

1 Do not fret because of those who are evil
   or be envious of those who do wrong;
2 for like the grass they will soon wither,
   like green plants they will soon die away.

 3 Trust in the LORD and do good;
   dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.
4 Take delight in the LORD,
   and he will give you the desires of your heart.

 5 Commit your way to the LORD;
   trust in him and he will do this:
6 He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn,
   your vindication like the noonday sun.

 7 Be still before the LORD
   and wait patiently for him;
do not fret when people succeed in their ways,
   when they carry out their wicked schemes.

 8 Refrain from anger and turn from wrath;
   do not fret—it leads only to evil.
9 For those who are evil will be destroyed,
   but those who hope in the LORD will inherit the land.

A lot of my time can be spent fretting about all sorts of things. Things that ultimately are either not worth the worry or can be dealt with simply by taking some action rather than worrying about them. Things like actually getting the plan done, or not leaving that admin task until tomorrow. writing down the action and trying to remember it only to forget it at a crucial moment.

But these verses aren't just about dealing with worry-sickness. It's a psalm about hope, trust and patience. It's about doing good because it's the right thing to do.

Read them a few times and pray them through.

Saturday, December 11, 2010


As I continue to read Neil Cole's book on leadership it continues to revive thoughts and themes that have been buzzing around my head for a long time. He writes about organisations being "value-led rather than personality-driven". Something that surely ought to be paramount in the church.

But this is not just a simple matter of establishing our values. I've been down that road and discovered that establishing values is only the first step. If those values are not inculcated into the ethos of the church, they will have little or no impact on the life of the church.

That aside, what are or should our values be? What things rise to the surface and what characteristics of current church life give away the true values with which we work? I'm reminded of John Ortberg's "shadow mission" talk from a few years ago.

One value that I believe demands our attention if the church is going to flourish is a very baptist core value, namely the priesthood of all believes. There are times when this seems to be a value we hold dear but upon which we often fail to act. Having said everybody can and should be involved in ministry we then go about the business of setting apart the few in order that the many don't have to.

If we are committed to making disciples then surely part of that process is doing what Jesus did not just knowing what Jesus did. We cannot minister vicariously through others, we must involve ourselves.

I raise this more of a question than an answer, but somehow we have to work out how to get people engaged in the full range of ministry that forms the life of a faith community. We cannot go on assuming that it's someone else's responsibility to do these things.

There are other values too that need work-the role of leaders; the place of Sundays, to name just two that come to mind. Perhaps they are not values, but reflecting values.

I just wonder, if we boiled everything down to the core, what would be the values that we would find there and how would we go about reshaping the church in order to express those values through our shared life together?

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, December 10, 2010

The upside down kingdom

In God's kingdom, the basement is the penthouse. The first become last, and the last are first (Matt.19:30). The humble are exalted, and the exalted are humbled (1Pet.5:5-6). The weak are strong, and the strong are weak (2Cor.13:9). The rich are impoverished, and the poor are wealthy (8:9). The wise are foolish, and the foolish confound the wise (1Cor.1:27). Death comes from life, and holding onto life brings death (Matt.10:39).

Organic Leadership, Neil Cole

Apart from the last sentence, which I'm either not reading clearly or should say "Life come from death". The point that Jesus was making was that letting go of your life, with all its ambitions and demands actually leads to life, whereas holding onto life leads to death.

That apart, I think this is a great reminder of the nature of the kingdom of God. All too often we get sucked into an interpretation of the kingdom that draws more on our business models than on the values Jesus spoke about.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Something I need to process

I've spent the last part of this afternoon with an uneasy feeling. Difficult to describe but it all relates to two incidents I've witnessed in the last couple of days. Let's start with yesterday.

I was walking home just as the schools finished and watched as one young man repeatedly thumped a fellow pupil. Not sure what the reason was, but he quickly got bored and as he dropped back two others came alongside the victim and told him what they intended to do the following day. I assume their target was the angry young man who was throwing punches a moment earlier.

I wondered about the future he faced, not in terms of the next day but his adult life. Would he end up choosing violence as the solution to his problems or was it just the kind of spat that happens. Who knows.

Then this afternoon I was in the coffee shop having a drink and a chat with another member of the church when in walked a customer who turned out to be trouble. He complained, swore at the staff and tried to cheat and steal in front of everyone. It's laughable really. He actually stole food and sat at a table to eat it. He claimed not have been given his change and when asked to leave it became apparent that he'd been drinking. Tempers were frayed and it wasn't going to be a neat resolution.

As he left another customer had a go at him for his lack of manners, not the wisest course of actions. He shouted, threatened, lashed out, spat and became abusive to understate the situation. The other customer shouted, scratched and didn't really help.

So how is a Christian supposed to respond in these situation? It's left me perplexed and disturbed. When such minor violence comes so close, it leaves me confused and dismayed about life and where we are headed. Wouldn't it be great to be able to stand up and say just the right thing that the drunk and the angry schoolboy would fall to their knees in repentance. But it hasn't happened yet. No one experienced grace, no one apologised for their outbursts. Life simply went on with everyone looking and wondering the same things, grateful they were not the object of his attack.

O that you would tear open heaven and come down and sort this mess out Lord. But then again, you did, and look what we did in response. That wasn't a pretty sight either was it. Broken, damaged people still need a Saviour. Broken, damaged people still fail to see. But that didn't stop Christ coming. It won't stop him now.

I did what I could. I tried to stand in the gap. I tired to be the man of peace although inside I longed to be more like Steven Segal. And even now I find myself wanting to pray for everyone caught up in it all. It's a salutary reminder that even in suburban Upminster sin abounds. In case, may grace abound even more.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Coming to terms with not being thin

It's a strange business losing weight. Without appearing to trivialise or lessen the impact of severe eating disorders, I think I've learnt something over the last few months that helps me understand what some people go through. I never quite understood how a painfully thin person could look at themselves in the mirror and see a fat person staring back. I do now. Okay, so nowhere near as severe a distortion, but the truth is that even though I've lost a lot of weight I still see more or less the same person in the mirror. I know I'm thinner. I've gone from a 48in jacket to a 42 and a 40in waist pair of jeans to a 34in waist. When I look down I can see a fairly flat profile.

All very encouraging. I know these things, but what I see in the mirror remains distorted. The disturbing thing is that I actually don't feel any lighter or thinner. Occasionally I catch sight of myself and realise how much I've changed, but most of the time I'm unaware.  Body image is such a subtle thing.

So I have to learn to see myself honestly. Perhaps that's part of the reason we put on weight in the first place, we don't pay attention to our increasing weight and we don't pay attention to our changing size and shape. I know someone who maintained for years that the clothes makers were making them smaller as they slowly added more weight.

Lessons too for our spiritual journeys. The keys to succeeding in losing the weight and maintaining a healthy weight will remain discipline, monitoring and honesty (accountability) about what I eat. The same is true for my spiritual development. I have to commit to a disciplined pattern, be accountable and honest with myself and before God. My journal helps me do these things, and as the new year approaches I ought to make a commitment to use my journal more thoughtfully than ever.

Here's to 2011 as a year of celebrating a successful weight loss programme, getting fitter, playing more tennis, and becoming a better follower of Jesus Christ than I've managed this year.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

November walking stats

This may be the last month I record these details, although I've extended my spreadsheet to December!

So, for the record:

Total steps: 397,709

Approx. distance: 199 miles.

So that makes November my highest month yet as far as steps go. I completed my 100-day challenge on the 22nd having walked 630 miles and taken 1,260,290 steps.

In the end I did 105 consecutive days.

Since August 1st I've covered approximately 750 miles and taken 1,498,863 steps. Today, December 1st I took my 1.5 millionth step since beginning the challenge of walking everyday.

I'm hoping for a new pair of trainers for Christmas!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

To the Pub!

Last night Anne and I ventured into unknown territory. For the first time as far as either of us know, in our thirty-plus year relationship, we went out for a quiet drink to the local pub. And it was quiet.

It wasn't just a spur if the moment thing, but part of a plan, an emerging idea if you like. for some time we have both been thinking about how we do certain things in  church life. how we, for want of a better term, hide ourselves away in order to have spiritual conversations. We call them housegroups usually.

We'd like to take our conversation into a public space. Not as an intentionally evangelistic activity, but simply as a normal expression of being ordinary people doing faith in ordinary lives. So, in the New Year, we are hoping to gather with a small group of friends and share our faith journey by meeting for a quiet drink and conversation in the local pub.

We'll see how it goes.

Time and space for everything

I've been ruminating on an idea over recent months about time and how we use it and how much we have available to do what and when. Intrigued by the concept of "third places" or "third spaces" as described in some sociological studies, I began to wonder where church fitted in all of this. The basic premise is that we all have three spaces in our lives: home, work and a.n.other. This other place might is where our social interaction occurs, where we spend our leisure time, that kind of thing.

I began to wonder if, especially in our pressurised twenty-first century lives, if we actually only have room for three places. If that is true, then when someone comes to faith and begins to attend church, church has to compete with the other three spaces for time and energy. I think I've talked or blogged about this before, but it seems to me that what we need to work out n church is how not to compete for attention, time and energy through getting people to attend meetings, attend church, or generally fill up their diaries with things that take them out of their normal environments. Why? Because it is in those environments that they rub shoulders with people who are far from God. It is that simple. Every time we replace a non-Christian friends with a Christian friend we take another step out of God's mission.

In the end I think we will have to rethink how we define commitment (is being in church every week the best measure?) and we will have to rethink how and when we do church (is Sunday morning the best time and is church the best venue?) After all, why would we want to compete with those things that create opportunities for conversations and relationships only to replace them with programmes and events designed to create relationships and conversations!

Monday, November 22, 2010

My 100-day challenge

So, I finally made it to my 100th day and by about lunchtime I'd completed my 10,000 steps for the day.

The statistics are as follows for the 100-day challenge:

Total steps: 1,260,290

Estimated distance: 630 miles

So far, from August 1st the distance walked is a fairly impressive 698 miles.

What most pleases me is that I've walked more than 10,000 steps everyday. No cheating. No doubling up one day to make up for a missed day. Just everyday, 10,000 steps.

Not quite sure what to do next. I feel like I ought to have a day off so that I don't become overly obsessed with counting steps, but then there's another part of me that is obsessed already! 1,000 mile would be a good next target, or maybe the distance from top to bottom of the UK, about 1100 miles.

At the current rate that would take me into the New Year, around January 16th at a rough guess. So maybe that's what I'll do next. I'll also need a new pair of trainers!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Seen outside the newsagents

The billboard sign outside the local newsagents simply read:

Wedding joy for tragic couple

I'm assuming it's not connected to the royal announcement made earlier this week!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

From Organic Leadership

The church is the church, whether it meets in a warehouse at 3:00am–fellowshiping while folding newspapers–or at 10:00am on Sunday morning in a building designed for religious activities. And God's people are God's people and part of his body whether they are serving in a focused and more mission-exclusive ministry or a general all-inclusive church ministry. For me life became more beautiful because I could see all the rich colours and variations, unclouded by rigid, unforgiving boundaries.

The more I read this book, the more connected I feel to its themes and ideas. I certainly share some of Neil Cole's concerns and frustrations with the way we interpret church in our established denominational structures.

Letting God's word dwell

A thought went through my mind the other day after a short conversation with someone about how we read the Bible. In our instant world we rarely give things time before we move on to the next thing. Practice is a lost art as we demand immediate success.

There are times, on a Sunday morning, when I wonder if we might not be better served if we simply read and reread the Bible passage over and over again, letting it sink into our hearts and minds. We need to find ways of dwelling in the scriptures.

I'm working very slowly through the Psalms at the moment. But I still don't feel as if I'm really soaking myself in what they have to say. All too quickly I'm looking for patterns and promises and prayers. I sit with my journal open and my pen poised ready to write down some deep insight drawn from the poetry before me.

Today I read psalm 29. "The voice of God" repeats through the psalm. It caught my attention and made me think about the nature of God, who he is, what he does and how he cares for me. I sat for quite some time thinking about these things and yet I still feel unfinished.

On Sunday we sang "O the deep, deep love of Jesus". Such a powerful image and message.

In all of this I get the feeling that there is a depth to my relationship with God that I am desperate to pursue. But life goes on, and time demands that I turn my attention to a growing list of tasks, and just like everyone else my walk with God submerges into the busyness of the day ahead.

Royal Weddings

I'm not a big royalist. Forgive me.  I never really have been. I couldn't even bring myself to say the oath the Queen when I was a cub scout for a few weeks!

But I do wish the royal couple well as they prepare to marry. Organising a wedding under such public scrutiny won't be easy. But that isn't what bother me most. For a sizeable proportion of the British public their interest in the big day will be the public holiday it will precipitate. It's almost certainly going to be a week-day wedding, so we will all get the day off and there will be street parties and lots of bunting about the place. And that's okay. If you want to celebrate go ahead and enjoy yourself.

But what about the royal marriage? Who is helping them prepare for marriage? Everyone is interested in the wedding, what the dress will be like, will they kiss on the balcony, will they use the old style vows, but what about their life together in ten years time or twenty years from now? Who is helping them prepare for that?

I hope they have a great day. And I also hope that someone is sitting down with them and working through the challenges of building a deep, long lasting and meaningful relationship that can weather the ups and downs of life together.

Friday, November 12, 2010

I love this story

The last couple of days a local news story has surfaced that is just so ridiculous it has to be true. I clipped the following from here.

Yellow line painted under parked car 
A driver got a £120 parking ticket after council workers painted a yellow line under his car.

Daniel Jacob, a 26-year-old bus driver from Basildon, left his Renault Megane parked in a residential street in Upminster while he went to work.

He said: “I couldn't believe it when I returned to find someone had got on their hands and knees and painted under my car. It's not even straight, it's a wobbly scrawl.”

A spokeswoman for Havering council said: “We will of course cancel this ticket.”

Organic Leadership

A couple of quotes from Neil Cole's book that resonate with me:

If only my job as a pastor was a holy calling, the jobs the other people in the church were fulfilling were not holy callings. If this was the case, more was expected of me than of them in the church. This lets them of the hook with the responsibility of the kingdom of God. Something Jesus never intended.

I began to learn that a job is a job, but I am a disciple of Christ no matter where I work. Kingdom fruit was not restricted to what happened as a result of church ministry or even my professional clergy status.

The more I think about the church and it's organisation, its purpose and how we can do that in a God-honouring and effective way as fully devoted followers of Jesus, the more I think we must face the demands of change. Not change for the sake of change, not change in order to become contemporary or change in order to become more transcendent. Change in order to become more like Christ.

The last few days have made me think about a lot of things. I've begun to wonder about proactively dropping the title "Reverend", removing it from letterheads and business cards and just becoming plain "Mr" again. I'm so glad I don't wear any distinguishing clothing or carry some big Bible around with me.

Such changes would of course be largely cosmetic for most people. Perhaps even troubling. But if my privileged position as an ordained minister is actually hindering the fuller expression of the mission of the church, then I for one would give it up in an instant. There are too many soul at stake to hang onto something that is largely irrelevant and Biblically questionable.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Psalm 27

Before I opened my Bible yesterday I was praying. I asked God to speak to me, to encourage me and assure me. Then I turned to Psalm 27 because that was the next reading in my plan. I was blown away by what I read.

The Lord is my light and my salvation-whom shall I fear?

Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear;
though war break out against, even then I will be confident.

For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe.

And so the psalm goes on, packed full of David's deep sense of God's faithfulness. He's not always this positive. David had his bad days when God seemed distant and faith was hard to find. But in these verses David truly celebrates God's presence and protection.

I celebrate it too.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Implications of Eph. 4:11 for the local church

I continue to ponder the implications of what Paul says about leaders in Ephesians 4. It would be unfair to build too big a case based simply of this verse alone, but it does have some big implications for most local church leadership teams.

First off, it asks some fundamental questions about who is n the core leadership team and what does it spend its time doing. That's not a criticism, just a question. In many a baptist church, the only leadership team to speak about that is formally recognised by the church is the team of deacons. Typically their job is more akin to maintenance and  management than it is to vision and equipping. All of that stuff gets delegated to the full-time or not so full-time minister.

Secondly, there's a question about the role of a senior leader in the church. I've blogged before about building on the foundation of teachers and pastors rather than on apostle and prophets. Now I'm not elevating one above the other, but we do seem obsessed with getting pastors at the top and I question the validity of that approach.

What is certain to me is that we've become so focussed on pastoral leadership that we have neglected any other leadership role and we endlessly force non-pastors into pastor shaped holes because that is what we think they are supposed to be. I think we lose a lot of leaders this way and I think we make a whole lot more ineffective in the process.

The problem is that if we are going to develop a broader view of leadership, if we are going to train leaders in a broader context, then the one thing we have to address is the historical attitude in the church to the role of the minister as leader. And we will have to address the fundamental principle of ministry being the responsibility of the whole church body and not primarily the responsibility of those highly trained Bible College graduates.

I continue to ponder.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Visiting Scouts

Yesterday, at our All-Age Celebration, we had some visitors. It was great to see them. I'm not sure how many came, but it was a good number, they filled three rows plus a bit so I guess there were about 30 or so. And they were the local Scout Group. So, for the first time in my ministry, we had scouts, cubs and beavers in church on Sunday! There were some parents too who came and stayed.

Our All-Age Celebrations are taking shape and I think we did quite a good job yesterday to keep the pace going and to do enough things to engage across a wide age range. I find it really sad that there are those who feel it's inappropriate to have everyone together once a month for a celebration. I find them hard to do and I'm not always comfortable with everything that an All-Age Celebration can be, but I think it's important that we figure out how to worship together so that the young can experience worship in a broader context.

I have to say that the scouts were really good yesterday. For most of them, Church is probably alien territory, but they paid attention, didn't fiddle about anymore than children usually do and seemed to enjoy themselves. We'll find out when we get some feedback later in the week.

And of course here's the big plus for me. We got to share something of the grace and love of God with  whole group if folk for whom it might just have been a very new experience. Whatever you say, for once we were doing what church ought always to be doing.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Tennis and church

I was just thinking about my tennis expedition the other day. About how much fun I had, and what I would have missed had I chickened out and not gone. About how similar the first-time visitor at church must feel. About the importance of a positive welcome and the value of encouragement.

Nobody seemed to mind that I was a complete novice in regular tennis terms. When I hit a good shot they congratulated me, when I hit a bad one they encouraged me. No one criticised my technique or tried to put me right. It was wonderfully refreshing and I came home eager to return next week and try again.

How do we transfer those values into church life?

Friday, November 05, 2010

If you only have time to read one thing...

Read this!

It is poignant, inspiring and like the proverbial hammer and nail, making exactly the right contact!

There is stuff in here that resonates deeply with me, and I hope you find the time, no, make the time to read it.

Something to ponder

The power of Christ's kingdom is not found in buildings or religious ceremonies. It is found in a transformed heart. The power is in the rule of Christ within us.

Neil Cole, Organic Leadership p67

So why are we so protective of a Sunday morning service? (It's the question Neil Cole is asking at this point in the book and one I've been asking for a long time too)

I'm not against gathering for corporate worship, but I do wonder if we will ever truly get what it means to be the church while we continue with our fixation on Sunday morning church and allowing that single event to define church for us.

In need of therapy

No, not that sort of therapy, before you ask. Although there are times when I suspect plenty of other people think I need some some of therapy, possibly involving shock treatment!!

No, the therapy I talking about is all to do with my back and tight muscles. I've generally suffered with muscular problems for as long as I can recall. Certainly I remember having issues at school with leg muscles and tendons. And I've done a fair bit of muscle damage over the years, so keeping them moving and loose is quite important. The problem is that like many people I don't actually take the time to stretch them out very day.

In Bedford I used to go and see Chris. He would stretch me out and release those tensed up tendons. Every so often he'd do a massage for me and it kept me flexible and increased my range of movement and improved my posture. I miss that, and after a year away from Chris things have got noticeably tighter.

So today I had a massage. Boy were some of the muscles tight and at times it was actually quite painful. Even now there are dents in various parts of my anatomy where elbows and knuckles have been pushed into hardened muscle fibre. On the other hand I know things are better and that tomorrow or the day after the effects will be more obvious.

What I should have done was take my bag with me and go in the steam room for a while and then in the gym to stretch myself out. Next time.

So if your muscles are tight and you need some therapy, go book yourself in for a massage somewhere and pamper yourself. Tell them I said it was okay!

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Tennis and church

I took a big step this morning. It might seem like a small thing to some, but to me it was quite a big step. It began with a chance conversation with someone a few weeks ago. Somehow we got talking about tennis and I said how I'd been thinking about learning to play. I dabbled a bit when I was younger, but I never took it seriously.

This chance conversation led to a one-off lesson to look at the basics, and from there came the thought of taking it further. So, on Monday I wandered down the the tennis club, warily wondering who might be there and what kind of people I might meet.

I meet two people doing some gardening and the outcome of this encounter was an invitation to join them on Thursday morning when they have a social tennis session.

So Thursday came and I sat at home wondering if I should go. What if I was so bad that it was embarrassing? What if they were so good that I never managed to hit a ball? What if they didn't like new people? Maybe I should have some proper lessons and practice first before going on court with people who know what they are doing.

I needn't have worried. I was made welcome, managed to hit the ball and even managed to get a few serves in play. I had a good time. I think I might go back, take some lessons, play more, even join the club.

Walking down the drive to the club, introducing myself, putting myself in the middle of unfamiliar things is reminiscent of what it must be like for someone who goes to church for the first time.

The parallels are clear. And if I felt tis nervous and unsure just going to play tennis, then how must the new church-goer feel the first time they set foot inside our buildings?

I learnt a lot of things today!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

APEST Leadership

A quick note to my previous post.

It was Alan Hirsch's writing that talks about Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Shepherds and Teachers.

You can read about it here. And even take a test to see where you fit!

In brief:

  • APOSTLES extend the gospel.
  • PROPHETS know God's will. 
  • EVANGELISTS recruit.
  • SHEPHERDS nurture and protect.
  • TEACHERS understand and explain.

Ephesians 4:11ff

These verses have been going around my head for some time now, ever since a chance conversation with someone before a worship group practice in fact. And that might have been a month or two ago when I think about it. I really can''t shake it off, and wouldn't want to. If you know your epistles, you will know what it says. Here it is in the updated NIV:

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

And just for good measure, the 1984 rendering:

It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

Translation isn't the point here, although it is interesting to see the subtle variations. The point is the role of leadership in the church. And the question I keep asking myself is this: Is this the pattern for leadership that we ought to be seeking to establish?

Let me put it this way. It would appear from Paul's argument that the primary purpose of a leadership team should be to equip the church to do the ministry and to do the ministry for the church. The church is meant to be an active participant in ministry not a full-time consumer of it. Surely the body image in the New Testament confirms that, and all that Paul says about each person having the full measure of the Spirit's anointing, a spiritual gift to be used for the common good and so points to a simple fact that the church is designed to do ministry more than it is designed to receive it.

And if this is true, then why do we persist in abdicating responsibility for ministry to a few highly trained individuals and not delegating it as a responsibility of all members of the body? Our whole ordination process sets us up for such a distinction that is in the end apparently quite unbiblical!

I will continue to ponder the implications of these verses and reread what either Michael Frost, Alan Hirsch or David Fitch has written about it. Unless of course it was someone else!

Updated NIV

The text of the updated New International Version of the Bible is available to read at Biblegateway. The print versions due for release next March, although I don't know if that means an anglicised version will also become available at the same time.

The website also has a UK version of the text, so maybe a UK print version will be available as soon as possible. I think this will be a welcome update and a good replacement for the inclusive language version that I bought a few years ago and the TNIV that was withdrawn last year in preparation for this revised translation.

But why would you buy yet another new Bible to add to the pile you already have at home? Well, the reason I bought the inclusive language version was because I stood in front on a mainly female congregation one day at a funeral and read a passage that was exclusively male in language but inclusive in intent. I decided then that it was time to move away from the exclusive language that dominated most translations.

Simply knowing it means everyone is not enough. I don't want to have to keep explaining that. Language moves on and so does translation.

So I'm looking forward to seeing the print version next year and starting to use it. In the men time have a read of it on the Internet.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

A Book I forgot to Mention

This is very short, highly practical guide book to the practice of visiting the sick. I found it quite helpful and would give it to anyone joining a pastoral care team as a resource for developing good pastoral practice.

When I first read it, I thought it rather assumed that all ministers are the same and they all believe that it is their primary function to visit whether they like it or not! I may have been a little unfair on it as I read as a result. But overall I found it informative and thoughtful even if I don't agree with all the underlying assumptions it makes.

Worth an hour of your time I'd say.

It is part of a series of short books called Ministering the Master's Way.

November Books

I started reading two new books yesterday, but not just because it was the first day of November. I have one other book to finish reading that I started some time ago but got distracted. I quite often dip into several books and maybe read one more carefully than the others. I've never really found it hard to keep them separated. Perhaps it was all that reading I did at college!

The first of the new book is Organic Leadership by Neil Cole. Having read Organic Church, I was very interested in getting his book on leadership when it came out. I even pre-ordered it, but never got started. Over the years I've come to realise the value of a good introduction in a book and Neil Cole's introduction to Organic Leadership certainly helps you understand both his perspective and the principles that will guide the chapters that follow.

As someone who wonders what else they could possibly do having spent 20 years in ministry, I immediately find myself connected to the image of needing the institution and yet wondering what is wrong with how we do what we presently do. I certainly recognise the dichotomy between the way the church has professionalised the ministry of the church and effectively taken it out of the hands of the church body and the Biblical principle of the priesthood of all believers. I'm frustrated by the abdication of ministry from the people to the professionals that this has caused.

It will be interesting to see how the book develops.

The second book is Tim Chester's The Ordinary Hero. The subtitle is Living the cross and resurrection. And I guess that pretty well sums up the intention of the book. It is a discipleship book. The style makes it an easy book to read, but it's not light-weight in terms of the subject matter.

So that's my November reading. I used to read far more than I currently do, and I used to read it far more quickly! If I finish the other book that I carry around with me and these two, plus the usual crop articles, both printed and web based, probably means that I still read quite a lot!

Monday, November 01, 2010

October Walking Stats

I walked approximately 194 miles in October, taking 385,382 steps. That averages out at 12,447 a day.

Since August 1st I've walked 550 miles, taking 1,101,154 steps. I've managed 79 consecutive days of my 100 day challenged to complete 10,000 steps every day.

From Sunday

On Sunday we looked at Jesus meeting the religious leaders. I talked about the characteristics of religious people. About how they struggle to think beyond the box that defines what they should and shouldn't do. about how they separate themselves from those who they consider to be "out" and divide themselves along theological lines. We talked about how religious people like rules and disapprove of people who break the rules. How they can't abide disorder and reject anything that doesn't fit their prescribed patterns.

And so I said:

We must never become religious people! It is just unthinkable that the church should ever become religious! Can you imagine what that might do to the mission of the church? To the way we partner with God, the way we allow him to lead us in his direction rather than our own, the way we might end up trying to do church rather than be the church! It would be a disaster!

First of all we’d end up with thousands of denominations distinguished by minor variations in practice and belief. Second we’d become institutionalised and bound by historical ways of doing things that might have no relevance to the present society in which we find ourselves.

Thirdly, we’d probably become deeply concerned about being pushed to the margins when we always thought we should be centre-stage. Fourthly, we’d limit our vision of what we could do to match the budget we have available. The church would become a business to run or a machine to maintain.

There could be all sorts of unthinkable repercussions if the church ever fell into the hands of religious people. We must never let that happen.

The problem is that it has happened. We have become religious people and we must rediscover what it means to be the church that Jesus wants us to be. I pointed to Acts 2 and used the outline I've heard Bill Hybels use before to describe the church. We talked about the principle of everyone that says that everyone has the Spirit in equal measure and a gift to be used or the common good.

I ended with a call to:

  • Be available to God
  • To listen for his whisper to guide and direct
  • To commit to obedience to the whisper when it comes

Sunday, October 31, 2010

An afternoon of firsts

So, this afternoon I did my first home baptism, which was also the first time I've baptised someone by sprinkling and, to top it off, the first time I've ever used water from the river Jordan to baptise someone!

There are times when it is time to put aside the theological and doctrinal issues so often beloved of the church and simply do the pastoral thing. This afternoon was one such time.

Our "candidate" is quite ill and getting to church, onto a platform and down into the water, was never going to happen. So we gathered around her bedside, the family, a couple of friends from church, me and the guy with the video camera. We shared the story of God's amazing love and heard a story of a journey of faith.

It was, as ever, a great privilege to share in this event. This was church doing what church does best. Loving people, sharing life, encouraging  faith.

Missing notes

Something very odd happened at church this morning. For the first time in 20 years of ministry, my notes disappeared at the end of the service. Now I've had times when someone has asked if they can have a copy of my notes and I've happily given them away, but I've never known anyone help themselves without asking!

Very odd.

The thing is, that for the most part, my notes make sense to me, but they might not make sense to anyone else. While I don't write shorthand notes, I don't always include every detail. And there are often typing errors and syntax errors that I correct as I speak. Then there is all the extra stuff one adds as one speaks.

This morning my notes included a whole page of stuff I didn't even use. So I wonder what whoever took them has made of them. I hope they've found them helpful.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Isaiah 43

Last night, at our monthly church meeting, I shared Isaiah 43. It is probably best known for verses 18-19, "Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See I am doing a new thing!" But this call to look forward comes on the back of God's faithfulness and character. There is a series of three prophetic words for the people recorded in chapter 43. Listen to how the first of these begins:

But now, this is what the LORD says
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel
"Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.

It's that last phrase that caught my eye: I have redeemed, I have summoned you by name, you are mine. If ever there was a sentence to write on your heart then maybe this is among the top ten from which to choose. Redeemed, summoned by name, belonging to God. What a privileged position!

From this position, God's command to 'fear not' is fleshed out as he promises:

When you pass through the waters,
       I will be with you;
       and when you pass through the rivers,
       they will not sweep over you.
       When you walk through the fire,
       you will not be burned;
       the flames will not set you ablaze.

Leaving Egypt and entering the Promised Land both involved passing through water. Whatever the challenges and changes we face, God promises to walk with us and be there for us.

And as if that is not all, he goes to great lengths and pays a great cost to ransom those he loves.

For I am the LORD, your God,
       the Holy One of Israel, your Savior;
       I give Egypt for your ransom,
       Cush and Seba in your stead.

Why does God do all this?

Since you are precious and honored in my sight,
       and because I love you,

Now that is quite something!

Monday, October 25, 2010

My 100 day challenge

As you know, I've been doing a bit of walking recently. Not long distance stuff, just regular daily walking. It's all part of a plan to increase my general fitness and also to help me lose weight. It's going quite well. I'm now down below 15st (95Kg).

The walking thing began with a challenge to do 200, 000 steps in August. Although I soon decided that I wanted to set my own goal of doing 10, 000 steps a day, that seemingly arbitrary figure that gets banded about. I wondered if I could sustain walking about 5 miles a day over a longer period of time.

Surprisingly, after a couple of false starts, I got into a routine that has seen me pass 70 consecutive days (72 as of today) of more than 10, 000 steps a day. That means that since the 15th August I have been walking 5 miles (8Km) every day.

At some point, I can't remember when, the simple maths dawned on me that 10, 000 steps a day for 100 days was 1, 000, 000 steps. So I began to plan to work towards this target. It now feels within reach, although four more weeks is still a long time and anything can happen. I've already walked through a couple of injuries. I badly blistered my toes at one point and I damaged a calf muscle that I thought was going to stop me, but neither proved to be too much to overcome and I persevered.

As September closed I'd managed 47 consecutive days and was averaging 12, 500 steps a day. I estimate that to be about 6.25 miles a day. By day 72, today, the average is 12, 400 for October. I haven't calculated an average over the whole 72 days.

A couple of days ago I passed took my 1 millionth step since August 1st.

So what's the point and what have I learnt?

Well, first of all I guess I've learnt that it is possible to walk 5 miles a day, but it takes disciple. Some days it has meant getting up earlier than usual in order to get a good start. I usually try to do 5-6Km in a single walk to give me the 30+ minutes of aerobic exercise I'm looking for each day. It is a great privilege to have the kind of role that allows you to work this into your day.

Secondly, I've learnt that without discipline it just won't happen. With the whole eating plan thing I've been asked what I'm allowed to eat and what I'm not allowed to eat. I've been asked about how much will power I must possess in order to stick rigidly to the plan. My answer is usually the same. It's not will power, it's discipline. I don't think about allowed and not allowed, I think about making a simple disciplined choice about what I eat and when I eat it. The same is true about the walking. There are days when I really don't want to pull on the walking clothes and hit the streets, but I choose to do it.

The outcome of this disciplined choice is that I walk, I exercise and I get the chance to carry God's presence with me as I walk the streets.

So, I've got 28 more days of my 100 day challenge to go. I'm not presuming that I will make it, but I am getting more determined to do it. One day at a time, and no thinking too far ahead. The next day is the next target. Soon it will be 75, then 80, then 90. By that point I guess I'll allow myself a little sense of getting close, but rather like a cricketer who is nearing a century, you have to stay focused.

At my current rate, I estimate I will have done about 1.2M steps over the 100 days. I might just buy myself a new pair of trainers to celebrate!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Communion Narrative

These posts about communion express incomplete thoughts and themes that we explored at our harvest communion meal. I wish I had a recording of what I said and not just these notes. There was so much more that arose naturally out of sharing the story. I think there is yet more to explore.

At last they will have given you a taste of what we were trying to do and maybe the inspiration to try something for yourself.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Communion and the only way

So this is how God worked out his purpose to rescue and save, to call those who had become lost back into relationship with himself.

In the Old Testament every year there was a celebration of God’s promise to redeem those whom he loved. Each year a special sacrifice would be made and the blood from that sacrifice would be sprinkled on the Ark, a box that contained the two tablets of stone on which were written all the commandments of the covenant. When God saw the blood that was sprinkled over the ark, the law was covered. He no longer saw the law that demanded judgement, he saw the life that was sacrificed.

When we accept Jesus as our leader and forgiver, God looks at us and no longer sees our rebellion, but he sees his Son’s sacrifice. The blood of Jesus covers our failure and we find forgivness through the mercy and justice of God. We are dependent upon God’s grace and mercy; what Jesus has done for us, that we cannot do for ourselves.

Communion is a remembrance of the sacrifice made not by us, but on our behalf. We remember that we cannot restore our relationship with God by our own efforts. It only comes through the redemptive work of Jesus.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Communion and Hope

When Jesus walked among the people of Palestine he made a simple declaration: The kingdom of God is near.

As he spoke and taught, healed and delivered people from illness and spiritual oppression he demonstrated the power of the kingdom of God to change and transform lives.

That change and transformation continues today. Jesus continues to offer the kingdom with all its power to those who believe.

But the kingdom represents more than this. It represents hope. Hope that the present age is not all that there is. hope that the pain and suffering of today is not what defines us, but that there is far more to life than this.
Through his miracles and through his death and his resurrection, Jesus offers us hope.

Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not yet seen

Communion is a celebration of the hope we have in Christ. hope that says that life is not as it should be, but one day all things will change. Hope that says that death is not the end (I am the resurrection and the life) but that life goes on into eternity.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Missional and Incarnational

Hugh Halter: Creating Incarnational Community [VERGE 2010 Main Session] from Verge Network on Vimeo.

I'm in the process of preparing a sermon about the woman caught in adultery and I've been thinking about Jesus stooping down and what it means. This video shares a very important aspect of what it meant for Jesus to stoop down.

Communion and Redemption

The cost of God’s act of self-sacrifice was great. Paul reminds us that we are bought with a price and that price is the very blood of the Son of God, Jesus Christ. The writer to the Hebrews tells us that there can be no forgiveness of sin without the shedding of blood.

Through his death on the cross, the shedding of his own blood, our rebellion towards God, our sin, is dealt with. We are redeemed.

Redemption is all about buying something back, making an exchange. Jesus exchanged his life for our lives, through his death he takes on his own shoulders the judgement we rightly deserve.

Communion is a remembrance of the sacrifice made by Jesus on our behalf and a celebration of his victory over sin and death.

The glory of Romans

I downloaded a great free application for my iPhone this morning. It's called SpokenWord, an audio Bible app. There are two versions, an Old Testament one and a New Testament one.

It does exactly what you want it to do, or at least what I wanted it to do this morning as I set out for my morning walk.

I listened to Paul's letter to the Romans as I walked the 5Km circuit from home. It's just such an easy way to spend time in the Bible. Of course it can't replace sitting and reading, studying and reflecting. But I love to get the bigger picture of the letters and narratives, and this is a great way to do just that.

So I walked and found encouragement and challenge as I listened to Paul pour our his heart to the Christian community in Rome. I was reminded of the place of faith, the sacrifice made for me, the finished work of the cross, the power of the gospel, the joy of freedom, the choice to walk in the Spirit, the lack of condemnation, the hope of the kingdom, the commitment to others, the call to leadership and service and so much more. Can there be a better way to spend an hour?

If you have an iPhone, you might want to check out this wonderful app.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Whispers from God

I'm enjoying reading The Power of a Whisper by Bill Hybels. It's simple, down-to-earth and truly helpful for thinking through the whole concept of how and when God speaks direction, comfort and challenge into our lives. So often we use language about hearing from God that makes us sound either super-spiritual all in need of psychiatric help. Bill's book addresses this and offers lots of encouragement and insight into the process of being guided by the God who loves to speak into our lives.

So it was interesting on Sunday to find myself sitting at the communion table wondering what, if anything, God would like to say to us as we drew towards the close of our celebration. We'd been looking at the man who waited in John 5, and I'd had this nagging feeling all through the service that there was more to be said that I was saying. That somewhere in the mix of worship songs, prayers, Bible reading and preaching, there was something that God wanted to say.

So as I sat watching communion being served, I asked God if there was anything he wanted to whisper. I'm not going to claim some great spiritual insight drew me to say what I then shared with the congregation, but I wrote down four things that came into my mind. Only time and other signs of confirmation will tell if these were my thoughts or from God.

Without making it complicated I shared what I thought God might be saying to one or all or some of us. Maybe it was just me, but I took the risk and shred them anyway.

  • Trust me
  • Forgive them
  • Start again
  • Don't give up

Nothing really spectacular, just three two word and one three word phrases. But sometimes this is all it needs to be. Sometimes this is the extent of God's whisper. We like to think that when God speaks it will be long and detailed instructions, but maybe more often than not it is a few words, a single thought.

Other times the whisper might come in the shape of a long forgotten verse or even a very familiar one. It might a verse we learned diligently or that's just stuck.

I don't know what we will do this Sunday. I'd like to think that we might continue to explore being open to God and give him the chance to continue to speak to us.

Communion and Compassion

But God determined that it wouldn’t end in the garden or with the exclusion of humanity from access to the tree that bring life.

Through the unfolding of history he set in motion a plan. He never forgot how much he loved those whom he had created.

Paul tells us that while we were still rebels, God sent his Son to die for us, and Jeremiah reminds us that every day God’s mercy and faithfulness is renewed.

Communion is a remembrance of God’s compassion and a celebration of his mercy and grace.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Communion and Rebellion

Communion begins in the garden of Eden, the place, created by God, where human beings were invited to live in close relationship with him. Everything about the garden was good. Adam and Eve, man and woman in perfect communion with God.

So all was good in the garden.

But things go wrong. Humanity asserts its self determination. Wants to be master of its own destiny and decider of its own future. Through disobedience to God’s express command, fellowship is broken.
But God determines to restore it. And it won’t be without cost.

God promises to rescue those he loves. Who does God love? John tells us that God loves the world and because of this great love he has for all humankind he sent his Son into the world to put right what went wrong.

Communion is a remembrance of our lost relationship and a celebration of God’s restoration of it.

Communion as a shared meal

We tried something different on Saturday. Someone suggested that we have a harvest supper but that we included communion, but not as an after thought as it often feels that we do it. What we did was to reflect on the big story of the Bible and where communion fits in it.

Preparing was quite hard. I've never done this before. We had to work out what it meant to explore communion in this bigger context. What ideas would we share, what reflections did we have? In the end I found myself restructuring and even rewriting as we went along.

We talked about the fellowship humanity enjoyed in the garden, how it became broken and how God expressed his desire to restore it. We learned that to share communion is to remember and celebrate many themes and principles from the Biblical narrative.

I'll post some of the reflections as a series of posts to stop it becoming one long piece.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Good ideas, prompts and working out the difference

I've started reading The Power of a Whisper, Bill Hybels book about God's guidance. It's got me wondering about the process of discernment and how you tell the difference between a whisper from God and a self-generated good idea. There are some obvious things that come to mind.

First of all is the very obvious is that if it's a bad idea, and idea that doesn't honour God, then it can't be a whisper of guidance. But beyond that, if you have an active imagination like me, you'll have hundreds of ideas that float into and often out of your mind.

One of the things I do with these ideas is to drop them into conversations to see how people react. I'm quite discriminating in choosing which conversation and with whom to share particular ideas, but even just the act of sharing an idea can help me in the process of working out if God is in this.

Of course the one thing you really need to develop is a sensitive heart in order to listen for and to the whisper that comes from God. And there are no shortcuts for this. God may be speaking, but if you haven't learnt to listen, you won't find it easy to hear. So perhaps the one thing we need to cultivate is time spent in quietness in the presence of the God who loves to speak.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

GLS day two

For the first time I didn't stay to the end of the GLS. I think I was tired and wanted to get home in order to do some work. To be honest, I'd probably have spent much of the last session thinking more about what I should have been doing than what I was listening to for the last hour.

The GLS seems to have changed. There are now more talks, but some are shorter, two to a time slot, than before. This is helpful because you get a wider range of topics and themes, but the struggle is in the processing of the information. Maybe that wore me out!

Today we heard an excellent talk from Dan Pink about motivation. I blogged about an animated version of one of his talks sometime in June (here it is). It's a really interesting thing to think through, the whole issue of motivation. And what is really interesting to think about  is why people do things that fall outside of the typical expected motivations of pleasure and reward. Why is it, for example, that highly skilled computer software developers would spend their spare time creating an operating system? But if they didn't, we would not have Linux.

We also had a talk from someone whose name escapes me at the moment, and I could go and look at my notes, but I'm tired. Jeff Manion, or something like that. Anyway, he talked about the desert place and what can happen there. Positive stuff about transformation and discipline, but also some challenging stuff about complaining and grumbling.

I remember him describing a day when you've experienced some tough stuff, faced criticism etc., and you come home to discover "Complaint" has moved into the guest room and used up all the drawer space. It's easy to give space to Complaint, and Complaint resists eviction. It sneaks back in. The only way to get Complaint out is to let Trust in. They don't make good room-mates. Trusting God that he knows and understands, that he is working out his purpose in his time.

Then we had a session with two talks, actually two interviews. One with the man who started Toms shoes. If you don't know, and I didn't, Toms shoes gives away a pair of shoes to a shoeless person in the disadvantaged world for every pair of shoes they sell in our advantaged part of the world. The second interview was with Jack Welch, the one time CEO of GE. Very interesting.

What touched my heart most about the second interview was the way Bill Hybels was able, in a non cringe-worthy way, to have a spiritual conversation with Jack Welch. I would say I wish I could do that, but I won't. Instead I'm going to pray that God would give me the gifts I need in order to do that.

And then I snuck out and came home. I bought the DVD set, so I can watch these and other sessions later. But for now, once again I've learned a lot from the two days and there is much to process and apply.

Psalm 16

Lord, you alone are my inheritance, my cup of blessing.
      You guard all that is mine.
 The land you have given me is a pleasant land.
      What a wonderful inheritance!

Is it part of the human condition to always think that the grass is greener elsewhere? How different might the place be where we are now if we treated it as a wonderful inheritance?

I'm certainly not naieve enough to suggest that everyone could and should treat their current circumstances, current job situation or current life context as a blessing from God that is a pleasant land. But how often do we look at where we are and presume that somehow it isn't where God wants us to be?

If it's possible, if things are not so obviously wrong with where you are now, can you give thanks for it? What would it change in you, in your heart and mind, if you began to see it as God's place for you at this time. Maybe not for all time, but for this time?

I think this psalm has something to teach us about thankfulness.

Global Leadership Summit

Yesterday was the first day of the Willow Creek leadership conference at St Albans. As usual the was a lot of good stuff to ponder. Bill Hybels talked about going from here to there and the need not only to describe what's good about there but why we can't stay here.

Second up was Jim Collins talking about why great organisations fail. It was interesting to reflect on some of the phases he described and how easy it is to ignore the sings and even blame the wrong factors.

Then we had a session about moral failure in leadership, one about when not to solve problems or resolve tensions but to manage them with Andy Stanley. The day finished with a lively presentation by one of the teaching staff members from Hillsongs.

At the end of Bill Hybels talk he shared some thoughts about listening to the whispers from God. Some people think that I idolise Bill, but I don't. I actually think he is one of the most Spirit led leaders I've ever known. With great humility he talks about how God prompts him. He doesn't make it into more than it is, he doesn't talk about hearing voices. He just talks about the way God nudges and prods. If only we had more leaders who listened like this. If only I could learn how to do so more effectively than I do.

He's written a book about it and I think that's one resource I'll be buying sometime today.

Well the worship band has hit the first note, so I guess the second day in underway.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Around Canary Wharf

The Dome from Canary Wharf

Out and about

Out and about near West India Quay.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Just a thought

We are working through John's gospel in the mornings at church this autumn. I like John, but then again I like all four gospels for different reasons. As I read through and prepare week by week, I see again some of the things that inspire and move me.

One of the things that usually catches my eye when I get to the story of Nicodemus is John 3:16-the most famous verse in the Bible. Or so we are often told.

Many evangelicals are proud of their ability to quote this verse as the heart of the gospel message. I'm sure someone will find their way into the crowd at the Commonwealth Games with it on a banner, unless they've been banned! But what of verse 17, why don't we make as big a fuss about that verse? I bet you probably need to grab a Bible to find out what it says. But for reading it recently, I'd probably have to do the same.

This is what it says:

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

It bothers me that we so often forget this verse. I think we should memorise it as eagerly as we do its more famous predecessor. Too often the church is quick to do the work of condemnation, too often we preach a message that runs counter to God's expressed intention not to condemn but to save.

John goes on to say that the person who does not believe condemns themselves, they don't need our help.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

For those who know and love the game

On being a preacher

I believe in justice, but I am not a preacher of the gospel of justice, but the Gospel of Christ who calls us to justice. 
I believe in love, but I am not a preacher of the gospel of love, but the Gospel of Christ who calls us to love.

I am committed to peace, but I am not a preacher of the gospel of peace, but the Gospel of Christ who calls us to peace.

I believe in the value of the simple life, but I am not the preacher of the simple life, but of the Gospel of Christ that calls us to the simple life.

Myron Augsburger, former President of Eastern Mennonite Seminary, quoted by Leonard Sweet in an interview with Ed Stetzer about the book The Jesus Manifesto.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

On Primrose Hill

It's been overcast all day and the iPhone camera doesn't really do a good job in these conditions, but here's the view from Primrose Hill.

We walked from Baker Street tube station, through Regent's Park and up to the viewing point on Primrose Hill.

From there we walked to Chalk Farm, down through Camden Town to St Pancras Station where we met Ally on her way back to Canterbury.

Among other things, today marked my 50th consecutive day of doing 10, 000 steps a day.

Have you seen the signs?

The church decorated for the All-Age Celebration.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Psalm 13

How long, O LORD ? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?

How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and every day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?

Look on me and answer, O LORD my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death;

my enemy will say, "I have overcome him,"
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.

I will sing to the LORD,
for he has been good to me.

I don't know what David was facing when he wrote this psalm, but clearly things are not going well! He feels distanced from God, forgotten and unheard. Every day sounds like it is filled with negative thoughts and a sense of continual defeat at the hands of those who oppose him . He is desperate to see a way forward, to hear God's clear and certain call to a better future. He fears that if something doesn't change, if he doesn't gain some encouragement, then he will lose whatever fight he's facing.

But there is something that he remembers that he knows will sustain him in these difficult times. God's love never fails.

Once again we see that worship is always an appropriate response as David declares that he will sing to the Lord. Why? Because God has been good to him. David chooses to remember God's faithfulness.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

September walking stats

So, September has come to an end and it's time to add up the walking numbers for the month.

Total steps = 375, 295

Daily average = 12, 510

Approx. distance = 187 miles

From August 1st, when I began to record the data, I've walked approximately 357 miles and taken 715, 302 steps. I've also managed 47 consecutive days of 10, 000 steps or more.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010


I saw a great sign in the car park of a local hospital today. I meant to take a picture on my way out, but forgot to do so. The sign read as follows:

Parking for staff and visitors only

So who else might be going to a hospital? Patients perhaps, or more likely it's for all those people who might park there and then catch the bus to the station. So it undoubtedly has a meaning beyond the obvious, but I still thought it was one of those signs that required a second look and a bit of thought.

John's gospel is the gospel of signs, things, events that point beyond themselves to something greater, something more significant.

The miracles were not just clever tricks, they were indicators that the kingdom of God was among the people and things were different.

Many people saw the signs but missed their significance.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, September 27, 2010

Why? The natural question

I was reading Psalm 10 and thought about the most common questions we ask. Psalm 10 asks one of those questions?

Why doesn't God do something about all the bad stuff?

The psalmist doesn't try to come up with some neat theological answer. What they do is to point us towards a hope and understanding that God hears the cry of the victims and that one day everything will be sorted out.

The comfort comes not from knowing the outcome or avoiding the pain, but by knowing that ultimately God is in control whatever the circumstances. Personal pain is not easy to bear, but Psalm 10 reminds us that we need not be defined forever by the things we suffer.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Saturday, September 25, 2010


Here's a useful idea for all those of us who find their workflow broken by interruptions in whatever guise they come. The basic concept is called "bookmarking". What you do is quite simple. When you get interrupted you create a bookmark by writing down on a post-it or a piece of paper three things:

  • What you were doing
  • What you were thinking
  • What you planned to do next

Put this bookmark with any papers etc that you were working on and then deal with the interruption. If that comes in the shape of a 'phone call or visitor, you will need to ask them for a moment to make your note, but I think this could be really helpful, not only to refocus on what you were doing, but also to be able to give the interruption your full attention without begrudging it.

I often have to set aside what I'm doing to go to a meeting or appointment to answer the 'phone or door. I think this simple technique might help my workflow.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Missional Map-Making

I've just finished reading Alan Roxburgh's book. To be honest I'm not sure what I make of it. Overall the book takes some reading. It is full of analysis about how the world has changed and how the church hasn't but needs to. It's typically missional in its outlook, as you'd expect. Some of the analysis is helpful but there were times when I got somewhat lost and desperately wanted to move on from the analysis to the opportunities. Maybe that's a product of a modern model!

By the time I reached the latter chapters I was ready for something practical and it comes in chapters 8 and 9 as we turn to the map-making process. This is where Roxburgh introduces us to the idea of developing a core identity, reinvesting in spiritual practices and creating parallel cultures. In fact, chapter 8 might just be the most helpful chapter in the whole book.

The book suffers from some poor proofreading in the edition I have. Too many syntax errors make it necessary to reread sentences.

Overall the book is worth reading but it isn't easy to read. It is dense, thoughtful, challenging, provocative and stimulating. You can't really skip part one in order to get to the more practical section, but you will need to persevere to get the best out of the book.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

On Discipleship

Another useful post from the Acts 29 blog, this time about discipleship as doing:

The accounts in the Gospels and the Book of Acts put a huge emphasis on doing when it comes to making disciples. The gospels are accounts of Jesus’ works, and they’re also the accounts of his disciples, young Christians, doing as their master did. Acts is the account of the young church, made up of young Christians, going out, preaching the gospel, and doing great works in Jesus name.

David, on a good day!

Psalm 9 open with these words:

I will praise you, O LORD, with all my heart;
    I will tell of all your wonders.
I will be glad and rejoice in you;
    I will sing praise to your name, O Most High.

It's quite an expression of exuberant praise, but it also speaks to a deeper reality. A phrase I often use is this: "Worship is always a valid response." As far as I am aware, worship is never an optional thing in the Bible. I haven't yet found the verse that says, "I will worship God when I feel up to it." And yet this is how many of us live our lives. We squeeze a little prayer and worship into our day if we can manage it. We build our devotional lives around our otherwise busy schedules.

But tough as it is, we know that this is not how it should be. We know that everything we do ought to flow out of our relationship with God. Sadly, as evangelicals, we've lost the art of communion with God. We ask the wrong questions. we wonder what is the shortest time we can spend seeking God in order to guarantee an answer to our prayers. Is ten minutes a day of bible reading, prayer and meditation enough to satisfy him and therefore prevent anything nasty cropping up in our lives.

How different might things be if we ordered our lives around time spent with God. This won't just happen. It will take a disciplined person choosing to make some disciplined choices and taking some disciplined action, to paraphrase Jim Collins.

Perhaps it's time to learn again the principles and practices of a daily routine of prayer and reflection that takes us through the day, stopping at set times to give thanks and to remember that God is with us, loves us and wants to work through us.

Yielded is a word that comes to mind.

Perhaps my next project should be some kind of one month guide with which I, and anyone else who fancies the idea, can experiment. A simple start the day, end the day and stop somewhere in between kind of thing.

A final thought from Psalm 9:

The LORD is a refuge for the oppressed,
       a stronghold in times of trouble.
Those who know your name will trust in you,
       for you, LORD, have never forsaken those who seek you.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A thing of beauty

Have you seen the new ipod nano yet?

I popped into the Applestore recently and I have to say I think it looks wonderful. I know I'm a bit of a Mac freak, but I do think this little device is a wonderful piece of design.

If I didn't already own an iPhone, and iPod Touch, a MacBook, an iMac and of course an iPad, then I might be tempted to go shopping.

After all, my old Nano has bitten the dust, and this one does have a pedometer built in, just hat I need to keep track of all those steps I take while I listen some inspiring music!

Old Testament history reading plan

Over the years I've developed a range of reading plans to help me consistently read my bible, but also to help others to. This last couple of years I've been working on a three year plan which takes you through the New Testament in a year, then the Old Testament history in the second year and then the wisdom and prophetic books in the third year. Important as it is, I haven't included Leviticus in the plan!

I've just finished setting out the final quarter of the Old Testament history plan, and Anne and I have been going through it this year. Roughly speaking it takes in 33 verses a day and finishes with a day to spare, so I've not put a reading in for Christmas day!

To make it easier to plan, I worked out the date each book needed to finish in order to get through everything in the year. That was quite helpful because there were times when I needed to catch up a day, which meant going back through the readings and making some longer. The length of the readings actually vary quite a lot. There are very chapter that are exactly 33 verses long, and sometimes the division come at unhelpful moments on the narrative.

I'll see if I can post a link to a pdf version of the draft schedule in case anyone is interested in trying it out next year.

Losing weight

I haven't blogged much about losing weight, but today was one of the nice milestones and worth a mention. When I stepped on the scales this morning it read 15st 5lbs. Now that might still sound like a lot, and there is still some way to go before I get to a healthy weight for my height according to those infamous BMI tables, but it represents a big step along the way. It means I've lost 2st in imperial numbers, 13Kg on a metric scale.

People are beginning to notice, and asking what we've done. Well, back in July we began following a plan called The Dukan Diet. I liked the approach of a phased understanding of what we were doing. Let's be honest, losing weight is one thing, stabilising your new weight quite another. No way do either Anne of I want to go up and down.

The plan is very simple. The main part of the programme consists of alternating a day where you eat protein and vegetables with a day when you eat only protein. Add to that the non-negotiables of 1.5 litres of water a day,  a daily dose of oat bran and 30 minutes walking and you have the main weight loss phase sorted out.

We've found it very easy to follow and probably the only other variable is discipline. Yes, sad to say there are no magic solutions to making this work, you just have to be disciplined about your choices. But then if you can't do discipline then you probably can't succeed with any programme.

So we're happy with our progress and by encouraging each other we're finding the discipline part is okay. For me, I keep a record of my weight and of the exercise I do. I record my daily steps and accumulate the data to see how far I've gone each week and then each month. Along with the scales, it motivates me to keep going towards my goal.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Principles for the church

I came across these principles via another blog. I've picked out the ones that caught my attention.

Programmes don’t attract people; people attract people

As a whole, cluttered and complex churches are not alive.

Growing people grow people; consuming people consume programmes

Strategy as assimilation should not be confused with spiritual formation; one is about getting individuals into the body of Christ, the other is about getting the life of Christ into the individual.

The two biggest reasons people don’t get more involved are 1) they don’t know how and 2) nobody invited them.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Called or driven?

Yesterday we looked at the lessons to learn from John the Baptist as we continued our journey through the gospel of John and the people Jesus met.

As I prepared for Sunday I remembered that Gordon MacDonald had written about John in his book Ordering your Private World. I remembered the distinction he made between a called life and a driven life. Rereading that part of the book was very helpful as I looked to structure what I wanted to say on Sunday.

We talked about how called people understand their true identity, their purpose, and the nature of commitment. A quote from MacDonald's book that I didn't use seems to sum things up nicely.

To order my life according the expectations of myself and others; and to value myself according to the opinions of others; these can play havoc with my inner world. But to operate on the basis of God's call is to enjoy a great deal of order within.

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Saturday, September 18, 2010

Too cool to be church?

Here's a good question as we navigate our way in this new space, making new maps by which to plot new courses.

"Is Christianity ever meant to be cool?"

I'm not going to discuss it now, but this blog post raised the question and if this isn't the right question, then somewhere there is a question about how we seek to be relevant but sometimes only end up aping the culture around us without ever engaging it.

Fortunately I've a strong feeling that I'm way beyond ever being described as hip, unless the sentence in question has something to do with joint replacement surgery!

Losing track of time

As I walked back through the town on my afternoon walk I met someone standing outside a solicitors office trying to get in with some papers in their hand.

"Excuse me," she said, "can you read that?" pointing at the sign on the door. "It says, 'Monday to Thursday 9:00am to 6:00pm, Friday 9:00 to 5:00', but it's not 5:00 o'clock yet is it?"

"No, it's not 5:00 yet," I said, "but it is Saturday!"

"Oh, dear," she said, "How embarrassing."

Puts me in mind of the story a friend used to tell about her mother. Apparently she went to the opticians with her new prescription and asked, "Can you make me a pair of glasses to this prescription?

"No, I'm sorry madam we can't do that."

"Call yourselves an optician," she said.

"No madam, we're the dry cleaners, the optician is next door."

Friday, September 17, 2010

Prayers for the church

Here are ten great prayers for the church, reproduced from a blog post by James Emery White:

Ten Missional Prayers for the Church Today

1. That pastors would see other churches in their immediate vicinity as a co-laborer, not as the competition.

2. That members of churches would see themselves as ministers and missionaries, dying to themselves for the sake of the cause, as opposed to consumers who care most about whether they are fed, ministered to, or served themselves.

3. That parachurch organizations would be church organizations - meaning serving alongside the church while giving the local church the pre-eminence it deserves - and allowing the partnership to reach its full redemptive potential in light of the biblical mandate.

4. That church planters would commit to being a) sent by a church; b) called by a community; and c) eager to go where no one has gone. Instead of a) sending themselves; b) going to where they simply desire to live; and c) remaining blind to the reality that they'll be the 11th McDonalds in a row of ten existing ones.

5. That all seminaries would remember that they exist to serve the church, and that they would serve the church to such a degree that their students would be more on fire to serve and build the local church after they have graduated than before they entered.

6. That those committed to discipleship, and rightly so, would quit pitting it against evangelism as if any emphasis on "reaching out" somehow takes away from "building up", creating a false dichotomy that doesn't exist biblically.

7. That older generations would quit worrying about whether they are being catered to sufficiently, and would become more interested in whether they are passing the baton on to the next generation that is so desperate and hungry for mentoring.

8. That the false dichotomy between a concern for personal or sexual morality, and social justice, would evaporate. Instead, that we would see that being salt and light applies to both concerns: being as concerned for a culture of divorce as much as we are for the AIDS pandemic in Africa.

9. That the pendulum between whether to share the gospel or engage in social ministry would also disappear. That we would see them not as an either-or, but a both-and; we are to give a cup of water and the bread of life, feeding both stomach and soul.

10. That we would understand that lost people are the enemy, but instead the objects of the Father's heart - and thus, they should be the objects of ours. That we would join the Father as He sets out to find His lost sheep, search for His lost coin, and look desperately down the road for His prodigal son.

James Emery White

I have prayers I pray for the church every day, I might have to add some of these ideas into my list!

Not just for Pastors

Bitterness gets into everyone's life at some point. I've known people whose lives have been shaped and ruined by bitterness. Dustin Neeley has written a helpful post about how to deal with bitterness. His outline is just as valid for any person and doesn't just apply to those of us who find ourselves in the position of pastoral leadership.

He offers the following suggestions:

1. Take it all to Jesus.

2. Forgive the offending party even when they don't ask to be forgiven.

3. Turn off the movie in your mind.

4. Filter the experience through the lens of Scripture.

5. Pray for the person who hurt you.

It's not rocket science, just plain and simple discipleship stuff. You will need to read the whole thing to get the fuller picture. Here's the link.

Shut up and Listen Evangelism!

Leonard Sweet has written a new book Nudge and this video interview explores the ideas in and behind the book. If you are familiar with ideas like partnership with God in his mission and doable evangelism, then this will sound reassuring!

During the interview you will hear the contrast between the traditional "Go and tell" strategy for outreach and the "Shut up and listen" strategy that Sweet talks about. I think the book might be worth a read!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Welcome Fairs and meeting nuns

I've had an interesting couple of days. Yesterday and today I've been at the local College's Welcome Fair for students. We are hoping that a Christian group will form for the students, so I was there to represent the church in a broader faith context.

We had a few conversations, but most of the students were more interested in the free popcorn someone was making!

Then today I spent half an hour talking to one of the nuns at the local convent. She's speaking at an interfaith event and we talked about the topic she has to address. I'm not the only local church leader with whom she has spoken.

It made me think about my late aunt and her sister, I think is was her sister, who was a nun. Full of life and joy as I recall. As it should be.

There are only six nuns living in community at the convent in Upminster. And it's a big old house for six! I quite fancy the idea sometimes of living in a small faith community, but not with the nuns.

I wonder what Sister Annie would have made of the nephew of the family becoming a baptist minister.

So, two busy days. In fact Wednesday was so busy I had my breakfast and lunch at the same time. Four in the afternoon!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The amazing promise

Along with the great invitation, we talked on Sunday about the amazing promise Jesus made to Nathanael.

I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.

What I didn't mention on Sunday was that the 'you' is plural, and so it does not refer to NAthanael alone, but to all those who were listening at the time. Probably Philip, possibly Andrew and the others too.

But the point is this: heaven opened. Imagine that for a moment. Heaven opened right over your community. Heaven and earth connected. The kingdom real and present among the people. Powerfully at work transforming lives.

I guess Nathanael and the others might have thought about Jacob and his vision of heaven open and the angels ascending and descending. Heaven touching earth. In the arrival of Jesus, heaven certainly touches the earth. But there is another Old Testament passage that comes to mind too.

 Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this," says the LORD Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.

Malachi 3:10

Perhaps there is more to seeing heaven opened that we might have first thought.