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.

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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.