Thursday, 19 March 2009

Ideas, Ideas, Ideas

I have far, far too many ideas to even know what to do with!

On Sunday afternoon I met a couple from Church and came out with some absolutely cracking ideas for developing new leaders, media work, showcasing the life of the Church and communication.

On monday evening our cell group leaders meeting generated a 28 idea list of ways we can help new people integrate into the life of our Church, and join a cell group. Some of them were absolute pearlers.

In the last three days the Church office has had 4 prophecies emailed in from Church members with various things they feel God has revealed to them for us.

So that is about 32 ideas and 4 prophecies in five days and none of them have come from me!

That is why I love being in a body, being part of a family, and being on a mission. You never know what tomorrow holds, and everyone has a chance to contribute.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

How to resist evil

That is the title of my talk tonight on The Alpha Course

I like the way the Alpha materials give airtime to the dangers of evil but give priority to Jesus, if that makes sense. Some books / websites certainly do not get that balance right.

This is a bit off the cuff, (and some of it even a bit tongue in cheek) but here would be five places to start for a Christian guy in the UK, to resist temptation, and thereby resist evil:
  1. Get some PC monitoring software: take a knife to the temptation
  2. Don't sit channel surfing the TV on your own in the evening
  3. Buy a broadsheet not a tabloid and don't read the adverts in any magazine aimed at men
  4. Don't read the argos catalogue or watch car programmes
  5. Avoid Stella Artois
I guess my point, is I am not particularly of the opinion that the devil lives under your bed, and I think often these things can start in us. It is only a small step to be on the wrong path, and that can spin horribly out of control.

What would your five be?

Monday, 16 March 2009

Calon Lan

It is my grandfather's funeral tomorrow.

My brother's post as he said goodbye sums up the mood of the family rather well.

I prepared the order of service. It is a bit weird, because working as Church administrator for several years I have prepared several. This time it was my own family. My own grandfather. It actually felt slightly therapeutic to be able to contribute something so practical to the day.

Well anyway, as I was typing up an old welsh hymn grandma wanted I was really wondering what the english words were. I wanted to know why this hymn was chosen for my grandad.

Nid wy’n gofyn bywyd moethus,
Aur y byd na’i berlau mân
Gofyn rwyf am galon hapus,
Calon onest, calon lân.

Calon lân yn llawn daioni,
Tecach yw na’r lili dlos,
‘Does ond calon lân all ganu,
Canu’r dydd a chanu’r nos.

Pe dymunwn olud bydol,
Chwin adenydd iddo sydd:
Golud calon lân rinweddol
Yn dwyn bythol elw fydd

Hwyr a bore fy nymuniad,
Esgyn ar adenydd cân,
Ar I Dduw, er mwyn fy Ngheidwad,
Roddi imi galon lân

Well that is all well and good but frankly it would have been better for me in tongues because at least the Holy Spirit gives me some hope of an interpretation!

I have since found a translation, and here it is, nothing could be a better reflection of my grandad!

The friendly chap from the north wales village who did the simple things well and did everything simply. Thanks Grandad.


I seek not a life of riches,
earthly gold or finest pearls
All I seek is a heart that is happy,
A heart that is honest, a heart that is pure

A heart that is pure and full of goodness,
Fairer than the beautiful lily;
Only a heart that is pure can sing,
Sing by day and sing by night

Were I to cherish earthly riches,
They are swift and fleet of wing:
a heart pure and virtuous
riches and eternal gain will bring

Night and morning does my longing
rise aloft on wings of song
that God, for the sake of my Saviour,
grant me a heart that is pure

Sunday, 15 March 2009

Worship songs that changed my life: NUMBER ONE

Number one, and not even a proper worship song!

Kevin Prosch: "Love is all you need" This song is a definiton of "rough diamond". Jagged, edgy, and so, so, precious.

Have you ever hurt inside,
Feel like you could lose your mind?
You tell no one, you sit and cry
On the brink of suicide
You convince yourself inside
Maybe here there are no spies
Nothing tempers this heart as grief
I've seen blackbirds die like priests

They go,
love is all you need
All you need is love
love is all you need
All you need is love

Hey hey preacher man shut your mouth
All that talks coming straight from your head
You can't love no one
You can't even love yourself
And you've got the heart of a mannequin
You need to reach out from beyond your border fence
Come out from hiding behind the parsonage
Show them people the same mercy that you need
hey, preacher man, tell them love is all you need

love is all you need

All you need is love
love is all you need
All you need is love

I went to the place where dead men pray
Love forsaken, I was so afraid
When suddenly the leaves were around
Like pheasants flying these angels came down
She said where is hope? What is truth? And do you know peace?
As we walked through the graveyard of needles on the street
Lord they wouldn't need this if only they could see
Tell them love, love, love is love is the key

love is all you need
All you need is love
love is all you need
All you need is love

I met a man who walked alone
He wept upon those public roads
He placed his eyes upon my heart
Saw that I had missed the stirring of the water
He looked into my childhood scars
Like a candle on a written page
And from your guilt he said I could be free
Maybe my love is all you need

love is all you need

All you need is love
love is all you need
All you need is love

As he breaks into singing in tongues at the end you understand the love he is talking about.

It is just so edgy, so raw, so vulnerable. Kevin later fell into adultery that cost him a huge chunk of his ministry, and he has now been through a restoration process. Somehow, by some bizarre exchange, actually validates this song even further. He knew he was a sinner. He knew where his only hope was. He knew his future rested in God's grace, not his merit.

The only MP3 clip I can find is via Cross Rythms here.

This is the song I want at my funeral. When I die I want people to know two things: God loves them, and so did I.

Even now, 15 years after I first heard it, I can sit down, close my eyes, and just be overcome by the weight of the love of God. You can almost touch it.

You can feel the pain in his heart about judgemental christendom. And then it finishes with.

" And from your guilt he said I could be free
Maybe my love is all you need"

and this is the gospel in two lines, that wraps up the whole of the song and the vulnerability and complexity of our existence and takes it to the cross, where all we need is found, as the greatest love is shown.

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Worship songs that changed my life: NUMBER TWO

Here we go with song number two, and I don't even really like the song!!!

Flashback to Spring Harvest, the early nineteen nineties. I was from a Christian family, in my early teens, had always "believed", but never "understood". I was a genuine, nominal Christian. I believed in a God I didn't know. I did not understand the severity of the abject disaster my sin destined me for. And then I got it. I just got it. Clear teaching, clear gospel presentation, bang, the penny dropped, from a great height.

Could I truly be free? Could my sins truly be forgiven?

Oh, God, Most High, Almighty King
The champion of heaven, Lord of everything
You fought, You won, death lost its sting
And standing in Your victory we sing

You have broken the chains that held our captive souls
You have broken the chains and used them on Your foes
All your enemies are bound
They tremble at the sound of Your name
Jesus You have broken the chains

The pow’r of hell has been undone
Captivity held captive by the Risen One
And in the name of God’s great Son
We claim the mighty victory You’ve won

I repeat: I don't even really like this song! I don't like it musically. It is written in Christianese rather than English. Yet there, and the heart of it, the victory won for me. As I danced, in a Butlins nightclub converted into a youth worship venue, and sung, I jumped in, wholeheartedly, and invested my life in Him. His victory, in my life, what a wonderful saviour we have.

Cadburys goes Fairtrade

I know I am a bit late to comment on this, but I am still simply amazed by this development.

20 years ago could anyone imagine reading things like this, this or this?

Many people support Fairtrade, but lots of Christian groups and charities have been pioneers in supporting the concept and bringing it into the mainstream.

I remember being amazed when Tesco announced it was doing an own brand teabag a few years back. But Cadbury's going Fairtrade? Cadburys Dairy Milk? In the UK?

Amazing! Now even a publication like the FT is extolling the virtues of Fairtrade? Unbelievable even ten years ago.

From the campaign stalls at Greenbelt to the sale stalls at the back of Churches to the local Fairtrade shops and initiatives to firms like Traidcraft bringing their branding and image to the mass market, forcing supermarkets to offer comparable products to now, one of the pinnacles of the nation's fast moving consumer goods, our favourite chocolate bar, will be Fairtrade.

A "kingdom value" has become rooted in the economic market place and social culture of our nation.

Friday, 13 March 2009

Worship songs that changed my life: NUMBER THREE

I have never really been part of a "traditional" church. My background is independent charismatic, Vineyard and latterly, Newfrontiers.

I have never really had the foundation of the "good old hymns". In fact, in some ways the charismatic music scene of the late 70s-early 80s into which I was born was something of a movement away from the old hymns.

Only in the last ten years or so has stuff like "Be thou my vision" and "How great thou art" have come back into vogue, along with "When I survey" or "Crown him with many crowns".

My song choice here is a Charles Wesley classic. Steeped in revival, sung by countless millions across the globe, and an absolute pearler.

And can it be that I should gain
An interest in the Saviour’s blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain—
For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

’Tis mystery all: th’Immortal dies:
Who can explore His strange design?
In vain the firstborn seraph tries
To sound the depths of love divine.
’Tis mercy all! Let earth adore,
Let angel minds inquire no more.
’Tis mercy all! Let earth adore;
Let angel minds inquire no more.

He left His Father’s throne above
So free, so infinite His grace—
Emptied Himself of all but love,
And bled for Adam’s helpless race:
’Tis mercy all, immense and free,
For O my God, it found out me!
’Tis mercy all, immense and free,
For O my God, it found out me!

Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray—
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.

No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in Him, is mine;
Alive in Him, my living Head,
And clothed in righteousness divine,
Bold I approach th’eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.
Bold I approach th’eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.

I think this hymn above any other made me really quite uneasy about some modern songs. How will some of the fluffy bunny "Jesus is my girlfriend" type, "Me, I, Me, I", "feel, feel, feel" songs sound in 20 years time? We won't know. No-one will be singing them. They will have gone through "Songs of Fellowship" and into the Greenbelt bargain bin within a decade.

We will still be singing this hymn. Instead of ignoring the heritage of Christian worship in this country we should build upon it: which is probably why Stuart Townend has had such success with his modern day "hymns".

"I" may not "feel" too "fluffy" when I start singing this song, but by the end my eyes are on Him and my destiny in His calling. It is a chunky, gutsy, rousing story of what Christ has achieved for us and what we look forward to. A juggernaut of a song on a highway of mediocrity.

I love The Alpha Course

At our Alpha away day on Saturday 4 people made first time decisions to follow Jesus, and two made recommitments having been away from an active faith.

On Wednesday night a further two people made first time decisions to follow Jesus.

What an absolute priviledge to see God work like that!

Now the rubber hits to road for ongoing discipleship, finding a cell group and integration into the Church. We don't want one time emotional responses, we want disciples of Christ.

On a personal level one young woman has been coming to our cell group and has been bringing a friend to Alpha too. We have been praying for them in our group. Both went forward on Saturday and made steps of faith.

What a precious thing the gospel is? What a precious time that moment is, when someone first believes.

It sort of reminds me of a song: "How precious did that grace appear, the hour I first believed"

One guy came to Alpha on the Saturday and made a decision to follow Jesus. He came to Church the next day on the Sunday. He came to our "Introducing Barnabas" event on the Sunday evening which we run three times a year for new people. At the end he said "I want to come to the next baptism service to see how it works, then I want to be baptised at the next one"

That is quite some 48 hours.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Worship songs that changed my life: NUMBER FOUR

Having done a similar series on sermons, I have decided to do a similar one for songs.

Here we go with number 4. Matt Redman, "Dancing Generation"

Your mercy taught us how to dance
To celebrate with all we have
And we'll dance to thank You for mercy

Your glory taught us how to shout
To lift Your name in all the earth
And we'll shout to the praise of Your glory

It's the overflow
Of a forgiven soul
And now we've seen You, God
Our hearts cannot stay silent

And we'll be a dancing generation
Dancing because of Your great mercy, Lord
Your great mercy, Lord
And we'll be a shouting generation
Shouting because of Your great glory, Lord
Your great glory, Lord

This song does not really work in a normal Church service. This song is not really for personal worship. In fact this song is so specific to a moment, a situation, that it is practically impossible to describe what that moment or situation was like to someone not there.

This is a song of unbridled praise. A song of togetherness. A song of solidarity. This is us, this is our generation, and we are going to worship, the one worthy of worshipping.

The situation for me was Newday, Notts County Football Stadium, several thousand christian young people and literally, for the only time in my christian experience, the worship was as energetic and engaging an atmosphere as a decent football match. This is not quiet reflection. This is not meditative introspection. This is giving all, heart, mind and body into expression of worship and expression of the excitement of knowing Jesus, the overflow of a forgiven soul, of hearts that just cannot, and will not, stay silent.

The video below is from the states, and shows the song sung in a large worship gathering setting.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Worship songs that changed my life: NUMBER FIVE

Having done a similar series on sermons, I have decided to do a similar one for songs.

The sermon series can be found here:
Number 5 Number 4 Number 3 Number 2 Number 1

These songs are not chosen for their musical prowess or their use in corporate worship. They may not even be my favourite worship songs, but they are the ones that shaped me, provoked me, moved me and allowed me to somehow discover more of God or express how I felt.

Number 5: Paul Oakley, I was lost without a trace

I Was Lost (Like a Child)..Paul Oakley

"I was lost without a trace,
All except for the eyes of heaven.
Now my Saviour’s love has found me,
And His love has brought me home.

I can sleep in peace tonight,
I won’t worry about tomorrow,
Now I know my Daddy loves me,
And His perfect love will conquer all.

I'm like a child in his arms
and he will meet my needs
with all the riches of heaven
and he loves me much to much
to let me go,
he will keep me in his love

Heaven and earth may pass away,
And mountains fall into the ocean;
But His word is everlasting,
And His love goes on and on."

In a couple of weeks time I am speaking on The Cross: Our Adoption

This song, sung at a Stoneleigh Bible Week youth meeting in the mid nineties really brought it home to me. His love for me. My loving Father. I was lost until he found me. His perfect love conquers all. Some of the wording is a bit clumsy and I don't really like the use of the term Daddy, but as a song, at that moment in the journey of faith, it opened my heart to feel the reality of what I already knew to be true.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

"In a professional capacity"

On Wednesday I went to visit my doctor.

He asked where I worked.

"Barnabas Centre" I said.

"Oh, I am going there tomorrow" he replied.

We hosted a 2 day NHS workshop here, to which he was invited.

"Oh good" I said, "so you can come and see me in a professional capacity!"

He laughed.

I met him at their meeting and we had a good chat. More people use this venue for their meetings (community/non profit groups) than our Sunday attendance.

It definitely helps open the door of opportunity for discussion, and also helps shape our witness within our local community.

Saturday, 7 March 2009

What is the Gospel?

Anyone got $64,000 for the answer?

But as promised on Thursday I want to put in a few thoughts.

What is the "good news"?

I think Steve Chalke had a point. I also think it was poorly expressed, using terminology that was bound to offend, which was a clear mistake. I also don't agree with his conclusions. But it does not stop Him having a point about the way the gospel is sometimes presented. I fear his danger is sending the baby, the tub and about half the bathroom out with the bathwater.

What is our gospel? What is the "good news" we offer people?

Often I hear:
  • You are a sinner.
  • Your relationship with God is destroyed by your sin.
  • Your sin has made God angry and he has to punish it.
  • God would rather forgive you than punish you but he can't let your sin go unpunished
  • Jesus is the only person who can take your punishment
  • God sent Jesus to be punished when He died on the cross
  • Now you can put your faith in Jesus, and be forgiven, and go to heaven when you die
Anger, wrath, punishment, vengeance. Those presenting it, in trying to make the point clearly, try to express just how angry God is or just how bad our sin is. The message can come across as very dark.

There appears little room left for "For God so loved the world".

If our talks start to sound very dark then are we expressing Jesus, the Light of the world very well?

Then social action becomes slightly at odds with what the gospel presented sounds like. "We love you but our God is angry at you" looks inconsistent.

Some people go too far and depict God as an all loving sky fairy who wants to cuddle people into His kingdom and therefore miss the severity and implications of human sin, and reduce the role of God's justice.

But some do depict God as an angry old man in the sky with a bad temper and we miss His great love for us.

I do think we need to be very careful how we depict God and how we express Jesus as it is so quickly misunderstood by hearers. There is a middle road which encompasses the rich variety of what the gospel means and strikes a level of balance. I think we need to explain the love and justice of God in proportion because neither facet of God's character is fully expressed without the other.

NB: This is not intended to be a theological defence of anything. Just a snapshot of some of the gospel messages I have heard.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Meeting Steve Chalke

On Friday we had a service of celebration for a member of our Church who was a headmaster at the Oasis Academy in Bristol.

Steve Chalke came to the service and gave a tribute on behalf of the school and Oasis.

Now over the last five years or so Steve Chalke has gone from being in many ways the poster boy of UK evangelicalism to a more controversial figure. His achievements with Oasis Trust, Faithworks, media appearances, politics and conference speaking (Spring Harvest, Soul Survivor), put him right in the top group of christian leaders in the UK. He even inspired a line in the wonderful song by Why? called "While Rome burns"

"Every year Steve Chalk brings out a video
With a hope to show us what goes on in third world countries
Occasionally we contemplate, to make a pledge
But relegate, or think of kids in Bangladesh and
Watch the news

Are you going to try to find a way
Visit and care donate and pray
Or are you going to rosin up your bow
And fiddle while Rome burns"

That first line best expresses who he was to my generation, as the thousands who jumped up and down at Greenbelt singing those lines understood. It was the nineties, we were Christian young people, and he was a voice in the culture standing up for the voiceless.

Yet many people now know of him since he wrote his book "The lost message of Jesus" and the debate on the atonement that has raged ever since.

I don't hold the same view as Steve Chalke regarding penal substitutionary atonement, but I can see where he is coming from. I will explain that in a future post. It just seems a shame that the reaction it has provoked (from people I mostly agree with!) has, I believe, actually made it more difficult for discussion. Black and white, "with us" or "against us", heresy hunting is more akin to the inquisition than modern British evangelicalism. We won't win many people if we talk and act like that, and we certainly won't win each other.

Not that I spoke with him about this at all, it was not relevant.

He was gracious, kind, friendly and affable. He gave a fabulous tribute to John and showed his own vulnerability in facing such tragedy while also lifting people's gaze to the love of God found in Jesus. He was loving and tender with the family.

His work in education in the UK at the moment is simply amazing, and he remains a key voice within evangelicalism, keeping the message of social action both at home and abroad on people's minds.

And I think that is what struck me the most on Friday. If some of his critics had but a twentieth of his track record then maybe some of their criticism would sound less hollow.

So while I do certainly disagree with him on the technical specifics of penal substitutionary atonement, I value his contribution to the UK Church scene and pray for an increase in his ministry as he continues to be a voice for the voiceless, and brings hope where there has been no hope.

Can disagreement actually bring you closer together? I think so, when you love despite your differences, not because of your agreements.

God's timing

It has been booked for a couple of months now, and after much planning, we are going away this weekend with three friends we met when Esther was away at university.

It feels like we are coming to an oasis in our journey.

Why do I feel like that?
  • They really love Jesus and that lifts me
  • They are different to me and that challenges me
  • They accept me even though I am a bit different to them
  • They make me laugh and laugh with me
  • They are real and open. Real about life and the challenges and open about their own journey.
Something we booked months ago is now going to be a great blessing in our journey.

That has to be "God's timing".

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

A tough week...

It has been a pretty tough week.

Esther's uncle died, and his funeral was on Tuesday in Cornwall (I could not go but Esther drove various family members).

On Friday we had a huge celebration service for the life of John Williams which has taken up a large amount of time and energy, with over 250 in attendance from all over the country. It was a simply wonderful occasion, and yet so desperately sad.

On Saturday night our church centre was broken into. Just the usual hacking away at doors with a crowbar and not really nicking anything but it still grates.

On Sunday morning I preached on "Turn the other cheek".

On Monday I visited my Grandad in hospital. It was so sad. He winked at me, and kissed my hand. That was my last encounter with him, it did not need words.

On Tuesday I felt really quite unwell, so went to the doctor's this morning. I have got to have some blood tests and an ECG next week. My blood pressure is fine and the doctor is not expecting anything nasty but I still feel a bit jaded.

This morning I also found out that grandad had died. So that is where I am going now, off to Wrexham to be with the family.

On Friday we read this Psalm, as a tribute to John whose love of mountains had taken him to the top of Mont Blanc. The words are strong comfort now.

" 1 I lift up my eyes to the hills—
where does my help come from?

2 My help comes from the LORD,
the Maker of heaven and earth.

3 He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;

4 indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.

5 The LORD watches over you—
the LORD is your shade at your right hand;

6 the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.

7 The LORD will keep you from all harm—
he will watch over your life;

8 the LORD will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore."

The Marriage Course: Part Four

Three 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.

Week 4: "The power of forgiveness" was a look at resolving past hurts and working through them.

To be honest, for us, it was not particularly scratching where we are itching. I think that is partly because we have only been married two and a half years (although we have been an "item" for seven). the other thing is that when asked to list unresolved things between us there simply was not much on the list. Not a lot in terms of numbers, or in terms of importance.

What that did was encourage us greatly, and make us pray we keep it that way.

Other couples there seemed to be having really good discussions and were getting to grips with some deep stuff. I can see a huge value in the exercise, every so often, to keep close account.