Wednesday, December 31, 2008

So, farewell 2008



For the last few years I've used a montage to help churches reflect on the year past, and here is this year's.

It's an easier one than in years gone by, the stories this year seem to have been written in marker pen on billboards, rather than in pencil in the margins.

A small prize to the first person to corectly identify each person or story here.

My prayer for you in this year ahead is that you'd know true prosperity; that you'd have enough to meet your needs, and the needs of those God puts in your way.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

In the midst of the darkness

Our prayer for last night's midnight service, as we watched and waited for the light to break forth in darkness:

We pray with and for those who this night await the Saviour of the world to be revealed.

Lord, in the midst of the darkness, Let your light shine.

We pray for the children who will be born this night, in conditions that are hostile, inhospitable, uncomfortable and temporary.

We pray for the women and men, whose children will be born in an alien land, in a place they seek refuge, hope, peace.

Lord, in the midst of the darkness, Let your light shine.

We pray for those who this night undertake jobs unseen by others, who in the midst of their toil and labour, in the humdrum of their everyday life, need a revelation of the divine, and an assurance that they are not forgotten, not overlooked.

We pray for those who have no work, who face redundancy, or whose work and financial future seem uncertain and insecure.

Lord, in the midst of the darkness, Let your light shine.

We pray for those who hold authority to govern and judge, and for the police forces who enforce the laws of the land, who seek to keep peace.

We pray for those who are tempted to use their authority, power and influence to abuse others, or promote themselves. We pray for people who are victims of the wilful neglect or persecution of hostile governments.

Lord, in the midst of the darkness, Let your light shine.

We pray for people of other faiths, remembering that you spoke to star-gazers, and revealed the birth of your son to them. We pray that they may find the true light that gives light to all men, and come to worship him.

Lord, in the midst of the darkness, Let your light shine.

Lord we pray for ourselves, sometimes confused, often conflicted and seemingly too content. As we wait for a fresh revelation of Jesus to ignite faith in our hearts, and to reawaken passion in our mission.

Lord, in the midst of the darkness, Let your light shine.

Monday, December 22, 2008

For whose benefit?

John & Olive on 2churchmice's blog posted a thought provoking article today. Some readers may know that churches are now required to register as charitees (something many of us have not needed to do until now) and the Charity Commissioners are working aplan to get all churches registered by 2012 (starting with those who have an income of over £100,000 and then working down).

One of the areas of concern for many churches has been the need to demonstrate that they have some public benefit, a necessary condition for charitable status.

Well, the Commission has published its report into the matter and you can download the .pdf here.

John & Olive write (in the midst of a longer and brilliant post):
Now the report is out, it looks as if the Charity Commission has more confidence in the transformational power of the Gospel than some Christians, as they clearly state that ‘Charities whose aims include advancing religion do not have to undertake secular activities in addition to their religious activities in order to meet the public-benefit requirement’.

More interesting still is the fact that missional activities are specifically singled out as a key way in which Christians might demonstrate their care for their fellow citizens – by reaching out to others and sharing the good news.

I posted the comment below, and I'd be interested to hear your views:

I can’t really begin to count the number of times I’ve been encouraged to write, pray, complain, or be fearful about some piece of government legislation or other that was going to restrict the Church’s ability to be the kind of Christ-centred, loving, missional and generous community we’re called to be.

I wonder if we need to feel targetted and oppressed, as this gives us an excuse for not living up to the freedom that is, in reality, ours?

If we shrink away, and proclaim that we’re not actually doing that badly given all the oppression we’re under, and that it’s no wonder we’re in decline with the government, the culture, the media and everyone against us, then we have a ready explanation for the decline we experience.

If we come face to face with the reality that we are free, that society doesn’t hate us, that faith is not only welcome but encouraged in our culture, then we have to ask some very scary questions about what we’re doing. Challenging-everything kinda scary. Questioning what pastors have been doing scary. Shining a light on where we use resources kinda scary. And questioning the validity or understanding of most people’s faith kinda scary.

Far easier to hide under this oppressive rock…Don’t shine the light…

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

stuff

So, it's been a while since I posted (holidays, church and advent busyness etc.), so today I'll post twice.

Below is the results of a couple of evening services reflecting on Habakkuk, and here I'll bring you up to speed with a few things.

I have finally got around to watching "Constantine", the Keanu Reeves movie. I thought it was fun, some cool ideas and reflections on heaven, hell, the nature of angelic creatures (Gabriel was brilliantly re-imagined). Keanu is Keanu, he only has one style, but it really did suit this film I thought. I disagree with just about all the theology in it, but love the way that faith stories and ideas can be fodder for a mainstream movie, that there was a lot of theology in it at all was a cool thing.

I watched that film on my iPod, the first time I have, and it worked well, I watched it over the space of a couple of days, wherever I could catch 5-10 mins, so in coffee times and those occasional slack moments. The screen amazed my with the sharpness of the image, so much so that I am currently downloading Hellboy to watch next.

I also read Toby Young's "How to lose Friends and Alienate People" (yes I know with both of these I am a few years behind..) and thought it was an excellent holiday read, even if he does cop out by giving himself a happy ending. Lot's of bad language in it thought that felt quite unnecessary to the telling of an already quite funny story.

Amongst other things I'm reading now is Nigel Wright's book "A Theology of the Dark Side - putting evil in its place" I'm doing this alongside a couple of other pastors in the city, and we'll join together in January/February next year to discuss what the book is saying to us in our situations. It's interesting to read his thoughts whilst newspaper headlines are full of people being described as "pure evil".

I've been delighted to discover that John and Olive Drane have started blogging, you can find them over on 2churchmice's blog. These are two wise, inspiring and gentle people who have shaped my thinking about church, family and mission greatly.

As a family we're continuing to explore and get to know this new city, ministry in the church seems well appreciated, and we can see the signs of deeper levels of commitment from the existing church folk, as well as a visitors staying, and old friends returning.

A Habakkuk Psalm

A few weeks ago I led a 2-part series on Habakkuk in our evening services. The first week was a kind of bird's eye view, looking at the setting in the minor prophets - what they were, why they're often ignored, and why it's important to grapple with them - the situation Habakkuk was writing into, and a brief overview of the book. In the second week we looked at how Habakkuk raises questions about God's compassion, his presence and his judgement. And we saw how God dealt with these questions. Habakkuk's response to the situation he saw with his own eyes, and the conversation he has with God is to write an outpouring of praise, a psalm, meant to be read with passion.

Our response to the message, as a congreagation, was to write our won psalm, with people being invited to submit a line, or comment, or scripture. What follows below is a copy of those comments, arranged a little, and is the reult of our reflection on Habakkuk, the world we find ourselves in, and what we perceive of God's ministry in our lives.

Lord, you are the creator of all things, you hold the universe in your hands, thank you that you care for me

I know you hold the future, because you have held it in the past

Even if you slay me I will still trust you

Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my saviour

I will lean not on my own understanding for your thoughts are not my thoughts

Lord, I stand in awe of you when I consider what you have done for me

The mystery of the Lord is a wonderful thing. His ways are not of this world, hallelujah!

I cast all my care on you for you care for me

Speak O Lord, I long to hear, your words that take away my fear. Those words that speak to me of love and lead me to my home above.

Lord, how marvellous are your works, continue to work in your people

Lord, I rejoice in your love me, bring the prodigals I know and love back into that place of joy, back to the place of joyful obedience to you.

Looking at the world, it is hard, but that thank you that Jesus came to heal and save, help me to trust more and rejoice

Although I am low, I will rejoice

You have come that I might have life, and have it in all fullness

Woe to my work colleagues, who trust only in their own strength, yet may they hear of your fame and trust in your Son

Open my eyes that I might see beyond the limits of human sight – give me the eyes of faith

O Lord my God, though many have turned away. Give me strength that I may hold on to you and walk in your ways

What I can't see, what I don't know, what I can't change, what I can't do: these O Lord where I trust in you

You are so faithful, your love never changes.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Disasters Emergency Appeal for the Democratic Republic of Congo



Please support this latest appeal by the DEC, phone the number above or click on this link.

Please, just do it now.

You can find out more here.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Review of "The Shack"

*Spoiler Alert - I will reveal some of the plot in this post*

I was loaned a copy of The Shack by William P Young recently.

Over the course of the last few weeks I've been reading it as spare time allows, and finished it this week.

So, what to make of it, and it's popularity? Well, in reply to a friend who asked for a quick response I penned this:

It's not entirely without merit, and there were some interesting thoughts that caused a few moments reflection. I did, however, find it quite sentimental.

I guess if you imagine putting "The Road Less Travelled", "The Celestine Prophecy", "The Search for Significance" and "A New Kind of Christian" into a blender and whizzed "The Shack" is what might result.

It's a good story, and it does involve and pull the reader in and along, but I'm not sure it's saying anything that an up-to-date reader of contemporary Christian thinking would have read better elsewhere.

Oh, and it has, in my opinion, a few quite dubious theological assertions.

But simply because so many folks in churches are reading it, it's worth the read so I could comment.


I'm not sure that does complete justice to the book, and I've had a few more days to reflect on it since.

One of the things I think the book does well, is take a reader on a journey from a fairly traditional understanding of God's nature towards something more open, gracious, generous even. And so, if it counters a popular image of the stern rule-maker looking for reasons to smite sinners that can only be good.

I enjoyed the personification of God the Father as a black woman, however, felt that the explanation of the inter-relatedness of trinity missed the mark. It's the difficulty of reconciling one God and three persons - they were, simply, too independant, like three individual beings who had chosen to be together, rather than one being. Maybe I'm making too much of that.

I also disliked the sentimentality that the book is shot through with, the first time I read "I'm especially fond of him" I smiled, but the continued use just felt awkward and obvious.

Then onto more difficult issues. The tragedy of the daughter was, to be frank, a crude use of human emotion - it didn't work for me as a journey through pain with the help of a loving Father, and went nowhere near offering an explanation for the events. It was there only to evoke emotion. And in the most base and clumsy way. It seemed to me that Young's portrayal of God was prepared to bend over backwards to make Mac have a clearer understanding of everything in the universe (literally at one point opening up a new view on creation) yet this God never dealt with the one key issue that Mac had, instead making the pain simply disappear. A theological hurdle too far perhaps?

I'm not expecting a novel to answer the problem of human suffering - far from it. But this novel seemed to want to - then didn't, and in its portrayal of a God who seemed to want to reveal so much - this was a very obvious gap. Young might have been better to have tried to explain less, and then leaving this one obvious area unanswered would have stood out less perhaps.

I'd also want to ask questions about a few other things. Does God really have no expectations of us? Micah 6:8, Isaiah 58 and Matthew chapters 5-7 and 25 might suggest otherwise.

Lastly, the bridging of an unbridgeable chasm - contact between the living and the dead - raises other issues about the underlying theologies present here. It works very neatly in the book - quite a tear-jerker of a moment - but where does it leave the book theologically, or lead the reader spiritually?

So, all in all, worth the read? Well, it's a good story, if a little too sentimental for this reader's tastes, and so many are reading and talking about it that it makes it worth borrowing a copy to read for oneself (and thankfully takes a lot less time than a similar exercise with The Da Vinci Code). But the reader ought to not cast off critical thought and reflection before re-shaping any thoughts about God, his purposes and dealings with human beings.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Christian Falk Ft Robyn - Dream On (Released 17/11/08)

A great, haunting and moving sound, with a vid that plays with expectations and prejudice - I'm wondering if there's a place to use this over Advent.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Cutting through the stereotypes

As I watch coverage of the US election I am continually alarmed at the way the american public is stereotyped as middle-class liberals who support Obama, or big business and working class patriots supporting McCain. Add to this mix perceptions around sex and race, and this campaign has at times revealed an ugly underbelly of people's perceptions (as well as the reality) around voting motivations.

This morning I found this article from the BBC's website.

Matthew Price has been following the McCain campaign and came across "Cupcake" an "unusual" Obama supporter.

May God use videos like this to prevent us from falling into the trap of assuming we know about people by the way they look or sound!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Dear Mark Brewer

I'm copying below the contents of a letter sent on behalf of a group of bloggers (of which I am part), who are concerned at the treatment of David Walker. It's an issue that raises many questions about free speech, fair comment, and the censorship of blogs, bloggers everywhere ought to be concerned. Here's a quote from the group's facebook page outling things briefly.

On 22nd July cartoonist Dave Walker was issued with a 'cease and desist' notice from SSG, giving him just a few hours to remove all posts about SPCK/SSG from his Cartoon Church blog, or face libel action. Dave complied with the request, though the posts contained nothing libellous.

2 other bloggers were issued with 'Cease and Desist' notices: one on the same day as Dave (Phil Grooms SSG/SPCK blog), another the day after for republishing some of Dave's posts (Sam Norton). Both have disputed the claims in the letters, and have not taken down any blog posts.

So far, the threatened response from SSG has not materialised. In the meantime, the attempt to censor blogging has resulted in even more scrutiny upon SSG, and Mark and Phil Brewer, who run it.


You can read more at The Wardman Wire

Dear Mr. Brewer

We are writing on behalf of 498 supporters of cartoonist and blogger Dave Walker, a group which includes bishops, national journalists in the UK and US, lawyers, clergy, and concerned members of the public.

We would like to ask you please to contact Dave Walker and withdraw the demands made in the 'Cease and Desist' letter which you sent him in July. Your letter, as far as we know, instructed Dave to remove all his posts about the recent history of SPCK bookshops or face action for libel. With the pressures of the impending Lambeth conference, and a very short deadline given by yourself, Dave complied. He commented at the time: “I have therefore removed all of the SPCK/SSG posts on this blog, as, although I believe I have not done anything wrong I do not have the money to face a legal battle. The removal of these posts is in no way an admission of guilt.”

Many of us have read the posts concerned, and are surprised, to say the least, that they could be called libelous. Indeed, the first three posts make no mention at all of yourself, the Society of St. Stephen the Great, or anyone associated with you. The 4th post reports your takeover of the bookshops with the comment “this is splendid news.” Another post is a simple link to your SSG video on YouTube. Other items include verbatim reports of your own statements, and in the simple post on the death of Steve Jeynes, dozens of people used the comments to expressed their grief and condolences to Steve’s family.

Dave is a reasonable man, and if all critics were as fair as he is the world would be a better place. If you were able to reconsider, and point out specific statements and claims you were unhappy with, we are sure Dave would be happy to correct them where appropriate. This is the normal process of debate on the internet, and in real life, and follows the strong tradition of free speech for which our countries stand and are rightly proud.

So this is a polite request from all of us: please contact Dave Walker, advise him that your ‘cease and desist’ communication no longer stands, and let him report freely.

Yours sincerely

8 signatories representing the ‘We Support Dave Walker’ group

Monday, October 06, 2008

ASBO Jesus hits the nail on the head


Check out the link to The Ongoing Adventures of ASBO Jesus on the left there...

Brilliant stuff Jon, and I'm pleased to reproduce it here.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine

This evening we've reached chapter 3 in our evening series on Ephesians, a letter from Paul that I love, that excites me about church, and that I think is foundational in building a church that intends to fulfil its destiny in Christ.

At the end of the chapter Paul writes down his prayer for his reader/hearers, and it ends with these words,
"Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations for ever and ever! Amen!" (TNIV)

as a response to this, we spent some time writing prayers, spreading them out around the edge of the meeting space, and then walking around, pausing, praying, kneeling, standing, weeping and allowing faith to rise, that God might indeed want to answer our prayers, in ways that will bring glory and honour to his name.

I promised the folks there that I'd make a note here of the prayer requests, so that others who weren't with us can join us in prayer, and that we might be reminded for our own prayers.

The topics were:
To become more Christlike.
Complete healing for our daughter Elizabeth.
That all our church might become a loving, approachable family.
Strengthen me with power through your spirit in my inner being.
The Local Community - the homeless, the friendless, the old and the young.
To be rooted and established in love.
Bring back the prodigals to church.
To be more of a prisoner for Christ, and to know more of Christ.
May I know his glorious riches, and may I be strengthened.
For those who have "lost" their way.
Pray that Ruth and Joe will start going to a church in Leicester, and that Joe will come to know Jesus.
To strengthen my inner being to grow confident for God's purposes.
For the lost and the prodigals.
That the Father would strengthen me with power, through His Spirit, in my inner being, that Christ may dwell in my heart by faith.
That Jo will have courage to witness at work and that the Holy Spirit will inspire what to say.
For unity
For the children and families who will this year receive the shoeboxes.
The church building bridges.
That the whole fellowship will be so united in love for Jesus and each other that Whitmore Reans will notice the difference.
That Tues evening might exceed my expectations.
Strength for Brinford team to show the lads God's huge love for them by how we love them.
That whatever role we have in life, we can do it under the influence of Christ and with his power.
For marriages within the church.
Stregthen my inner being.
The manse situation.
That we may increasingly see Jesus bringing healing to people in the church, but also to those outside the church.
That our children and grandchildren will turn to the Lord.

Amen, and amen!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Mission in Ramadan

I came across a news item this morning, and had mixed responses to it: News article from the BBC

A church in Indonesia is preparing and then selling evening meals for their Muslim neighbours to break fast. They serve them in the church, and invite a local imam to come and say the fast-breaking prayers.

Could this (should this) translate into the UK, or is the current lack of sensible discussion and understanding too much of a hindrance? One of the things that challenged me most, and where I guess I'd need convincing would be inviting the imam in to say prayers.

I've been reading and reflecting on the story of Jesus feeding the 5000+ and loving that there was no theology check before that particular communion.

What thoughts and reactions do you have to this story?

Sunday, September 21, 2008

3 full weeks

After many months of praying, talking and preparing, we are now in Wolverhampton.

The last Sunday in August saw us bidding farewell to the church in Bromley, it was a good ending, and we left feeling that the church were praying for us. The highlight for me in that day was the prayer during the Later Service – a time of intimacy and intensity.

Gifts, prayers and warm wishes were gratefully received, and we were sent into a week of final packing and getting things together for the house move the following week.

We moved here on Monday 8th, with our belongings packed into a removals truck, and some delivered to the house, some to the church and the rest to storage, awaiting the day when the manse situation is resolved (the church is currently selling one, renting another and looking to buy a new one) all this in the midst of a difficult housing market, and great financial uncertainty.

One of the passages of scripture that (although completely out of context) has given us some encouragement is 2 Corinthians 5:7 “We walk by faith, not by sight”.

And so yesterday, the 20th, was the day of the induction service.

Just as we were concerned to end well in Bromley, so too we wanted to start well here. And we did. We were thrilled to have friends from our times in Lancaster, Northampton and Bromley join with the church here, as well as members of our family. Ray Gill, who'd moderated the church here during the time of pastoral vacancy led the service with humour, warmth and understanding. He literally handed me a baton, symbolising the passing of the care of the church, it was a moving moment; the music group, who play so well week by week were just superb, and the building was filled with the most wonderful singing; Kate Coleman was on fire, challenging us as a church, and us as a family, to “step out of the boat” like Peter, and become extraordinary followers of Jesus; the covenant pattern of induction we used from “Gathering for Worship” worked really well, and Keith Judson led us through it with skill and humility; friends from Northampton, Bromley, Wolverhampton and Birmingham prayed for us, and faith rose as we called upon God for his leadership, guidance and protection; finally we had a number of greetings from local churches, who I'll enjoy getting to know better in the weeks ahead.

And so we begin, with faith that God is up to something, with a desire to put mission at the heart of this church, and with an assurance that participating in building the Kingdom is better than anything else in the world.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

LibraryThing

So, three strands came together in my mind, and led to an idea.

First, a friend of mine had a very successful book sale recently - and he used the LibraryThing website to do it. He catalogued them all, and people could examine his library and make offers.

Secondly, in the process of getting ready to move, one of the removal company reps asked, "if there was a fire and all your books were lost, would you know what they all were?" As I'd never catalogued them I figured I ought to do that as I packed them, and so I also got a LibraryThing account and have begun adding them, just over 200 done, maybe another 800 to go (not as many as I thought). I've added a link to my library at the bottom of the left hand column here.

Thirdly, reading "Jesus for President" reminded me of some values my wife and I held dear a few years ago, that have not been forgotten, but have been less at the forefront of our lives. And one of those values is holding things in common, sharing.

My idea is this - why don't a number of us pool our book collections? We could form a book sharing community, and post books to each other as we had need or interest in them? We could use any of the online archiving sites that would allow us to keep track of where books are, should another person need them. I am not interested in selling my collection, but I will share it. What do you think? Could it work? If you want in on this, or if you want to give me the reasons why it will or won't work let me know in the comments section.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Worship Industry

I guess it's not surprising to many that I like Brian McLaren's writing and teaching.

I don't agree with everything he writes and says, but his openness to a questioning, searching, real faith is appealing to me.

This video comes from "The Work of the People" and a hat tip to the BU's E-Sweep today for pointing me to it. Go look and explore, the address will be in my links soon.

Bromley, Wolverhampton - let's listen to the message of this little video and covenant to know and express what is real.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Amongst other things, I am not my father

It was my birthday last week, and I bought myself a pressie – an iPod nano – and very lovely it is too!

My family bought me a very very cool bedside digital radio / alarm / docking station thing which I’m enjoying playing with, and loving the huge assortment of stations now available to me.

One of the reasons I wanted an iPod was to listen to some teaching when I’m walking the dog and going to and from the church building. So I’ve been downloading some samples of teaching, there’s a great choice of free stuff on itunes alone.

So far I have listened to Walter Brueggemann give an overview of the whole of Isaiah, a surprisingly good podcast of Rick Warren sitting with some church leaders and chatting about ministering in an urban context, and most helpful of all Paul Scanlon preaching a message entitled “I am not my father”, which I found helpful, moving and healing.

If, like me, your own experience of being fathered wasn’t great, then I want to highly recommend you listen to this teaching, which is both an introduction to a book he’s written (on order, I’ll review it once I’ve finished it) and a stand alone message of hope and encouragement that we’re not doomed to repeat the patterns of our parents, but free, as followers of Jesus, to live a new life. He has some interesting things to say about generational cursing too, which I found quite sensible.

I’d only heard the briefest teaching by Paul Scanlon before, and I confess that I didn’t expect to enjoy the message, but his humility, brokenness and faith shine through.

I’m also reading “Jesus for President” by Shane Clairbourne at the same time as “The Audacity of Hope” by Barack Obama – it’s fascinating to read these two as companion texts, and it’s given me some faith to pray for America in a new way.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Moving again!

If you follow this blog, or if you’ve read it through from the start, you’ll know that when my family and I moved to London it was in order for us to take on a newly-created role in a suburban Baptist Church. My hope had been that it would be a place where we’d be able to spend a significant amount of time exploring the emerging church agenda, as well as helping the church identify and resolve some weaknesses in its ministry amongst 13-30 year olds.

Towards the end of last year (following on from the anniversary of my arrival here) I’ve been reflecting with colleagues and other wise friends about the way the role has actually panned out, and have become convinced that what we hoped for here just hasn’t been possible. So since the start of this year, my name has been available to churches that have been seeking a new minister, and this process has culminated in my accepting a call to be the new Senior Minister at Tabernacle Baptist Church in Wolverhampton (The Tab).

My wife and I are thrilled at the way we’ve perceived God’s leadership and direction in this decision-making time, for us as a family, and for the folks at The Tab. It will, of course, be very difficult and sad for us to leave the folks here. We’ve made a few good friends, and there will undoubtedly be some questioning and soul-searching about what the last few years have been about. We don’t feel we got it wrong, but rather that there was a God-possibility here that for a variety of reasons wasn’t able to be realised. Like the Murphy’s, I’m not bitter, and I hope the folks here aren’t either. It was an interesting experiment, and like all good experiments we learnt a lot doing it, as well as from the results we got so far.

We’ve shared the news with the church here, and the leadership took the wise decision to write to each member immediately to explain the situation. This meant that everyone knew quickly precisely what was happening. There have been those who expressed disappointment and shock, and plenty of others who could see that I was in the wrong post here, and that it was likely I was about to move on.

I realise it’s been a while since I last blogged. My colleague’s sabbatical and my own holidays have meant I’ve had little time. I’ll blog more later about holidays and the process of moving from one church to another. Let me just say that the last afternoon of my holiday was spent with my family and the Cheeky Girls (for real…), which was rather nice.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Revival loot

So, if you go to a revival meeting and get gold dust, or a heavenly gem, or a promise of oodles of cash, here is a (fairly graphic) video that might give you some idea of why God made you wealthy.

I'm serious, collect that gold dust up and sell it - God's people need the money.

And a ht to Lev for the link.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

An outpouring on outpourings

I guess many of us will have been looking with a mix of interest, curiosity, hope, bewilderment and maybe amusement at the events taking place in a conference centre in Lakeland, Florida, USA.

For a few of weeks now, nightly “Revival” meetings have been taking place there, led by Todd Bentley. A google or youtube search on “Florida Outpouring” will give you a flavour of what's been happening.

There are now reports of a “Dudley Outpouring” as well as others around the globe as leaders who have seen what’s been happening (normally on godtv.com or the God Channel on satellite) go to Florida and bring back what they have “caught”, and impart it to the folks at home.

So, what to make of this?

I’ve been asked for my reflections by a few folks, possibly because when the Toronto Blessing movement was at its height in the UK I was involved with a ministry (that I deeply appreciate and love) that sought to introduce people to what God might have been doing in that time. As I reflect on those times of prolonged sung worship, teaching, prayer and expectation there are a number of things I’m sure of, and some I’m less sure of.

Right off the bat, I’m unsure of the lasting effects. For some individuals there was a renewed sense of faith, a fresh wonder at God’s power, a deeper conviction of God’s love and concern for them as individuals, and perhaps an awakening of a sense of purpose and mission for their life. There were accounts of miracles, some I saw with my own eyes, and it’s hard to doubt that evidence, but I genuinely have no evidence in the long-term for any of them.

There were others though, who left the church, became more cynical, hated the underbelly of money-grabbing, showmanship, heresy, flakey teachings and practises and the hyper-emotionality of the whole thing.

I think God was doing something, and I’m convinced that often our responses to that were tainted by our own desires, lusts, longings and pre-conceived notions. And I find myself asking “How much of this has to be God for us to affirm it?” knowing that anything we’re involved with instantly becomes less than perfect.

Toronto spawned a movement that led to more conferences, more books, new songs, great excitement, and new subjects for us to argue over or chase after. I wonder if the first century Jesus followers had our access to transport and communications they would have chased around Corinth, Ephesus, Antioch seeking a blessing? Probably.

And so I look at what’s happening now with a set of questions and experiences, shaped by having done more reading and study, and having been a (very small) part of a previous movement. And what I see is just as mixed.

I see leaders who teach a real mix of good old-fashioned Pentecostalism, latter-rain teaching, some weird angelology (is that a word?), good stuff about following Jesus, and then times of no teaching at all. I see sung worship that is clearly well-prepared, and that folks respond to in ways that at time seem genuinely moving, and at other times seems emotionally controlling (how often have we misunderstood a well timed key-change for a move of God?).

In the middle of all of this, are church folks, tired of the humdrum, trained by the media to look out for the next big story, seeking more and more the outlandish, unusual and downright “channel 5 documentary” type of occurrence. Perhaps what God is doing is responding (sometimes despite what’s going on on the platform) to the reaching out of the faithful who are seeking to know and follow Him more.

But still, I guess I question the whole “next big thing” mentality. And perhaps that’s because I’ve come to agree with others who see that the kingdom might be more strongly established in the lives of individual believers through movements like this, but it actually extends through a series of very small actions.

The kingdom grows as we offer the guy next door who’s been gardening hard a glass of iced water, as we choose to send that ten pounds not to some rich preacher but to the Disaster’s Emergency Committee, invite the Big Issue seller to join us for a picnic in the nearby park, visit our friend in hospital, then share a few minutes with the woman in the next bed who we’ve not met before.. as we respond to the issue of a violent teen culture by joining the chaplaincy team in the local nick, and as we go through our wardrobes and give half of the clothes we own to the nearest charity shop.

I hate being presented with only two choices, so I’m not sure it has to be a choice between filling stadiums, or meeting one person's needs, so why does it often feel like one?

I’ve started writing this post twenty times, and it never reads quite how I want it to, it still doesn’t. So, please feel free to push me for clarity.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Baptist Assembly 2008, Blackpool

I'm in Blackpool for the long weekend. It's the annual Baptist Assembly, where the Baptist Union of Great Britian and BMS World Mission gather together for a time of celebration, encouragement, sharing news and making decisions about our future together.

I love the Assembly. It's a chance to catch up with old friends, remind ourselves of why we do what we do, and for me it's a place to have a bit of fun. This year I'm co-hosting a late-night chat show with a friend, Juliet Kilpin. Last night's show was a good start, despite some sound and light issues that we hope will be resolved today.

We had some good guests being interviewed, introduced our mascot, Embly the Bapist Ass (see what we did there...) and had ELVIS!!! It was a very Blackpool start to the shows.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

teenage song

Came across this on the Pumphouse in my Good Blog Almighty list. Loving it!

Monday, April 28, 2008

Day of celebrating

Yesterday was a day of celebrations.

in the morning i led a service for the Boys' Brigade here. Each year the local battalion gathers at one of the churches to join in a service, and to be together for a time of sung worship and celebration. The nearby URC church hosted us, and 130+ people from the Brigade joined with the usual congregation of 25 or so - it looked like a coup!

We had a fun hour together, reflecting a little on how God has been using the Brigade as a tool for discipleship in the lives of young men, before considering what we might all do as we wait for the appearance of Christ again (this being the time between Easter and Ascension, then Pentecost - a great season to think about waiting).

I had fun, folks enjoyed it, and people went away thinking about how they might grasp God's passion for them and the world, God's power to live in a way that is distinctively that of a Christ-follower, and to know and be God's presence in thier own homes, workplaces, schools, colleges and neighbourhoods.

In the afternoon the celebratins intensified. As little while ago we had a number of offers of organisations wanting to come and do something with us, it reminded me a lot of the Festival of the Nations I'd organised during the Baptist World Alliance centenary congress in Birmingham. So we invited them all to come on the same afternoon / evening in order for us to celebrate the (limited-but-there) diversity in our church family.

We began with a performance from the African KidZing Choir Project from South Africa. A vibrant, moving, humbling and joyful explosion of colour, song, movement and life.

We had a good crowd of all ages (from 11 weeks old to very senior citizens) who seemed to enjoy themselves, and they also enjoyed the tasy international snacks we were generously given by folk from Friends International. I particularly enjoyed the tilapi fish, cooked to an african recipe, a reminder of good times eating together in Mount Pleasant.

After a chance to sample some wonderful fruit drinks from Fruto del Espiritu we settled down to hear from the wonderful singer-songwriter Gareth Davies-Jones.



In between the two sets, which were drawn largely from Gareth's latest CD Water & Light, we heard about the vision and purpose behind Fruto del Espiritu. I commend them to you, and urge you to consider how you might partner with them in helping columbian farmers out of the trap of growing coca leaves for the drugs lords and into growing healthy produce all year round that would provide them a better life.

A long day, but one that left a good taste in the mouth in more ways than one!

Friday, April 04, 2008

Remembering Dr King


Today is the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Revd Dr Martin Luther King Jnr, and this is the last in a short series of posts that have sought to share something of his message, in places particularly timely for the situation we find ourselves in.

In meditating on his words these past days I’ve been acutely aware that often the words we read about and the descriptions of Dr King come from others. So today I share with you a quotation from “The Drum Major’s Instinct”; a sermon King preached at Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta, Georgia on the 4th February 1968, just two months before he was killed. Here we see how King understood himself, his faith, and his position as one seeking to see the kingdom of God - a kingdom of justice and love - established, strengthened and extended.

From “The Drum Major’s Instinct”,

Every now and then I guess we all think realistically (Yes, sir) about that day when we will be victimized with what is life's final common denominator—that something that we call death. We all think about it. And every now and then I think about my own death and I think about my own funeral. And I don't think of it in a morbid sense. And every now and then I ask myself, "What is it that I would want said?" And I leave the word to you this morning.

If any of you are around when I have to meet my day, I don’t want a long funeral. And if you get somebody to deliver the eulogy, tell them not to talk too long. (Yes) And every now and then I wonder what I want them to say. Tell them not to mention that I have a Nobel Peace Prize—that isn’t important. Tell them not to mention that I have three or four hundred other awards—that’s not important. Tell them not to mention where I went to school. (Yes)

I'd like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to give his life serving others. (Yes)

I'd like for somebody to say that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to love somebody.

I want you to say that day that I tried to be right on the war question. (Amen)

I want you to be able to say that day that I did try to feed the hungry. (Yes)

And I want you to be able to say that day that I did try in my life to clothe those who were naked. (Yes)

I want you to say on that day that I did try in my life to visit those who were in prison. (Lord)

I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity. (Yes)

Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. (Amen) Say that I was a drum major for peace. (Yes) I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter. (Yes) I won't have any money to leave behind. I won't have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind. (Amen) And that's all I want to say.

If I can help somebody as I pass along,

If I can cheer somebody with a word or song,

If I can show somebody he's traveling wrong,

Then my living will not be in vain.

If I can do my duty as a Christian ought,

If I can bring salvation to a world once wrought,

If I can spread the message as the master taught,

Then my living will not be in vain.

Yes, Jesus, I want to be on your right or your left side, (Yes) not for any selfish reason. I want to be on your right or your left side, not in terms of some political kingdom or ambition. But I just want to be there in love and in justice and in truth and in commitment to others, so that we can make of this old world a new world.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Remembering King, part 5


This is part five of a series of postings reflecting on the life and message of Revd Dr Martin Luther King Jnr, in the days leading up to the 40th anniversary of his assassination on 4th April 1968.
Today I post two quotations from his final speech, the world famous “I have been to the Mountaintop” speech, giving us insight into the mind and faith of King as he reflects on the struggle for freedom, and as he is painfully aware of the threats against his health and security. These words were spoken on 3rd April 1968, the eve of His death.

Something is happening in our world. The masses of people are rising up. And wherever they are assembled today, whether they are in Johannesburg, South Africa; Nairobi, Kenya; Accra, Ghana; New York City; Atlanta, Georgia; Jackson, Mississippi; or Memphis, Tennessee -- the cry is always the same: "We want to be
free."

And another reason that I'm happy to live in this period is that we have been forced to a point where we are going to have to grapple with the problems that men have been trying to grapple with through history, but the demands didn't force them to do it. Survival demands that we grapple with them. Men, for years now, have been talking about war and peace. But now, no longer can they just talk about it. It is no longer a choice between violence and nonviolence in this world; it's nonviolence or nonexistence. That is where we are today.And also in the human rights revolution, if something isn't done, and done in a hurry, to bring the colored peoples of the world out of their long years of poverty, their long years of hurt and neglect, the whole world is doomed. Now, I'm just happy that God has allowed me to live in this period to see what is unfolding. And I'm happy that He's allowed me to be in Memphis.

Dr King’s final message ended thus:

Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Remembering King, part 4


This is number four in a series marking the martyrdom of Revd Dr Martin Luther King Jnr, the 40th anniversary of which falls this coming Friday, April 4th.

The struggle for equality in Alabama continued and on March 25th 1965 a great march from Selma to Montgomery was organised.

Speaking to the crowd at the end of the march King addresses the question of “How long?” that hung in the air. Today’s quotation comes from that speech, and as I read it I have in mind the struggle to end extreme poverty, as well as injustices like Darfur, Palestine, Guantanamo Bay and some of our own detention policies.




I know you are asking today, “How long will it take?” I come to say to you this afternoon however difficult the moment, however frustrating the hour, it will not be long, because truth pressed to earth will rise again.


How long? Not long, because no lie can live forever.
How long? Not long, because you still reap what you sow.
How long? Not long, because the arm of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.


How long? Not long, because mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord, trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored. He has loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword. His truth is marching on.


He has sounded forth the trumpets that shall never call retreat. He is lifting up the hearts of men before His judgement seat. Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him. Be jubilant, my feet. Our God is marching on.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Remembering King, part 3

This is part 3 of a special series this week, in memory of Revd Dr Martin Luther King Jnr, who was killed by men of hate forty years ago this Friday.

I guess the most well known of Dr King’s teachings come from three places, the I have a dream speech, the Mountain Top message and the Letter from Birmingham Jail. It would be incomplete to have this series without some of those great inspiring words, so today’s quotation comes from part of the Letter from Birmingham Jail.

On April 12th 1963 – Good Friday that year - King and some colleagues were arrested for staging protest marches in Birmingham, Alabama.

That same morning, several white ministers had written an open letter to King that had been printed in the local newspaper, calling on him to end the protests, and labelling him an anarchist, an extremist and a lawbreaker.

King's reply, a few days later on the 16th April 1963, from his cell in Birmingham Jail, was to pen the now-famous Letter from Birmingham Jail.

It is a calm and measured response, that speaks highly of King’s humility, dignity and love. Instead of unleashing a torrent of justified rage and anger at the lack of support from the white churches, he issues a plea for understanding, fellowship and support.

In the middle of the letter he writes,


In deep disappointment I have wept over the laxity of the Church. But be assured that my tears have been tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love. Yes, I love the Church. How could I do otherwise? I am in the rather unique position of being the son, grandson, and great grandson of preachers. Yes, I see the Church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and fear of being nonconformists.

There was a time when the church was very powerful – in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians of being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators.” But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were “a colony of heaven”, called to obey God rather than man. Small in number they were big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be “astronomically intimidated.” By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests.

Things are different now. So often the contemporary Church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an arch-defender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the Church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the Church’s silent – and often even vocal – sanction of things as they are
.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Remembering King, part 2


This is part two of a series this week, remembering Revd. Dr Martin Luther King. Part one is below. I invite your comments on the tone of King’s message, and whether it has resonance today.

At the end of the Montgomery bus boycott, when the Supreme Court issued a bus desegregation order, King stood before a large gathering in order to give final instructions before people started using the buses once again.

Aware they had won a great victory, King is keen that they win not only in the law courts, but in the individual court of each person’s heart,



Our experience and growth during this past year of united non-violent protest has been of such that we must respond to the decision with an understanding of those who have oppressed us and with an appreciation of the new adjustments that the court order poses for them. We must be able to face up honestly to our own shortcomings. We must act in such a way as to make possible a coming together of white people and colored people on the basis of a real harmony of interests and understanding. We seek an integration based on mutual respect.

This is the time we must evince calm dignity and wise restraint. Emotions must not run wild. Violence must not come from any of us, for if we become victimized with violent intents, we will have walked in vain, and our twelve months of glorious dignity will be transformed into an eve of gloomy catastrophe. As we go back to the buses let us be loving enough to turn an enemy into a friend. We must now move from protest to reconciliation. It is my form conviction that God is working in Montgomery. Let all men of goodwill, both Negro and white, continue to work with Him. With this dedication we will be able to emerge from the bleak and desolate midnight of man’s inhumanity to man to the bright and glittering daybreak of freedom and justice.


Sunday, March 30, 2008

Remembering King, part 1


This coming Friday (April 4th) sees the 40th anniversary of the martyrdom of Revd. Dr Martin Luther King Jnr.

Today and each day this week I’ll be posting a quote from him, and I invite you to comment on the relevance of parts of his message to contemporary people.

In 1964 Revd. Dr King was awarded the Nobel peace prize. In his acceptance speech he said,

I refuse to accept the idea that man is mere flotsam and jetsam in the river of life which surrounds him. I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight or racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality. I believe that even amid today’s mortar bursts and whining bullets, there is still hope for a brighter tomorrow. I believe that wounded justice, lying prostrate on the blood-flowing streets of our nations, can be lifted from this dust of shame to reign supreme among the children of men. I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits. I believe that what self-centred men have torn down, other-centred men can build up.

Friday, March 28, 2008

A belated Easter thought


I had wanted to blog about this pic just before Easter…ah well…

On the Saturday before Palm Sunday, as a family we were out at a local outdoor play area, and as we left I looked back and saw this sprayed on the wall. I’ve no idea who did it, nor what their motivations might be. I don’t know who the “weak” are that it is referring to. And yet, as I saw it, I was instantly reminded, in that mysterious and holy of times, that it is the weak that God has chosen to shame the strong, and the foolish to shame the wise.

This Easter, in preparing to lead people in reflecting on the story, in watching the very excellent “The Passion” on the BBC, and in personal prayers, I have seen afresh just how inconspicuous much of what Jesus did really was. On Palm Sunday, according to Matthew’s account, the inhabitants of Jerusalem had no idea who Jesus was, it was the people from the north who knew him, who cheered as he entered as king. And whatever the scale of the event, it wasn’t enough to warrant interference from the rather touchy Roman occupiers.

In Matthew’s gospel it isn’t the turning of the money-changers tables over in the courtyard of the temple that arouses their interest and anger, but the acceptance of children’s praise later on.

Jesus, often unnoticed, gets on with establishing, strengthening and extending the kingdom of God wherever he is, and then, weak, battered and alone is raised on a cross.

Truly, the weak become heroes.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Here is Hope

Last Friday, my wife gave birth to our beautiful baby girl, Hope.

Thanks for all your prayers, she delivered at home, in a birthing pool, and both of them are doing really well, if very sleepy.

Our son is adjusting well to the presence of an even littler one, and is going to be a wonderful big brother.

I'm taking a couple of weeks paternity leave, so won't be around churchworld much, but there are some reflections I want to share about midwives as a picture of church, and about the appropriateness of a baptist minister's daughter being born into water!

The details...7lb 13oz, born at 10.05am, labour lasted 14 hours. And here's a pic of some skin-to-skin time we enjoyed last night.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

The Later Service

Here's the postcard we're using to advertise the Later Service - any comments?


Repentance

Time to tip the cap to ASBO Jesus once more.

Things are a little busy in our house, with the very immanent arrival of our second child, so I missed this yesterday, but am copying it here for your edification. Wonderful 'toons, take a look if you haven't yet.




Sunday, February 03, 2008

Experiments

Yesterday I was with 90 other people sharing together in a Café Church training day. It was a good time to meet some old friends, and to make a few new ones. The aim of the day was to equip and inspire churches to plant congregations into coffee shops in their localities. On the whole it was a good day.

Juliet Kilpin led a session on connecting with the wider community, and with her blend of humour, passion and compassion challenged us about a number of things, including the way that churches have hindered, rather than helped, people make meaningful relationships outside the context of churchworld. Worrying stuff.

I’ve written elsewhere about the need for church to be more experimental, and today sees some of that working out in Bromley. We switch (for the next 3 months at least) from having a pattern of two services (10.30 & 18.30) to having three (10.30, 16.45 & 19.00). The 16.45 “Sunday Break” will be a classic-style service, for those who appreciate a more traditional flavour, and the 19.00 “Later Service” will be more experimental, drawing in elements of the Café Church experience of the last few years as well as AWE in Northampton, and some more “emergent” type stuff.

My hope is that we, as a church, will discover ministries that have been waiting for us to get our act together. I’m convinced there are a large number of people - mainly but not only those in their senior years - who have struggled with the changes in church life, and need a place that will be more predictable and what they might think of as normal. We’ve had no place that’s been specifically geared for them until now. My prayer is that Sunday Break would grow quickly, as it ministers to a needy section of society. The experience of Mount Pleasant in Northampton was that this service grew and became the one with the highest proportion of those who were visitors.

In the same way, I hope and pray that those in our communities who are turned off, or find totally alien, the tradition service, will find space to explore their spiritual life in new ways at the Later Service. Somewhere in the mix here I think we’re moving towards a model of church that we may see happening in many places, church that finds a way to meet people where they are, but encourages them into the same place - a growing relationship with Jesus who loves, encourages, challenges and changes.

Friday, January 04, 2008

2007 in pictures

Following on from last year's montage, here's to 2007, the goodness, the badness, and the downright ugliness demonstrated in actions and words. A small prize goes to whoever can name every pic or story represented.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Looking back, looking forward

Over on his thought-provoking blog, Leaving Munster, a friend of mine, Graham, has challenged folks to reflect on good things that happened in 2007 and their hopes for 2008, he asks in his post Three from last year, three for the next
  1. What three things from 2007 are you most thankful for?
  2. What 3 things do you hope/intend to do or not do in 2008?
I'm going to answer here, and I'd love to hear your responses.

So, from 2007, what would be the top three things I'm thankful for?

Firstly, it would be the successful fertility treatment that has resulted in a baby due in February. We've had three goes at treatment, and have had two pregnancies. Given that we reduce our chances of success greatly by the method we choose, I'm grateful to God for a precious gift of life.

Secondly, I'm grateful to be in a place in my life and ministry where I'm able to spend some time reflecting and researching bigger picture issues, as well as being involved in day-to-day ministry. To do this in a context where financial and practical support are given is a humbling thing, and I'm always aware that it is the generosity and sacrifice of God's people that enables this to be so.

Thirdly, it's family again. My wife puts up with me, with my erratic work life, and my times of stress and pressure. That she does this with grace and with love is God's most precious gift. My son continues to delight and has grown in so many ways. He really is a wonderful little chap. When i think of all the fears we had when he was born prematurely, it's even more amazing.

My hopes/intentions in 2008?
Well I'm not normally in the habit of making resolutions, and this comes dangerously close, however...

Firstly, following my mother's heart attack, and my fathers continued ill health, i want to do something to get fitter. I'm sure this will mean using the bike, and getting my lardy backside in the gym, but I'm determined to be able to actively parent both my kids for a long time.

Secondly, I haven't been watching enough films, or listening to enough music, or visiting enough galleries. So it's my intention to increase my artistic exposure in 2008. I figure I ought to do one of these each week.

Thirdly, I want to make it to this time next year sane, having figured out why God has us where he has us, and to see something of the emerging become a reality this year.

So, what's yours?

Happy New Year

May the God of peace
who through the blood of the eternal covenant
brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus Christ
that great shepherd of the sheep
equip you with everything good for doing his will
and may he work in us what is pleasing to him
through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever
amen