Tuesday, August 31, 2010

August Step Challenge: The results!

So it's the end of the last day of the August Challenge to walk 200, 000 steps over the month. And here are the results of my efforts.

Total steps: 340, 007 (that's approximately 170 miles!)

Average per day: 10, 968

Counting the first 10K only: 297, 168

Number of consecutive days over 10, 000: 18

So my official total for the purpose of the challenge works out at 9, 586 steps per day, which is quite good I think. As you can imagine, some days have been easier than others, but overall it hasn't been a drastic change to do this. Keeping it up through darker, wetter winter days might be a challenge, but it's certainly been an interesting exercise and it's contributed to my overall falling body mass!

Did you take up the challenge? How about trying in for September.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Another London Walk

We all decided to hop on the train again yesterday afternoon and go for another walk around the city. Leaving Fenchurch Street we headed of in the direction of St Pauls once more, stopping at Costa Coffee in Cheapside for a drink and to escape the rain.

From there we made our way past St Pauls,  a place that both worries and inspires. It is a quite remarkable piece of architecture, but then again it's a church. So many people go to see the building, I wonder how few go to meet with God. Ah well, this wasn't a philosophy walk!

From St Pauls he headed off to Fleet Street, pointing out to Ally where Anne used to work in Shoe Lane and just beyond. From there we went up to Kings College and looked at all the picture of the more famous alumni. Maybe, if I do my DMin there I might become a famous ex-student too!! We also had a wander around a very busy Covent Garden on our way. Eventually we decided to get back on the Tube at Embankment and make our way home.

I'm sure there are lots more things we could do and sights we could explore. Maybe we will have a few more Sunday strolls, visit a few of the parks and maybe explore the Thames path. You never know!

All this is of course very good for us. The August step challenge has been a little responsible for our expeditions. Tomorrow is the last day and I'll probably post my results at the end of the day. I've been doing quite well, only four days below the 10K target and quite a few 11-13K days, although only the first 10K count towards the challenge. I'm sure someone has managed 10K every day, but not me alas.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Why pigs?

As I've been preparing through the week for this Sunday I find myself pondering the fate of the pigs in Luke 8. Typically the explanation usually offered is connected with Jewish dietary laws and the fact that pigs are unclean animals and that they represent a suitable host therefore for unclean spirits.

That aside, I still wonder about the significance of what happened. Then it struck me as I thought about this, what does this all mean for the man who had been under the influence of all these spirits or the singular powerful spirit called "Legion"?

He was humiliated, isolated, feared and tormented. And all that for a long time. Matthew talks about two men who are so ferocious that no one dare pass that way. What a state to be in. The torment through which this man went was so intense that when the evil spirits entered the heard of pigs, the pigs went wild and ran down the bank into the lake and drowned.

Perhaps the significance of the pigs is in their demonstration of the power of the evil spirits that had ruled this man's life.

And Jesus set him free. Jesus broke that powerful hold on his life. The wild man became the calm man. Let's not forget that this story is about the power of Jesus to transform lives radically and not primarily about a herd of pigs.

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Rhythm of Life

I've been thinking about the rhythm of life and how a Christian rhythm differs so much from the world's rhythm. We start the week on a Sunday with worship and celebration. We look forward to living lives of availability to God. Or at least we should. Our week flows from celebration through work and leisure back to celebration.

The world starts on Monday with work and longs for the weekend to spend how it wants. The week is defined by the job you do and not the person you are. The week serves the weekend because it's the week that provides the resources to enjoy the weekend.

Like it or not, we've allowed the world's week to invade the Christian week. The rhythm has been upset and we are drawn towards the same view of life as our secular counterparts. It's not good. Worship and celebration now are things we fit in around all the other weekend activities. It is no longer the essential starting point. It has become an inconvenience to be managed.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Parkland Ave,Romford,United Kingdom

Thursday, August 26, 2010


I remembered something I heard Jim Collins say a few years ago at the Global Leadership Summit about disciplined people doing disciplined thinking and taking disciplined action. We are mostly not keen on discipline. It smacks of punishment, of reminding us that we've done something wrong. But of course that's not what it means in this context.

It's interesting though how the choice of a word can make such a difference to the way we perceive what we are doing or experiencing. We can understand an athlete having a punishing training routine in order to prepare for competition, but we find it difficult to translate that idea into developing a deeper walk with God. And maybe that is why, at least in part, we shy away from the thought of using discipline in connection with discipleship too. It sounds like hard work and we don't really want our relationship with God to be about hard work.

But discipline is not just about hard work and self-denial and pushing oneself harder and harder. It is simply a matter of the choices we make. Make it even more simple. It's about choosing to make a choice rather than just letting things happen around us.

I'm learning a lot about discipline at the moment.

Anne and I have both embarked on a programme to lose some weight. Over the last five years or so I've been monitoring my mass as it's steadily gone down. It has wandered up and down, but the progress has been downwards over all. It takes discipline to do this. Old eating habits that were fine when I was running and playing squash and riding a bike, are no longer helpful. I've had to make some disciplined choices about what to eat and when to eat it. Our current success is down to a more rigourous and disciplined approach to eating than we've had. It is in essence about establishing long-term habits and not just about a quick fix.

What I find fascinating, and obvious really, is that it is easy to remain focused and disciplined when you can see positive outcomes.  So the fact that my weight has dropped over 8Kg in something like 6 weeks and some of my clothes are distinctly loose encourages me to remain disciplined in my habits.

The problem with spiritual growth is that the outcomes are often less obvious and harder to measure. That makes staying disciplined much more difficult. I don't have an easy answer for that one. But what I do know that is that it can often be the little things that can make a difference. If only growing spiritually was as easy as shrinking physically!

Anyway, I ought to stop blogging, get changed, and get walking. Otherwise I won't achieve my other target of 10,000 steps today!

Monday, August 23, 2010

What kind of preaching do we need?

I came across this quote in Countdown to Sunday by Chris Erdman. Not  name I recognised, but the subtitle of the book caught my eye: A Daily Guide for Those Who Dare to Preach.

"But what I think we need most is for the preacher to get away from the notes, look us in the eye and help us see."

Light and Darkness

There are some simple yet profound truths that seem to penetrate your heart and reshape the way you think about certain things. I've had a great many such moments of encountering a truth in that way. So many in fact that I doubt I could recall them all.

But reading the opening of John's gospel reminded me of such a truth. The prologue of the gospel does a great job of setting up the themes that will follow. Light and darkness is one of these themes. In the opening verse we are told that light has come into the world and the darkness cannot overcome it.

It is light that changes darkness and not the other way around. Although it may appear that darkness takes over, it doesn't. Darkness occurs where there is no light. Light is the agent of change.

I remember hearing someone preaching about mission  and they got talking about darkness. I remember them saying that darkness is by nature dark and we should not blame the darkness for being dark. The problem lies with a lack of light. Jesus told his followers that they were the light of the world and Paul urged the Christians in Ephesus to live as children of the light. 

It is so easy for us to blame the world for all its ills and to see the people beyond the Christian community as the problem. They are not the problem. Darkness exists where there is no light. If we are the light, then isn't it our place to enter the dark places and let the light shine?

If only we knew how.

Walking in London

Yesterday Anne and I were trying to work out where to go for an afternoon walk. We ended up on the train to Fenchurch St and spent a great couple of hours wandering down through the city and back along the south bank of the river.

Exploring London on foot is really quite interesting. We saw statues and monuments and excavated old buildings. So much history!

We wandered back to Fenchurch St via St Katherine's dock, the show piece of the redevelopment project over 20 years ago. Part of me rather wished I'd seen it then just to see the difference.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Missional Map Making

I'm part way through Alan Roxburgh's book Missional Map Making. It's quite a challenging read, but as I work steadily through the chapters I recognise much of my own journey in ministry and leadership. Things like the sense of unease I feel when I get the feeling that we're trying to do church like a business. Things like the creeping awareness that things are not as they should be but not knowing quite how they should really be. And many more.

Roxburgh's book is not an easy read. For some it may well appear to go too far, throwing out the institutional baby with the traditional bath water. But it doesn't. On the other hand it does challenge the received wisdom of doing church like we've always done it.

The simple truth is that in our current cultural context, the old ways are highly unlikely to work as they did, if they ever truly did. Somehow we need to contextualise our message and our methods.

One of the truly challenging things is that we need to recognise is the way we think, and realise we may be following an out-of-date map. The people we are trying to reach do not share the same story we have grown up with or come to faith within. They may not even be asking the questions for which we have carefully prepared answers.

It's a confusing context, but Roxburgh encourages us to encounter God in both the Biblical text and the local context and thereby learn to draw new maps. A job not just for leaders but for everyone whowants to partner with God in his great mission.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Alan Hirsch on reaching the non-churched

This short conversation is well worth reading if you are wondering why or if church needs to change. Given the differences between America and the UK, our challenge here is possibly greater than it is in North America. Where they may have 40% of the population that would be drawn to an attractional model (read the article to get picture), we have probably less that 20%.

In response to a couple of questions, Hirsch had this to say:
Ever since Constantine, who gave us the institution, we've seldom been able to see the church outside of that paradigm. And so you have the high church going into Protestant churches and traditional into contemporary, but all of them are really variations of the same paradigm of church, the institutional paradigm. I'm not saying it's all wrong. But if we think that simply rejiggering the same old paradigm is going to solve all our problems, I think we're going to be very disappointed. We need to change the paradigm. We need to fundamentally shift the way we think about church.

The contemporary church is an example of the institutional paradigm. Basically, it's still an attractional model, which only works with people who are like us. The people who come to our churches speak the same language, follow the same socio-economic route-basically, they are like us. Their normal form of engagement is attraction.

The attractional model can work well when the people we're trying to attract are within the cultural distance of the church. But when everyone is moving further away from us culturally, it's not going to work. Because what you do then is extract people from their environment and then inculcate them into a different environment. If we assume that people have got to come to us on our cultural turf in order to hear the gospel, we remove them from the natural cultural environment from which they were extracted.

I really sense God is saying, "You're not meant to tell people how to live. That's my job. Your job is to introduce people to Jesus and a true understanding of who Jesus is. You don't have to control their lives." And I find that incredibly liberating. When I play Holy Spirit, I usually do a very, very bad job. Christians are certainly known to be moralists, and I think we need to chill out a bit.

It seems to me that we're in a time of potential change provided we're willing to have our imaginations stretched and reshaped. Our problem, and Hirsch's analysis puts a finger on this, is that whenever we think about what needs to change we do so within the current model. We may think that by being contemporary we're naturally going to think in contemporary terms. But if our model is a reworked version of the institutional church, then our thinking will be a reflection of that underlying model.

To engage our shifting culture we will have to seek out a fresh imagination beyond the predefined restrictions of the institutional church model. So, for example, when we think about mission, the question is not how to get the community into church but how to get the church into the community.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

August Steps

I was wondering if anyone had taken up the August Challenge?

Up to yesterday I'm averaging 10204 steps a day and my cumulative total is 183668.

I've had a couple of low days, but overall I'm keeping up. It's fairly easy for me if I choose to walk to the church and to meet Anne in the evening, but I'm also going for a specific walk most days. I'm combining my walk routine with praying for the community. Redeeming the time as they used to say!!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Two more online collaboration tools

Here are two more tools I'm exploring. The first is somewhat similar to Wridea and is called Symbyoz. I signed up and created a goal page but sadly I can't seem to get access to it today. Perhaps there's an internet problem, but the stuff I did yesterday seems to have disappeared. not a great start.

The concept is simple enough. You create an idea and other people can comment. There are tabs for people and resources and you have your own ideas and network ideas. There is no facility to add files to share.

In the end I think it will be a preference thing, not withstanding today's lost idea issue, between this and say Writeboard, that does the same sort on thing and does it well.

The second tool I've had a quick look at is Reviewpad. Now this looks very promising. Easy to navigate, able to add files (in fact you can't crate a "pad" without adding at least one file). Actually the whole point fo Reviewpad is to give you a place to review files with others. You can add comments, give permission to download the file and all with a free account with 500mb of space. You can even save a pad as a pdf which show everything including all the file contents. So if you wanted to, you could take a pdf version with you your mobile device to read on the train! No internet access required!

In looking for something simple and easy to use for less adventurous partners, this might just win the day.

The Short and Long Endings

I'm just about at then end of Mark's gospel and I will soon need to decide where next in my daily reading. I think I've probably mentioned before that I have a soft spot for Mark, having studied it in some details at college. Mind you I'd probably say the same for John, and Luke is interesting for all sorts of reasons too!

Anyway, here I am at the end of Mark, but which end? I'm not sure how important it is to come down on one side of the argument or the other. The longer ending presents some problems, but it isn't so out of character, whereas the shorter ending seems to fit well with Mark's sense of immediacy and his focus on the identity of Jesus.

The NIV that we use at church ends rather abruptly with Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid. A rather incomplete ending that begs for a fuller explanation of the resurrection, something the longer ending supplies.

Interestingly the NLT adds Then they briefly reported all this to Peter and his companions. Afterward Jesus himself sent them out from east to west with the sacred and unfailing message of salvation that gives eternal life. Amen. which at least gives a neater finish to the shorter ending.

I'd need to get my books out to look at why this should be included, my memory doesn't retain all the details!

Such things, fascinating as they might be to some, can be a distraction. After all, the whole point of chapter 16 is that Jesus is not dead- He is risen! He is not here.

As the three women approach the tomb they are wondering who is going to help them get in. There is a large stone over the entrance that they can't move on their own. But the stone had already been moved. Not, of course, to let them in but to let Jesus out.

He is not here! He has risen.

How much does that change the trajectory of your life? How much hope does it bring? If death no longer defines the end of life, where is your life going beyond death?

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Questionnaires and other things

As September rapidly approaches, I'm working quite hard on getting things in place. I have to confess that I struggle sometimes with the expectations of strategies and programmes. Mostly because I'm not convinced that they deliver as much as they promise. They are useful and helpful and necessary in order to plot a course, but without participation they achieve very little. somehow we need to balance that sense of needing order with doing life that is quite unpredictable.

Anyway, as part of the autumn plan I've been working on both a prayer questionnaire and a spiritual health-check assessment tool. The latter has been developed from a resource I came across through Willow Creek. It takes a snapshot of where we might be in our walk with God and should help people identify some areas for change and development. it's easy sometimes to see these things as a way of probing the personal lives of the church, but that is not the intention. Both of these tools are designed to encourage growth and release ministry.

If you are interested in seeing these two tools then you can get there via my public Dropbox. The Prayer questionnaire is here, and the health-check here.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Am I worth all that?

The gospels all provide details about the death of Jesus. It is, after all, a central feature of the story. They all talk about what happened and the things Jesus did and said in those final hours of life. About being mocked yet offering forgiveness and hope; being taunted yet not responding; the sense of separation and abandonment; the cry of completion.

Mark has his own little take as the centurion declares, "Surely this man was the Son of God", a clear echo of the opening of his gospel account.

But this is not just about narrative styles and content. This is the Son of God dying. The immortal and invisible God become mortal and dies. No pretending, no clever tricks. A real life ended by a cruel death.

Can I possibly be worth all of that? Jesus certainly thought so. As for me, my best response is not to question it, (that Jesus thought I was worth it), but to embrace it, to accept it, to receive it, to live it.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Friday, August 13, 2010


I've just signed up to Writeboard and the difference with huddle and GoogleWave are immediately apparent.

If you are looking for a shared space to have that conversation I mentioned without the bells and whistles of file sharing, task management and other things, this could be just what you are looking for in the world of online collaboration.

Easy to set up, simple to use. even the most technically averse person would surely be able to contribute to a discussion using this tool.

Online Collaboration

So, with the demise of GoogleWave at the end of the year I've begun my search for a possible replacement. I had a quick squint at a few offerings but settled on giving Huddle a shot.

It looks quite promising although it takes a bit of getting used to after the style of waving I've been exploring. There are certainly features in Huddle that didn't exist in Wave and of course the inverse is also true.

What I liked about Wave was the concept of a single conversation. I guess in Huddle this is replicated by the idea of multiple workspaces where each idea or project has its own set of files and discussions. The free version only allows one workspace, which with some thought can be adapted to hold several active projects. I just feel that having easily identifiable space for a few projects would suit my needs better. I can get this facility if I opt for a paid version of the product (a monthly subscription is required).

Having said that, the extra features of being able, for example, to assign tasks to team members and send them an email reminder is very nice. I got one this morning about inviting people to enter my workspace.

Uploading files is easy and smooth, although I haven't tried uploading a file again after editing it. Huddle keeps an audit trail for each file you create or upload, which is useful too. I work with pdf's a lot because I don't use Microsoft software if I can help it. As a Mac user, I find Pages really easy and flexible for producing all my documents. Sadly Word is the standard for most people, so a pdf is almost guaranteed to be openable on every platform. Huddle accepts all sorts of file types and provides an online editor for excel and word files.

So, my first impressions are that although it doesn't have the feel of Waving, Huddle looks like a really useful online collaboration tool. Used properly I think it could help all sorts of groups and businesses to work together more effectively. These tools allow you to reduce the clutter of an inbox full of rabbit trail emails and they allow you to centralise a single copy of the most up to date version of a file. Everything in one place for every project.

Of course if you just want to share files, then Dropbox is great for doing that. But what Huddle gives you is all the facilities to discuss and organise around those files.

The downside of Google Wave was that it didn't work in the most common browser (Explorer) and it didn't work on one person's G4 Mac for some reason. Huddle doesn't look like it will suffer from those problems.

The question is, can I get the technologically averse to dip a toe in the water of online collaboration and join the Huddle? That may well be the defining criteria for success.

And by the way, thanks to the company for the courtesy call I got yesterday for signing up to Huddle. Both unexpected and thoughtful.

An alternative to Huddle might be Writeboard, but I haven't explored that yet.

30 Days of Prayer

Starting today, Evangelism Coach is blogging a 30 days of prayer for personal evangelism. It's aimed primarily at church leaders from first glance, but anyone could adapt it to their situation. I thought today's first entry was very helpful.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Making the Transition

As we prepare for the launch of our Autumn programme at church I'm acutely aware that if we are going to thrive in the new cultural reality that is the post-modern 21st century world, we must be careful not to assume that it will work because it's well planned and carefully packaged. As I've said before, we must let go of the idea that if we build it they will come. They won't.

I'm in the process of reading Alan Roxburgh's Missional Map Making, and a fine read it is even though it's quite difficult to get to grips with at times. The central point is that the world is no longer what it once was and it no longer behaves according to the story that shaped us in the past. In other words the maps don't work anymore and we need new maps to navigate our way through the new reality.

In church, the only map we have for growing the church is usually an evangelism map. So we develop strategies for outreach programmes and missions and invite big name preachers to come and fill stadia. But the map doesn't work anymore.

To draw a new map we need a new imagination. And we need to ask some important questions. Questions like, "What made the early church attractive?" Yes there was some planning, but the fundamental shape of the church was decidedly different. Take the foundation for example. Yes, Jesus is the rock on which we build, but Paul said the first layer of bricks were the apostles and prophets. Our first layer by contrast tends to be pastors and teachers. It's an important difference.

The new map we are beginning to draw, albeit every so subtly, is that whatever happens it must begin with spiritual formation. With discipleship.

So I was pleased to come across an article posted a while ago of a non-exhaustive list of important things to consider when moving from what church has been in the past towards what it can be in the future. Yes. that's all about the buzz word missional, but we're not trying to stick a new label on an old model, as some seems to be doing. We are trying to think afresh about what it means to the church, the body of Christ.

Our Autumn programme is all about discipleship, about trying to encourage everyone to take seriously their spiritual life and set some goals for personal development. Out of this we hope that relationships will be forged with the people missing from the kingdom and opportunities for mission will arise quite naturally as we cultivate them rather than transplant them.

Fasting and Worship?

On Sunday I've got an away fixture. I don't preach elsewhere very often, mostly because I don't get invited! Or maybe my reputation precedes me? I also suffer from what yo might cal "I'd like to preach that one!" syndrome. You see, every time I put a preaching plan together I look at the topics and think to myself "I'd like to preach that one!" So it can be quite hard to give a topic away.

Plus you are only supposed to have four Sundays a year free to preach in other churches, and I'd rather have Sundays off to be honest. It can be quite hard to go to another church. If it's a fairly traditional Baptist Church, they will want you to lead the service, but I don't want to do that. I'm trying to get other people to lead services at my own church, I'm not about go running off to another church and lead theirs!

Anyway, back to Sunday. The topic I've been given is rather interesting. It seems everyone is doing the Sermon on the Mount at the moment. We've just finished, my previous church is in the middle of it, and the one I'm visiting is working their way through it too. The subject I've been given for Sunday is "worship and fasting" or is it "fasting and worship"? I'm not sure it makes a big difference which way round it is. The reading is possibly the shortest every reading in the whole of church history. Three verses. So I guess we don't have to worry that people will forget what the reading is about!

But the topic is interesting. When Jesus talks about fasting in Matthew 6, the context isn't worship, it's prayer. We most naturally associate fasting with prayer, and understandably so. But what might the link be between fasting and worship?

So that's my task. To think outside the box a little about the purpose of fasting and where it fits in the context of worship. There aren't too many clues in the three verse reading, but there may be more to this than meets the eye.

It rather reminds me of the somewhat odd title I got in January when I was asked to preach for the united service for Christian Unity. Actually the title was fine, hospitality as witness, as I recall, it was the reading that was odd. It had so little to do with the theme that it took a while to figure out how to do justice to both the reading and topic.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

I'm an artist!

I can't really draw and I can't really paint. I'm a little bit musical, but not a gifted musician. I definitely don't dance. I write, but I'm no author or poet or wordsmith of any kind.

But apparently I am an artist.

I am an artist because I think I fit the description I read the other day. It said this: Artists are simply people  who are passionate enough to imagine things that do not yet exist.

So I think that makes me an artist!

What about you? Does it make you an artist too?

Sometimes it just hurts

I've rubbed a blister on my toe. It happens fairly often with this particular toe, and it's usually very sore. But it will heal and for a while the discomfort will go away until the next time. I'm not sure there is much I can do about it because it's caused by the toe turning under the one next to it, so it gets trapped and compressed as I walk. It needs twisting out and straight really, but I think it's just a feature of my foot. So I bear the pain and carry on walking as much as I can.

Sometimes ministry just hurts too.

Every job, every role we have has its good days and its not so good days. I guess the thing with ministry is that so much of who you are is invested in what you do that the not so good days can sometimes feel like the sky is falling in and you can't do anything to stop it even though everyone seems to think you should.

It's the "no win" scenario.

Perhaps ministry needs a slogan like: No win, big personal fee!

Now please understand I'm not in some terrible place emotionally or spiritually, I'm just reflecting on the nature of ministry. I'm trying to draw you a picture of what it can be like. I've spent enough years listening to the "one day a week" jokes and the genuine questions about what I do, to know that it is a bit of mystery to those who look on from outside.

I'm not surprised by the drop out rate in ministry. It's a very lonely, isolating and difficult life to maintain. Just when you think you're doing it right, along comes some event or situation that knocks you sideways and you have to think it through all over again.

And then there are the times when you've done all you can, when you've been generous with your time and even your money and all you get in return is a torrent of accusations and abuse because you draw the line, you call a foul, and you are not thanked for it.

I've had that.

I've been told that because I won't loan someone money I'm responsible for breaking up their family and ruining their chances. I've been told that I just don't care enough because I haven't fixed someone's marriage that they were pushing to breaking point.

So sometimes ministry just hurts and all you can do is breathe slowly, pray consistently and drink deeply from the compassion and faithfulness of God.

I'm so grateful that unlike anyone else in an "ordinary" job, the measure of my effectiveness is ultimately done in eternity where the only thing that matters is God's "Well done, good and faithful servant". Other things are important, but this is the only one that really matters.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Anyone for maths?

I was listening to the news this morning when they were talking about David Cameron's announcement of a crackdown on benefit fraud. It is of course a very middle class thing to assume that hard working, tax payers are being fleeced by benefit cheats. In fact, according to the political correspondent on BBC Breakfast, less than 1% of benefit claims are made fraudulently. This amounts to some £1.5 billion. Another £1.6 billion is "lost" through administrative errors. Not surprising given the complexity and size of the system. Together I make that £3.1 billion.

So where does the £5.2 billion of "welfare and Tax credit fraud" come from that Mr Cameron quotes?

I just get a little bit worried when I hear this kind of rhetoric. No, it's not right that any person should use the benefits system to access money to which they are not entitled. But there are an awful lot of people that don't access money to which they are entitled.

And it does beg another question: How much money is lost to the government through the tax avoidance antics of the wealthy? According to a piece in the Independent, £13 billion of tax is legally avoided by the wealthy and another £12 billion by companies.

So, in other words, if we simplified the tax system we might easily recover more lost tax than we could get back from chasing down errors and deception in the welfare system. Of course we should do both, but it's easier and a bigger vote winner in middle England to go after the benefits system.

Recovering organisation

Having mentioned organisation yesterday, it struck me that it doesn't actually matter what system you use to organise yourself as long as it does a number of things.

1. It has to be able to catch everything. If your system doesn't do this, stuff will get lost and left undone. If your system leaks, then you need to fix it. Usually it means simplifying it.

2. It has to be easy to use. I reorganised my filing system a year or so ago and now it's so much easier to file things. No more wondering which tab it goes in, just write a new header on a square cut folder and file it alphabetically.

3. It demands discipline, so your system must operate well at the level of disciple you apply to it. It may be that you need to increase your level of self-discipline, but my experience is that without disciple I'm really not organised at all. You don't have to become military about it, but your system will stand or fall on how disciplined you are about practising your habits.

4. If you move about a lot, work in and out of the office or study, from home and elsewhere, then your system has to be portable. Having an iPhone and the iPad running Omnifocus helps. I can always see my list of projects and actions. I haven't bought the Omnifocus app for the iPad yet, but the iPhone app works okay. I'm just a bit reluctant to spend all that extra money on the iPad version. It would be nice, if anyone is listening, if they gave you a discount for already owning the desktop and iPhone versions. Paying three times just seems a bit too much to ask.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Evernote and GTD

I can't remember if I've blogged about Evernote, but ever since I got my Ipad, Evernote has been a regularly used app. It's so simple yet so versatile. It's a great place to make all sorts or notes, and the great thing is that they synchronise across my various machines. In fact it's so useful I've even considered upgrading to a paid account. But less of this madness.

Older readers of my blog will know that I encountered David Allen's GTD system some time ago and it certainly helped me improve my organisation. To be honest I've fallen of the wagon a bit and need to get back into the routine. But I was intrigued to read this article about how one person has implemented GTD using Evernote.

No need to invest in expensive and sometimes overly complicated software, just sign up to Evernote for a free account and have a go.

Goodbye Googlewave

So I found out today that Google is to wave goodbye to its innovative online collaboration tool. Googlewave is to be no more. Apparently the lack of user uptake is the issue.

I thought Googlewave had tremendous potential for planning and developing ideas, but as I found out, not everyone is keen to explore new technology. Having a continuous conversation that is easy to review rather than an inbox full of emails was really exciting. I mourn its demise.

So, I will have to look elsewhere and I've already begun to have a look at what might fill the gap.

Wridea looks promising, but I've only seem the overview. Again the issue is less about finding something to use and more about getting others to try it too.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

What value preaching in the missional church?

Here's an interesting article that raises some important questions about how we both do and see Sundays and church as a result.

I've long held the view that the church in general is over taught and under experienced. Sunday after Sunday we listen to someone, or someone like me gets listened to, whose primary purpose often seems to be to teach people three things they already know about a passage of the Bible they have read many times before. That's not meant to be cynical, it's just how it is way too often in our churches.

As the article says:

We will never be a missional church without greater participation - and I'm not talking about adding lay liturgists to Sunday worship.

We need to mentor disciples who make a difference in the community. The assumption that we come in, fuel up, head out - without any further spiritual responsibility has ruined us.

Somewhere along the line we need to recapture the vision of both preparing God's people for ministry and mission and celebrating the outcomes of those very ministries and missions in which we engage day-by-day.

Preaching still has a place. Maybe not so much as a teaching programme, but more of an inspirational programme that gets us engaging with God's word and making life-changing application of it. But I'd agree with the author of the article, preaching, as it is often perceived and desired in our churches, has contributed to our demise and has ruined us in some ways.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Update on the printer

The new printer duly arrived, and after a while it's all installed and seems to be running okay. The installation was a bit long, a whole bucketful of drivers and software added to my computer, but I guess that's to be expected with a multi-function machine.

I've set it up as a wireless printer on the network, which was in fact really easy. Although it did require me to go through the installation process twice, once for each computer. I'm hoping that I can set up the Windows laptop to use it via the network, but I can't face a third long installation process today. I don't have the time for one thing.

At the moment it's busy scanning a 15 page document and putting the data into a text file on my iMac. All done wirelessly. How very neat!

Actually this was one of the reasons I decided to buy this printer. The document feeder takes up to 35 pages and the results so far have been good. When I tried the copier I got an image file which I then had to use Adobe Acrobat to convert to text. Okay, but straight to text is better and a document feeder means I can be doing something else while the scan progresses on its own.

Which reminds me I ought to get back to what I was doing before I decided to do this!

The Church needs to Repent

I have a regular alert from Google that picks up anything on the internet about "missional church". This morning I came across a blog post about the need for the church to repent and it listed seven areas in which the author thought the church needed to repent. In brief the were:

1. We need to repent of our insistence on keeping people busy, busy, busy, with church activities and services that might make for good church members but are not making good followers of the way of Jesus.

2. We need to repent of our religious legalism. We’ve created long lists of “do’s and don’ts” – all intended to help people get closer to God – but instead we’re keeping people from God. Instead of helping people find life – we’re known as those who suppress life.

3. We need to repent of our arrogant – know it all attitudes. In our need for certainty we’ve lost our humility and have forgotten the many mysteries of God...  We’ve convinced ourselves that our understanding of God and the Bible is totally flawless and that being “right” is more important than being “loving.”

4. We need to repent of our angry – often hate-filled, and mean-spirited ways. Jesus said that “blessed are the peacemakers”. Jesus told us to love our neighbors and our enemies.

5. We need to repent of our smug, condescending, judgmental, and critical spirits. Jesus said “don’t judge and you won’t be judged.” “Don’t condemn and you won’t be condemned.”

6. We need to repent of tying Christ to one political party’s agenda and making monsters out of anyone who sees things differently than we do. Jesus came declaring that all of the kingdoms of the world are flawed and that people need to align their lives with God’s kingdom and his agenda. We need to spend more time seeking “God’s kingdom and his justice” (Matt. 6:33) and less time seeking a given parties kingdom and its ideas of justice.

7. We need to repent of our narrow view of the gospel. We need to go back to the scriptures and re-learn what the essential gospel message of Jesus was and is.

It's a very interesting list, and something that we might want to think about quite seriously. At least we ought to be asking some questions about our personal attitudes and where we might need to repent.

You can read the whole post here.

Waiting for a delivery

So, today should be an exciting day. Amongst all the usual Friday tasks connected with the coming weekend, I'm awaiting a couple of deliveries and have one collection to make. The collection is my new glasses. I've been struggling for a while and booked an eye test two weeks ago. Turned out my current specs were too weak for reading and too strong for distance! Hopefully the new ones will solve the problems and I'll be able to see a little more clearly again, although I don't think my catching will improve!

A few weeks ago we were playing rounders and I became very aware that I just wasn't able to catch with the ease that I used to be able to do it when I was 30 years younger! Even though I say so myself, I took some pretty spectacular catches when I was a regular cricketer. I guess you just lose the ability to adjust quickly enough and get your hands in the right position.

Anyway, back to my exciting Friday. You won't be surprised to discover that one of the deliveries will include a few books. I'm searching out some resources for the Autumn, and there are a couple of study guides on John's Gospel that might arrive today. I've spent a lot of time on and off over the last 20 years trying to work out how to preach through John's Gospel while doing justice to its structure. I still haven't figured it, but we're going to work through it in the Autumn by looking at the people Jesus meets as the story unfolds. These guides might help us connect Sundays and small groups more effectively. The big idea for the autumn is to try and integrate things in order to support spiritual growth.

We will see how it goes.

The other delivery is a new printer. I've got a reasonable laser printer in my study, but I saw an opportunity to explore wireless printing with the potential added benefit of a scanner and copier all-in-one machine. I've got some documents that I could do with scanning, and while I would love to be able to buy something like the Fujitsui document scanner, I really can't justify the outlay. So a compromise is to try a multi-function printer with a document feeder and scanner built in. It will save me having to get the flatbed scanner out and do each page individually and it will enable me to print photographs too.

I've gone for an Officejet 6500 from HP, which seems to have a reasonable set of reviews. I've always liked HP printers every since I bought my first Deskjet way back in 1990 something. I'm probably paying less today for a full colour multi-function machine than I did for the black and white Deskjet I bought back then!

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Well I never!

There are times when technology even surprises me. It usually involves being able to do something far more easily than I imagined. Let me set the scene.

We're starting a new Sunday series from John's Gospel in September and I found some old study notes I prepared on various characters and themes. They look useful but they need modifying if we're going to use them in the Autumn. Unfortunately I can only find the printed copies, the computer files lost in the processes of changing from one computer to another and another. I certainly backed them up before changing, but that was probably on 3.5 floppies which have long since headed for the great obsolete technology pile in the sky.

So I was looking at either retyping the notes, scanning them page by page on my flatbed scanner or investing in a scanner with document feed capabilities. I even looked at cheapish multi-function printers.

So it was that I wandered down to the church to see if the photocopier would play nice and act as a scanner. I was thrilled to discover that it can work with removable media, only the one I tried sent it into a tail spin of flashing error lights and I had to restart it.

Reading the manual I discovered that it had a "send" function that could email documents. Hmmm, I thought, I wonder...

So I loaded the paper feeder, chose send, entered my email address and pressed start. All the pages went through the scanner and that was it. No messages to say it had worked or not. I wandered back down the church to my office/study and checked my email. And there it was. A pdf version of the document I'd just scanned. Brilliant.

So credit where credit's due, well done to the copier. I now have my documents in electronic form. The only problem is that they are images rather than text, but I have some ocr software at home which solve that problem, we shall have to wait and see.

When Jesus doesn't play by the rules

Another good article that came my way this morning is this one by Gordon MacDonald. It centres on the healing of the crippled woman, a story only Luke records, ad how the synagogue ruler reacts with "indignation" to the routine of his Sabbath worship being rudely interrupted by the audacious healing of the woman in question. Why couldn't she wait and get healed tomorrow or any other day of the week. It was just plain wrong of Jesus to do this on the Sabbath, it didn't fit with his version of reality.

Recognise his attitude in anyone you know?

The truth is, we are all in danger of becoming like the synagogue leader. We are all susceptible to reducing worship to what we can handle, and the unexpected isn't usually part of it. We like slick, orderly, well-planned and well executed worship. Without appearing to espouse chaos and disorder, where does the supernatural find its home in that kind of box? Where is the flexibility to respond to the prompting and leading of God's Spirit?

Here's some of Gordon's reflections:

Then I realized that, on occasion, I've been there, done that. I have known, experienced, perhaps even, regrettably, contributed to this kind of dead, out-of-touch kind of religion. Not always, but sometimes.

I thought about how the kind of institutionalized religion in this story slowly loses all of its humanity, its compassion, its ability to flex in the moment of great surprise. And that is exactly what Jesus brought through the door of the synagogue that day: humanity, compassion, and flex. What bothered the ruler was that the woman's healing wasn't done his way, according to his theological understanding, at a time that didn't interrupt his Sabbath. But for Jesus, even a sermon was "interruptible" if a person like this woman was in the room.

The story is also about systemized thinking, a kind of logic that takes on a life of its own over a period of time. It is demonstrated in the reaction of a religious leader who is so trapped by an analytical way that he can actually bring himself to believe that her healing is an unfortunate thing. It leads me to ask how does a mind get so locked into a system of thinking that it can take in the specter of a healed woman—bent over for eighteen years—and call it a violation of God's rules?

Somehow we must protect ourselves from ever becoming religious leaders who define what God can do and when he can do it. Roll on Sunday and the opportunity to be surprised by God if not by the congregation or even the minister!!

Measuring Church Health

I'd never heard of Virginia Apgar until I read this article about an APGAR test for a church. Turns out she suggested a simple way to assess the health of a new-born infant. Anyway the article is an interesting read and offers two simple ways to take a snapshot of the health of a congregation, one based on Acts 2 the other on Revelation 2.

Very interesting I thought.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

How do you prepare?

I have a sketch book that is steadily filling up with all sorts of my version of mindmaps. Over time I suppose I've developed my own approach, as I suspect most people do.

For me the value of minpmapping is the opportunity it gives me to just think. You can follow a single thought or just keep generating new ideas. Eventually it has to be resolved into something, but as a process I find it really helpful. I use mindmaps for all sorts of things, not just preparing sermons.

I've tried various computer based mindmapping programmes, iThoughts on the iPad being a firm favourite, but a pen and paper seems more natural to me and actually easier to create. The biggest problem is finding a plain paper notebook. Eventually I bought an A4 sketchbook which does the job.

If you haven't tried mindmapping you may find that it will take time to settle to a process that suits your thinking processes. It did me. But persevere and you might be surprised how you get on.

An August Challenge

Where Anne works they, well some of them anyway, are taking part in a challenge through August. The challenge is to walk, run or jog 200, 000 steps in August. Now that works out at 6452 steps a day, which if 10,000 equals roughly 5 miles for the average person, is about 3.25 miles or 5.16 Km.

I'm not offering any prizes, but this is the sort of challenge that is just the thing if you want to kick start yourself into doing a bit more exercise. You could use Google maps to work out whether getting off the train or bus in a different place will give you a mile walk. Doing that at both ends of the day already gives you two miles, an evening walk around the block could easily give you the extra steps. Take the stairs for at least one floor or two instead of the lift all the way. There are all sorts of little things you can do to add extra steps to your day.

There is one caveat, you can only count the first 10, 000 steps each day. Any steps over that are good for you, but they don't count towards your total. So don't think you can catch up at the weekends with a long walk through the woods!

And if you don't have a pedometer, my long-time favourite has been the Omron Walking Style II, currently £17.24 from Amazon. I'd still have my original one if I hadn't put it in the washing machine!

There are plenty of others on the market, but this has proved to be nice and robust. And, you don't have to clip it to you belt announcing to the world that you're a step counting fanatic. Just stick it in your pocket and way you go.

Another nice feature is that it keeps a rolling 7 day record, amongst other things.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Great and unsearchable things

As I was preparing for Sunday's talk I wanted to check a Bible reference quickly, so I turned it up just to make sure I was quoting the correct verse. I was looking for Jer. 31:3 I have loved you with an everlasting love. On my way to the correct verse I bumped into another verse in Jeremiah that usually catches my attention when I find myself reading this prophet.

Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.

I wonder to myself what might those great and unsearchable things be? Not an easy question to answer given that I don't know them in the first place because God hasn't revealed them to me yet! And that's not being flippant, it's an admission that in fact until God chooses to show me these things, whatever they are, I simply can't know what they actually are.

There are times when we all come to God and ask him to show us something, but all too often we come with an assumption about what that is going to be. A couple of weeks ago now I told my baseball story, the one about God answering my rather daft prayer for a baseball to come out of the stadium near where I was sitting. As I introduced the story I asked a simple question: What shape do you expect the answers to your prayers to be? It's a more profound question than even I thought at the time.

Of course the baseball wasn't the shape of the answer I was expecting. I expected God to say no to be honest. It was a rather ridiculous request after all. But I got the baseball and yet that wasn't actually the answer. The real prayer that was hidden away in there somewhere was this: "God, what are doing with my life? Tell me where to go and what to do next." Instead I got a baseball and a question: Do you trust me? Not an audible question, just in case you think I have some hotline to heaven, but just that sense that something is going on here and I think God is trying to get something through to me.

So, when I read this verse in Jeremiah I'm rather cautious about trying to define what "great and unsearchable" might mean.  Then again, I'm unlikely to find out unless I ask. We're unlikely to find out unless we ask.

Having asked we then have to face the tricky task of being observant enough to realise what we are seeing. Perhaps "great and unsearchable" might look rather mundane and ordinary if we've predefined it as miraculous and extraordinary. How different might our perspective be if we were more aware of what God is doing under our noses.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

New Artwork

Having spent all that time working out how to hang the Counter Culture artwork in the church, it seemed daft not to use the space for something new for the August series. So here's our new artwork for the series that starts today.

This is it complete, but the idea is that the verses and references will get added each week as the series develops through the summer.

Something as simple as this acts as a visual reminder of the things we are reflecting on each week. The hope is that it inspires people to take something away from the celebration.

In case you were wondering, the five coloured squares represent the five amazing things and have a tenuous link to the "Five a day" fruit and veg message that we get from government and health bodies.