Saturday, December 29, 2007

Christmas messages

I have taken some time the last few days, following the Christmas activities, to read some of the messages friends and family have sent in their greetings cards. I love the messages we send each other at Christmas.

I love too that we remember that we serve and have fellowship with a God who communicates with us. John uses his language carefully as he writes the gospel, “in the beginning was the word, and the word was God…and the word became incarnated and lived amongst us…”

God sends a maessage, a word, his word, the word. And that message? Well, it seems to me we’ve gotten a bit confused about it. Some have mistaken it as bad news “You’re in big trouble with God!” or an offer of fire insurance “heading for hell? Depend on Jesus…”. Some think the message is about rules, regulations, committees, structures, abstract concepts and remote ideals.

The message was and is more simple. God’s word to us at Christmas was and is “I love you”.

I love you.

I love you just as you are, but far too much to leave you that way.

I love you so much that I want to tell you in person, not just through prophets and ancient writers.

I love you so much I want you to know real peace, joy, hope, purpose.

I love you.

So, when someone sends you a message like that, what do you do? And when the gospel begins with that message, rather than the fallen state of humanity, what does that do?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007



Crackers and cards

Reindeer and robins

Snowmen and Santa

Decorations and duckling

Legs of turkey and laden trees

Tacky baubles and tinkling bells

Dodgy telly and dodgier tummies

Cranberry sauce and carol singing

Shepherds and stars, angels and animals

Incense and innkeepers, myrrh and mangers

Gifts of gold and Gabriel’s song, Magi’s worship and Mary’s wonder

Joseph’s heart jumps at baby’s first cry, a child has been born and a crowd has been drawn.

Then from Bethlem’s crib to a cruel cross, from a virgin womb to a borrowed tomb

From babe’s first cry to blood’s last drop, from the child’s laugh to the dying man’s gasp

From the wronged to the loved comes the gift of forever

The babe is then wrapped in the leftover paper

The box is stashed with the tinsel and lights

The love of the Father awaits rediscovery

In the unexplored package

Left in the cupboard


Thursday, November 29, 2007

U2 - Wave Of Sorrow

I am so looking forward to the rerelease of U2’s The Joshua Tree. Like so many people, it was the album that first turned me on to them.

It looks like some extra material that wasn’t on the original recording is going to make it into this one, and I came across a short film (8 mins or so) where Bono is talking about one of these songs and its meaning.

I'm posting this clip because I found it moving, but more than that because it's a very intimate little film that gives us an insight into the creative process and theological craft of Bono.

I hope you enjoy it, and find it as inspirational as I did.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Check out ASBO Jesus

If you haven't clicked on the link in my blogroll to The Ongoing Adventures of ASBO Jesus you really should.

I love the simplicity of the message and the medium, this cartoon recently spoke heaps to me.

Check it out today.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

What's wrong with this picture?

I saw this poster recently, in fact there were quite a few of them, dotted around, near the exits of our local shopping mall.

I had to do a double-take, wondering if I'd really seen what I thought I had.

Just in case you can't quite work it out, the poster asks first if a person has a spare room, then informs that this agency gives £380 per child per week. It's in the smaller print that we learn that the agency is a care and foster agency.

Isn't the message here a bit off key? When did we, as a community, start seeing foster care primarily as a financial issue? Isn't it odd that the recruitment doesn't mention a caring attitude to children, or a desire to help?

Is foster care in our capital city just a business transaction?

Isn't this hugely offensive, or am I over-reacting?

I'm sure that the agency would do proper training and checking of suitability, but it's just mad that the basis of the appeal for more foster carers is that it's a money-spinner. Are cared-for kids just a means to a healthier bank balance for some?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


From time to time I recommend books and magazines, and I’ve come across a new mag I want to encourage you to get hold of.

A few years ago, some friends and I started an organisation called Geezers for Jesus, we wanted to do a few things, one was to provide an online resource for guys to talk about the realities of living as both a Christian and a man in today’s world with all the challenges that entails (a quest for an understanding of what might be called a masculine spirituality), the other was to facilitate men’s gatherings around the country to be more relevant in their approach to men’s’ ministry.

Well, the first part, the online resource has existed for a quite a while , the second part has been slower coming.

With my Geezers for Jesus hat on I was delighted to find that Wesley Owen are stocking the new magazine Sorted, solidly geared towards Christian men, and british men at that! – rather like The Blokes’ Bible, this is real, accessible and relevant, not dodging tough issues. It’s got a good diversity of writers, and subjects and it’s quite cheap (£2.50).

Get to your local Christian bookshop and buy a copy, for you or the men in your life, and if they’re not stocking it yet, get them to. See also

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

To wear a poppy?

Over on his excellent and thought provoking blog Leaving Munster, Graham has been writing about his attitudes and response to the wearing of a red poppy.

It's a subject that I have often wrestled with and so I replied to his posting there, but also thought I'd like to hear your points of view. Essentially Graham argues that the wearing of the red poppy, coupled with a nationwide act of remembrance where every soldier who died is lumped together as valiant and noble perpetuates the myth that war solves things, and glorifies the sacrifice of armed service personnel.

Here's my response - what do you think?

It's a great and powerful post, thanks Graham.

And yet, I do feel conflicted. On the one hand I hate that war occurs and I hate that people die. On the other, I live in relative freedom, one that in all truth I doubt I'd live in if certainly the second world war had been lost.

I also feel torn that there are people who - whether I like it or not - fight in my name. I'm not relinquishing my British citizenship anytime soon.

And when the Govt doesn't support ex-service personnel well (regardless of whether they saw active service or not) the wearing of a red poppy might at least make a small donation, and show support for the charity, not necessarily the wars that were fought. It seems in many ways to be an anti-war statement to wear one, if the true meaning is understood. We wear the poppy because people die in wars, ergo, war is a bad thing.

I'm sure that I am totally biased, I grew up in a military household, and both my grandfather and father saw active service, my brother who serves still has spent time in the Gulf.

So, what do we do with that? The work and the intent of the Royal British Legion (as much as we might wish that the govt would - if it's going to wage wars - take care of people and thus make them redundant) is to be applauded and supported, no?

So, I hate war.

This Sunday I'll be teaching a little about St Martin. Since the 4th Century sections of the Church have remembered him on 11th November. He was converted to Christianity in late childhood, and was forced to join the cavalry in the Roman army aged 15.The famous part of his story is that upon seeing a beggar at the gates to Amiens he cut his cloak in half, giving half to the beggar. His had a dream that night, where he pictured Jesus wearing the half cloak, and saying "I have been cloaked by Martin, the Roman soldier". Martin asked to leave the army, convinced that it conflicted with his faith, and was accused of being a coward. He offered to go ahead of the army, unarmed, to prove the issue was not one of bravery. He never had to as they enemy made peace, and he was discharged. He is probably the earliest recorded Christian conscientious objector.

As I speak, I'll be wearing a red poppy.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

UK; Saudi visit.

There are occasions when I'm not so proud to be British. The way that the establishment rolls out the red carpet to leaders of oppresive regimes sickens me.

I really hope that someone, somewhere had chosen the music to accompany the arrival of the Saudi royal at Buckingham Palace as a kind of comment.

Remembering the saints

It's a strange day.

20 years ago today I had the encounter with an evangelist that would go on to reshape my life completely, and all because of a dear old saint who prayed.

Alma was one of those easily-overlooked-on- earth heaven shakers. Alma prayed and things happened.

It being Halloween, and Alma being what some would describe as a prayer warrior, intercessor, spiritually attuned (pick your favourite term, or tell me of a better one), she was certainly going to be at the prayer meeting in church that night, to pray for God to touch the lives of young people especially, and to ask his protection for those who might be opening themselves up to less than helpful spiritual experiences on that day when darkness seems just a touch darker still.

That early evening, as she waited for her bus, Alma spotted some graffiti left by a local gang, a list of names and tags. Alma, being Alma, took out a notepad and wrote down the names as best she could, struggling to make out what some of them were, but knowing that God knew anyway.

At 7.30 the prayer meeting started with some sung worship, followed by a chance for people to share prayer requests. Alma, got out her list, and spoke about how she wanted the meeting to pray for young people especially, and how she'd seen a list of names, so could we pray for those people.

Earlier that day I had been with a group of friends, a small gang who called themselves "The Rejects", a name that pretty much summed up how we felt about ourselves. We had been at the bus stop, it was newly painted, no-one else had tagged it yet, so we decided to list our names, and claim it as our own.

Later that evening, some time between 7.30 and 8pm we were on our way to a field where we intended to have a kind of firework fight, launching them at each other across the grass in the dark.

As we walked we passed a church hall, and, hearing some singing, looked in to see people with their hands in the air, singing, and one person even playing a tambourine!

It was simply too tempting.

We began to search for the right rockets to let off in their meeting, going through our bags, laughing, joking, building up the bravado to actually do it. The people inside stopped singing, they sat and talked and we had no idea what they were speaking about, our laughter became more raucous, and just as we were about to fire off some small rockets, out came a man called Dave with a warm smile, and a very pretty 18 year old girl called Michelle who seemed quite interested in talking with us, not merely shooing us away.

20 years before then, Alma had begun praying for a young man named Dave, who she was convinced God was calling to be some kind of an evangelist, even though he wasn't then a Jesus-follower...

Alma died in the mid-1990's and her funeral was a place of celebration, as the large congregation of the people she had prayed for worshipped the God who inspired her, and thanked him for her hidden ministry in our lives.

I thank God this time of year, every year, for the elderly ladies who pray, who are open to the nudges of the Holy Spirit, who share the love of the Father, and who point to the Son.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Advert : I am Product

Advert : I am Product

This coming Sunday in Cafe Church we'll be thinking about how advertisers seek to entice us into gaining our sense of identity through the consumer choices we make. I like this video on the subject, and may well use it on the night. The text is:

I am product.
Your senses reel at the sight of my seductive branding. Your feelings of inadequacy heightens without me. I complete you.

Arms laden with disposable carrier bags filled with me, you feel a sense of purpose briefly kindled in your lonely soul.

I am built in a plastics factory by unhappy people in a land you've never been to. Shipped in bulk, stacked high in warehouses nationwide, I provide you with a sense of individuality you could not otherwise achieve.

You are Target Market, my End User Consumer. You need me, feed frenzy, buy me use me break me. Buy another.

I am worth the vice grip stress of debt. You are worth what you paid for me. Indulge yourself.

Suckle on the post-consumer afterglow. Tell your friends. Key in your pin number, sign on the line. Put me on your overdraft.

Do not question, only feel. Through me you fund the further exploitation of unnamed people, out of sight, out of mind. You are what you buy, become me.

I am the illusion of choice in your funnel-trap life. Consumer Lifestyle Choice. Wrap me up to go. Bribe your offspring with me.

Believe in me, I am all there is.

What would you be without one?

Friday, October 12, 2007

Have you seen Andrew?

Andrew Gosden
Age at disappearance: 14

Andrew has been missing from Doncaster, South Yorkshire since 14 September 2007.

His current whereabouts remain unknown but it is thought he may have travelled to London.

There is great concern for Andrew due to his age.

He can call the Runaway Helpline on Freefone 0808 800 7070 for confidential advice and support.

Andrew is 5ft 4ins tall, of slim build with collar length, light brown hair and brown eyes. It is thought Andrew will be wearing black jeans, a black T-shirt and black trainers. Andrew is likely to be carrying with him a black canvas satchel with patches of rock/metal bands on it.

Any information 0500 700 700
24 hour confidential Freephone service

It's nearly halfway through October!

Seems like I’m forever catching up

Well some highlights since last posting, or from about that time but I haven’t had a chance to yet.

We had Ruth and Glen Powell come for dinner whilst they were touring the country. They live and work in Sydney, Glen for the Uniting church, encouraging fresh expressions, Ruth for NCLS Research, an organisation that researches church trends in Aus. Glen and I had corresponded through the youthmultimedia group I’m part of, and so it was a good chance for us to meet up properly, to hear about their work, to see if there are ways that we in Bromley might get involved with some of the excellent qualitative as well as quantitative research that Ruth does.

Another wonderful online connection. I searched on facebook for some old friends who we’d lost touch with from our days living and studying in Lancaster. They too had experienced fertility problems, and we were overjoyed to discover they had a daughter about the same age as our son, having had treatment in the same year.

There’s lots of talk about facebook in the blogsphere, especially critical of the redefining of the term “friend”. For its many faults I have to say that it’s proving to be a great pastoral resource, especially as I connect with some of the students around the country who have gone out from this church.

We also had a couple of wonderful unwinding weeks in the south of France, where the weather was hot (if a little windy) and the food and wine was great!

Driving in France, especially on the peage, is such a better experience than driving in the UK. On the toll road the speed limit is raised to 130kmph (about 82mph) in dry weather, dropping to 110 (about 70mph) in the wet. I’m not sure that French drivers are any better than British ones – in fact I saw plenty that would lead to an opposite conclusion – but the lower levels of car ownership, and the sheer size of the country mean the roads are less clogged, and there is the safety to do that I guess.

Well, summer is now over, the autumn is here, and plans and programmes for continuing the development of the church continue to be both clarified and worked out. I’ll blog separately on two key things for us right now – the way membership is changing and our current evening series on Robert McGee’s The Search for Significance.

Friday, August 24, 2007


The Youth Camp that we'd organised for August had to be hastily re-arranged as the field we rent was waterlogged.

So last week, instead of taking our young people and youth leaders away for a week, we ended up offering a shorter, MiniCamp, based from Bromley, but with several trips out. The first day was a trip to Thorpe Park, a theme park with very good rides, and very long queues.

I hadn't been to a theme park for a very long time (aside from one summer working in one in my student days) and it wasn't until i had safely shepherded the lads i was looking after into their seats, and got strapped in myself that I remembered "Oh yeah, rides, kinda scary..".

The second day was at the seaside, based in Whitstable, and included the rather surreal moment of ten of our group in the sea swimming and playing, being watched by ten on the beach huddled under raincoats, towels, umbrellas to keep dry from the rain.

Friday we went up into London to do the Big Bus tour, a boat trip and a walk through Kensington Gardens where we visited the Diana Memorial Fountain. This has been much criticised, but i found it to be a quiet, meditative, innovative place.

Friday night we had a sleepover in the church buildings, and surprisingly managed to actually get a few hours sleep!

Saturday we stayed in Bromley with outdoor activities morning and afternoon and a barbecue at the manse to finish off our time together.

Each evening we had some devotional time where we refelcted on some of the miracles of Jesus, and where we spent time in thanks for all that we'd been able to do, and all that God had given us.

Altogether a lot of work, but very rewarding, and affording an opportunity to spend time with our young people and some of the leaders that up until now I haven't had the chance to do.

Kinda need a holiday now though.

Catching up with good news

There’s a lot to catch up on, so today will probably be a multiple posting day.

Let’s start with the good news, something I’ve been meaning to share for a while. Following fertility treatment, we’re pregnant again (well, I say “we”…). It’s 14 weeks ago today we had a third course of treatment in Northampton – the first course resulted in our son, the second, last summer, was unsuccessful – and that makes my wife 16 weeks pregnant, baby (who is currently referred to as Hope) is due the 2nd week of February, about a month after our son’s 3rd birthday.

We’ve had a couple of scans, the first, at 8 weeks, allowed us to see the heart, and even hear it, and then we had another a few weeks ago that enabled us to see all was well again. It’s the strangest thing, catching a glimpse of this person who we’ll not meet for so long. “Surely you knit me together in my mother’s womb”. We’re blown away by the grace that has been extended us, and consider ourselves hugely blessed. We know, after having 12 years of childless marriage, how fortunate we are to have this treatment be successful.

We’re also blown away by the generosity shown us by our previous church, by friends, and by members of our family that have meant treatment was a possibility.

The picture is from the last scan, from sideways on you can see Hope is lying on her back, her head to the right of the pic, one of her arms extended up.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Reviving the near-dead

I've just started reading Kester Brewin's book "Signs of Emergence". I'm only 30 pages in but already convinced it's brilliant, it has to be, it agrees with many of my own preferences...

I wish I could write half as eloquently as he does, he explores so beautifully the situation of the contemporary UK church. One passage I wanted to share with you comes in the middle of the introductory chapter. Brewin has challenged the opinion that the route to the revitalisation of church is the personal holiness of members, arguing that it is because what churches offer is "boring, unchanging, irellevant, says nothing to them (church leavers) about their life, and was completely unconnected to their experience" that church attendances have declined so sharply. (by the way, is there any kind of matrix developed that could chart the pace of change in western society? I have a hunch that if we could compare the stats on church decline with the rate of change in society we'd see a pattern - the church shrinking at the rate it refuses to adapt to societal change)

It's not individual holiness levels that need to change, he argues, but our corporate actions. He goes so far as to suggest it is outrageous to continue taking people's resources and pouring them into "ruptured wineskins". Strong stuff.

And then..

People love to talk of revival, but fail to grasp that things that need reviving are by definition close to death. Yes, I believe the church needs to pray for revival, but I would like to reclaim the word from the ribbon dancers and charismatic sensationalists. When we talk of revival we should not think of some joyous time with thronging masses of people spontaneously coming to our doors. Rather we should wince at the prospect of the rib-cracking pain of emergency resuscitation as this dying body is shaken back to life. Put the discipleship books back on the shelves for a while and get down to the drawing board, for this is not going to happen through a an upsurge of personal holiness but by a radical transformation in our corporate practice.

Is emerging church a kind of near-death experience? Is it only when we come face to face with the near extinction (I struggle to believe that the church can fully die, as Jesus proclaimed to be continually building it) of the body that we are ready to deal with the pain of reviving it? I wonder how many of our fellowships will indeed die instead of changing before the wider church gets a clue and takes the leaps of imagination and faith necessarly to replant the church in contemporary Britain.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

A glimpse of heaven

I'm aware that not all of my readers are people of faith, and that I really ought to do more to try and convince the heathen. So I'm posting this video as an effort to increase my evangelistic impact.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Another martyr for peace

I heard the news today that a second South Korean Christian worker has been killed by the taleban in Afghanistan.

May God be gracious to those who remain, who grieve, who question and who continue to work for peace.

Pastor Bae Hyung-kyu, 42, the leader of the team was the first team member to be killed by them earlier last week, his body was repatriated to South Korea yesterday.

Shim Sung-min was aged 29, and was an IT worker, his body was found beside a road yesterday evening, local time.

The taleban are calling for the release of prisoners. I'm glad it's not me that has to make the tough decisions here, and I pray that God would give them grace and wisdom.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Recent reading

I've read a few good books lately having had a holiday, and also hitting a stream of inspiring reads.

I read Sex God by Rob Bell, and found it a really helpful book. Both as a pastor and as a frail human this book helped me reflect on a good number of relationships from the past and present. His analysis that we are meant to be human, not angels nor animals is wonderful, worth reading the book just for that insight.

I also read Revolution by George Barna, a very good analysis of the growing phenomenon of faith outside church in the US. I wonder if it translates to other cultures well, It didn't fit the UK but could see some useful stuff in it.

On holiday i read Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow by Peter Hoeg, a really great, twisty, windy thought provoking and moving murder mystery. This was set in Denmark and Greenland, and being rooted in a culture other than the ones i guess i tend to read about (UK, US, Aus) added a whole other level of involvement.

I finished Steve Taylor's book The Out of Bounds Church, a sweeping look at the emerging church in the UK, US, NZ & Aus. really inspiring, and very good at application as it uses a number of discussion partners, and suggestions for other artistic material to use alongside reading it.

Really enjoyed the joint effort of Tony Campolo and Brian Mclaren on Adventures in missing the point perhaps the first, or most wide ranging, attempt to ennunciate a moral theology of the emerging church?

And, I have just started reading a recent find The Man in White by Johnny Cash - a novel of the life of Paul, that is surprisingly good.

If you're heading off soon, then happy hols, and I pray you'll return refreshed for all God has in store in the new term.

Inhabiting Scripture meme

Andy Goodliff has kicked of a meme from his blog. I normally give these a wide berth, they do seem a bit self-indulgent, but because (a) Simon Jones completed it then tagged me to do it next and (b) because this one might actually tell you something useful about me, I decided to do it.

Andy kicks it off with a quote from David Ford’s book “The Shape of Living”

... be alert for some key passages of the bible to inhabit in a special way. Hans Urs von Balthasar has said that often a saint's whole life can be seen as living out just one verse of scripture. One rich verse or story can be essential to our vocation, as we come back to it year after year, and find further dimensions to it. The great words, verses and passages of scripture and the liturgy are like houses which, as we study, pray, suffer and love, are made habitable with our own furnishings, pictures, meals and children ...'

Andy then invites people to “post that verse or story of scripture which is important to you, which you find yourself re-visiting time after time ... (you can make it two or even three, if you can't reduce it to one!).”

The passage for me is Isaiah 58 (and alongside that Matthew 25:31-46). It’s a powerful prophecy where the people who call themselves the people of God are diagnosed as having some kind of mass multiple personality disorder. Their holy days are times of great piety, that then seems to have little or no effect on the rest of their lives. When I first studied this passage at any length, it was this element that seemed most important, the clear sense of needing to live an integrated life, with the false divisions between secular and sacred removed, seeing God’s involvement in the totality of a life.

Later, as I lived with this scripture, it became clearer to me that this integrated life becomes the basis on which the kingdom of God grows. So a person is able to make a declaration of faith in Jesus, not only with their mouth, but also with their actions. I guess it was in the move from Lancaster to East Yorkshire, and the work on a deprived council estate, that these verses became more personal, more urgent, more guiding.

The move to Mount Pleasant in Northampton saw these two passages become the very foundation of a ministry, and were the guiding principles in some of the transitions we made there. Life needed to be integrated, faith and actions need to go hand in hand, it is in the act of caring and loving our neighbour that the kingdom is revealed, that as we love and serve, the darkness becomes like noonday.

I’m terrible at fasting, if we’ve met, this won’t be a surprise. But this passage reverses much of what I had previously understood about fasting, as it calls for a fast of doing, not a fast of going without. By acting as agents of mercy and grace, we fast for God. Instead of fasting food, we fast our pride, we fast our need for financial gain, we fast our comfort, our reputation and our preferences. We fast our advantage at the expense of another, and we fast our injustices.

I tag:

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Sesame Street - Mahna Mahna

So, this is either:
a, a random moment to make your day brighter;
b, a profound comment on the way that some people will only accept our leadership as long as we do it their way;
or c, a trip down memory lane.

Take your pick.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Three voices are better than one

Last night I did something I hadn’t done before, it’s always a risky/fun/scary thing to do in church world.

I was on the preaching plan to speak in our current series on the Psalms, Songs of Experience. It’s a short series where we’re looking at a selected group of psalms that have a particular experience that they speak about. Last night was Psalm 139, a psalm that reflects on being known by God, and a little about knowing God too.

So far so normal. However, I’d had an idea that instead of doing a straightforward preach - something I love doing but suspect (no, am pretty convinced) has become increasingly culturally irrelevant as a means of either communication or as a learning experience – I would approach the text in a different way, by involving other people in a conversation / dialogue about the passage.

One of the delights of coming to a new place is the new friendships that develop, and especially those with people who have a heart to see God’s kingdom established. In the last few weeks I’ve been getting to know a couple who are involved in community development in Central Asia, sent as missionaries from here. They’re back home for a rest, and to reconnect a bit with the folks back here. They’re a delightful, generous, humble and open couple, and we hit it off as soon as we met. Last week we spent a couple of hours poring over the text, thinking of what it meant in both our contexts, sharing stories with each other of how these words were a reality for us, and for others we knew.

So, I began on Sunday night with a few introductory words, then picked up six key themes that I introduced, then the couple or I shared stories that illustrated each point in a real, practical and honest way.

It was a good way to get into the text, to free it from the confines of the page, and to get to know this couple and their work much better as they shared with us.

It might not be revolutionary to you, my guess is that folks have found how good this is and been doing it for ages, but I hadn’t and it came a fresh revelation of how teaching in church can encourage, educate and inspire.

At the end of our talking together we reflected on how the psalm can be either incredibly comforting and encouraging, or terrifying, depending on the hearer / reader’s understanding of God. If we have an image of God that is punitive and judgemental, never ceasing to find a reason to beat us with His big stick, the idea of being completely known can fill us with terror. The couple shared how this is a dominant view of God where they live and work. For the person with a view of God that is based on the love that is revealed in Romans 8, a love that cannot be broken by death, life, spiritual or earthly beings, that have been or will be, this sense of being known becomes a source of real, hope-filled comfort. There is freedom from our fears and darkness, because they are known, and we’re not alone.

We followed it with a Nooma DVD – Lump – that spoke of the reality of God’s unending and unchanging love for us “there’s nothing you can do to make me love you less”, a great moment.

I’d love to hear from people who have done a similar thing with the text in an otherwise traditional context. Did you carry on? Is it a part of what you do now regularly, or has it helped you transition into more contemporary ways of doing church?

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Spirit-shoved Church part 2

Back at the start of March this year I blogged a little about a sermon I was preparing on the second half of Acts 11, suggesting it would be the first of many posts on the subject as I felt it was a passage that has some useful things to say to people in the emerging church context. Well, I’m sorry to keep you waiting if you have been…

In the passage (Acts 11:19-26) there are some things I want to flag up, about the relationship between the more established church and the church that was emerging in a different cultural context. The church in Jerusalem although it was in its infancy, was also the church of the beginning, and so could have considered itself normative. I find it interesting to see the response of the Jerusalem church to the news of many people becoming Jesus-followers in Antioch.

They send one of their own leadership to take a look and see. In many ways one might have expected them to send Peter, given his recent experience with God’s move amongst gentiles, but instead they send Barnabus, the son of encouragement that we have seen ministering so effectively, in his gentle, nurturing way, in the life of the early church.

Barnabus was trusted, considered wise, a leader, experienced. He looks at the situation, identifies what God is doing there and seeks to encourage that.

When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad; and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose; for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of Faith. (Acts 11:23, 24)

I wonder if we translate this to our contemporary situation whether the same could be said? Are churches releasing their wise, Spirit and faith filled, mature leaders to go and encourage what God is doing in different and emerging contexts? Is this a model we might want to look at? Often we consider the emerging church scene to belong to younger leaders. Maybe one of the keys to seeing real spiritual maturity in new expressions of church is for leaders from more established church to come and nurture and encourage, rather than stand at a distance and criticise.

Barnabus’ next act is to go and get Paul from Tarsus and spend a year with him in Antioch teaching and encouraging. Barnabus is prepared to consider what resources need to be diverted to the new church to ensure its growth and development. Are established churches looking to the most gifted and able people to move into emerging situations? In our own Baptist family it often seems that the most able ministers are in the strongest churches. There is undoubtedly a need for established churches to have good leadership, but it does strike me as a bit odd that the weakest of our churches are often only able to call upon the services of the weakest of our ministers, whilst many of our most talented ministers are working in churches that really don’t need them, churches could sustain ministry using their own resources and talents.

I’m sure there’s more to write (as dangerous as it is to write that, given the 3 month break between blogs on this subject) and so I’ll consider it again in the future. In the meantime, I’d really welcome comments on these two ideas – how well is the established church doing at encouraging rather than berating, and how might resources best be identified and used in emerging contexts?

Friday, June 01, 2007

Catching Up

I’ve just finished reading Rob Bell’s latest book, Sex God. It’s written in the same style as Velvet Elvis, with that mix of storytelling, exegesis, and one line statements and thoughts. One of the things I like about his books is that he writes pretty much as he speaks. If you hear his podcast, or watch a Nooma dvd or read his books, it’s the same style, and it’s a relaxed, informal yet informative style that I find draws me into his thinking and invites me to explore with him the topics he’s raising.

Sex God is his exploration of sexuality and spirituality. He argues that we are not to fall into an extreme idea of human identity with regards to sexuality, saying that these extremes are to think of ourselves either as angels (all spirit) or animals (only bodies), but that as embodied spiritual beings we are to exhibit the best of both of those. Sex, he says, is a spiritual act, that expresses the fulfilment of promise and commitment. He also claims that it is to be a foretaste of heaven. I encourage you to get a hold of the book, as I read I could see passages that would he helpful to some of the single people I know who are struggling with issues of not just loneliness (as hard as that is) but also sexual desire. There were sections that I think every married couple ought to read, and I imagine that it could be very difficult for some folks as they are challenged about the nature of their commitment to each other.

I’ve also just finished Michael Crichton’s novel State of Fear. It’s a polemic against the theory of global warming. I found it disingenuous and terribly written, which is a shame as I have enjoyed some of his other books where he has explored controversial ideas before.

Nigel Wright’s Free Church, Free State is heavier going but is helping me think through some issues around Baptist identity. I wonder to what extent new expressions of church that I might be involved in shaping will be distinctively Baptist, and how much of that will be intentional.

Today I took delivery of Robbers and Cowards the first CD by Cold War Kids. I heard it though once as I did some admin this morning, and loved it. I’m pretty sure the percussion included the clicking noise of someone backpeddling on a bike!

Last night was movie night and we watched A Night at the Roxbury (1998). Not only had I not seen it, I’d not even heard of it. And it was very funny, in an Anchorman way. It's from the Saturday Night Live stable, so, as one might expect it's a touch crude at times, but at other times very funny observational humour, as well as some slapstick and clever writing.

We also had a celebration of Hannah & Dift’s engagement. I love this group. Very caring of each other, able to have a lot of fun, and yet celebrate and mourn together too.

I realise, looking back over the blog, that I haven’t written more about Paul’s visit to Antioch, nor more about the Baptist Assembly. I’ll aim to do that this next week.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Young people these days....

I don't know what the world is coming to.

Yesterday evening I took our dog, Sally, to a local park for a run. It was in that in-between time of day, 20.15, so not late, but not early. As I walked into the park I saw a group of three teenage lads, wearing hoodies, kicking a football between themselves and laughing loudly as they listened to music on their mobile phones.

Only, the laughter was because they were good mates really enjoying a kickabout, and the music was opera (!), and as I passed by with my cheery, "Hi" one reached into his pocket and pulled out - no, not a knife - a tennis ball, and said "I just found this mate and we're not using it, do you want it for your dog?"

Kids these days huh?

Monday, May 07, 2007

Assembly Unplugged 1

Hi, If you're looking for the blog with the Assembly YouTube clips we used you'll find it at

I'll write more later, but we've just had a great time, with a run of three really good late night chatshows that have got me thinking of a very different way of doing church, we've had cafe church, how about Cabaret Church?

More on this later....

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

We Are Here: The Pale Blue Dot

We Are Here: The Pale Blue Dot

I recently got sent a link to this, and thought it was so beautiful I’d share it with you.

Some of the text (I think, as there’s a few versions out there and this one is from wikipedia):

“We succeeded in taking that picture [from deep space], and, if you look at it, you see a dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever lived, lived out their lives.

The aggregate of all our joys and sufferings, thousands of confident religions, ideologies and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilizations, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every hopeful child, every mother and father, every inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every superstar, every supreme leader, every saint and sinner in the history of our species, lived there on a mote of dust, suspended in a sunbeam.

The earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and in triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of the dot on scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner of the dot.

How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light.

Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity -- in all this vastness -- there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. It is up to us.

It's been said that astronomy is a humbling, and I might add, a character-building experience. To my mind, there is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly and compassionately with one another and to preserve and cherish that pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known”

Monday, April 23, 2007

When God shows up

Last night was one of those times.

My wife and I (and others in the church leadership here) had had a tough week, facing some criticism, and trying to address some long-running and unresolved issues in the church.

I was tired, but I was excited; one of the most dynamic and honest preachers I've heard in a long time was coming to visit us. Prior to our move last year she had spoken at the church in Northampton, and had delivered a message that was just so perfectly inspiring, challenging and empowering for where we as a church were. I hoped that God would use her as powerfully again.

Well, Kate Coleman, unbriefed about the issues, and indeed unbriefed about the nature of our forthcoming church conference, spoke directly into the heart of our situation, both generally as a church and specifically into the issues of the week. It wasn't just me feeling under fire, the whole team here were.

She gave a challenge for the church to address the issues that would prevent us from moving on to the next level our development, mission and community. She spoke, using Moses' life as an example, of the need to address the things we know about ourselves that others don't, to find ways of hearing the things others know about us but we haven't realised, and also to discover the things that neither we nor others know, but God alone knows.

Sitting and listening, it felt like cool spring water was washing my soul. I sensed God's affirmation. I knew the Spirit was kneading some of the knots out of me, and I felt I heard the voice of Jesus quietly drawing me out of my funk, empowering me to stand, washing off the dross of the week, and my own less than gracious internal responses.

More than God dealing with me personally, I felt the wider congregation were hearing and responding to the challenge to move out of the place where we are, and on into the next stage of our life together.

I know that there is nowhere we can go where God isn't already. I know it's a daft prayer to ask God to be present with us, and I know that what we need to pray is for us to be more aware of the ever-present nature of the divine. But sometimes, just sometimes, that dividing veil between us and God becomes gossamer thin, and in those times it is as though God is with us, truly present in ways that we don't regularly experience. Is it because the change in context (a speaker from outside, the forthcoming church conference, the amount of prayer in the preceeding week) increases expectation, is it because the prophet in our midst is able to speak in a way that other giftings are less keen or able to?

I don't know.

I do know that church is very different when God shows up.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

The Message

Just loving the power of this short film, a glimpse of the potential for networked communities to produce something beautiful, inspiring, profound and moving.

It could almost be a contemporary set of beatitudes.

The film was made when the creator - MadV - invited responses to the final part of the film, the masked guy, on youtube. I wonder if we can express this kind of creativity in churchworld? Maybe some weeks we'd be better off if, instead of crafting a 20 minute sermon, someone made something like this and we talked about it instead.

Anyway, I'm buzzing with ideas on this now, and if anyone has a spare digital camcorder they don't need, they should get in touch!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Weird Weather

March 12th and my son was playing in a neighbour's garden in a paddling pool, and I had to mow the lawn as it's growing so quick.

And we finally get around to fixing the problem with heating in the building where much of the youth ministry is based.


Sunday, March 04, 2007

Spirit-shoved Church part 1

In our Sunday morning services at the moment we are considering how the Holy Spirit guided the early Church. Last week, I spoke from the second half of the 11th chapter in Acts, a passage about the beginnings of the Church in Syrian Antioch. I’m recording some of my thoughts here as I think they relate to the situation we find ourselves in today, not that a Jewish church is figuring out how to relate to a gentile one, but that the established church is having to work out how to respond to an emerging one. This is going to be the first of many posts on this passage.

There is a danger of making a grave mistake when we read the Bible. We can fall into the trap of thinking that just as we can see what God was up to, how things worked out so that His kingdom is established, strengthened and extended, so too the participants at the time knew.

We can create in our minds an image that those whose journeys of faith are recorded in the Bible somehow had got hold of a map, and knew exactly where they were going, and what they were doing, It’s not true.

Of course, some of them did have a greater sense of the direction, and many of them had great clarity on their calling, but in terms of working that out, what to actually do, well, they had to make those decisions on the spot, reacting to the changing situation they found themselves in. They were, as uncomfortable as the phrase might be, shoved by the Spirit.

Acts 11:19-30 is a good example of this theme. The beginnings of the Christian church are a rapid succession of decisions and events, made on the hoof, in reaction to events, people and crises.

This passage comes immediately after Peter’s experiences at Cornelius’ house, and deals with a similar theme, that is the gospel and the Gentile’s response to it. Let’s be clear. The apostles of the church didn’t wake up one morning, have a planning meeting and decide that they would now advance the kingdom into the gentile lands! It wasn’t in the plan, it wasn’t on the radar. Peter had to have several visions and messages before he went to Cornelius’ house.

So following Peter’s experience, and his relaying of it to the Jerusalem church leaders, we get to this story, of a new community of Jesus followers, not primarily Jews, in Antioch. This hadn’t been as a result of missionaries sent from Jerusalem, but the result of preaching of others, probably people who heard and responded to the gospel on the day of Pentecost. And this is a key passage, not just in Acts, but for the whole church, who now have to grapple with the Jewishness of Jesus, in a world that is largely gentile.

We’ve seen a gentile household come to faith in chapter 10, was that an isolated event? Up until now, Jesus followers have been primarily Jewish. Jesus was a Jew. Jesus lived as a Jew. Jesus did what Jewish people did, and spent the majority of his time with Jews, speaking like them, acting like them. His message was addressed to them, and when He taught, He did so like on of thier teachers.

When the last supper happened, how many non-Jews there? When the resurrection happened – how many non-Jews were told? On the day of Pentecost, how many non-Jews were there in the upper room? In the need to elect deacons to serve the practical needs of the church, the dispute was between two sets of Jewish Jesus-followers, how many non-Jews ended up on the on the diaconate?

I’ve made my point. But was Jesus for the Jews alone? And, would all Jesus followers need to become Jewish? (But that’s for another time, and is covered very very well by Simon Jones’ latest book, Discovering Galatians) Indeed the background to the letter to the Galatians stems in a huge way from the events in chapter 11.

Following Jesus is not limited to one ethnic group. And, almost as proof of this, Antioch goes on to become the hotbed of missions to the whole region and further afield.

There’s a mindset we must guard against, and it’s the mindset that would claim Jesus for them alone. It’s a mindset that would see the church that we have now as the model for all churches everywhere.

On a trip to Uganda 4 years ago, my wife and I were incredibly saddened to find churches that were mimicking the formats of worship used by conservative American missionaries. These folks had been told that their drums were demonic, that they had to do things in a certain way for them to be proper churches. It was grieving to see and hear, and to watch as what could have been a vibrant, authentic expression of faith turned into an almost meaningless ritual.

I wonder now, in the light of just these introductory thoughts on the passage, what meaningless junk we’re perpetuating, and I wonder if the established church will be able to healthily bridge the gap between where we are, and where God wants us to be anywhere near as well as the folks 2,000 years ago.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Inconvenient Truths

Tonight was the latest in our series using movies in Cafe Church to explore spiritual themes.

An Inconvenient Truth, the enthralling documentary of Al Gore's powerpoint presentation on climate change (and what a miracle to take such potentially dull material and presenter and to turn it into something rivetting) gave us the first of what will likely be a number of opportunities to explore climate change and environmental issues from the persective of our lives being led as Jesus followers.
We used five short clips from the film, interspersed with a quiz, some thoughts and reflections and also three focussed zones. One zone invited people to get in touch with the idea of God as creator by using clay we provided to model something or to use the paper and paints. We invited people to reflect on the creative process, and frustration that might arise as their creations didn't turn out as they'd imagined.

Our second zone invited people to pray, and to make a note of the issues they were praying about.

The third zone used some of the eco-congregation material as the start for some discussion on how we as a church might respond to some the issues we'd been raising in the evening.

Several things stood out about the evening. The first was the quality of the conversations, response in prayer, and the creative output that came. In truth I hadn't been sure how responsive people might be feeling, but the issue was one that many people had clearly been thinking a lot about, and were enjoying the opportunity to express some of that thinking and reflection in a church context. The second pleasing thing was the generally high level of knowledge about the issue, and some of the practical responses that would be helpful to make. The real challenge comes in moving beyond the knowledge and into the action.

I was personally very provoked, as ever on this subject, about my own responses. We've changed the lightbulbs, increased our use of public transport greatly and we try and make good choices when we shop. But i know I am as conflicted as anyone. There are days I run late and it's too easy to jump in the car, and times when i buy something that just has way too much packaging. It would be easy to get downhearted and feel that the issue is too big. However, I reminded myself, and shared with the church, the reflection that we follow a God who is as able to inspre other people's hearts all over the world as much as he is inspiring ours. That it's not my responsibility to make other people's choice, that I have to make the ones I can.

We followed Cafe Church with the second of the joint meetings between our youth and young adults. It was a fun time of getting to know each other a bit better, watching a Nooma dvd and then hearing from one of our folks about a short-term mission trip to West Africa. She presented really well, and gave us a flavour of her experience there. We are getting to grips, slowly, with the creation of new ways of doing church, and I'm not sure whether they realised it or not, but tonight had many of the elements we ought to be thinking about includng when we more consciously plan for worship experiences.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Come the Revolution

My week's having a bit of a revolutionary theme. This week I got round to watching "Moulin Rouge" with its own powerful rendition of The Children of the Revolution used to bracket and background the movie and key scenes. I was blown away by several scenes, especially the excellent medley of love songs sung in the elephant room and Roxanne. The irony of these children of the revolution being as much under the power of the wealthy ruling class as they were before (business instead of royalty) and the use of love songs that are the backdrop to our contemporary lives being used to highlight the rampant hedonism of the period portrayed were insightful and profound. What we might look back and criticise in that generation we have fully embraced in our own perhaps?

The other Revolution in my thinking is the title of George Barna's book that I've nearly finished. Its a wonderful little book, very readable and very direct. Barna has thrown his lot in with, and is seeking to clarify and encourage the role of a new breed of Christian he sees emerging in the USA. He attempts to codify some of the key characteristics, and explain why these new spiritual revolutionaries are sitting very lightly to established church structures. In essence he thinks they are too savvy to give their time, energy and resources to anything other than that which pushes forwards God's agenda. It's a challenging read.

Towards the end of the book he outlines the ways that revolutionaries might be changed by participating in the revolution. One of the changes he sees is a realigning of personal identity. The true revolutionary doesn't have to act, it's part of who they are. Their whole world becomes wrapped in the revolutionary endeavour, everything is seen through the lens of the revolution, especially their own sense of self and mission. He writes a few lines that struck me forcefully,

"Let me also point out that a major reason why most local churches have little influence on the world is that their congregants do not experience this transformation in identity. Our research indicates that churchgoers are more likely to see themselves as Americans, consumers, professionals, parent, and unique individuals than zealous disciples of Jesus Christ. Until that self-image is reoriented, churches will not have the capacity to change their world. After all, a revolution is a dangerous and demanding undertaking; it is not for the minimally committed."

(Revolution, by George Barna. 2005 Tyndale)

Is this really why we struggle. Can we forget (to a certain extent) the challenges we face by changing society? Is the real key to seeing the Kingdom of God established, strengthened and extended a true revolution in the self-identity of every person who would claim to follow Jesus, and if that's so, why isn't that what's happening now?

It's providing a lot of food for thought, and I'll need to find places to turn those thoughts into helpful discussion. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Monday, February 12, 2007

It's a freedom thing

So. here's a pic with the freedom key just put in.

It's not subtle is it?

It'll take a while to get used to being in, and i may use a different attachment as although this one makes it very easy and gentle to put on and remove, it is very dangly.

Anyway, if you see me and I'm not wearing it, do ask why not. And if you haven't hit the Stop the Traffik link that the top and begun to get involved, then please do.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Getting Pierced

So, here are some pics of the first part of my awareness raising for the Stop the Traffik campaign (follow the link from the top of my blog for more details). Along with one of my colleagues, Simon, I had my ear pierced, on Friday, so that today, Sunday, in a special service to focus on the campaign I could have a freedom key hung from it.

I'll be able to post the pics with the key in tomorrow, I'm awaiting for them from the photographer.

In the first pic, I am just having the needle pushed through, in the second the ring is being threaded through the hole and in the third that's how I look with the ring in.

Some people have asked why I've had it done. And there are a number of answers. In part it is because I'd heard of another minister who'd done the same thing, and was inspired by that. But the piercing for me had a deeper meaning. In the Old Testament, a slave who had reached the end of their service could opt to remain with the household they had been a slave in. There are, of course, huge ethical issues and grey areas here, how real was the choice to stay or go one might ask. However, the sign that a slave had chosen to be a servant, that he was a free person who had chosen to serve was that he would have his ear pierced. It was a bit more brutal then. I sat on a bed and had a sterile needle pushed by hand through my ear lobe. A slave staying with the household he'd been serving would have had an awl driven in with a hammer, against the doorpost of the master's house.

So, my ear is pierced, as a mark that I am a free man who has voluntarily chosen to subject his will and freedom to another master. It's a liberty I wish others could choose. I support Stop the Traffik because many millions will never have the choice I do, and I want them to.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Coupland Movie Trailer

I have no idea when or if this is going to get a UK release. If anyone has more information, please do let me know. Vancouver, aliens, slackers and pot - has Coupland got stuck in a rut?

Teaching and Learning

On a facebook group i'm a member of someone asked what it would be like if people who teach in church could help their listeners realise that this was the first word, not the last, on a subject. How different would things be if people used sermons as a starting point for discussions, rather than just assimilating a new understanding of truth into their understanding of Jesus and his message? The message was written from an american perspective. The text in italics was my reply.

I'm not sure I'd fully identify with the idea that when I taught something it was the final word. I find myself more and more inviting people onto a journey of discovery, offering suggestions, sharpening questions, discovering more options that the two I'd been presented with.
Although contemporary spiritual seekers here in the UK will often be willing to follow a new age guru, when it comes to the message of Jesus it seems that everyone has an opinion, and they all are held as valid. I'm not sure who I am to claim the sole validity, but the church's usual approach leaves most people cold.
The approach in higher education here is a kind of "guided learning", it would make a good model for churches. What would it be like if someone spoke on what they owned as merely one perspective, and then invited seminar groups to take their message apart and see what stands up to scrutiny and application?

I wonder what it would be like? In my previous church I had a small panel of people who used to appraise my sermons for me. I wonder if there is a way of encouraging groups to make it a regular practice. Would ministerial egos withstand it? I think the team here would be fine, it might make what we do better, and would almost certainly lead to a greater degree of "doing theology" in our congregations.

I wonder if this could only be done by a few, or whether it would be an option for entire congregations on a Sunday? It might hasten the end of a bad way of teaching that we seem far too wedded to given the society we live in.

I wonder how many barriers there would be to it, and where they'd come from? Feel free to leave any thoughts.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The best of British

I've just finished reading Billy Bragg's The Progressive Patriot. I've enjoyed it on a number of levels. The way he writes is much as he speaks, and it's been a joy to hear his voice as I've read his words.

The question the book is addressing is one of identity and meaning for progressive british society. In the wake of a rise in support for racist political parties and with much discomfort, misunderstanding and confusion of what it might mean to be a multicultural society, is there anything that people in progressive politics might want to cling on to or even celebrate in a distinctively british identity?

Bragg argues that a renewed discussion of britishness might be a uniting rather than dividing exercise, that it might rob the racists of a platform by revealing that to be british has always meant to be tolerant and open to other cultures.

He writes a persuasive book, I commend it to you.

It seemed to me, in reading it, to have something to say to those of us who are engaged in discovering fresh understandings of what it means to follow Jesus. Bragg advocates that british people tell the long story about ourselves, a story that includes a great history of integration, that is honest about not just the glories of empire, but the negatives too, a story that indicates a constant state of change, not some static population. I wonder if the most contemporary of emerging churches also need to retell the story from the beginning, to show how what we do, as connected as it is to our mediated, accelerated, po-mo world, is also connected to the roots and history of all who've borne the name of Christ?

There's a large part of me that wants to ignore 2,000 years of church history because it often feels like a weight, an albatross maybe, around the Church's neck. Maybe it's in retelling with honesty the story of our faith that we might find a new willingness from those seeking a tale to believe in, a path to follow.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Movies in Church

In the first three Cafe services of the new year we're continuing to use movies to explore spiritual themes.

Last weekend we pondered on Groundhog Day, the excellent Bill Murray plays Phil Connors, an obnoxious weatherman, caught in a day that keeps repeating itself.

After his initial fear, frustration and depression at the never changing cycle of events, Phil first exploits the situation for his own ends, but then he is touched by the plight of an old gentleman who dies. Phil tries all he can to save the fellow, but to no avail, in doing so he learns about the needs of people in the town he's visiting, he then spends one of his days helping as many people as he can. It is this day that is the last one that he is trapped in, once again re-entering normal time and life.

Given the time constraints, and the fact that the majority of the audience hadn't seen it, we had to be selective in what we did. So we chose three scenes to help us think about making a new start.

We began by showing the first two waking up scenes, to illustrate that something strange is occurring, we got people to talk around their tables about the times they'd said "I can't believe this is happening again". Simon, my colleague, then taught a little about some of the Groundhog Day experiences that the apostle Peter had (three denials, three opportunities to reaffirm his love for Jesus, several sightings of a sheet spread with "unclean" food to teach him about inclusiveness).

We then used the clip where Phil robs a bank to think about a different kind of cyclical occurrence, and how good we were getting at being bad, and we remembered that God sees what is in our hearts, and that there is no place we can go to where we can hide from Him.

We then looked at two clips towards the end of the movie that showed the change that had taken place in Phil as he focussed on others rather than himself. I then spent a short time thinking aloud about what it might mean for God's love to be known as "new every morning" and asking what it is that God requires of us, that we act justly, show mercy, and walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8). Is it by serving others that we find meaning in the today, and freedom from our own hamster wheels?

In between this we used lot's of table discussion on the themes, encouraged people to text in ideas / questions / responses to what they were seeing, hearing and talking about, and we also used U2's Stuck in a Moment and Faithless' Nate's Tune to offer pauses for reflection and thought.

The feedback has been positive, especially from the people who came as family groups, bringing their children with them. We're now deciding on next month's theme, and what movie might help us explore that.

I'm enjoying using alternative stories to shed light on eternal truths. People's willingness to grapple with both movies and scriptures together is encouraging, and in seeing how the Bible speaks to the movie situations folks are discovering it speaking into their own experiences too. Several people spoke to us about how they felt God addressing issues in their lives in a very direct way as we spoke of repeating patterns of behaviour, the need for a fresh start, the love of Jesus that longs to bring peace and hope into our experience of being trapped or lost.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Laying down and picking up gauntlets

I have just got back from the Mainstream Leader's conference, and I'll write about that later, I have some comments from the weekend I wanted to share first.
On Sunday evening I met with a group of people in their twenties to pitch to them some ideas about new ways of doing church.
I was asking for their help. We spoke about the need for our church to find a group that could become very experimental and creative, and about the opportunity and freedom there was to think in novel ways about who we should be, what kind of things we ought to be doing, and the "how to" that we would engage in one we'd figured out values and vision.
Well, they said yes, and inwardly I breathed a deep hallelujah. The group is a creative one, fun to spend time with and ripe for a challenge. I was greatly relieved, as I hadn't identified a plan b if they'd have said no.
So where to from here? Well we agreed that we'd spend the next few months thinking and reflecting on the values that we ought to share, and those that we'd seek to express. To do this we're going to read Rob Bell's Velvet Elvis, a book I can't commend highly enough. It's a challenging, inspiring and encouraging look at the kind of people and communities and values that contemporary Christians might want to aspire to. It doesn't present a model, there's no start up programme, just a challenge to allow God to widen our vision and understanding of his kingdom, his church, his world.
The group also immediately identified others who could be invited to share the journey with us, and decided on a helpful way of approaching them with an invitation.

I'm ridiculously excited. And i'm looking forward to seeing where God will take us.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

An Open Door

In God's first century letter to the Church in Philadelphia (Revelation 3:7-13) an image of an open door is used. God says that he has seen the way that the people there had lived as those who genuinely believed the gospel message and had undergone persecution and hardship because of it. Because of this, he says, he is placing an open door in front of them. It's a passage we'd studied in church in autumn, and the image had been used a few times since.

Thinking about which image I could use to help us reflect on the coming year, I couldn't get the thought of the open door out of my head. I wonder how many doors had been closed because we'd stuck fast to Jesus and his teaching. I wonder what doors of opportunity God will open for us in the coming year. I see this image as a doorway of opportunity that flows both ways, I like that light is coming in from outside the door, it speak to me of us being open to the ways that God will speak to us, challenge and encourage us as we open ourselves more fully to others. It is an image that fills me with faith for the coming year, instead of fear. It reminds me that we are on a divine mission, that we journey with a God who goes before us and opens doors, and that fresh encounters are just around the corner, just outside the doors.

We followed reflection on the idea of the open door by reading together Psalm 16 in the Message translation.

Psalm 16

A David song.

Keep me safe, O God,
I've run for dear life to you.
I say to GOD, "Be my Lord!"
Without you, nothing makes sense.

And these God-chosen lives all around–
what splendid friends they make!

Don't just go shopping for a god.
Gods are not for sale.
I swear I'll never treat god-names
like brand-names.

My choice is you, GOD, first and only.
And now I find I'm your choice!
You set me up with a house and yard.
And then you made me your heir!

The wise counsel GOD gives when I'm awake
is confirmed by my sleeping heart.
Day and night I'll stick with GOD;
I've got a good thing going and I'm not letting go.

I'm happy from the inside out,
and from the outside in, I'm firmly formed.
You canceled my ticket to hell–
that's not my destination!

Now you've got my feet on the life path,
all radiant from the shining of your face.
Ever since you took my hand,
I’m on the right way.
(The Message)

Reflecting on 2006

On Sunday morning, I used this montage to help us reflect on the year that had past. I wanted to use well known faces (or people whose images might be less well known, but people would associate with the name) to help us think about the events and changes of the past year.

I thought of people who has passed away this last year - pictures of Coretta Scott King and Steve Irwin were included - to help us think about those who died in the natural course of life, and those who died suddenly.

I used images of UK politicians to reflect on changes in leadership in our nation's political parties, and to help us (although I didn't spell this out) to reflect on changes in our own church leadership team.

An image of George Bush and Donald Rumsfeld was used to help us think about relationships that had broken down, professionally or personally.

Pictures of Saddam Hussein and President Ahmadinejad were included to help us think about situations that concern us.

Andrew Flintoff losing the Ashes helped us to reflect on broken dreams.

Changing faces in the Baptist Union of Great Britain (the top right corner is the new Gen Sec of the BU, Jonathan Edwards and the outgoing Gen Sec, David Coffey, the pic just inset from them is the current BU President, Kate Coleman) were used to reflect changes in our own congregation as we become a more diverse community.

I also used the very challenging image of Israeli children writing messages on bombs that were dropped on Lebanon, to help us reflect on the power and repercussions of our actions. Bono speaking at the Global Economic Forum was included as some progress, slow as it was, continued to be made in the fight against global poverty and AIDS ignorance.

I put in the Time magazine's cover as it had chosen as its person of the year "You", an empowered, media savvy, web-literate, wired society. Apparently we're the ones who make it all happen. When I reflect on the global situation, I really hope people far smarter than me are in charge.

We then read psalm 124 together, as a declaration of thankfulness and praise that we had survived 2006 with all its challenges. The feedback I received was very positive, with people appreciating having something to help them reflect on their own experiences of the last year.

Looking into 2007

So, it’s a new year, God bless us all.

As I look into this coming year, I’m challenged, as always, to consider that my goals are for the year. In terms of ministry, I want to see progress made on what I call “the three M’s of youth ministry”, Mentoring, Milestones and Mission.

With mentoring in mind, I’m heading off to the Mainstream Leaders’ Conference next week. I’m really looking forward to engaging with what Philadelphia, Sheffield have been doing with LifeShapes, a programme for peer to peer mentoring. In the light of this and drawing on other materials, I’ll be creating a mentoring programme for every member of our youth ministry , followed, in time I hope, by every member of the church who wants it.

I’m also keen to place some intentional milestones into the coming year. I want to plan for the things that our youth and young adults will look back on as significant moments of learning, encounter and community. We need to know not just that God loves the world, but also how it feels to be part of God’s expression of that love, by practical service, community building or meaningful worship expressions.

The context for all of this ought to be one of mission too. I’m not sure that we’ve really begun to grasp the implications of moving away from any idea that we live in a Christian society, and to change our thinking to the extent that we view the wider culture much as Peter, Paul, Priscilla, Aquilla and the early church did as they travelled, debated, conversed, loved, befriended, worked and prayed in order that God’s kingdom might be established, strengthened and extended.

I want to move our youth and young adults away from the idea that we’re about perpetuating the local church, and into a deeper understanding that we’re about kingdom building, because we live in a screwed up world, a world that is changed not by becoming nice and joining us on Sunday, but by having a revelation of the love, grace and power of Jesus.

So Mentoring, Milestones and Mission, ought to be an interesting year I think.

God bless you as you hear him call you into 2007 with a passion and purpose.