Monday, December 31, 2012

2013?

Another year done, another one ahead. Sometimes I wouldn't mind taking a break from time! It must be rather nice to hibernate. Sleep through the winter, wake up in the spring. The only problem is that I live in the UK, and no one can predict quite when those seasons will start and end!

So, if hibernation isn't an option, how can I make the most of the coming few months as winter tails off and spring begins to appear? I suppose one thing would be to set some new goals. I'm not big on resolutions because they often lack clarity and measurement. We're all aware of the SMART principles for goals, and it's not a bad place to start, but this year I have a new dimension with my training coming to an end in the next month or so. Hopefully I will pass my final exams by the end of February. I still have my case study to complete before I can book the written and practical exams.

That would make goal number one to complete my case study, and using David Allen's GTD principles, the first physical thing I need to do for that is to arrange the final session with my client. Getting back into the GTD habit wouldn't be a bad thing either. I've rather drifted away from any expression of organisation.

There's lots to do around the house too. I need to tile the kitchen, box in the pipes in the extension, tidy the garage and organise the utility end of it. I need to rehang at least one door, finish the cupboard in the hall and sort out the garage roof!

It seems to me that a few days writing down all the things that need to be done and then setting out  a plan for doing them might not be a bad idea. You don't need a new app or flash bit of software to do this. Years ago I used to take a sheet of A4 and draw three columns. In the first column I'd write down all the things \i was doing and the things I wanted to do. The next column was the rank I gave to all these tasks. The third column was the timescale. This was great for introducing new topics because I could see when time would become available. You could then transfer these things to a year planner if you wanted. I used Excel to create a year planner rather than a paper based one. The key is not to let it get too big. A friend of mine makes great use of project software that allows you to see different layers of projects and plans. i never got my head around that, but something as simple as an outliner light do the job. Perhaps I'll try that this year.

Trying new ways of organising stuff can be a real help because it gives you a fresh start and something new with which to play!

And lastly, it's never to late to start a plan or revise an old one. Just because it didn't work last year, it doesn't mean it can't work this year. Look back and reflect honestly on why things didn't happen, don't get sucked into believing it's because you are inherently bad at stuff, and revise the plan.

Maybe 2013 will be the year that I finally find out what I'm good at! Maybe it will be the year that your plan finally comes together. Who knows.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Why I think the Archbishop got it wrong

You only have to read the headlines about the archbishop of Westminster's sermon to actually come to the conclusion that he got he wrong. He may have a point, he may even have won a few friends among evangelicals, but is a Christmas sermon really the place to attach a government policy? To balance the books, I think the Anglican bishop of York got it wrong too to talk about troop funding or whatever it was the John Sentamu spoke about in his address earlier in the week.

I do believe that our faith has something to say about and to the political world, I'm jut not sure that Christmas is the best time or a sermon the best vehicle for so doing. And I speak as one who has preached a lot in the past! Brian McLaren in his book Everything Must Change raises the question that if our faith has anything to say, it will have something to say about the big issues of our day. So yes, our faith does have something to say about gay marriage and war and poverty and injustice. Using his sermon to focus on one issue, an issue that simply reinforces the stereotype of Christians against whatever it is that is being proposed, doesn't help the debate.

Who is answering the question about the differences between marriage and civil partnership? Is there a difference in law and in the way a civil ceremony is conducted? I don't know, no one is setting out answers to those questions. If our only concern is for some idea that the institution of marriage will somehow be undermined by this policy, then what does that say about the way the heterosexual community has systematically undermined it for centuries if not millennia? You see, we need more than sound-bytes.

There's another reason for my disappointment too. Did either of these sermons point people towards the centre point of our celebrations? Possibly, but that's not what hit the headlines. Carelessly focussing on the wrong issue meant that the amazing story of the incarnation got lost again. We missed a chance to tell the world to good news. We became bad news people instead of good news people. How sad is that?

So there, I've had my little rant. Born out of frustration of so many carol services and events up and down the country that probably missed the same opportunity and so many that didn't but equally don't hit the news.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Really? Still talking about a building?

An almost conversation I nearly had the other day, but narrowly avoided, would have focussed on "church" and how we use that word still. To be honest I just wasn't inclined to get into a discussion that would go something along the lines of:

Them: "We're hoping to have a church soon"

Me: "By that  you mean a building from which to operate rather than a gathered community by the sounds of it."

Them: "Well yes. Oh I know that the church is not the building and all that, but we know what we mean. We need a place to gather."

Me: "Ah, so your group has outgrown your lounge then. Why not start a new group?"

At this point the conversation would follow a pattern where I'd suggest that there are plenty of "churches" already built we just normally call them houses or homes. I'd get called picky or pedantic and then there might be some debate about how would people know where to find "the church" if it doesn't have an identifiable base or building, and so it would go on.

Maybe I am pedantic, maybe I am picky, but it's because I really am becoming more and more convinced that every time we bottle the church and stuff it in a building, we are in danger of institutional crepitus and long term irrelevance. Harsh? Maybe. The problem is that a building demands a purpose and that purpose is usually self serving. It might begin with good intentions, but it can so easily slide into becoming the focus of all our energy and time. We begin running programmes form the building and before you know we are lamenting the fact that people don't come to our building. Except we call it our church, and therefore people aren't coming to our church and the church has suddenly become the building and not the people.

I am no longer committed to serving that pattern of church life. I don't think I've ever been committed to it. In fact, I think a few people believe I ought to be committed because of it! Here's the thing. We do not need buildings to make disciples, and surely making disciples is what we have been commissioned to do. Helping others to become followers of Jesus should be in our DNA.

The longer we stayed attached to the building as the defining characteristic, the further we will find ourselves removed from the people Jesus misses most. exactly how you go about leaving the building and entering the community I don't know. All I can say is that if you ever hear me lamenting not having a building were we can focus our efforts and our worship, just take me to one side and remind of these things. I'll take a building one day if we use in, for and with the community. If all we do is keep it to ourselves and isolate ourselves, then I'm not interested.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Still in Luke 10

I'm not finished in Luke 10 yet, not even with the mission on which Jesus sent the disciples. As they return they report back the outcomes: "Even the demons obey us when we use your name," they say. Had they tried without? I doubt it!

Jesus is clearly excited about what he hears. Perhaps this rag-tag band is finally getting it. Before they get too excited at their new authority he tells them what is really key.

 “Yes,” he told them, “I saw Satan fall from heaven like lightning!  Look, I have given you authority over all the power of the enemy, and you can walk among snakes and scorpions and crush them. Nothing will injure you.  But don’t rejoice because evil spirits obey you; rejoice because your names are registered in heaven.”


As this short story comes to an end, I got thinking about the simplicity of the mission and the powerful impact it had. The blessing that comes from the presence of the kingdom seems to be enough to destabilise the powers of darkness. Darkness is simply the absence of light. When light comes, darkness disappears. The absence of light is what allows the darkness to flourish.

Yesterday we began our journey to pray God's blessing down every street in our community. As we walked and talked and prayed simple prayers (I tend to go for Aaron's blessing), it just felt right. There were no flashes of insight, no "power encounters" to report. There were moments of reflection. For example, I thought about how the original planners probably had a vision for the community outcomes for the development we were walking through, and how it probably turned out quite different. Maybe God was telling me not to worry if the end product doesn't match my dream!

In all this, we are simply trying to pursue God and partner with him in his mission. I think that's what Jesus wanted his disciples to do and what he continues to ask us to do.
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Grace or vilification?

Let me begin by expressing my personal sadness at the death of the nurse who took the hoax call at the King Edward hospital. Nothing can change the enormous tragedy of these events. When pranks go wrong, someone suffers but surely no one could have predicted this outcome.

So here's my question: Do we show some grace towards those responsible for making the call or do we join the chorus of condemnation and vilification of the two radio presenters who made the call?

I hope someone has got alongside them and shown them some grace. Our actions have consequences and we live with the consequences. They will have to live with the consequences of their actions. Do we need to pour more scorn on their heads?

And if it were you, if it were your error of judgment, would you want grace or judgment? That's not about a licence to do what you like without consequences. It is about a recognition of our imperfection, an acknowledgment of our falleness. We make mistakes. We all make mistakes.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Thoughts from Luke 10

Having decided that our next step is to develop a prayer strategy for our community, we've set out a table of streets, grouped by location from our map. We have just over 150 streets in our community and we want to pray for each one of them. It's not that difficult to work out the logistics and a bit of trial and error goes a long way too. But what underpins the principles and ideas? Well I've been reflecting on Luke 10 as I think about this and here's what I've explored so far.

1. Not alone

It's not a solitary mission, but a shared mission. Jesus sent the disciples out in pairs. That's not rocket science, but it is a reminder that taking a partner with you is strategic.

2. No empires

He instructed them to pray for others to join in. This is not about building an empire but sharing a mission. It's not a case of the workers are few so I'll go it alone, but rather the workers are few, let's pray for more workers to join the party.

3. Go vulnerable

Jesus said to go without spare shoes and luggage. When we go it's not about what we can give to the community out of our abundance. Perhaps that's because it forces us to be dependent upon God already being at work. When we turn up with a ready-made solution what room is there for God to do something extraordinary?

4. Always bless

The prayer strategy that we are going to use is simply to pray God's blessing down every street. We're not "treasure hunting" or seeking to drive out darkness. We just want to ask God to bless the people amongst whom we live. There is a time and place to confront darkness and challenge evil, but let's start by blessing people. That seems logical and valid to me.

5. Don't agonise over the response

If a place is not a place of peace then so be it. We're not going to judge, just to bless. whichever way it goes, the kingdom is here whether people notice it or not. I have this intermittent privilege of serving families at a time of loss. That now includes doing the occasional non-religious funeral. I've blogged about that elsewhere. I'd hope that all the funerals are non-religious in a way because religious usually means rites and rituals without any real depth of faith. On the other hand all the funerals I lead are strongly rooted in a Christian faith perspective even when God is not mentioned and prayers are not said. Why? Because I'm there and I pray. Not at the funeral, but at home, in the car, at the crematorium, just not in the service or with the mourners. I don't agonise over the lost opportunity to share the gospel or missing element of fait, I just do what I can and leave the rest in God's hands.

6. Be prepared to be amazed!

God does some extraordinary things. He has the habit of showing up when we least expect him to and doing something equally unexpected.

So, how complicated is it to walk down your street and ask God to bless the homes and businesses in it? Are you afraid you might bless someone who doesn't deserve it or who might be doing something that doesn't honour God? How righteous do your neighbours need to be before they are worthy of your prayer of blessing? I'm sure that somewhere in our community someone is probably making illicit adult films, planning crimes, taking drugs or evading tax. IT seems to me that praying for them is the very thing I ought to do.

Here's one last crazy idea. In our village we have a Kingdom Hall. What might God do if I pray a blessing on that place!

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Allergic reactions to church

Every so often a link passes across my RSS feed that catches my attention.  Quite a long time ago I blogged about a talk by Reggie McNeal about the missional church. It was a talk that sat and listened to one Sunday morning while on sabbatical in 2008 I think. Well, here's a link to a series of talks he gave at a conference in early November. According to the link the videos will only be available until the end of January, so if you're reading this post January 2013 I'm sorry if the link no longer works! Many of the stories he shares and the challenge he presents are in his books and probably available via other links too, so it shouldn't be difficult to find him somewhere on the web talking about these things.

Here's the link.

I noted down a few things from what he says in the first session.


Talking about the rapid growth in the number of people in North America that consider themselves unaffiliated to any religious movement, he spoke about revealing a "precipitous allergic reaction to institutionalised religion". People are not allergic to God or spirituality, just institutionalised religion. If that is true then painful as it may be to hear, no matter how well we might be doing church, people are not going to come. It's a false premise that better worship, more multimedia, shorter sermons and clever drama will somehow attract people into our buildings. It won't. As McNeal says, "Fewer people are interested in becoming congregationalised."

We're building better auditoria than ever, in some parts of the world at least, but people aren't coming. Church has become a vendor of religious services. If doing church well was going to change this tide it would have worked by now. The question is not about how to do church better but how to be church better.

The church is not the point. The mission of God is the point. The Bible begins and ends without a church. No church in the garden, no church in the city.

Instead of  telling the stories of God showing up and showing off (this is one of his favourite ways to describe the nature of God, not as an arrogant deity but as a God who just loves to bless beyond our capacity to imagine). We need more present stories of God-sightings and fewer historical retellings of Pentecost!

Anyway, as usual with Reggie McNeal there are lots of stories and lots of jumping around in his topic, but it's worth settling down with a cup of tea/coffee/hot chocolate and a suitable low-calorie snack to listen to what he has to say.


Friday, November 30, 2012

Kinesio Tape


On Tuesday I drove through rain and heavy traffic to attend a one-day workshop on k-tape applications. We covered about 17 different applications from achilles and plantar fasciitis to shoulders and lateral epicondylitis. Lots to take in, as is typical I guess of these things, and it was really about seeing the range of applications and getting the opportunity to try them out rather than trying to commit them all to memory.

The basic principle was to either preload the target muscle or tissue and then apply the tape with little or no stretch, or to stretch the tape. The tape can be stretched to between 0 and 100% of its capacity and the trick is to make sure the end is anchored before you stretch other wise it peels straight off! 

There are lots of videos on Youtube and elsewhere showing different applications and I guess you can get quite a long way just watching them, but there's really no substitute for working with an experienced practitioner.

So, all I need now are a few guinea pigs with issues that might benefit from taping to see if it works. 

My one-day course was run by John Gibbons and you can find details of future courses on his website.

My thoughts on the press and regulation

I am not a journalist, just to make it clear that I am not writing as someone with a vested interest in the "Where next?" debate about press regulation, but I am concerned. I find myself caught between questions about privacy and wondering how far we should go down a road that could make it easier for stories that should be told to suppressed.

Without trying to stir up some sort of hornets nest, recent revelations and allegations about abuse by high profile political and other figures highlights the issues. Some stories were made up and should never have been told, others were true and were not told. Or go back a few years to the infamous Iraq dossier scandal. How would any proposed regulation have affected that story? Would we have found out about the inaccuracies and inconsistencies? MP's expenses, drug taking in sport, corruption and cover ups by multinational companies, are just a few examples of stories that need to be told. On the other hand, I'm not sure that I need to know about the sordid affairs of so-called celebrities.

What bothers me about statutory regulation is the thought that powerful people will find a way to manipulate it to their benefit, and those editors and journalists who break the law to get a story, any story, surely won't be overly worried about another layer of regulation.

Maybe, more than regulation, we need to find a way to stop feeding the animal of curiosity and gossip that has dragged both our press and our society towards the gutter. Perhaps we have the press we've created.

There are always going to be times when someone's privacy has to be invaded (I use that term cautiously) in order for the truth to be discovered and revealed. The choice is about what truth is in the public interest and how best do we protect both the rights of the individual to privacy and the rights of good journalism to investigate. Not easy.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Towards the future

I've been thinking about names for my business as I get closer to completing my course. without presuming success, I came up with In2Motion as a name and with the help of my daughter have designed the following logo for the job:









It's going to be tough to try and grow a business having never done it before. Hopefully I can quickly establish a reputation for doing a good job as a therapist and trainer. It's really easy to think negatively about one's skills and to focus on what you don't know. But I was watching a programme the other day about a particular sporting figure who had experienced  lot of success and a few failures along the way.

Someone observed about this person that they always seemed to take whatever happened to them and turn it into something that made them better at what they did. Instead of thinking about how bad they were at something, they though about how it could help them become better.

As we've been learning our therapy skills I've had many days when I've thought about how bad a therapist I am and am likely to be. I've thought about how little I know and how much I need to know, about what I've learned and what I've forgotten. But maybe I need to change tack and simply ask how to become a better therapist. Think about how to use my lack of knowledge as a spur to improve learning and my forgetfulness as a drive to improve my retention and recall.

I don't know how to do this, at least not yet. But I do think that forwards is better than backwards or stationary! Maybe you need a new mindset too. Perhaps it's better to have failed at a lot of things rather than never having ventured far from your comfort zone.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Foam Roller!

I've heard one or two people mention using a foam roller so I thought I'd give it a try. You can do all sorts of exercises using a roller, but most people use them for self-massage particularly if they have what they perceive to be a tight ITB (Iiliotibial band).

For those who don't know, your ITB runs from your hip to your knee down the outside of you thigh. It's a band of connective tissue that contrary to popular belief doesn't stretch. What it does seem to do is get stuck to the muscles and other soft tissue around it. If you get pain in the outside of your knee when you run, then you might have an issue with your ITB.

Anyway, I got hold of a roller and tried it out earlier this week. Lying over the roller with my outer thigh on the roller I began to roll up and down along the length of of my thigh. Some areas were rather painful, and if you're not ready for it, it can be really painful. Moving slowly and carefully is the key to using a roller effectively. Knowing something about massage and anatomy probably helps to understand what you are doing and what it should feel like. You can reduce the pressure by controlling the amount of body-weight that goes through the roller, but it's not easy. Rollers come is different densities, so if you find the one you first try too hard, a less dense model might be better.

I experimented with accessing the side, front, and back of my thigh, and it worked quite well. I also had a go at my notoriously tight peroneals (outside of the calf).

The jury is still out on the effectiveness of the foam roller for self-massage, I've only had a couple of goes with it, but it may prove to be a useful tool to have to hand. There are lots of ways you can use the roller for exercise too, so it's not just a instrument of self administered pain!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Daily prayers & daily exercises!

None of us need reminding about the importance of either daily connection with God or daily exercise. okay, so for some the former is not important, but for those of us who share a faith perspective, prayer is a vital element in our daily lives. So how come we struggle with both?

Time, discipline and motivation are probably the three mot common factors for our reason for not doing wither thing well. And they are interrelated. without the discipline we don't find the time, without the motivation we don't choose the discipline and we don't make the time, with the time we lose our motivation. So what can we do?

Probably the best first step in either area, prayer or exercise, is to stop beating ourselves up about why we don't do and start getting disciplined about what we can do. I have days when I lie in bed looking at the clock that ticks away on the wall opposite me trying to work out how much time I have before I need to get up. If I apply a bit if discipline, I just get up and get started. If there's time left over after I've done whatever I plan to do, then that's great. But I'd rather that than waste the time before I start. It doesn't always work, but it's what I aim to do.

The other key factor is to have a plan. Getting up and not knowing what your exercise plan is can be just as big a time waster as staying in bed. So get a plan. The same goes for prayer. Have a plan. Not too complicated, just a simple plan. How about praying for specific things on specific days or following a simple rule like the ACTS pattern. Keep it fresh by experimenting.

The same goes for exercise. If you're going to get any benefit from regular exercise, then it needs to be varied and changed from time to time. And keeping pushing, and keep getting back on the wagon when you fall off.

Write your plan down. Don't try to hold your plan in your head. You can't, unless it's the only thing you do and you have perfect recall of every detail. I have a card with a series of exercises written on it. it acts as a prompt. The same goes for prayer.

And if you really struggle with motivation and discipline, then seek out a fellow traveller. I wish I had an exercise partner as well as a prayer partner. I know I'd be more disciplined if I had one.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

A Living Wage?

Yesterday's discussions in the media about the concept of a living wage produced the usual crop of well-worn free-marketeer commentaries about where the money will come from to pay for such an outrageous suggestion. We heard the usual observations about taxes, profits and prices, but no one seemed ready to suggest that maybe executive pay or reducing the income of high earners was a possible source. Surprise, surprise.

A report this morning on the news suggests that senior executives have seen an average 27% increase in their remunerate packages this last year. How many more people could a company employ if the rate of pay for the the CEO was more realistically related to the average across the company. There are of course some exception where CEO's don't take large salaries, but they are rare.

Perhaps it is time we said enough is often more than enough for the few and the many deserve better. If it's possible to calculate a living wage, then why would any employer not want to pay it? Can profit ever outweigh equity and fairness towards both employees and clients?

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Choose your values wisely

Very soon Americans will head to the polls to elect a President. Nothing new there. What has caught my eye this time around is some of the thoughts around endorsements and the role of church leaders. It's not a new debate and not restricted the USA. Even in the UK we have discussions about how political the pulpit ought to be or not to be depending upon your perspective. We even get to discussing the case of the opening letter (political with a P or a p?)

The problem with voting in a democracy is that people can vote how they like according to what is most important to them, and that means that they can vote as selfishly as they like too. So our parliamentary elections and American Presidential elections can become more about who will put the most money in my pocket rather than who offers the better solutions to the issues of the day.

Voting according to values is harder than you think. First you have to choose your values, and as if that isn't hard enough, you then have to compromise and find the best fit from the manifestos on offer. And then what do you do when the values you hold dear appear to be better supported by the party for whom you cannot bring yourself to vote!

Anyway, it was interesting to read the other day that the Billy Graham organisation is urging Christians across America to vote for the Biblical values. But which values? Are we talking here about the hot topic values or are we willing to say that actually many of the values we hold dear as evangelicals are not far from being red herrings when it comes to looking for truly biblical values.

If I asked you to list your top three biblical values, what would make your list, and what would be top? Here are my three as I thought about this earlier today:


  • Grace
  • Compassion
  • Equity
When I did a major study of Isaiah I was moved by God's deep concern for these three qualities. How you apply them to the broad, secularised world of politics is not easy, but it's worth some thought. You see I don't think some of the single issues, important as they are, are as important as these. Perhaps they are subsumed into them. And I wonder what shape our political landscapes would take if we looked at our economy from the perspective of grace, compassion and equity.

So, if you're going to vote according to Biblical values in any election, then my I suggest you take you time to weight what is really important to the God who daily renews his compassion, always treats us with grace and regularly calls us to treat others the same way.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A tough week

I wanted to write this post first, but wasn't really brave enough to commit to open view how I've been feeling lately. Even as I type I'm reluctant to give away too much detail. It's been a tough week or so, and to be honest I can't see anything changing any time soon. I've felt really low, I mean really low. It's a combination of things, all of which I fully understand and can analyse and interpret but of course can't shake myself free from. I'm at that point in my training where I can't imagine passing the course and yet I'm desperate to succeed. What I really want to do is to wake up in twelve months time, working in my own reasonably successful practice and with an emerging missional community taking shape in our community.

But that is not where I am right now.

Right now, I wake up each morning knowing that I have papers to write, exams to pass and so much to remember that I'm convinced it is all beyond me. So how do you face each day when you can't see the future and the present is not that bright either?

It's very easy to give trite little answers, to pat someone on the head and tell them to trust God and everything will be okay. But that's not how they will see it. We offer sympathy instead of empathy. Our encouragement is faintly veiled admonishment for failing to trust. I know this because I live on both sides of the equation. I've sat with people who feel this way and sought to help and encourage them, and I've sat felling this way and listened to others trying to encourage to me.

I'm fortunate because I know that while I'm not okay now, I will be. I also know that once I qualify I will face another set of challenges (finding clients who will pay for my services, getting paid work in a clinic or elsewhere etc). I also know myself. I know that while I think my standards are low, they are probably quite high, and although I feel like I've spent my whole life failing at one thing after another, that's probably not true.

The truth is, it's not just been a tough week, it's been a tough fifty years! There are a lot of scars, but life without scars is surely a life without adventure and a life without risk. When I ask a new client if they've ever suffered any injuries, most say no. I don't believe them. I can't believe that anyone can go through life without an injury. Have they never tried climbing a tree, or using a hammer? I'm scarred because I've tried an adventure or two. I'm not adventurous enough to climb mountains or sail oceans, but I've stepped out in faith, I've taken on challenges and I've been hurt in the process.

Perhaps my tough weeks, my sense of failure, my frustration about both the present and the future, is born out of a relentless assumption that there has to be more to life than this, whatever this happens to be. That somehow God has something he wants to do and I need to find out what it is and get involved rather than keep on repeating the same old pattern of things that haven't got us anywhere before or that simply don't work now.

Let me put it like this, and maybe encourage myself in the process:

If God is calling me to find a new way of expressing ministry, of building church, of doing discipleship, then I will have to keep exploring. I will have to keep pushing the boundaries of my thinking, and search out these things. The alternative is to bow to the pressure to conform to a pattern I'm not sure has any value anymore.

It looks more and more likely that I will have to abandon my status as an accredited baptist minister because my current status doesn't fit the criteria. It would seem a shame to have to do this, but if it has to be, then so be it. I think I'd rather get to the end of my life and say I tried everything I could think of trying, than to have sat in a box for several decades and changed nothing.

Doing it this way has a huge price attached. It's paid in emotional and spiritual currency, and that probably explains why I feel the way I feel. I do not offer any solutions, and I do not see this as a well though-out post, but it's just given me a chance to process some thoughts and get them out of my head. With hindsight perhaps I should have kept them in my journal, but maybe my rambling thoughts are just what someone needed to read.

PS No offers or suggestions of counselling please!

Praying for the community

I guess one of the features of our discipleship over the last thirty years has been a heart to pray for the community in which we live. I can't remember when it began, but I think it has its roots in the Make Way events of the early eighties.

Over the years our approach has morphed into other things, taken sharp unexpected turns, and gone through quiet periods and times of complete inactivity! We're not perfect! We've learnt a lot and seen a lot of different things happen. Some have been big and obvious (there's a vibrant church in one place now and it's good to know our community prayers were part of the planting process), some less obvious.

I'm not sure we've always been understood, too often there's an expectation that there will be "results", and there have been times when it seems that for some our prayers have been neither public enough nor  inclusive enough. But there we go, you can't please everyone.

Our aaron'our new community. Something I've done before is to pray Aaron's blessing every time I turn into a new street when I'm out walking. It's simple and in many ways non-theatening or spooky (spiritually speaking). You see you don't need some special revelation about the family at number four or the old man across the street to pray this way. All you need to have is a commitment to bless people. Maybe there is even a principle about the importance of praying a blessing into a place and not just a spirit out of one.

Although I haven't bought the book or researched the project in great depth, I'm quite excited about a resource that has recently crossed my path called the Neighbourhood Prayer Network. I think we might connect with this and if you're interested you might like to have a look at the website too.

Anything that helps us focus on connecting with our community is a good thing. Right? Prayer is something we can all do, whether we walk the streets to do it or not is less important, although don't despise walking! I've been prompted to pray for things I might never have otherwise thought about just by walking down the street with my eyes open (spiritually and physically!)

Monday, October 22, 2012

Ten things we might like to stop worrying about

Okay, I don't have a list of ten things yet, but I've been thinking recently about things that maybe as Christians we should stop worrying about. Now don't get me wrong. Not worrying about something is not the same as having no opinion about it. Far from it. The problem is that when we worry about something it tends to force us to think about it from a defensive position. Rubbish I hear you say. Okay, let's try one shall we. How about gay marriage. Feeling defensive yet? What about multi-faith events? Or try being able to wear a cross to work.

Do you see it now? When we worry about these things we get defensive. Every move by culture or government or employers becomes and assault on our rights, our faith and preeminent position as guardians of all that is right and proper in the world. I wonder how many complaints last week's episode of Red Dwarf got from enraged evangelicals? Hopefully none. Hopefully those of us that watched it were able to laugh at the jokes and ignore anything that might have fallen into the bad taste bucket. Personally I thought it was funny. The presumption that there was only ever one person named Jesus and the confusion that caused just made me think about all the other "rebel leaders" that are hinted at and recorded in the historical records of the time.

Anyway, Red Dwraf isn't the focus of this post, so let's return to the plan.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that when we get worried , we get defensive then we become offensive and we distance oursleves form the very people Jesus misses most. We put distance between them and us and we ask them to change and come over to us, to see it our way, to make the first move.

Jesus didn't do that.

What we need to do is find ways to engage with our culture to show them a better way, to show them just how much they are loved and to reconnect them with the God who loves them. Telling them how morally offensive they have become doesn't seem like a good place to start.

I don't have all the answers and I don't want to criticise those who have stood up and challenged things in the past. But I do remember how ridiculous Christinas looked when they protested too much about "THe Life of Brian" and how irrelevant we appeared when coronation Street was declared to be smutty or whatever Mrs Whitehouse called it. There just has to be a better way.

And if you're still worried about gay marriage, then remember, as someone wrote recently, if we're worried that gay marriage will undermine the value of marriage in our society then we shouldn't worry, the heterosexual community has managed to do that all on its own.

Lord, teach me to listen

I'm sitting in the extension mainly because there's a bit more light in here than anywhere else in the house on this damp and dreary day. The roof lights capture what daylight there is and the big windows help too. It raises one's mood a little. I'm guessing that in a few hours it will get steadily darker.

It's also very quiet.

There is the sound of the traffic going by outside, but it's not overwhelming. Two other sounds invade the space. One is the ticking of the wall clock steadily marking the passing of time, the other is the whirr of a mechanical timer that will bring the light on around 7:00 this evening. I will need to reset it soon to bring the light on earlier as the evenings close in.

Most of the time these sounds are simply background noise that I can filter out as I work, like the click, set at a low level on my iPad, that keeps me company as it follows the rhythm of my typing. I'm unaware of any other sounds, even when I strain to listen.

All this makes me wonder about the priority of listening. If we can filter out the clock and the traffic and the birds, then do we sometimes filter out God? When the disciples went up on the mountain with Jesus and he was transfigured, they did two things. First, they fell asleep. Probably not the first time they fell asleep at an important moment, and certainly not the last time they would do so. Second, they talked, well Peter did. He blurted out something about building shelters to mark the occasion without realising the significance of what was happening in front of his eyes.

God's response to Peter's desire to act, to do something to mark this amazing event that he had almost missed as he napped, was to tell him to stop doing and to start listening. Well okay, he told him to listen and didn't mention the stopping, but in order to listen there are times when you need to stop doing.

So I have a question now: What are you, or am I, trying to commemorate by doing something when we should actually be listening to what God is saying? We are very quick to hear part of it and then make an assumption about the rest. We fill in the blanks and set off without hearing the rest of the story or instructions.

Maybe Peter would have been better off asking Jesus what the significance was of what had just happened rather than anything else he had in mind.

"Lord, teach me to listen to you."


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Dear science

You may have seen a recent picture on Facebook about science and religion that goes something like this:
Dear Religion

This week I safely dropped a human being from space while you shot a 14 year old girl in head for wanting to go to school.

I kinda feel you need a new hobby

Science


Well I began to think about how religion might respond and this is my version of one possible response:

Dear Science

While I am somewhat disappointed in your rhetoric, I take your point. It saddens me greatly that some people choose to abuse and manipulate what I offer in such ways. You must feel the same too. Wasn't it science that gave up the technology of the atom bomb that was "safely" dropped on two major cities in Japan? Time and again you too have offered so much that could have been good that got used negatively. Need I mention DDT, napalm CFC's, or the greenhouse effect.

Man's inhumanity to man has often been done in my name but sadly using your tools.

The truth is we are more like brothers than adversaries. Together we can inspire humanity to search out the answers to all sorts of questions. You, for example, can help humanity explore how the universe came into existence, but you have no answer to the question of why the universe came into existence. You can help humanity discover new ways to reduce disease, eliminate poverty and improve the quality of life for everyone, but you find it difficult to explain why they should do those things.

Perhaps, if you want to throw stones, then you should look for a lower horse from which to do so.

Yours

Religion


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Flying or falling with style?

My diary might not be full, as some diaries appear to be. I may not be juggling meetings and events, relying upon others to be flexible enough to fit in with my plans. I've yet to be asked to lead a national movement or plan a global strategy. I don't even have a proper job.
I'm not handling million pound contracts or invoices, and I haven't made any policy decisions that will affect thousands of people or even a single individual. I have not been asked my opinion on the deficit, the Euro-crisis, or the planned expansion of air-passenger capability for London.
But my life lacks neither purpose nor meaning.
Later today I will lead a funeral service for a family who are not famous, but are in need. They need someone to walk alongside them as they try to work out the significance of their loss. Like many families for whom I've had this same privilege they look to me to help them do this.
This could be my life. This could be what I do, all I do. Anonymously serving people at a time of need. It will not make me rich. It will not make me famous. It will not even pay my bills!
Each time I lead a funeral I wonder why I do it. I get nervous, I worry about making a mistake, about being late, getting the wrong day at the wrong crematorium. I worry about what to say and how best to say it. I wonder if the mourners are just being nice when they shake hands and thank me.
Every so often I get a reassuring call from a funeral directors about a letter they've received from a family thanking them for their work and expressing their gratitude for the small part I played.
I'd like to inspire a generation, I'd like to lead a movement of change, I'd like to recognised for the contribution I've made to bring about a realignment of the local church towards God's mission. But in the end I doubt that this will be my purpose in life.
Sometimes I joke about wanting to find something that I'm really good at doing before I come to the end of my working life. Sometimes I mean it more seriously. Maybe I'm actually good at a lot of things I fail to value in the way God values them because I want something more.
Maybe my life is more significant than I imagine it to be.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Luke 9:11

We went to church yesterday, a bit of an unusual experience these days. The simple truth is that organised building-based worship simply doesn't connect for me at the moment. Maybe it's because of everything we've been through, maybe it's because of the movement that has been stirring in my soul for such a long time now, and maybe it's just because I'm so spiritually disconnected that being "in church" is just not where I want to be right now. Who knows. I'm not so arrogant to think that the problem is fully on the shoulders of the pattern of worship we've come to expect.

Anyway, I was looking at Luke 9 while everyone else was enjoying their own deep and meaningful, intimate encounter with God. Not that mine wasn't deep, you understand. And it was verse 11 that caught my eye. The way Jesus welcomed the crowds, who only really followed him because of the miracles, but he welcomed them anyway and then took the time to talk to them about the kingdom. I wonder what he said? Then he healed them and fed them. Quite extraordinary really.

There's no point trying to make a priority list from these events, elsewhere in the NT you'll find a different order of things and some things missing that you might have thought important first time around. So just let it ask you questions and ask some back. Like how did Jesus welcome them and what would a welcome look like in our time, our communities? How do we let people know they are welcome, when they have to enter a strange building, sing strange songs, listen to strange stories? How do we intrigue them with our kingdom talk rather than scare them off?

Without getting hung up on miracles, what might "healing" look like in our contexts? What does it say about meeting needs, ministry to others, outsiders even?

So many questions raised from such a simple statement, but it's this kind of thing that has got me where I am. I ind myself constantly asking what difference is it going to make on Monday? If you've had a great encounter with God over the weekend in your worship event, then how are you carrying that inot the world around you?

Welcome the people into your schedule, talk about the kingdom (hopefully without the weird God stories of which we can be so fond), minister to their needs. Not a bad plan really.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Walk this way

This is not a rant at any particular denomination, just in case it looks like that by the time I finish!

On Wednesday mornings I now run a Sports Massage Clinic at The Telegraph Media Group in Victoria. It's a great opportunity for me to develop my skills and practice as a therapist and I"m grateful for the opportunity. The other opportunity that comes with this job is the chance to walk through London once a week. I get the train to Fenchurch Street and then walk to Victoria and then walk back again after my clinic. In fact, the last three weeks I've walked from Victoria to Canary Wharf, usually wondering why someone hasn't straightened out the Thames. I'm sure it would be about 1.5 miles shorter if I could go in a straight line!

My walk takes me past a few interesting landmarks, some well known, others a little more obscure. For those who remember Monty Python, yesterday's route took me past Wapping steps, which made me laugh as I recalled one particular sketch on the "Be a Great Actor" album I probably still own somewhere in the loft.

More recognisable to most are things like HMS Belfast, Victoria Embankment, London Eye, and the Palace of Westminster. As I cross the road by parliament and head towards Victoria Street down past Westminster Abbey I can also see Methodist Central Hall. An impressive building that looks like it could possibly swallow the Abbey and the church next it and still have room for pudding! The architecture owes everything to the era in which it was built and I'm not about to criticise either those who built it or those who maintain it. But as I pass these and other church buildings of differing degrees of splendour, I have to wonder what it means about both how we continue to live out church and what they communicate about our values.

By the time I make my return journey in the early afternoon, the Abbey is surrounded by tourists taking pictures while regular commuters dodge in and out of shot. I have to say I don't see many standing outside Central Hall, but it is behind me on my return trip! Westminster too has it's share of snappers and around the corner the London Eye is the backdrop for more pictures.

As I continue my return walk I see the occasional intrepid photographer snapping away at some of the hidden towers and odd shaped building that dot the roads and riverside of the city. Not until I get to Tower Hill do the large crowds reappear.

But those impressive churches still occupy my thoughts as the remind me of a long past sense of awe and desire to build the best for worship and in some cases far more. And that's what bothers me, the institutionalisation of what was meant to be a lived out dynamic relationship with God. something that somehow got reduced to a good hymn and a good sermon in a brick box once a week. Not the fault of the builders, more the fault of the generations that followed them and missed the point of the mission for the sake of the building.

Caught by the need for the church to have an address so that people know where we are, we have lost the principle of being among the people Jesus misses. I've heard it said in the past that people need to know where we are so they know how to contact us, but isn't it one of the primary principles of the gospel that we are a sent people, a going people.

I'm not sure we need a corporate address, but I am sure we're afraid we will lose our identity if we don't have one.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Golf, Abraham and the Gerasenes

Interesting combination don't you think! Let's start with Jose Marie Olazabal's quote from William Wallace: "All men die, but not all men live." If you look it up you will find variations, but the sentiment remains the same.

I've been pondering this the last day or so as I think about what it means the live for the kingdom. How do we live? Not just exist, not just hang around waiting for the end to come or for God to intervene, but how we do live, make choices that reflect the kingdom and give opportunities for the kingdom to flourish? Where is the balance between following God's lead and getting ahead of ourselves?

Then there's Abraham. A man whom God called to go on a journey to a land promised but as yet unseen and unidentified except in the vaguest of ways. A sort of, "You'll recognise it when you see it" description. Our life is a bit like that at the moment. Everything is rather vague but I get the feeling that while I can't easily describe where we are going and what will be the end result, I think I'll recognise it when we arrive. At least I hope I will!

Then there are those Gerasenes. Why are they so afraid? Jesus has just an extraordinary thing for one of their own people. someone they knew well, who's problems were manifestly public and is now no longer a threat or problem to them. And they are afraid of the man who has set him free.

Golf, Abraham and the Gerasenes. Life, journey and fear.

Moses once said the the gathered community of Israel, "Today I set before you life and death. Choose life that you might live." Maybe we could paraphrase that and say, "Choose life and live it." In other words don't just choose life as a better alternative to death, but choose it and embrace it and live it as fully as you can. Not in out 21st century self-indulgent way, but in a way that serves the mission and purposes of God. Abandon small selfish goals and grasp hold of big hairy kingdom goals instead.

Scary thought isn't it? Exciting maybe, but when the rubber hits the road and you have to reshape your life around new priorities and new risks, then it gets scary. But if we let fear set the agenda we will ask Jesus to leave us alone because we can't handle who he is and what he can do.

Courage, someone once said, is not the absence of fear, it's pressing ahead despite your fear.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Getting stuck in

There are times in life when you simply find yourself in the deep end of things.  Retraining as I am, there have been quite a few deep end moments through this year so far, and a few more to come I'm sure.

Last night was no exception when I arrived for my first evening at a local rugby club to share my massage skills. I'd taken the chance and emailed the club offering myself as a volunteer and asking to be put in touch with the physiotherapist who works with the club. Well, I got a reply and took up the invitation to turn up on Thursday.

We were supposed to start at 6:30 and the physio and I were going to meet at 6:00 to have a chat and get set up. Players started to turn up as soon as they knew the physio was there and book themselves in for treatment. Some were already booked in and others were looking for slots to fill. It was quite hectic and non-stop and I was really impressed with the physio and how she handles everything. I got to work with several players through the evening which I guess finished around 9:30.

What was interesting for me was how specific and targeted the treatment had to be. We didn't have the luxury of an hour to treat each person, so it was a case of focussing on what what most needed, getting the tissue warmed up and figuring out the best way to release what was stuck.

Working on some of the players it was obvious how much they needed soft tissue therapy. I've come across a few tight hamstrings and quads before, but these were like trying to get steel girders to stretch. At first I thought it was because they were finding it hard to relax the muscle and trust it into my hands, but it quickly became apparent that their muscles were so tight, relaxing meant just off full firing!

Anyway I had a good evening and enjoyed the challenge. Hopefully I can continue to be helpful and apply my skills more precisely as they develop. Getting involved in match-day treatment is a possibility, and I'm looking forward to that in the not too distant future.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Judgement and forgiveness

Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn others, or it will come back against you. Forgive others, and you will be forgiven.
Luke 6:37
Telling words from Jesus. Here's a question: When does judgement start? Does it start when we describe someone as difficult or when we share a negative story about them? What about when we make assumptions about someone? Can we actually avoid judging and condemning others that easily?

I guess the best defence against falling into the trap of judging and condemning lies in the principle of forgiveness.  But it's still not an easy thing to do.

I wonder if it isn't our propensity for criticism that makes living out these challenging words of Jesus more difficult. We're happiest when we're moaning about something. The problem with moaning is that it never offers solutions, only descriptions of the problems. That leads to judgement being pronounced and maybe even responsibility being abdicated. In other words we find a reason to blame someone else, blame them and absolve ourselves.

Perhaps forgiveness allows us to say that things must change and to seek solutions for change to take place. It doesn't mean things can stay the same and the pattern can repeat itself because forgiveness wipes out the wrong. There are still consequences to sin. But it shifts the focus

Neighbours

Tim Chester blogged this quote from Urban Harvest by Roy Joslin.

Christians must take the time and trouble to be good neighbours. If we are too busy running church activities to find time to be neighbourly, then we are too busy. (283)

Of course it needs to be read in a wider context. Don't beat yourself up because you don't know the names of your neighbours (although learning that at the very least is a good first step to take!) Rather the point is surely the focus of our attention in the sense that church activities crowds out missional engagement.

In the end, missional church life is a choice, it's intentionally focussed on an incarnational interpretation of what it means to be the church. We can probably end up being just as busy defining missional, describing it and debating it as we have been in the past with the legacy church. At that point, then once again "church" would take over from mission.

Maybe this quote reminds us that we need constantly to check the scorecard, the measuring stick, the metrics by which we assess how we are doing what we are supposed to be doing.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Searching for Significance

I was reading in Luke's gospel about the disciples of John and their errand to see Jesus. John sent them with a specific request to find out if Jesus was the one for whom they had been waiting or not. In his response, Jesus speaks about John as the greatest man who has ever lived. Quite an accolade. But Jesus goes on to say that even the person considered to be the east in the kingdom is greater than John. How does that work?

Well, it's clearly not a put down of John, Jesus wouldn't do that to him, and equally true is that it is not an aggrandisement of insignificance either. Perhaps the point is rather simple to state but hard to grasp and apply. Perhaps the point is that significance in the kingdom doesn't come from ministry position or the lack of it.

For twenty years I've been a leader of a congregation. Sometimes I've felt like the leader, but I've always understood my role as being part of a leadership team not the only leader. Sometimes it's been hard to convince the congregation of that principle. Twelve months ago I gave up trying and although I sought a painless way out, in the end we went through probably the most painful time of our lives in ministry (and believe me we've had a lot of painful moments over the years). Since December I've preached once and I can probably count the number of times I've been in church on one hand. Scary when you think of the hours it consumed before then.

I can't say I ever felt any great sense of significance during those twenty years, so its's not that that I miss. In fact I seem to miss very little. But being a minister at least gave me a sense of purpose and even value. It gave me a way of measuring my contribution to the kingdom and that's something I no longer have.

I don't have an uplifting message of self-discovery to conclude this ramble of thoughts. It's a bit like a joke without a punchline, a morality tale without a moral. I guess you'd call it a work in progress as I continue to work out what it means to be a follower of Jesus without portfolio. I have a dream, a vision of something that's way beyond my ability to make reality, and I'm humbled to still be asked to serve families at a time of loss and grieving.

Have I lost my sense of significance? Well not really, I never had one in the first place! What I think I've lost is a sense of direction and purpose, or maybe I've gained one because my purpose and direction is no longer determined by the constraints of what has been defined historically as ministry.

Who knows. I'm just glad that even if I'm the least one of whom Jesus was speaking, I have a place of significance in the kingdom of God that far outweighs my apparent significance in this life.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Just a thought

Listening to the news this morning about the introduction of a new Secondary Education examination, the newly names "Gove-level" and wondering if any has done the apparently obvious thing and actualy thought about education from an educators point of view, a learners point of of view and a business point of view?

You see it would seem to me that we need to educate business leaders that education isn't just about standard spelling and numeracy, important as they are, but it's wider than that. And educators already know that young people need to be able to count and spell and formulate sentences without urban punctuation.

Has anyone actually sat down and asked, business leaders, government and high education leaders what the skill set is that they are looking for from prospective workers/learners and then looked at how best to assess those skills?

When I look at the concept of a single exam at the end of a tow year course, I see a very shallow exploration of learning. If you can regurgitate the correct amount of correct information you get the grade. When I look at a modular system, I see other problems around how much help and assistance a given individual might get to produce their best work. Either way, the test is flawed. But maybe that's not the biggest issue. Maybe the biggest issue is that no matter what method of assessment we use, we only appear to be interested in driving an education system that teaches to the test.

The course I am currently doing is, if done properly, about developing a skill set. Sadly most of us are only used to taking exams and passing or failing. So we don't treat assessments as an opportunity to discover what we still need to learn, but we treat them as a hurdle to cross. The result? We stop learning once we've made it through the test.

I don't know how you shift the mind set away from exams to assessing the development of skills in the mind of either tutor or student, but I wonder if this is exactly what we need to do if we're going to develop a broad education system that prepares all of us for life in all its dimensions.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Training for a challenge?

Training is always a challenge, I guess that's part of the reason we both do it and give up doing it. Whether it's training for a new career (like Sports Massage in my case), or training for an event or just for fitness, it has to be enough of a challenge to make it worth the effort.

In fitness terms, if you don't progressively overload, you won't actually achieve any improvements. In other words, if your exercise routine is always manageable and doesn't leave you out of breath and sweating, then you're probably not working hard enough.

I'm aware that I need a new challenge if I'm going to take the next step when it comes to maintaing and improving my fitness and health. Sadly, doing 30 minutes of moderate exercise 5-7 days a week just to keep my heart healthy doesn't seem to be enough of a motivation for me to get out and pound the streets. I need something else to make me want to lace up my trainers or my new Vibram Five Finger shoes.

Since I first heard about the Oxfam Trailwalk, my interest was piqued. Could I walk 100Km in 30 hours? It doesn't seem too difficult, it's only just under 3.5Km an hour average (that's only just over 2mph), but it is 100Km! The furthest I've walked in a single day is around 24Km, but that was a while ago and I didn't do any training for that. So I reckon, with some proper fitness training I could manage significantly more, but could I get to 100Km.

This is where some short term and medium term goals might come in handy. So I thought I might set myself the goal of doing a 50Km walk sometime next year, maybe May. It's just a thought at the moment, but maybe this would be a good goal and a good stepping stone towards the 100Km trail! I'll need to work out a training schedule of course, but I can put all that PT training to good use.

Two years ago my 10k step challenge kept me motivated for a whole year as I played with various milestones (forgive the pun) along the way. If I'd have set out to do 4 million steps in a year, then that target would have seemed way to big to get anywhere near. Imagine how far away it would have looked after a couple of weeks! But I did it by setting a daily target. When I wanted to push the challenge a bit more, I went for 500,000 steps in a single month. I need to recapture some of that mentality for a new challenge.

So here's to the crazy idea of looking to walking to Southend and back in a single day! That's about 60Km from where I live, if you follow the main route. I wonder if there is a road to Southend that is the road less travelled?

Saturday, September 08, 2012

In need of a spiritual heart monitor

Occasionally I wear a heart rate monitor so that I can check my heart rate during exercise. I do this to see what kind of training zone I'm working in and how it feels. There's a simple scale we use to do the job too, but a monitor is a useful bit of kit to have around. The important thing, when doing exercise, is to work in the heart rate zone applicable to your goals, so monitoring your heart rate is a key factor in doing that.

Jesus spoke in Luke 6 about good trees producing goos fruit and bad tress producing bad fruit. Figs, he said, do't grow on thorn bushes and grapes don't grow on brambles. He then makes his application to us:

A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart.

It's that last little phrase that catches me: What you say flows from what is in your heart. Too often we excuse ourselves when we say bad things or react badly with words of condemnation and judgement. But our words aren't just the vocalisation of what we feel at a given moment in time, they are the fruit of what is in our hearts, which is something more significant, more personalised, a deeper expression of who we really are.

Look at what Proverbs has to say about looking after your heart:


Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.
Proverbs 4:22-24 

In the New Living Translation we read that it determines the course of your life.

And of course Paul points out that The peace of God, which is beyond human understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:7)

Two things at work then, firstly we have a responsibility to guard our own hearts. There are no excuses for how we act and speak. What comes out of our mouths is a reflection of what is deep within us. Secondly, we have access to the peace of God, something we can't easily fathom, but which serves as guardian to our hearts and thoughts.

Guarding your heart is not just about policing your words, it's about examining your life and allowing the Spirit of God to do his redeeming work in your life. Renewing your heart and mind, conforming you to the image of Christ and supporting you in your quest to become more like Jesus.

So monitor the health of your heart and adjust your spiritual exercise routine so that you are biulding a healthy heart not an unhealthy one.

Monday, September 03, 2012

Time to get back in the trainers!

Is it really two years ago since I embarked on my 10k steps a day for 100 days challenge? Incredible! I remember all the analysis and number crunching that went on throughout that year. Wasn't it something ridiculous like 4 million steps in the year? I also remember taking on the challenge to do 500k steps in a month!

Goals are really important for both focus and motivation. But you have to be careful. If you set them too high, you will suffer the disappointment of never reaching your unrealistic goals. If you set them too low, they probably won't help you achieve the bigger goal behind them, if there is one, or they will somehow become too easy to reach and demotivating as a result.

So I'm wondering abut revisiting those old goals and seeing if I can achieve them again. Will I have the same drive a second time around I wonder? Will I go out in the snow and the rain to complete my daily steps? Who knows. The only way to find out is to do it.

So it needs a bit of thought, but as I posted my morning walk via Runkeeper, I did notice that the pace was below my old 4mph target, so that might be a place to start and set a goal f walking 4 miles in an hour once a week (that's 6.4Km if my maths is correct).

I also need some strength training goals and a few goals not directly related to fitness! I wonder how many goals it's realistic to load into one's life at any one time! I suspect it's a personal thing, but trying to finish a course, start a business, get fit, lose weight, start church, and finish the house, well maybe I'm in danger of having a few too many.

As for now, I'll think about setting one goal for each thing on my list and look to plan towards that. Sounds to me like I need to dust off my copy of Getting Things Done and reread it for a bot of motivation.

Friday, August 31, 2012

What am I doing?

I thought I'd do a quick blog update about where I am in my massage studies etc. I realised the other day that we only have something like 7 days left of the course. After that it's final exams to sit and case studies and papers to complete before qualifying, which is not a foregone conclusion. And even once qualified there's no guarantee of a job or successful private practice ahead.

At the moment I'm still offering free treatments and I'm about to start a volunteer placement at The Daily Telegraph one morning a week. I'm also volunteering for a thing called Student Clinic that runs at the offices of the training school.

On the Personal Training front, I still haven't received my official certificate, which means I can't register with REPS and which in turn is hampering any progress in that area. That's rather sad because I was hoping to be able to make a little bit of money doing PT sooner than this. It's annoying because the insurance company was quite happy to insure me, but I's like to be able to say that I'm REPS certified too.

So that's that. Currently Im working on my next paper for the massage course which is due in a couple of weeks. I hope to make good progress on that next week and then I might turn my attention to developing some training plans and ideas. I have one plan to work with small groups through some church contacts, but that's only in a thinking stage at the moment and needs to become something more solid.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A Heart for Libya?

You might be interested in this website if you have a heart for Lybia.

The basic idea is to pray for Libya on a day of your choice at either 10:02 in the morning or evening. It's 10:02 because Luke 10:2 provides the text underlying the prayer: Pray, therefore, that the Lord of the harvest will send out workers into his harvest field.

I guess you could actually choose any country or community for that matter and do a similar thing. The prayer is "into" the harvest, "for" the harvest and "from" the harvest. See the website for more details. You can sign up to pray for Libya or just make our own commitment to a country or people group to whom you feel drawn.

One life at a time

Are you like me? do you harbour dreams of changing the world, influencing significant people and seeing lots of people come to faith through your endeavours?

What if it isn't meant to work that way?

I'm all for significance, but maybe we're not all destined for great ministries, maybe that's the realm of the few. Not specially chosen, but just the few on whom god chooses to pour out a blessing that is beyond the normality of the rest of us. It isn't that we are somehow less important or less committed or less able than these others, it's just that God has chosen us for a different task.

Think about Abraham and his obvious significance in our story, but the relative smallness of his experience. He only had the one son by Sarah in fulfilment of a pretty big promise to be the father of nations. Think of the prophets and the range of their ministries from single prophecies to multilayered, long-term prophetic ministries.

I read the story of the calling of Levi this morning, and it made me think about one life at a time. Jesus called Levi. He didn't call Levi and all his friends, or all the other tax-collectors. He focussed on Levi, a single life. It was Levi who then invited his friends to meet Jesus and no doubt some of them had their lives transformed through that meting. But it began with the call of one person, a single life.

What is the ministry Jesus has for you is to connect one life to the kingdom and that's all? What if it's that one life that he will use to transform a community, to build a church or start a movement? Would you be up for that? Would you sacrifice all your dreams and ambitions for a single disciple.

I'd love to plant a vibrant, growing missional community in the place where I live. But maybe my role is simply to find the person through whom Jesus wants to do that and introduced them to him. If I spend all my time dreaming of the big movement and not focussing on the one life, then maybe I'll miss something really important and the kingdom will be missing another disciple.

I will continue to dream, but I will do so with my eyes open to the possibilities along the way. If Levi is out there, I don't want to miss him!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Think about this....

There's a blog I follow written by Kent Shaffer. Like most blogs I follow, I skim the posts and decide what's relevant and what's interesting and what can pass me by this time around. You can't read everything and you should\t even try. It will just overload your brain!

Some time ago Kent Shaffer used a term that struck a chord somewhere deep in my heart. The phrase was simply "Open Church". I'll need to look back through the archives to get a fix on the original idea, but it's interesting to read most recently about the developments of the idea. When I first read the phrase my mind immediately began thinking about Open Source projects and what defines them and how that might shift my thinking about church. I can't remember where that particular journey took me, but I'm pretty sure it's had an influence on my current thinking somewhere long the line.

But the thing that struck me most from the most recent post on the blog was his reflection on moving to a new neighbourhood to engage in a new ministry. This was the paragraph:

Stuff was holding us back in a variety of ways from being agile and ministering more biblically. And the comfortable suburban, Evangelical lifestyle was desensitizing me from living out the gospel as I knew I should yet never did. I used bad theology to make convenient excuses to justify my lifestyle. I was using complex yet comfortable systems to try to replace the simple yet uncomfortable mandates of Christ.

Lots to think about here. Are you agile and able to minister biblically, and what does being agile look like for you? How desensitised have I become to the call to live out the gospel? How is God calling me and shaping me to incarnate the gospel in my community? And what of our excuses?

It's worth taking the time to let the profound nature of this reflection sink into your heart and for God to ask the deep penetrating questions that I think sit behind it for all of us. Read it in context here.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

More Shoes

With my bent toes I was surprised that I got them into these Vibram Five Fingers, but in they went.

It feels very strange and I think the measuring system on the website might have underestimated by maybe a half size. but we shall see.

What a privilege

Although I felt totally out of my depth for the last three days, that doesn't take away the privilege it was to meet some amazing athletes. Here are two, but they were not the only ones.



Charles Narh Teye from Sophie Williams on Vimeo.


Alem Mumuni from Sophie Williams on Vimeo.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Imagine

Every time I hear John Lennon's classic lyrics something bothers me. I find myself getting ever so slightly angry, not so much with the sentiment expressed, but with the mirror the lyrics hold up to the church. I was reminded of this with the closing ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games.

I think my reaction can be summed up in two questions:

1. Do they understand what they are singing? A children's choir signing about imagining no religion as the route to peacefulness, no heaven or hell etc. Has anybody sat down and thought about what that all might mean? Singing without thinking is something we're all familiar with in church. We sing bind us together and tear into each other, we sing about one faith, one Lord and then proceed to divide ourselves along sectarian lines.

2. How come we've become the problem? When the expression of faith becomes the reason for the problems in the world then we need to take a deep look at the way we express our faith. Lennon wrote:

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace
Okay, I know Jesus spoke about wars and rumours of wars, and I know that true peace won't come in a world as broken as it is, but to live in peace is a gospel goal and we must work at helping people see that faith is not the start of the problem but the solution to it. We don't do that by declaring war on others and justifying so doing on the basis of our insecurities.

John Lennon's song hold up a mirror, we need to see the reflection. In many ways perhaps the lyrics actually reflect a truer picture of the gospel than we might otherwise give them credit for doing. Maybe God's dream was not heaven above us and hell below, or a multiplicity of ethnic groups at odds with each other or even  to see people protecting what they think they own and leaving others to go hungry, poor and naked.

Maybe that's why I struggle with the sentiment. It's not anti-Christian it's actually more truly Christian than I can bear.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

My new shoes!

Inspired by Born to Run to give something closer to barefoot running a go, I bought myself a pair of New Balance Minimus shoes. Tried them today and they feel so light and comfortable.

How good my form is I have no idea, but there were moments on my run when I think I fell into the forefoot/midfoot strike pattern rather than the heel strike pattern. Was it the shoes or my beginners attempt to focus and concentrate? Who knows, but they are nice shoes.

For some months now I've been thinking about my feet and the structure of feet in general. So many muscles and such an ingenious design of joints and soft tissue bears thought and investigation! It\s probably a massage thing, but the more I think about it the more it makes sense to try and find ways to exercise the muscles in my feet. I can't think of any gym-based training routine that targets the muscles of the foot. Yet without them, and the muscles that support the ankle, we have no stability.

So rather than cushioning and supporting my feet all the time, I want to see if I can strengthen them by simply being barefooted or as close to barefooted as is practicable. Of course it's probably not wise to go from supported shoes to barefoot overnight. And I won't stop wearing shoes! But it will be interesting to try a range of near-barefoot shoes and see what difference it makes over say a six-month period. I'll let you know. It certainly can't make my feet any worse!!

The Running Disciple!

Now be honest with me here, can you truly say that you enjoy your Christian life? Does everyday present you with joy or does it feel like a chore, a drudge, something to be endured rather than enjoyed?

I'd guess that most of us fall somewhere along a continuum from chore to joy, and that it changes through the course of a day or month or year. For some their life as a follower of Christ has become a rut in which they have become stuck and for others it is a continual adventure from start to finish.

I'm reflecting on this for two reasons. first. because I;m always aware of my own us and downs and secondly because of something I read in Born to Run. We are a fascinating creation. In fact, whether you subscribe to a creation or evolutionary theory of first origins (or even a combination of the two), we are a remarkable creature. The argument for an inherent running gene so-to-speak lies in our structure as much as anything else. For example we have a ligament in our necks that only mammals that run share. Those that walk do not have it. We have the ability to sweat away heat and breathe and run at the same time. something no other mammal can do. We may not have the fat out speed of a deer or cheetah, and we don't have the claws and teeth of a lion, but we do have endurance. We can't out-sprint a squirrel but we can run one to exhaustion!

But we don't generally run. Why? Because it's become a pastime, no longer a way of life, it has become a wearisome chore that's painful and un-enjoyable. We run to keep fit or to lose weight (unsuccessfully because we don't change our diet). And what's worse we run badly when we do run. If the book is correct, then we've been suckered by marketing into running in the only way guaranteed to hurt ourselves. As we persevere we invest in more cushioning and more strapping to make running bearable. Eventually we give up, buy a large screen TV and watch other run instead.

Now reflect those thoughts into discipleship.

We buy devotional guides to help us learn how to do what ought to come naturally. That's not to say that they are bad things. Just like running shoes, if you run properly then you can run in anything, then if you are a follower of Jesus then you can probably use any guide you like if you've got the basics of following down. And the worst thing we can do is sit and watch others do our devotional life for us. We're too busy, too injured too out of shape, so we watch others do what we ought to be able to do but can't motivate ourselves to do.

Somehow we've lost the joy of discipleship, of running with Jesus for the joy of running with him. It's become a checklist, a programme a means to an end instead of an intrinsic part of who we are. We are all made in the image of God. If we are born to run then we are also born to reflect God's image.

I went running this morning for the time in years. Proper running. not just running  part of the route I usually walk, but setting out to run all the way. I almost made it. I took a breather towards the end, but ran 90% of the 4Km I set out to do. I tried to run light and run properly. I ran for the joy of running. And now my legs ache a little! But that's okay because I ran. I worked my muscles in a different way and of course they will ache.

If you try following Jesus for the joy of following him it will be different. I don't yet have a recipe to offer you that will ensure it will work or a pattern to follow that will promise joy. Maybe that's just not possible. But I wonder how different our faith might look if somehow we could reinject a measure of simple joyfulness into what it means to be a Christ-follower.

Maybe the next step on from functional discipleship will be barefoot discipleship!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Born to Run?

Something interesting has been happening to me over the last twelve months or so. Actually let's make that 24 months. Ever since setting out to lose the weight I'd gained from becoming more sedentary, I found myself wanting to run. I'd go out for a walk as part of my exercise plan or my 10k steps challenge, and I'd find myself wanting to break into a jog. Occasionally I would, but only for a short distance. Each time I'd begin to think about running more. It was like a little voice in the back of my head saying, "Run, you know you want to!"

Now I'm not about to tell you that 2 years on I'm running every day and going further and faster because that isn't true. But a couple of weeks ago I found myself running half my usual 4Km walk and then a few days later I ran much further than I had for a long time out of necessity. We'd gone out for a short walk that turned out to be 9 miles and we were late so I ran the last 2 miles home to get the car and go back to pick Anne up. It wasn't speedy, but it wasn't walking.

Now I'm intrigued. If I could jog gently then why can't I run, is it just because I think I can't run or because I don't want it to hurt?

I heard about this best selling book about running called "Born to Run" that everyone seems to rave about a few years ago and elided with holiday coming up that I'd get it on my Kindle and read a bit while we were away. I devoured it. If you haven't read it then read it! It's a fascinating mixture of story and reflection and fun and questions. I couldn't put the thing down. And what's more, it's left me with this question, "Am I born to run?" Is it possible that this little voice in my head isn't just a throwback to being a child who ran everywhere and had to be told to slow down or the narcissistic call of some would-be self-improvenment image conscious self. Could it be that running is a lost joy that deep down is waiting to be rediscovered. Or maybe that's too philosophical and I just want to run again!

Who knows.

What is clear to me at the very least is that I need to learn to run properly. If the book is right, then I need to get on the treadmill and sort out my posture, foot strike, balance and cadence before I can really begin to explore the place of running in my fitness life.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Stop and look at Luke 4:40

Easily missed, Luke 4:40 is a verse worth pausing at and reading carefully:

As the sun went down that evening, people throughout the village brought sick family members to Jesus. No matter what their diseases were, the touch of his hand healed every one.

As the song goes, "just one touch from his hand, changes everything." Something we know intellectually but maybe not so personally, not so emotionally. I'm not about to get all dewy eyed and lamenting of the lack of dynamic spiritual intervention in people's lives these days. It's just not worth the effort. I just want to dwell for a while in the depth of this little phrase, "the touch of his hand healed every one."

What picture of Jesus does it paint for you? Compassionate, powerful, authoritative, awesome, amazing, gentle, tireless, to name a few. Forget for a moment the wrangling over the place of miracles and the supernatural in the life of the church, just sit in silent wonder at the amazing way that the Son of God touches lives and transforms them.

Beyond all the clever strategies and innovative approaches to Christian community, beyond all the training in personal evangelism and ministry, a simple touch from the hand of Jesus is what our communities need most of all. It may come in the shiny wrapping paper of the latest ministry movement or it may not. It may come in the shape of a simple smile and offer of help. Who knows.

Whatever shape it takes, if it incarnates the touch of Jesus Christ then it will change lives.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Overheard

I was in the local convenience store buying a treat for Anne and myself and overheard a wonderful conversation between a young child and her mother. The child was one of those great kids who never stops talking about something, anything, just as long as they are talking. The first thing I heard her talking about was someone, a friend maybe, who was on holiday for 45 weeks. Not 4-to-5 weeks, but 45 weeks apparently. Then came the priceless kind of moment you get with a talkative child.

"Mum, why don't you drink beer anymore? Is it because you're not married to my dad anymore?"

What a great line!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Opening Ceremonies

This is not a moan, just in case you were planning to misunderstand me!

I was listening to the news this morning and they were talking about the opening ceremony for the Olympic Games. This closely guarded secret will be revealed to an estimated 4 billion people over a three hour period tonight. Three hours! How long does it take to say welcome to the athletes and then tell them to get on with the games?

What was interesting in the broadcast was the discussion about those athletes that won't be there because the late finish and all the trappings of the ceremony could interfere with their performance. Think about the cyclist who take to the road the following day. So, if the Olympics is all about the athletes and the sport, how come the opening ceremony cannot be timed to allow them all to take part without affecting the games? Not an easy question to answer, but here's another, more personal question.

Are we more taken up with the celebration of God's mission than we are with the mission itself? Do you think there's a lesson for us to learn from the games that when the opening show is an event in itself, maybe the real purpose can get a little lost.

From what I've heard from those who were at the preview, and no they haven't given away any details, it sounds like a spectacular event awaits everyone who attends. But in the midst of the glitz and glamour and celebrity spotting of tonight's ceremony we should not forget it's meant to celebrate the games not the show itself.

Church is not a celebration of itself. It has to point to the greater mission of God otherwise it is quite simply a show that has little point. Let's not forget that either.

PS If you've got tickets to any part of the Olympics I hope you have a great time. Having wandered around London the last couple of weeks, everywhere there seems to be a buzz of activity. To quote Boris Johnson form this morning: The Geiger-counter of Olympomania of off the scale!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Luke 4

I decided to dip into a gospel and landed on Luke. Since finishing Hebrews I've been wondering what to read next. It's one of the hazards I guess of not having a devotional plan to follow. Anyway, I took a look at Jeremiah's call for a little personal encouragement, but decided not to read the whole book at this moment. So Luke it is, but not from the beginning. I wanted to start with the ministry of Jesus. I can do the nativity and infancy narratives later in the year. Right now it's the ministry I want to read about.

So I dropped in at chapter 4 and found myself in the middle of the temptation and fist steps into public ministry. A thought struck me. In 4:13 Luke tells us that the devil left Jesus after the 40-day in the wilderness "until the next opportunity". From the rest of the chapter it would appear that he didn't have to wait long for that opportunity.

Having come through the wilderness experience, the fasting and the temptation, it would have been nice to have launched the public phase of hi ministry with a great opening ceremony. Tomorrow of course we have the Olympic opening ceremony. Quite why they can't say, "Here are the athletes, welcome to the games, now get on with it!" Instead we will have hours of parades and lights and dancers and other things going on. The games almost overshadowed by the glitz.

Jesus chose to go to the synagogue on his hometown and, when the opportunity came, to read the scriptures. "The Spirit of the Lord is upon," he read and then announced that it was the day of fulfilment of Isaiah's prophetic words.  No resounding gasp of excitement followed this incredible announcement. Instead they got angry and upset. Dragging him outside they thought it best to dispose of him.

Not exactly what you might want for your fist impression, especially after the ordeal of the temptation and the preparation that was the wilderness experience. I suspect the devil took this early opportunity to have another go somehow.

There are times when I think we are guilty of thinking that somehow Jesus passed through his ministry without meeting temptation again until the garden before the cross. Perhaps chapter 4 of Luke's gospel tells us to be careful about such assumptions.

And what about your own life? what about its ups and downs? Have you recently come through a challenge hoping for some respite but just falling into a noter challenge? At the very least remember you are not alone. Jesus has been there too. This brings me great comfort.

I wish and if only

Today is Thursday. Thursday is social tennis day. From about 10:00-12:00 I will be enjoying the sunshine by the looks of the weather as I run around the tennis court. It's coming up to two years this October since I took up playing tennis, and there are times when It hunk to myself, "I wish I'd learnt to do this a long time ago." At school we didn't have tennis coaching, although we had plenty of courts available. But that shouldn't have stopped me, I just didn't know how to go about getting lessons and didn't have the money anyway.

It would be so easy to wonder about what might have been. I'm not for one minute thinking that I could have been a really good tennis player. In fact I suspect that had I started at school, I might not even be playing now. And that's the thing. Ho often do we live with some form of regret about what might have been when we know that like so many things we begin, we rarely finish them. Not because we're inherently undisciplined, but because we go through seasons. We have a season when something is important enough to pursue and seasons when it is not.

Had I lived out my life fully in the context of one season, then maybe I would have been single-minded enough to achieve something great. But that's not how I'm wired up and it's not how I'm ever going to be. Perhaps I should have found the one thing, and then chased it down with every ounce of effort and commitment I had. I guess that's the difference between champions and the rest of us. It's nothing to do with natural talent, it's more about the relentless pursuit of being the best.

But you can't live your life on the basis of the what if's and if only's. If we could, then I would go back in time and tell my younger self to sort out his eating habits sooner and learn about balanced diets and fitness before he puts on weight. I'd tell him to look beyond a science degree and towards other possibilities. I'd get him learning muscle origins and insertions and suggest physiotherapy as a study option. And I'd probably tell him to buy Apple shares when they are really cheap and to lend the inventors of Trivial Pursuits £100 the help them get the prototype made.

Then again, I probably also tell him not to follow that sense of call he has about ministry because it will only break his heart somewhere down the line and that people might never quite understand what it is that he is trying to show them. I'd try to point him away from the pain and heartache of what lies ahead. All of this because I want to revisit the possibilities that in later life appear to have slipped past without much notice.

So I can dream occasionally of what might have been, but I choose to live in the what is. I can change the what is, and I can affect what is to come, but I can't change what was, so there's little point dwelling on it. Perhaps in tennis I've found the one sport that I could have been good at. Well then, maybe I can be good at it now. At least I can be the best at it that I can be. I can put all my effort in to it in this season of my life. I can enjoy it and run with it and see where it takes me rather than wonder where it might have taken me. The same is true in ministry and with the Personal Training and Sports Massage. I could have done them years ago, but I'm doing them now and that's where I need to focus my attention.

Ministry is always unfolding and changing. I'm just as engaged with it I was, it just looks different. As I've said before, the Union might see me as being on leave of absence but I don't. It's not easy, but I have to decide every day not to regret the journey because win I do that I drop back into the what if's and if only's, and that is not a place I want to spend my life. It's too much of an adventure to live there.