Monday, 23 February 2009

Dealing with death

On Friday we host the celebration for the life of John Williams, part of our Church family, who died aged 40 leaving behind a wife and three children, the eldest 11.

He was a magnificent teacher and headmaster of the Oasis Academy in Bristol. He had a thirst for life and adventure and was outstanding in the field of education, as one of the youngest headmasters in the country. He is without a shadow of a doubt one of the most gifted worship leaders I have ever known, having overseen that area of the life of our church for several years. He had a thirst for adventure, and has climbed Mont Blanc, as an example.

We prayed for him on Sundays and in our prayer meetings for three weeks following a sudden heart attack in France. He passed away last week.

Last Sunday we paid tribute to him and gosh, by any stretch of the imagination it was an emotionally charged morning. There were few dry eyes.

A few years back Martin (our lead elder) gathered a group of guys in the Church who showed leadership potential. One has planted a Church, one is an international businessman, one a youth leader, I became an elder and John was a headmaster. We discussed life and faith and the challenges and opportunities we faced. He really was one in a million, an amazing guy. There are few words to express how much it hurts.

I don't have any answers as to why. I don't have an integrated theology that places the events of the last fortnight into a neat theological box. What I do have is a compassion for that family that moves me to tears every time I think of the situation, like now. His wife is so wonderful, so assured, so brave. Only a God of love could make someone like that. I have a faith in Jesus that knows John's future in eternity is secure through the saving power of Jesus Christ. And I have a responsibility to love, protect and care for his family and those children.

John's involvement with the Oasis Trust means that Steve Chalke is coming to our Church for the service of celebration on Friday and will do a tribute. I am really looking forward to meeting such a visionary Christian leader whose heart for social action has so shaped my life, starting with his preach at Soul Survivor in 1994.

We have all felt such a deep sadness as we have watched this situation unfold. And yet somehow, in the human sadness, there is joy at a life so powerfully touched by Jesus, so powerfully used by Jesus, and even in death so powerfully remaining a witness to Jesus.

God bless you John, as you, so certainly, blessed us.

The Marriage Course: Part Three

Two weeks ago Esther and I embarked on the seven week Marriage Course based on DVDs and materials from the Holy Trinity Brompton stable which we are running at our Church in Shrewsbury.

The third week "Resolving Conflict" was a very interesting look at ways of dealing with disagreement, and working through solutions.

We deduced that I was a "Hedgehog" and she was a "Rhino" when it came to conflict, well actually, I rated her as a "Rhinehog" as it depends on the situation. If anything she has a tendency to go in a bit too strong whereas my natural tendency would be withdraw, sometimes helpfully and sometimes frustratingly.

There were scales of different characteristics and we had to mark each other on where we were on the scales. It was fascinating. We get on like a house on fire. I love spending time with her. She loves spending time with me. We often end up close to tears laughing. We have loads in common, apart from her not liking football. Well, at least so I thought until we did this exercise. Don't get me wrong, we do click brilliantly, and have so much in common, but this exercise showed an interesting slant on things.

On the whole,

I dress casually, she dresses smartly
She likes to thrash out disagreements I like to keep the peace
I like holidays where we seek adventure, she likes to seek rest
I like to save money, she likes to spend money
She likes to spend time alone, I like to spend time with others
She likes to make plans and stick to them, I like to be spontaneous and go with the flow
She likes to have time in hand, I tend to cut it fine
I like to go out, she likes to be at home
I like to go to bed late, she likes to go to bed early
She is not so interested in "sport" (although is into fitness and goes to the gym 2-3 times a week) whereas I love sport, especially football, and do the gym twice a week alongside five a side football
She will talk at length on the phone: I make arrangements and I am done
I am relaxed with tidiness and generally live in mess, she likes to keep everything ordered and in control
I would keep the TV on, she would throw it out.

Then the wonderful words on Nicky Lee: "we often find people get married to someone almost completely the opposite to them". Phew! It showed so clearly how we click. I need her to help me make it happen and keep me from chaos, and I bring unpredictable sparks of humour and energy into her world. We both lose much without the other.

I want to appreciate all she brings to the relationship, and try to make what I bring less annoying for her. This course is great, as it allows time for self analysis that every day life does not afford us.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Cross Talk 26th February 2009

For publication in the Shrewsbury Chronicle: circulation 15,000 (approx)

Recent news reports tell of charities concerned that their donations will reduce because of the current economic climate, on top of a reduction in revenue from investments. The same charities are reporting that the demand for their services is increasing due to the difficulties people face in this time of recession. It seems a terrific shame that at the point of greater need in our nation the resources to help are shrinking.

That got me thinking about the role we, as Christians, and Churches play. In Shrewsbury The Ark Project, Isaiah 58 Project and Shrewsbury Christian Mission all work in different ways to help those without housing or in extreme poverty.

Other projects such as the Basics Bank at the Barnabas Centre help those in debt. Churches run all sorts of activities for the elderly, who are particularly vulnerable in winter in a time of financial hardship. Parent and Toddler groups and children's activities are helping families with younger children.

The Fairtrade Shop on St John's Hill allows us an opportunity to promote trade justice with other nations in a time of upheaval in world trade. Churches raise thousands of pounds every year for charities in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, South America, through larger agencies like Christian Aid, CAFOD and Tearfund or through activities like Trinity Churches in Meole Brace helping fund school buildings in

Events like Soul Purpose in North Shrewsbury and The Noise in Bayston Hill see people actively looking to serve local people.

All of these, and many others not mentioned, help to express the love of God to those around and put our faith into practical action. Let us respond to the current economic situation by giving more, sharing more and doing more, as a blessing to the community in which we live and as a witness to Jesus.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Is our witness "Genuine"

A comment from Jon on this post got me thinking.
Personally I think the real issue is genuineness. E.g. 'Let's do a a pub quiz' - I'm there, whether it's in a church or not. But it has to be a quiz, not a covert operation to get me in church.

One reason 'men's ministry' struggles is because men are naturally suspicious...
I discussed this subject late last year but am moved to do so again.

I really, really dislike the "Come to an A,B,C,D whatever event on Saturday" and then in the small print * with a short talk about Jesus.

I remember vividly talking to a friend who had been invited by his Christian Union to a "Pancake party, with a short talk about Jesus". His point was simple:
"look, I like pancakes, and quite like the idea of a pancake party. I might be interested in a short talk about Jesus. But I am not interested in coming to one thing and getting another. Why can't they just be honest with me?"
I think this is where resources like Laurence Singlehurst's masterpiece "Sowing, Reaping, Keeping" really come to the fore. When we are talking about Jesus, let's invite people to hear. When we are having a pancake party, let's invite people to eat.

The "We are putting on this event to get you in a room so we can talk at you for the ten minutes at the end" way of doing witness is more akin to flogging Spanish timeshare holidays at a Cheese and wine evening or tours of Turkish carpet factories where they give you free shots of Raki.

I don't "just" want to do social events and never have the opportunity to explain the good news. Nor do I want to drive the articulated lorry of the gospel of over a small footbridge of a friendship too soon. Not without permission.

I do think our friends deserve the right to be informed of what they are coming to exactly, and then it is up to them to decide.

If our faith in genuine, then our witness certainly should be.

Monday, 16 February 2009

The Marriage Course, Part 2

Last week Esther and I embarked on the seven week Marriage Course based on DVDs and materials from the Holy Trinity Brompton stable which we are running at our Church in Shrewsbury.

Week two: The art of communication.

First things first and the food was good, a homemade lasagne followed by plum pudding: yum! The DVD presentation was useful and interesting. Resources that come out of HTB come from a slightly different geographic and in many ways demographic environment to us. So suggestions like "hold a handkerchief when it is your turn to talk" sound a little odd to this shropshire lad, but the point "shut up while she's talking" is well made!

That is not meant as a criticism, because what I love about the HTB guys is that they are being true to themselves and doing things their way for the people they are trying to reach. It just needs a bit of filtering.

It certainly helped us lift the lid on ways to communicate and things we do or don't do that can be improved. For me that is the great strength of the course, that it gives permission to discuss things and make a plan of action.

It made me really consider the difference between hearing stuff and listening, and the value of undivided attention rather than listening as we do something else. I can hear stuff but not listen, and that it what makes communication an art. Actually repeating what you think the other person is saying was an interesting exercise, and then asking them what is the most important aspect, not pre-judging what the real issue is.

All in all a good evening. I am gaining confidence in the resources as it makes the whole concept very accessible to a wide range of people.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Can we be "Honest to Darwin"?

Shrewsbury is awash with Charles Darwin.

In the bicentenery of his birth, the Darwin festival is fully prepared, half a million of taxpayers money has been set aside for publicity, there are Darwin 2009 flags on the lamp posts around town and anything and everything seems to be pointing to the big man.

No, not THE BIG MAN in our sense of the word, but the man from Shrewsbury who some people suggest "killed God".

Based on my experience of the living God I have always found that description of Darwin somewhat crude, both in the assumption that God is somehow dead and the implication that it is because of Darwin. I am sure if God had died it would have taken a bit more than a chap from a little town in between somewhere near nowhere and Wales to kill Him.

But how do we respond to the onslaught from neo-darwinists who take his theory, stretch it, flog it, sell it and use it to sell a godless philosophy?

This is why I am excited about "Honest to Darwin" happening here in Shrewsbury later this month. Many Christians simply do not know how to respond to the challenges made by neo-darwinist philosophy that so insidiously lay claim to branches of science.

The aim here, is that by using the science itself, and the outcomes of the science, that we can challenge the philosophy while recognising the contribution made by science.

The media seem interested too. BBC Shropshire's website covers the whole Darwin thing in some depth and the Intelligent Design response has got some exposure on their main page, as well as in an article.

I have a hunch that if we really want to be listened to then we need to present an approach well worth listening to. If the discussion is about the science then let us use the science to provoke the discussion. If we want to challenge the philosophy then we need to present a philosophy worth holding. If we can use "their" science to do so, then we are taking the battle to them like never before.

I think the greatest threat to neo-darwinism is going to come within the science itself.

What questions do non-christians ask?

In your experience, what are the most common questions a non-christian has as they seek to find out more about faith?

What are the common objections?

Things like:

"Why does God allow suffering?", "Why are there so many religions?", "Why does religion cause so many wars?".

I need some inspiration for a new project I am working on.

What are the most common questions / objections you hear?

Friday, 6 February 2009

The Marriage Course in Shrewsbury : Part One

Last night Esther and I embarked on the seven week Marriage Course based on DVDs and materials from the Holy Trinity Brompton stable which we are running at our Church in Shrewsbury.

The course has been recommended to me by several friends who have done it, and also my parents.

So week one, building foundations. The short version? Excellent. It was a lovely evening. There are 12 couples signed up and only 2 missed it due to the snow. We sat by a couple we had not met before from North Shrewsbury Community Church called Lisa and Stuart. They seemed really nice, although they did speak very highly of Phil which always makes me a bit suspicious!

The food was good, the atmosphere friendly, and the book has got some excellent material in it. There were some pretty deep questions about how you felt your relationship was and what you felt your partner valued. Esther and I were pretty close in our scoring of each other and there were no major surprises but lots of important ground to cover. The DVD presentation was very similar to the Alpha DVDs and was clear and warm, without straying into being either dull or exciting.

We were given a certain amount of time to discuss the topics covered but when we got home we had another full hour covering all the bits we had not had time for! There is also homework to do! All in all, a very positive start. Sometimes it is good to have permission to lift the lid on a subject and a course like this is a really safe forum to start talking.

I love my wife, and I want to continue to grow in knowing how to actually make that commitment a reality. I have high hopes for the next 6 weeks, if the first session is anything to go by.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

More Buses!

I am enjoying this, and building on yesterdays foundation I have a few more ideas.

From proof I have spent too much time reading The Simple Pastor
To a slight dig at Christian charismania:

And my current favourite...

Some cracking entries keep appearing all over the blogdom of God. I love this one found here.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

God Buses - choose your slogan!

Peter Kirk put me onto this rather humorous gadget here (which rather turns the whole atheist bus thing on its head, when the Christian blogging community go nuts for it).

and it got me thinking.

What if Arminians started advertising on buses?

Or have have a bit of fun at Mark Driscoll's expense...

Rick Warren?

And for me...

And finally...