Thursday, April 26, 2012

Lazy or busy?

Do you sometimes find it hard to distinguish busyness from laziness? No. Well that's good. But I'm not sure I can be so certain. Let me explain.

Most of us experience the situation where the job we have to do expands to fit the time we have available. I'm a deadline sort of person and it takes enormous effort to discipline myself to do things before the deadline looms. The thing that helps me is knowing how inefficient working to a deadline can be. The pressure focuses the mind, but you make a lot of mistakes that you would normally catch if you had the time to review and rewrite what you've produced. My solution is usually to set an earlier dealing and even a series of mini-deadlines. To complete a course I was once doing, I set up deadlines for assignments in my diary that went from blue to green to red as they went from coming up to imminent to missed. The objective was to complete the assignment before it went red and if I managed it before it went green then I got a day off!

How does this help distinguish between being lazy and being busy? Well, when you work from home with only yourself to check your output, it's easy to assume either extreme is the case. Because there is always something to do, you think you are busy, but in fact you might just be avoiding things and lacking the discipline and motivation to organise yourself properly. Believe I know how that feels.

On the other hand, it's so easy to presume that you are being lazy because you aren't getting everything done, when the truth is that you simply have too many things to do and you're not focussing on anything for any length of time.

In my experience both of these things looks remarkably the same.

In the end I can't seem to get away from the need to practice good habits of self-disciple and honest reflection without self-recriminations. Learning to apologise to yourself and then getting on with what needs to be done is just part of the process.

Over the years I've had to learn how to work with my internal wiring without allowing it to become an excuse for failing to make changes that will help me achieve more. Asking good personal questions is important too. For example, ask yourself how you can do it more efficiently rather than why you are no good at being organised enough in the first place.

Now, talking of self-disciple and getting things done, I'm off to play tennis for a while and then it's back to sort out some paperwork that I've been avoiding, and do some coursework reading and preparation for the weekend. That and decorate the new house, refit the radiators, commission the heating system, choose floor coverings, go to the tip, get Anne's birthday present.....

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

A Kitchen Begins to Take Shape

The plastering is complete and is drying out slowly. It's really frustrating not being able to paint, but the slower the better when it comes to drying out plaster. But the good news is that the units have arrived and some have been set in place.

It actually is beginning to look like a kitchen now, and the lights are nice too.

I busied myself giving the bathroom another coat of paint on the walls and ceiling. The shower is in, but not wired up.

We went for an electric shower because having a mixer tap shower over the bath would have required raising the height of the tank in the loft. A job too far when an electric shower will do the job nicely and without the need to fire up the immersion heater or the boiler.

Jobs left to do in the bathroom include the floor, the skirting-board, the light, the woodwork, the bath panel, and sealing around the bath, washbasin and anywhere else that needs a squirt of silicone!

So it can't be declared the one room finished yet.

I also put a coat of paint on the ceiling in the study. Mixed some PVA into the paint to get it to stick to the new plaster. Quicker than mixing it with water, applying it with a brush and getting it all down my sleeve while doing it.

I also wasted some time painting a wall that I forgot I was going to paper. Maybe one day someone will buy the house, strip the paper and wonder why only half of it is painted.

I'll probably do some more painting, or maybe even get some wallpaper up tomorrow, but I have to go off in the afternoon for something, so it will probably be a morning and some part of the evening. Friday is a busy day with two funerals to do and then the weekend is a college weekend, so it looks like next week will be when more gets done.

Questions we should ask, and question we maybe shouldn't ask

My friend Rich Shorter, a church planter (everyone needs a label :)) has got a seat in the audience for an upcoming mayoral edition of Question Time. He has had to prepare a question or two, and he asked for help via Facebook.

As a Christian leader, involved in a local community, this is the question Rich has chosen to ask:

"Several of the candidates accept responsibility for the Olympics, who wants to accept responsibility for changing the fact 1 of 4 children live in poverty in London?"
This is a great question, and it's the kind of question christians ought to be asking their elected, and for matter any unelected, representatives. Too often our "Christian" concerns focus on the hard time we are having. We ask, "Why can't a Christian wear a cross or a fish badge?" rather than, "What's happening about justice for the poor and the marginalised?"

While we continue to ask self-centred questions, we will remain rooted in a selfish, dare one say middle-class, expression of the gospel. An expression that I'm not sure Jesus would recognise as authentic. It's not that some of the questions we have aren't valid, it's more that they might just not be the most important questions to ask.

Read Rich's blog post to hear his reasons for wanting to ask his question, and then think about the questions you might ask and why you might ask them.

And, if you want to get yourself thinking about the relationship of the gospel to the big questions, try reading Everything Must Change or Irresistible Revolution.

Style in the bathroom!

How's this for a stylish towel rail in our new bathroom!

The tiling is done and grouted, just one repair needed around the shower. Sadly a tile has been damaged as a result of the shower going in, but that's repairable and will hardly be noticeable when it's done.

We've started painting and the toilet and washbasin have been fitted, so once I rehang the door and the electrics have been done, the bathroom will just need the floor covering done.

One room almost finished, eight more to go!!

The good news is that the kitchen has arrived, the new radiators are on the walls and the plumber is coming back today to work on those things.

The new plaster is drying out nice and slowly, although that's a bit frustrating because we want to get painting, but it simply won't stick to wet plaster. Some areas are dry, so we can set to work on some of the ceilings. The main bedroom is ready to be lined and painted, as is the spare room when I think about it. The landing, stairs and hall need sanding down, lining and then painting.

Plenty for me to get on with over the next couple of weeks before we move.

Friday, April 20, 2012

House Update

Well we're moving along with the house, although it doesn't necessarily look like it! There's still some plastering to be done, but the kitchen is more or less plastered out and drying slowly!

The kitchen is being delivered next Wednesday, so by the end of the week it should look quite a lot different. It might not get tiled before we move in, but it should be painted at the very least.

The plumber is coming on Monday to fit the rest of the bathroom, so I need to get the tiles done. I've made a start, and more is done than in the picture. The goal is to finish it tomorrow.
The first fix for the electrics is all done and some of the second fix is in. The consumer unit is quite large! I think we have something like 13 circuits in total.

As you can see it looks a bit like spaghetti at the moment but again I think we should be well on the way by the end of next week.

The study is ready for painting just as soon as the plaster dries out. we've got the paint and brushes at the ready!
So, all in all I think we can say that we are definitely getting there. I've run the coax into one corner of the bedroom and want to run a second one to the other side so that we can chose which way round the bed goes and decide if we want the small TV in there or not.

I also need to chase some boxes into the walls in various rooms for the data network and TV distribution system.

What does your community want from you?

Here is another offering from the Verge Network. This time it's Michael Frost on the need to listen to our communities. I was struck personally by the overall challenge of what Michael was saying, but one thing stood out when he said something along the lives of, "what we don't need are more churches where the people in them don;t belong in the community."

It is through a process of actively listening to and engaging with the people of the community we are seeking to reach that we are at least on the road to avoiding the trap of transplanting church models. We're back to the issue of dwelling among, working with, and listen to, rather than telling people what they need.

The original video was posted here.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Wilderness and the Church Experience

Belonging to a Christian community is not about just stamping your time card each week and relieving your Christian guilt. In fact, the obligation of attending church is an empty mirage of Christianity. Attending church weekly is not a way of avoiding sin in and of itself.
This caught my attention in a very helpful and readable reflection on being in and out of church.  The post is far from negative, just in case that was what you were reading into the quote.

I know that Anne and I are about to wander into the wilderness. Some might say deeper into the wilderness. With the busyness of my training and to be honest a lack of desire to be in church anyway, I've found myself outside the typical Christian community. Maintaining a faithful walk with God in such a situation is not easy. And yet sometimes church is the very thing that gets in the way of it too! The wilderness can be a great place to learn new things and remember old truths.

Perhaps we won't be in the wilderness long, or even at all. Being prepared for it, and at the same remembering what is at stake and why the church matters and what community could be will be important factors in sustaining ourselves.

Knowing you're on mission

There's always going to be an ongoing conversation about the mission/missional strategy of the local church. In some ways, if we're not having that conversation, then we're not engaging in critical thinking about what it means to be the people of God engaged with God in the fulfilment of his mission. And yet, at the same time, too much talk can mean too little action.

So how do we know when we are on or in mission? What might some of the signs be? Well, Jeff Vanderstelt gives an interesting definition in this short video clip of a longer talk. His basic point can probably be summed up in terms of living life among and with the people we are trying to reach.

I still maintain that too much of our mission activity is predicated upon the idea that people need to come to where we are in order to come to faith. In simple terms, they need to discover the church before they discover Jesus because the church is the only valid route to do this. Now we might not articulate in that way, but I think if we stop and think about, that is precisely what we've tended towards for many years. We hold evangelistic events and invite people we hardly know.

Now I guess that if the church really was the people living out the gospel and not the programmes and buildings and events, then it might just work more effectively than it has done. It certainly has worked in some circumstances, but I fear that there are many for whom it hasn't worked or for whom it may never work that way. Our imagination has to shift away from populating our programmes and towards something altogether more kingdom focussed.

I wish I could see the end from the beginning, but I can't. All I know is that it is time for the church to leave the building and find ways of taking the gospel into the heart of the communities where missing people dwell, and to invest the time and energy to dwell there with them as gospel people. In the world but not of the world as Jesus once said.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Welcome Bogdan!

After many day of journeying to UK from Yakov's workshop in Meerkovo, Bogdan, a handsome officials replica villager toy is arriving on my doorstep. It is taking long time to get here because Postkat have worse sense of direction than penguin in Sahara, but he is finally making it to our warm home here in UK.

Royal Mail peoples made final delivery safely.

Thanks go to Captain Borislav who had to navigate mongoose-pirate infested waters to get to England on his fine ship the Meer-maid.

The Fear of not Being Heard!

Just a quick meandering thought keep passing through my brain. We seem to be the best connected society in history, what with mobile devices, high speed internet and social media at every turn, and yet we are apparently the most lonely, superficial and fragile generation too. Or so it appears.

You see, the thing I've noticed is the increasing number of people who post queries on their social networks asking if anyone is reading what they write. Retweet this or repost this or do something just to let me know that I still exist in your world. We crave attention and yet at the same abhor contact! Are we so insecure that need constant affirmation that we matter to other people in order to know that we matter at all?

I'm just as bad, before you start thinking this is about you. (I do hope that doesn't damage your self-esteem by the way!) I check the stats for visits to my blog and wonder if anyone reads it because there are so few comments. But then again, I don't write to be read, I write to write. I write to process stuff that  lurks in the recesses of my mind. Sometimes that resonates enough with someone else that they decide to interact with me. Great.

I like social media because it gives me a snap shot of what is going on in the world of others and the world at large beyond my door. Sometimes it sparks a thought-trail or an investigation. Sometimes it provoked a comment, but most of the time it's just nice to see the life is being lived in a wonderfully diverse way by lots of people I know, once knew, still know and maybe one day will get to know.

So please, don't retweet, repost, comment or interact unless you want to. I'm quite happy dropping my thoughts and ideas and information into the social ocean for anyone to pick up and explore. Or, in fact none of that matter!

And by the way, that means that just because I don't comment, post or otherwise communicate with you, that doesn't mean I don't read your news, blog, Facebook status, Twitter updates, Christmas newsletter or emails!

Freedom of Speech?

It's been an interesting week for many reasons, but i=one thing that I've been musing over is the rejected bus ad campaign. I was in London on Saturday for my course and saw the Stonewall ad on the side of one London Bus. If you don't what this is all about, the ad simply says something like: Some people are gay, Get over it!

There was an almost to be expected "Christian" response that wanted to run a counter campaign that was deemed unacceptable by the Mayor's office. The rejection of these ads precipitated another volley of comments about the rough deal Christians get in the UK, how we are marginalised and persecuted for our faith. Of course the other way to look at is to understand it as a rejection of narrow-minded and insensitive drive to promote our perspective over and against any competing philosophy!

Here's the struggle I feel. The proposed ads were, in my opinion, ill thought out and unhelpful. Maybe well intentioned, an attempt to bring a message of hope to those who find themselves struggling with issues of sexual identity and faith. But they didn't look like they would do, so I'm quite relieved that they have been rejected.

We need to read our advertising through the eyes of those who do not agree with us if we are going to find effective ways of communicating the grace of God rather than appearing only to have a message of condemnation and judgement. I'm not for one minute suggesting that either of these things were the goal of the ad campaign, but that's how they have been interpreted and we should learn from that.

In the end this is not an issue of freedom of speech. It is an issue of pastoral care and sensitivity, of finding ways to express grace and hope as our core message. Let me be very clear about one thing a least: I believe that it is sin (to use a theological word!) that separates us from God and not our sexual orientation or anything else. What we do with that orientation is another matter. King David expressed his heterosexuality inappropriately with Bathsheba and it was costly. He was not the only one.

Maybe, as Christian, we do need to get over the "gay debate and get on with helping people find God and learning to work out how to live in a way that honours him. Perhaps if we talked more about the power of grace to enable us to live within the limitations of a fallen world rather than as a prescription for normality we might just make some headway in Go'd grand mission to reconnect the missing.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Another day, another course!

I really don't know where all this retraining will ultimately lead in terms of work and ministry, but I'm trying to develop a fairly wide portfolio approach to it all. Whether I'll achieve it all, I don't know, but the plan is simple: Do something useful with my life!

Now I'm not suggesting that ministry was anything less than useful, and as I keep saying I'm not done with ministry as far as I know. That of course, is in God's hands not mine. I've never assumed that it has ever been mine to take up and lay down as I please. Heb.7:17 has always been a significant verse for me:

For it is declared:
   “You are a priest forever, 
   in the order of Melchizedek.”

Now I know the context, but at a time when I was asking many questions about ministry this came home to me in my daily reading. God spoke quite deeply and profoundly into my life that day as I realised that it was not about how I felt as much as it was about his call. The passage goes on the reinforce this when it says that God has made up his mind and that's the end of it!

So, the point is this, just because things have been painful and difficult these last two years doesn't in any change the core of my sense of call. But it's God's call on my life not my own self-determination. Then again, I'm not some sort of automaton that responds passively to a word of command. I am involved in the daily working out of the impact of this call on how I do what I do when I do it.

I believe that changing direction, training to become a Sports and Remedial Massage Therapist and Nutritional Advisor is part of that process. That's why I've also signed up to do a certificate in Personal Training. Hopefully it will create an income for me, but hopefully it will be an integral part of the shape of my ministry and life.

Here's the thing. you don't have to be in "full-time" ministry to be called by God. In fact, sometimes it gets in the way of working out the adventure of being called. You get scared about leaving the security of knowing what you're supposed to be doing and losing your identity and maybe even your authority (not something I've ever really had to be honest). Too many leaders are afraid that if the delegate authority they will lose identity and value. I think that keeps the church from growing and becoming something other than an institution.

Here's a thought: If churches can't work without full-time staff, are they churches at all? It will always be a privilege to serve as a minister, but there is sometimes a hidden cost to the health of the church when we do.

And all I was going to blog about was signing up to become a personal trainer. Ah well, there will always be a vision pushing its way to the surface somewhere.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Look what we've done with the place!

So, we've had the keys for a week and we've made a few changes! We thought we'd go for the rustic, minimalist look in the kitchen!

The rather odd shaped thing leaning against the wall was hidden behind a false wall. It looks like and old flue of some sort to me.

The ceiling was covered in fibreboard tiles, stapled to the old lathe and plaster work. So that's all come down ready for a new ceiling with down-lights.

In the lounge we've removed an old chimney and"feature" fireplace. We know someone loved it, but it wasn't our taste.

The opening just visible in the left of the lecture is going to be made bigger to give us a feeling of space throughout the downstairs.

The tricky thing in the lounge is that the ceiling is very good, apart from the big hole we've made! It would be nice to match the paper that's been put on it, but we're not sure we can.

Moving upstairs, we have the room that will be the study. That was an old built0in cupboard in the left corner, but it will probably be where the desk will go. There will be a light above so you're not sitting in the dark.

We've discovered that most rooms have at least two layers of wallpaper on them. This one had a rather fetching 1960's or 1950's cowboy theme under the top layer. Perhaps it was Maverick wallpaper for those who remember the original TV series.  Whatever it was, it was well stuck down and looked washable, which made it very hard to remove.

The main bedroom now features easy access to the lounge. All we need to fit is a bat-pole and we're all set for fast access to breakfast.

THe last few days has been all about stripping wallpaper. Only one room left to do a few places to tidy up. Not sure what the builders plans are for this week. The electrician in doing the first fix, and there's quite a lot of plastering to do once they get started.

More pictures as we progress!

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Evangelism without the red pen!

Being a student again I've noticed how little I like being told I'm doing something wrong! It's not that I think I'm doing things right all the timer, far from it. I just don't like to be corrected from a perspective that leaves me feeling inadequate. Much better, it seems to me, is to be encouraged to find a better way of doing what you're currently doing somewhat ineffectively or inefficiently.

It's as if the right versus wrong approach is a red pen way of teaching. Ticks are good, crosses are bad, therefor strive for more ticks. The only problem is that ticks don't necessarily help you improve they just focus your attention on the colour of the mark!

This gets me thinking about evangelism and something that passed across my eyes while reading something earlier today. Put simply, evangelism ought to be more about connecting people than about correcting people. So much of the evangelism training that we do is predicated on the principle of correcting the flawed theology of those whom we encounter. Okay, so their theology is flawed, but does it need correcting or does it need connecting? Does it need to changed by revolution or by evolution? Perhaps the reason things like Alpha work is because it doesn't seek to correct flawed thinking about God, rather it encourages the development of one's thinking about God. It's a series of step changes rather than a quantum shift.

We might argue that the final step of faith is a quantum shift for everyone given the darkness to light transformation that takes place, but how we get to that step, well maybe that is better explored through connections than through corrections.

How this changes the way we do evangelism if self-evident inasmuch as we no longer need to be either ultra-agressive or ultra-defenisive. We can simply be who we are and look for opportunities to connect with people and, in turn, to seek to help them connect with the God who misses them most. We do this through conversations, through listening to their story, not just of their life but of the bigger meta-narrative of life by which they interpret the world around them. Rather than jumping in to correct the flawed character of their point of view, we look for ways to connect their story to the Biblical story that unfolds God's love and compassion towards us.

I've done a few funerals recently, which usually means reflecting on Psalm 23 a lot. This last week the theme I chose to explore through those reflections was the image of God. David could have chosen from a whole range of images. He could have gone for warrior, or mighty king or judge. But instead of those he chooses shepherd. If you grew up with a view of God as a judgemental old man sitting on a cloud and just waiting to cast a thunderbolt in your direction, then how does seeing God as a shepherd change that view?

I could simply offer you a corrective to your flawed image of God. On the other hand I could invite you to explore an alternative. I could offer you a connection rather than a correction.

Excuse my cynicism but...

I was talking to a friend of mine yesterday about the trend towards celebrity in the church and lo and behold I read today of the 60 most influential Christians according to a list complied by Premier radio on account of the Queens Diamond Jubilee. Cringing at the thought of the implications of such a list in our celebrity-conscious culture, I nervously followed the link to the article about the list.

Here's the list, but not in any order other the way I copied and pasted them from the article, which in itself was not an attempt to rank them in any way (and neither I think is the list anyway). To be on the list the person has to have lived within the last 60 years and in the Commonwealth, just in case you are intending to write to Premier and ask why Jesus isn't on it!

Steve Chalke; Mary Whitehouse; The Lord Pakenham, aka Francis Pakenham, 7th Earl of Longford; Dame Shirley Williams; Baroness Margaret Thatcher; Tony Blair; Ian Paisley; Sir John William Laing; Rupert Murdoch; Lesslie Newbigin; Gordon J. Wenham; NT Wright; John A. T. Robinson; Eric Mascall; Charles H. Dodd; Sir John Houghton; John Polkinghorne; Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill; Nelson Mandela; Bishop Festo Kivengere; Usain Bolt; Graham Kendrick; Sir Cliff Richard; Sir John Tavener; Dorothy Sayers; J.R.R. Tolkien; Dame Judi Dench; J K Rowling; Bono; Clifford Longley; Malcolm Muggeridge; Graham Greene; Rt. Hon Lord John Reith; J. Arthur Rank; General Sir Richard Dannatt; Harry Secombe; Ronald Stuart Thomas; Leonard Cheshire; Isabel Carter; Rt Revd and Rt Hon Dr Richard Chartres; Peter & Miranda Harris; Basil Hume; George Hoffman; John Bertram Phillips; Frederick Fyvie Bruce; Donald Soper; Dr. Rowan Williams; Trevor Huddleston; Archbishop Desmond Tutu; Revd Nicholas Gumbel; Clive Staples Lewis; David Martyn Lloyd-Jones; Janani Jakaliya Luwum; Rev John Robert Walmsley Stott ; Jackie Pullinger; General Eva Burrows; Gladys Aylward; Andrew White; The Rev'd Kathleen Margaret Richardson; Mother Teresa.
Thankfully this is not a list of those who are well-known Christian speakers or activists. And it has some interesting names on it too. As evangelicals we are often quick to pass judgement on the status of anyone who believes things that fall outside our definition of orthodoxy, but even the most generously minded among us might find some of the names surprising. Who would have thought that we'd see JK Rowling on a list of influential Christians given her literary output and the divide debates it sparked in churches across the country! And Rupert Murdoch too.

So there it is. A list of people who may or may not be familiar to you or I, but who somehow have made it to this very 21st century process of making a list of everything.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

House & Home

Disclaimer: We are not in the business of criticising other people's choices when it comes to decorations and style. The picture are just to let you see what we've bought and then eventually what we have done with it!

So, we got the keys to the house we have bought and the builders moved in one Monday to start work. There's quite a lot to do, but it should all get done this month and we will be in for the start of May! To give you an idea of what we have inherited here's a picture or two of the present kitchen:

 These glass-doored cupboards have access from both sides. Very nice in their day, but not for us. The dark wood is a bot overpowering too, so they are all coming out and a nice new kitchen will be fitted.

We won't be having this style of cupboard either, it just closes off what will be a really nice big kitchen/diner. So we are opening it all up as much as possible. In fact we're making the downstairs as open-plan as we can by creating a wide opening into the lounge from the far end of the kitchen. If you go to the left of these galls cabinets, and turn to your left, there are a pair of sliding doors into the lounge. We're taking them out and making the opening bigger too.
But the kitchen isn't the only room getting the treatment. In the lounge there is a feature fireplace that was once someone's pride and joy, but again not our taste. So the chimney is coming out all the way up through the house.

While all of that is being done, the house needs to be rewired and there's a bit of structural repair work to do in the extension. Oh, and a new bathroom to be fitted, two or three ceiling to come down and be re-done and then decorated throughout and new floor coverings.

Thinking about it, that's quite a list for April!

Monday, April 02, 2012

Nutritional Advisor at your service!

Well I've got my diploma in nutrition, and with merit no less! It was an interesting experience studying again and doing something so different. I'm not sure I feel at all confident about knowing my stuff yet, but then when you think about it, that's always true when you have really only studied the data and not practiced with real people in real situations. I remember learning so much chemistry at university, but only every really applying a small amount of that knowledge at work.

My next task with the nutrition studies, as far as I can see at the moment, is to grow my familiarity with the subject matter. To read and re-read, and to work with some real people. So. I'm going to put it all to work by developing some diet information for a friend who wants to lose some weight, and then I might do some research on sports nutrition, maybe supplements and prepare some leaflets I can give to interested people.

It's quite a scary thought to consider setting up a business doing nutrition and then adding the sports therapy stuff and possibly personal training to it. But these are all opportunities to create a new career for myself.

What is quite hard is explaining to people that this isn't me leaving the church behind, but neither is it me trying to find an income stream while I wait for a church to grow that can support a return to so-called full-time ministry. This is a new way of doing ministry and leadership, not a stop-gap because I don't like the established church and it appears not to like me much!

My hope and prayer is that this is a new way of being alongside people God loves and misses. I'm not a nutritional advisor to do evangelism, I'm a nutritional advisor because I think nutrition is important and interesting. But I will always take my faith with me wherever I go and whoever I see. I can't help that.

So let's see where this takes me. But for the moment I'm enjoying having got my diploma.