Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Other 16

My daughter Ally sent me a link to this article this morning:

Who are the other 16?

Apparently 1 in 17 Android and  IOS 'phones have the YouVersion Bible App installed on them. I don't know how many that makes worldwide, but I'm guessing it's a pretty big number. The article is about how to reach the 16 who haven't and it asks some questions about what we can do to encourage people to engage with the Bible through the medium of smart 'phones and other mobile devices.

If you have such a device and haven't tried YouVersion, then do give it a try. It might just help you keep up to date with your reading plan, or not as the case might be!!

Retraining here I come!

So, this Saturday, 4th February 2012, marks the real start of my retraining. It's the first day of the full diploma course in Sports Massage Therapy and I'm looking forward to it with that mixture of excitement and apprehension that goes with anything new. Will I be able to learn all the information at a rate that will get me through the course? Will I be able to develop the practical skills and that I will need? Will I be able to turn it all into a viable business at the end?

All questions that will undoubtedly get answered in the next twelve months or so.

Of course it's also important to remember that I'm not retraining because I've given up ministry or because ministry has given me up. I"m dong it precisely because I'm still passionate about people who are far from God and about the church that God has chosen to carry the news of the greatest hope we can ever have. When I first ventured towards ministry it was because of a sense of the need within the church in the UK to rediscover it's spiritual life in God's hands. As fellow members of an expedition to North Africa were talking about their sense of call to reach the Arab world with the Gospel, I was consumed by an equal passion to see the church in the UK fired up.

I remember a picture that came to mind of a mission worker edging out a long a branch to reach whatever was at the end. I remember the folk sitting by the trunk cheering them on as they went. And I remember too the sense of time passing and the person on the branch fading from both the view and the memory of the those around the trunk. Eventually a decision was made to cut off the branch because it weighed too much and the trunk would be damaged if something wasn't done. No one remembered that there was a person at the other end who needed help and support. So they took a saw and cut off the branch and the worker on the end found themselves falling helplessly to the ground. In that picture I saw the church at home, concerned about itself so much that it lost sight of the wider mission.

Years later, when I read about my Grandfather's time in Gambia, I wondered if he felt that sense of disconnection with home. I wondered if that contributed to his returning home from the mission-field and never being involved in church again. I don't know. I wondered too if he ever prayed for the church in the UK to get its head back in the game and to stop fretting about curtains and policies and just get on with the job of the kingdom.

I was going to tell a story about getting to put into practice a few of the things I've been learning about massage. About how funny it was to be standing around after tennis last night doing a little bit of massage for a friend with a tight muscle. I was very careful not to do what I'm not able to do, but I did what I could and I'll find out next week if it helped or hindered. Hopefully it helped.

But whether I'm a Sports Massage Therapist, a Nutritional Adviser or a Baptist Minister, I will never stop being a follower of Jesus. I may slip and slide, I may make mistakes and I may fail in some people's eyes, but I will commit myself to pursue a simple obedience to the call of God on my life.

Monday, January 30, 2012

It's going to take time!

Finally I got to church yesterday. What with Christmas, family visits and weekend introductory courses, I haven't actually been to church for a month. Well not on a Sunday anyway, and not to a building that we mistakenly call the church and... Actually I have "been church" over the last month, just not in a standardised and sanitised appointed 1.5 hour worship experience.

Anyway, we toddled off somewhere yesterday and had a good time. Perhaps "good time" is not an appropriate description of what we did, but it will have to suffice. It certainly wasn't traditional, and it wasn't slick, but it was open and relaxed and engaging and okay. Is that the right way to describe a worship event-Okay? Who knows! It was interesting to be part of the congregation, mostly unknown in terms of my background. Only one or two possibly knew I'm a minister and I didn't tell anyone! Not that it's a secret, it just takes a bit of explaining! Rather like explaining that just because I used to work for British Gas didn't qualify me to fit a central heating system or that having studied chemistry that I would be able to fill my grandmother's prescriptions for her because the shop is called "Boots the Chemist" rather than "boots the Pharmacist"!

So what's going to take take time? Well, mostly it's about finding a place within a Christian community. One of the reasons for not disclosing readily my background as a minister is in order to not get pigeonholed into a role of any kind. If I'm a leader, then I want that to emerge through service rather than imposed by virtue of training. Eventually, if we settle in the community we visited, then it will become apparent, more widely known as we become more widely known within the community. The risk I run is being seen as the quiet one who doesn't say much. But then again, keeping quiet isn't a bad habit for someone who's been preaching for twenty years.

I don't know if it's going to be more difficult after two decades of ministry or if we will simply ease ourselves into ordinary church life. I don't know how it will be sitting in the congregation listening to otters do what I used to do. I don't know how I will respond if and when an opportunity to speak is offered. All these things lie ahead of us. I just hope that we don't lose sight of the simple church idea that is forming in our hearts and minds.

Driscoll and the British Church

By now some of you may have read the interview in Christianity that seems to have stoked something of a debate whether Mark Driscoll has anything to say to the church in the UK or not. I ought to reread the article again sometime, but from my first reading I thought he had some courageous things to say that need to be said and need to be heard. We're very quick to defend ourselves when maybe we ought to be taking a long cold look at the reality of our situation.

To balance things up, if you've read the article or just the tweets and blogs, then you might like to read what the man himself had to say about it and a helpful piece by Don Carson too. I thought Don Carson's reflections were particularly helpful and balanced, and you can read them here. Mark Driscoll's comments are on his blog here.

Mark Driscoll calls for clarity of doctrine, courage in preaching, and some objective thinking about men and the church. We ought to listen to that challenge. Generally, as evangelicals, we've got our doctrine sorted out, although there is always room for differences. How big those differences are and how healthy they are is not at issue here. I think the issue issue is how far they distract us from the core call of the church to reach those far from God. To be honest, I think it's naive to think that one's position on say women in leadership, is wholly responsible for our ineffectiveness in reaching men. There's far more to it than that.

What Don Carson does in his reflections is to remind us that Yorkshire is different compared to London (well we all knew that anyway!), and in reminding us of that points us to a reality that success is not necessarily in the numbers. Good things are happening in our country and innovation is alive and well despite institutional barriers and cultural challenges. Mark Driscoll openly acknowledges these differences too.

Overall, we're in danger of yet more knee-jerk reactions to things said by people who are passionate about the kingdom and actually care about the future of the mission of God in the UK, just because we don't like Jonny Foreigner trying to tell us what we're doing wrong and how we could do better. Perhaps the voice from the outside is just what we need so that we can see more clearly from the inside. Thank you to both Mark Driscoll and Don Carson for caring enough to say what they see and for raising the standard of hope around which I hope we can all gather.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Experimenting with diet and nutrition

As some of you know I'm currently studying a nutrition course. Partly for my own interest and partly as a personal retraining programme in order to be self-supporting in ministry. Anyway, my interest in nutrition foes back a long way and should have been better informed a long time ago. I was only four years old when I declared my dislike of most meat and announced I wasn't going to eat it anymore! My mum thought it was a phase, but in broad terms I've not eaten most red meat since then. I still eat chicken and turkey, and a few other things that I like, so getting all my essential amino acids has never been a problem.

A few years ago I decided to do two things. One, tackle my increasing weight and secondly, take a serious look at the potential risks of diabetes and possible solutions. BOth my mother and my grandfather had type II and my twin now also has been diagnosed type II. I started to look at GI and we adjusted our diet as a family to follow a lower GI/GL regimen.

In the run up to our daughter's wedding, both Anne and I lost a lot of weight following a ver popular eating plan that worked for us, and generally speaking we are being reasonably successful at maintaining our weight. Of course the root problem is that you put on weight because you metabolism doesn't match your calorie intake, and those habits are hard to change but need to change over the long haul if you're going to avoid the modern phenomenon of going form one diet to another.

My current experiment on myself is to use both a calorie counting tool (the My Fitness Pal website I blogged about recently) and an adjusted balance of protein and carbohydrates and fat in my diet. The FSA guideline is roughly 15% calories from protein, 30% from fat, and 55% from carbohydrates. To give you an idea of what that looks like, the average healthy adult male runs on about 2,400 calories a day (it just makes the maths a little easier). 15% of that is 360, 30% is 720, which leaves 1120 for the carbohydrate portion.

The simple calculation is that 1g of protein or carbohydrate is 4 calories and 1g fat is 9 calories. So that would suggest that you would need to eat 90g protein, 80g fat, and 280g carbohydrate. Apparently, most people usually don't eat enough protein, and often too much fat, but that's a discussion for another day.

To lose weight you need to eat a calorie deficit diet (fewer in than burnt). But protein uses more energy to digest and so if you get more of your calories from protein the logically your body will need to work harder to extract the nutrients. This is the basis for diets like the Dukan diet that is very high in protein and low in carbohydrate. So my experiment has been to eat a calorie deficit diet of about 500 calories a day below my needs, and to eat 30% protein rather than 15%. On top of that I am making sure that I drink a lot of water. at least 1.5 litres a day and probably nearer 2.5.

What I've noticed is this:

Firstly, it's quite hard to make sure you're eating that much protein. My daily target is 150g, which turns out to be quite a lot for a non-meat eater! Protein shakes can help, but that's not a cheap option by any means and you do need to be careful about what you're doing.

Secondly, drinking that much water takes discipline, but then so does everything else!

Thirdly, never forget the importance of exercise to maintain lean muscle mass and keep your metabolic engine running!

Fourthly, it seems to work! I've lost about 6lbs (2.2kg) in 3-4 weeks and I still treat myself to the occasional flapjack in the coffee shop once a week.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Farewell to the Baptist Times

I scanned the final print version of The Baptist Times this morning. This caught my eye from 1977, the year of the "Protest Assembly". Reading the text it would seem that protest is code for someone actually asking a relevant question that sends the procedural process folk into a tailspin. Maybe I'm being unfair, but it would seem that when a denomination is more concerned about the correct procedure than the question, we're in a real fix!

Anyway, the question was raised by one Douglas McBain of Lewin Road (I had the privilege of meeting Douglas in the 1980's and was really helped and encouraged by him), who apparently woke the assembly up with his challenge from the floor over the interpretation of the data on decline in the denomination, which in his words, had nothing to say about the life, health and spiritual strength of our denomination.

In a later article for The Baptist Times he wrote about the "malaise"  afflicting our churches where we'd lost the cutting edge of evangelism, how poorly paid most ministers were, churches that were afraid of change, too many colleges, and looking backwards rather than forwards. A week later he wrote about the need to have hope, be courageous, innovative and avoid any tendency towards centralisation.

I guess as the lights go out on our denominational paper and come on with the Beyond400 website and the Baptist Times website to be launched, we have to hope that we will not only listen to these voices from the past but also to the voices of the present who once again are calling for courage and innovation. Perhaps too its time to recognise that we are not like other denominations and we do not need to protect the centre in order to go forward at the margins. We don't need a centralised system that organises our life for we ought to be able to organise ourselves locally. Not in fierce independence but in cooperative interdependence.

Two years after the '77 Assembly a report was produced. It's take on the decline in membership? Apparently we were now "slimmer but stronger". If we compared the 2012 figures against the 1979 numbers I worry that we might find ourselves positively diaphanous!

Steve Turner once said: History repeats itself; has to, no one ever listens. Are we listening?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Reading Haggai

I made the decision to read Haggai and Habakkuk because I thought they might be relevant to our new direction. I know too  how easy it would be to pick out verses that saw what I want to hear and how dangerous that would be. But why would I read my Bible in a vacuum?

Haggai challenges and encourages us to prioritise the important. As we buy a house and talk about everything we want to do to it to make it our home, Haggai reminds us that we are not doing this for our benefit alone, but to honour God. If God cannot take pleasure in the house we are building then it's all a waste of time and effort. Remeber the psalmists injunction that "unless the Lord builds the house, those who labour, labour in vain".

So our prayer is that whatever gets built, God is honoured in it and by it, that he will be pleased with what he sees, his glory will be there and his peace too. Not a bad goal for where we are going.

Picking up the pace

You'd think that someone who has spent most of their adult life reading books, studying ideas, reflecting on concepts and generally trying to stay involved in changing conversations about all sorts of things would find shifting their focus to a new area of study fairly straightforward. But the thing is I've never really done anything in a straightforward manner in my life!

So I find myself about to start this amazing Sports Massage Diploma while at the same time studying a Diploma in Nutrition and planning some CPD in Pilates, posture and a few other things. These, of course, will not happen until next year at the earliest, but I do seem to considering a lot of fresh studying for someone of my advancing years! I just hope my brain can take it!

I have a friend that I haven't seem for a long time. In fact I've lost contact with them and would like to track them down, but I can't seem to find them anywhere yet. I remember his plan was to retire at 55, the age I will be this year and the age I think he must have reached about five years ago. I wonder if he did? I wonder what else he is doing?

As for me, retirement doesn't look like a possibility for a long time yet, so I might as well keep learning and exploring. No way do I want my brain to slow down. Recent studies seem to suggest that decline sets in much earlier than previously thought, so I know I'm on borrowed time as far as learning and retying new information goes. Let's hope the brain lasts out the next couple of years!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Stepping out in a new direction

Okay, so this past weekend I spent the two days taking my first steps into the world of Sports Massage. Stepping into the unknown is always somewhat daunting, but never more soy for me that this weekend's experience. The thing about massage is that it is literally "hands on". Who knows how one is going to react personally to applying massage to people one doesn't know. Will you be able to do it in a way that makes them feel comfortable, will you feel comfortable?

In the end, I really enjoyed my new learning experience and I've signed up for the full diploma course! So for the next 11 months or so I'll be a sports massage therapist in training! After that, who knows how things will take shape. We will have to wait and see.

I was really surprised at how much I learnt in just two days. Doing the final "full-body" massage on Sunday afternoon was a chance to put all the things we'd been learning together. Managing the time is quite difficult. How do you work out how long to spend on one leg before moving onto the other one? some of that clearly comes with experience and also with what you find. The tendency we all had was to want to look at what we were doing rather than letting our hands give us the feedback. We learnt that looking up was important for our posture.

I think the other thing we all discovered was how much effort it takes to do good massage. This isn't just lightly stroking someone's back, this is hard work! Learning to use your own body weight and to push through your legs and hips, not using your arms and shoulders takes a lot of concentration and effort at first. But it soon became more natural.

As I type this post, I'm listening to some worship from Hillsongs. It reminds me that what I'm doing is not replacing my ministry, it's reshaping it. I may never preach again, but this weekend I had more meaningful interactions with people who wouldn't consider church an option than I've had in too long. I've had my faith challenged as I was asked all sorts of interesting questions and sought to give open, honest answers.

It may be a new direction, but the good news remains the same, the passion for the lost remains intact, the desire to be shaped by the hands of God in accordance with his purposes is still at the heart of everything. I never want to lose sight of that.

Friday, January 13, 2012

More than a calorie counter

I've started exploring myfitnesspal as part of my interest in nutrition. We all know, I assume, that if calories consumed exceed calories used, then weight gain is inevitable. But how many of us have an accurate idea of our calorie intake?

Myfitnesspal is both a web-based food diary and an app for both iPhone and iPad. It allows you quickly to enter data about the food you eat and the exercise you take on a day-by-day basis. There is even a barcode scanner option for gathering data about a food item. By setting manageable goals you can track your progress. At the end of the day you can review both the calories consumed and the balance of the day's diet. So, for example, if you are trying to derive say 30% of your calories from protein, you can see how you are doing.

I suspect that over time, if you use it honestly, you will get a pretty good idea of what a typical day looks lie and where to make changes. I think it might also help design different eating plans.

There is a good range of easily accessed food data available without having to enter carbohydrate, protein and fat breakdowns. This was today's breakfast:

You can save any given meal, or you can copy a meal from a previous day or date, so it's quite a flexible system. I don't know that I would use it over a really long time. I think it's more a case of getting to know what a typical day or a typical meal means to my overall diet.

Oh, and by the way, it's free!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

What is giving?

As you know, we're about to embark on a very different ministry track in the next few months. As things change one of the areas we've been talking about is how we give and what constitutes giving in these changing circumstances. It would be very easy for us to declare that we can no longer afford to give in the way we have done in the past, and so to reduce our giving to something we consider more manageable.

I hope you feel as uncomfortable about some of those words as we do. We've never wanted our giving to be a matter of affordability or manageability. I remember the quote at the start of RT Kendall's great book on giving that says something like, "When someone says it's not about the money–it's about the money!" We will always keep tat in mind when we work out what to give and how to do it.

The question we face is more mundane in many ways than the simple affordability question. In reality we can spiritualise it by saying things like, "We can't afford not to give," but who wouldn't like a bit extra in their pocket to spend, especially when the mortgage is due and the utility bills are rising? Equally we don't want to become fixated on tithing as the only true measure of our giving. We can so easily fall into the trap of doing the maths and deciding that God must be pleased with us because we hit 10% again this month.

No, our question really revolves around the costs of retraining and the investment in church planting. If I'm doing the training, does that count as part of our giving? There we go again. Another interesting word, "count". It's so forensic, so legal, so accountancy-like, as if everything is reduce able to a measurable amount, a metic of some kind. When did our faith-walk with God become about metrics?

Somewhere along the line we need to rediscover the joy of giving and the sacrifice, but also the joy of life with God. I can't remember how we worked this out last time when i went to college to study theology. I do remember well God's faithfulness to us through those years and how he blessed us in ways we never imagined. And I remember too our friends who struggled. We were no more deserving of God's blessing than they were, but together we shared the blessing.

This time around we have decided that my training is an investment in ministry. We will keep an account of the cost and we will still seek to be generous, but we won't beat ourselves up about numbers. As always we will watch carefully how things unfold and in faith we will look to respond to what we see before us.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

What I'm about to read

Alongside reading books on nutrition, i'm still reading as widely as I can about church, particularly missional church. I have a number of unstarted books that I ought to get stuck into in the next month or so. Two that I want to read are: The faith of leap by Hirsch and Frost and The missional church in perspective by Gelder and Zscheile. Alongside these two, I've jus bought Barefoot church by Hatmaker to read on my Kindle.

That should keep me pretty busy for the rest of January.

The nutrition thing is quite interesting. I'm now on module 5 of 18, trying to do one a week. I guess this will get a bit more demanding when I start my other course. Self-discipline will be of the utmost importance. It will almost be like college all over again! At least I'm free of major examinations this time around. I remember vowing that I'd never sit another exam after I finished my first degree and then I went and did two more! And then after that I still did two more exams for my accreditation as a batiste minister and a diploma in counselling. Must be a genetically disposed student.

Maybe it says something about being willing to embrace something new and different. At least that might be an argument I could use for it. If, at school. someone had said to me that I'd have a degree in chemistry, two in theology an two or three diplomas in unrelated subjects I think I'd have thought them quite mad. Back in the 70's it was still very much the case that you settled on a career and followed that through. Now it seems that there's almost a portfolio approach the career development. Maybe not for everyone, but for some.

Anyway, whatever it all means it certainly means this: life will be different. So I'd better get on with writing up my next assignment and ding some research for a friend who needs some nutritional advice. Does this count as my first real client I wonder? Hope I can help!

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Me and my Kindle

I was very lucky to get a Kindle for Christmas. As you know, I already own an iPad, so why you might wonder would I want a Kindle? Well, I have to say that I asked the same question for a long time. The iPad is great. It has a bright screen that is easy to read and a larger screen size than the Kindle. The Kindle is a dedicated reader, whereas the iPad can do so much more. So why carry two devices around with you when one would do the job, right?


The Kindle is brilliant. It is light, much lighter than the iPad. It renders the pages in a way that makes it feel book-like in a way that's just a little hard to explain. The text is clear, navigation is easy enough and the battery lasts a long time. Yes, it's a dedicated reader, but it's so good at being that, and that is exactly what I want from this kind of device.

I currently have a number of books on my Kindle. I'm half-way through The Long Walk, the story of a group of prisoners escaping from a Siberian work camp in the 1940's. I also have a book about nutrition on there and a couple of other fiction titles to dip into at some point. Yesterday I downloaded a sample chapter from a book I might get. Now that's a great way to explore new books and ideas without having to clog the bookshelves.

So I have to say that I'm impressed with my Kindle and I have a feeling we're going to have a long and enjoyable working relationship. Will I stop buying paper based books? Probably not. Actually I'd love to have the option of buying both paper and digital for some books, rather like triple-play Blue Ray, DVD and digital media.

Proteins, Carbs, fats and Vitamins

To keep my brain from going to sleep now that I'm no longer a church leader, I've embarked on a course in nutrition. To be honest I'm not too sure where it fits in the grand scheme of qualifications. If anyone knows what it means I be pleased to find out what an "NCFE Level 4 diploma" equates to on the NQF. From what I've done so far I'd guess that it somewhere around or just above an A-level, but given that they are supposed to have got so much easier than when I did my A-levels, who am I to say!

Anyway, I'm working away it to the best of my ability and trying to remember what I've read so far about complete and incomplete proteins, what the essential amino acids are, how to work out how much carbohydrate there is some foods and what a portion size actually should be for the average person! Next up is a module on fats and then there's a long unit on vitamins. My ageing brain is struggling to retain all this new material and I think I'll have to produce some kind of review system to help me stay familiar with  what I'm learning.

I'm using Anne and myself as guinea pigs to explore different diet elements. So last night I cooked a simple pasta meal, but rather than just sling some pasta in a pan, I weighed out the pasta according to the serving guidelines. I then did a bit of maths on the meal to see what the calorie count was. Very interesting. I'm pretty sure that one of the challenges the great British diet faces is that of portion size. Just for fun, try weighing your breakfast cereal out. Just put in the bowl what you'd usually have and then weigh it and compare it to the portion size on the packet. I was surprised how much I saw as a reasonable portion.

Anyway, it's quite interesting to explore all of this, at least it is to me.

In a couple of weeks I'm attending a weekend training course which is an introduction to sports massage. If that goes well, I'll be looking to start the full diploma course in February. All this should keep me occupied over the next year along with sorting out the house we are hoping to buy.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

The 39 Steps

Last night Anne and I went off to the Criterion Theatre to see a production of The 39 Steps. It was a great evening.

Adapted by Patrick Barlow, it is a comedy take on Buchan's original story. The story moves along at a great pace and we didn't even notice the time passing. No sooner had the opening monologue begun than we found ourselves 45 minutes later at the intermission without a dull moment.

The cast of four did a great job and I think we'd even go back and see it again, just to pick up on some of the things we might have missed the first time around. There was some really clever use of props and shadow puppets on a very simple set. I'm not sure how far through the action that I realised the number of references to Alfred Hitchcock, the director of the original film version with Ronald Coleman in 1935. On the train home we listed the ones we could remember: Psycho, The Birds, Rear Window, Vertigo, The man who knew too much, North by North West. I'm sure there were more.

According the the programme notes "Buchan's story is too cerebral to make a good movie," but this comedy adaptation works really well. If you get the chance to go and see it, I don't think you will be disappointed. A good night out.