Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Freedom in Christ

And so another course begins.

And possibly an organisational headache!

The sign ups this Sunday alone pushed us from 2 groups to 4 groups, with close to 40 coming.

I thank God that so many people are seeking to take the opportunity to consider once more what it means to live in the freedom Christ has won for us. It is such a priviledge to hear people's stories of how God has worked through this resource to bring freedom for people.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Facing your fears

On Saturday I did something I had tried to do before, but failed.
I climbed Snowdon via Crib Goch. It was much fun, a bit scary, and I am very pleased to have conquered that step of my preparation.
The two lads I went with are trying their hand at fell running, so we ran back from the summit of Snowdon.

We did the whole thing in under 3 hours, which is decent going.

Yesterday, in keeping with my new found confidence we had another crack at our local training circuit. Under two weeks ago I said 2 hours 20 was the goal. Last week I hit 2 hours 19. Yesterday it was 2 hours 13.

Step by step I am getting closer to being ready for the big challenge ahead.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Who to vote for

I find it amazing how much the American Church scene appears so politicised whereas in the UK you barely know how anyone votes.

There are Christian representatives in all the major parties and it certainly does not feel like any party has either the "Christian" vote, nor even any "denominational" vote.

Nor is gun control on the agenda.

Even on the so called "moral issues" I get a bit fed up because although I agree embryology and abortion are moral issues I don't feel that trade justice is any less of one. Kids in Africa die of starvation because of trade policies. Policies we know have that effect and yet keep because we profit. Is that not bordering on institutional infanticide? It is willing, knowing, and causes death. How is that any less moral?

I am actually pleased that there is not the same herd effect in the UK, as undoubtedly I would feel disenfranchised by it. Questions like "How can you be a Christian and support party X" wind me up, with the exception of the one whose leader lives near Welshpool of course.

But anyway, how shall I vote? Well, Andy put me onto a useful tool where you can vote for policies.

I was hoping for some deep yearning for a genuine sense of political affiliation to finally be fulfilled. I was wrong.

My policies worked out a baffling 22.2% Labour, 22.2% Liberal Democrat, 22.2% Conservative, 22.2% UK Independence party and 11.2% Green.

I guess that makes me well balanced, and definitely a "floating voter", even though I have only ever voted for one party.

On April 29th there are some hustings at a local church which I want to go to, and I think that will help.

What are you doing to prepare to exercise your democratic freedom? Or maybe even your democratic duty?

Thursday, 15 April 2010


Nope, this is not a post about bible college, it is a post about my legs!

1 Corinthians 9:24-26

24Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.

25Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air."

With two big walking challenges coming up this year I am in training. Not yet "strict" training, but training all the same.

Monday morning saw me do the usual loop. The Lawley (1237 ft), Caer Caradoc (1506ft), then Hope Bowdler Hill, and back over Caradoc and the Lawley and back to the car. We think it is about 8.5 miles but it is really difficult to work out the total ascent. The Lawley and Caradoc are both brutally steep in places, which does not come across in this photo, but perhaps the distance does.

I am hoping for a GPS print out after my friend recorded it on their phone to work out exactly what we do, but it hurts, and that must be good.

So now it is all about the times I can do. I don't have time for many "whole day" walks or even getting up to Snowdonia much in the run up, so I am trying to get my teeth into what I can do locally. My time of doing the loop was about three and a half hours. This reduced to three hours ten, then by running bits of it I got that down to two hours fifty. On Monday I made it in 2 hours thirty four. I think two thirty is achievable, and two twenty a further goal.

By the end of July hopefully I will have been successful in the "games" I am aiming for, but more so, maybe God is teaching me something about grit and determination to achieve a goal.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Officiating a wedding

I have now officiated my first wedding, and what a great day it was!

Two friends, people I have known for several years, coming together and committing themselves to one another.

The service was fun, packed and very meaningful.

Here is what I learned from the process.
  1. Traditional Churches have such a huge missional opportunity in our culture through weddings
  2. When it comes to wanting to plan a wedding service the best resources I could find were Anglican
  3. Writing everything out was vital for me, as those legal bits are important!
  4. A massively important thing is that the couple are being themselves in the songs, the fashion, the style of the service. It feels right if their friends and family know it is "them"
  5. It is great to have people who know them well lead the prayers.

It leaves us towards the end of our 3 weddings in 4 weeks in the Church. That is the problem with all this pastoral advice that suggests Christians who are committed to each other for life should marry: they actually do!

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Releasing Creativity

I am not all that creative. I cannot draw, paint, sing or play a musical instrument. If God wants musical / artistic creativity to flow here then I am not the guy. Yet I would love the Church to be brimming with artistic and musical creativity.

It was a real thrill this week when a member of our Church came in with a painting that he felt God had put on his heart.

It depicts the crucifiction scene from above, with the activity of the Holy Spirit surrounding the cross, while drops of blood, a whip, hammer and nails serve as a stark reminder to the suffering endured.

On Good Friday we used this as an opportunity to reflect in silence and meditate on what Jesus went through for us.

I love the idea that God is speaking across the Church family to people and through their gifts, and this serves as an example to that. I hope is the start of something more.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Easter Services

This Easter weekend was absolutely brilliant for our Church in Shrewsbury.

Firstly, there were a significant number of us who joined lots of other local Churches on a Good Friday walk of witness in the town centre.

Secondly, our Good Friday service was a poignant and moving service, with a record 130 people there.

Thirdly, Easter Saturday saw a couple from the Church get married here, which I had the priviledge of officiating. It was a serious and yet fun, deep yet informal occasion, with loads of friends and family enjoying the day.

Fourthly our Easter Sunday services again set a record, with 356 attending, and a great preach about the historical validity of the resurrection.

Only Easter Monday spoilt it for me, as Shrewsbury Town succumbed to their 6th straight defeat at home to Notts County. That was followed by dinner with some good friends and then someone else's birthday drinks, so all was not lost.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Book Review: Breakout

Mark Stibbe was the vicar of St Andrews Chorleywood and a well renowned conference speaker. He is a bit of a mixture of charismatic Anglican and Toronto airport "Father's love" ministry. St Andrew's has birthed Soul Survivor, helped birth New Wine, provided a place where people like Mike Pilavachi and J.John to name just two could flourish into what they are today. Andrew Williams is the 2nd in command.

I had really enjoyed Mark's book "From orphan's to heirs" so was looking forward to this, again having had it recommended to me by a couple of people.

This review may come across as a bit negative, and that is not my intention, because this book is worth a read. Also, I celebrate the way God has blessed them and given them success missionally through developing a system of smaller groups and congregations up to 50 in number with specific missional goals. They are reaching people for Jesus and that is great to hear about. I still don't really know what to make of the book to be honest. It is very much a "This is what we did" kind of book, but I found several parts of it a little grating.

Firstly, there was the repeated suggestion that "No-one had ever done this before so we had to write it / do it / make it up ourselves". It probably did feel like that, but I have a book written in 1981 by Paul Yonggi Cho charting the development of their "Home cell groups" in Seoul, South Korea. Their cell groups, led by lay people, and the holy spirit, met all over the city, in groups of up 15 families, with a variety of missional focuses. The biggest church in the world runs something that sounds awfully like a "Mission Shaped Community" at St Andrew's Chorleywood (and something different to the "Cell concept" Ralph Neighbour brought to the UK). That is an encouragement to consider the concept once more, but it also meant reading this book having read Yonggi Cho's classic I could not get as excited about the uniqueness of the project. There was a lot of reference to them learning from St Thomas Crookes in Sheffield, which suggests the concept is not even unique to the UK.

Secondly, why do some authors, and tongue in cheek my experience would suggest especially Anglican authors, have an obsession with alliteration? The Alpha Course resources are a case in point. The abridged version of "Breakout" is that if I developed the full use of the 3 Ms, the 4 Vs, and the 12 Cs, then my Church may be able to successfully develop MSCs. Maybe it is the number of non profit groups with abbreviated names meaningless to outsiders that use our Church centre that has built up a level of dislike for it. I confess, it may be my issue, but it starts to put me off.

Thirdly, the whole telling of the story was billed as a really honest, warts and all account of the change to running these MSCs. There was some real openness about their struggle, but in terms of actual brass tacks, "what do I need to know if I am going to launch MSCs" kind of learning, then only about two and a half out of the 250 pages refer to the issues they faced and 2 out of the 4 problems were within the local Anglican communion.

Fourthly, I have read several people say things like "This could be the second reformation". I have heard it said about cell groups too. I just don't think claims like that help particularly. MSCs may provide an opportunity for reform within the Church, but they might not, and if they don't it does not invalidate what God has done through MSCs in Chorleywood.

"That St Andrew's is moving out of the barracks terrifies the enemy and his host, and signals an enormously important moment, a milestone, in English Christianity" is surely over-egging that particular pudding?

"If this is the completion of the Reformation, or indeed the beginning of a second reformation, then all I can say is, bring it on Lord!" grates every time I read it.

I can't help but feeling that the great success of their move to MSCs has been that a large chunk of the Church is more mission focused and that has greatly improved their mission. I am left totally unconvinced by their methodology, because I think it is a real case of "horses for courses". I was left feeling the most important thing is that they did something, rather than what they did. So if that something is cell groups, MSCs, Alpha Courses, Kidz Klub, whatever, just do something missional and do it well.

I believe this book highlights that visionary leadership, unity, careful planning, deliberate channelling of resources, and lots of encounter with the living God can help shape something brilliant. I do believe that has happened at St Andrews and thank God for it. It encouraged me.

But for me, in my Church in Shrewsbury, I am left slightly underwhelmed by what I can actually do here with the MSC concept other than listen to the Holy Spirit's guidance and seek creative ways to be missional. We are not starting with 900 people to build, we start with 300. We do not have a large international ministry which draws people here. We are not well known in a national movement. We are building from a different place. They are telling their story, which is fine, but there did not seem to be much for people not in their position.

A small part of me wondered whether the MSC thing was an easier way for a large, well known Anglican Church to spread its reach into new parishes. They are not planting Churches in the new place but they do have an "MSC" that meets there so that is ok. That means some local Anglicans will be attracted because St Andrew's now has an MSC that meets in my local community hall up the road, in my parish, instead of having to travel 6 miles to the building. That would also explain why two of the four learning points appeared to be about not upsetting local Anglicans. That said, they are reaching many new people with the good news of Jesus so their growth is not just transfer growth and that is really exciting.

I also think the book could have been about 50 pages shorter, as the final pages felt a bit like the end of the last Lord of the Rings film. They were important to find out the final technical part of the plot but the story was over.

Drawing this altogether you may think I hated the book. I didn't. It is well worth reading their journey and how God has spoken to them and helped make their Church more missional.

Monday, 5 April 2010

Book Review: Velvet Elvis

I have seen several Rob Bell DVDs including several from the Nooma series and "Everything is Spiritual" and have appreciated them. I know the book is not his most recent, but I had not read it, and these are my thoughts.

Firstly, a friend recommended it to me. I always like books which someone else puts in your hand. More often than not, either it has touched them, or they know it will touch you.

Rob Bell appears to be something of a polarising figure as a key part of the emerging church scene and increasingly speaking on sell out tours while finding himself on the end of harsh words from people like Mark Driscoll.

I enjoyed the book. It is well worth a read. In the book I am given permission to read, think, wrestle with, accept or reject parts of it and seek to hear God. Fair enough. I had to do all of those at different times.

First up, I found it the most interesting and engaging Christian book I have read for ages. A genuine page turner. His style is so fluid and accessible, I read it in a day of holiday. It was far from a chore.

Secondly, I found some of his commentary and exegesis absolutely fascinating. The way he intertwines the background with the present to develop his ideas makes it very easy to follow and enlightening. Even when I don't reach the same conclusions his methodology of getting there is so clear it gives me permission to follow it into my conclusions, even if they differ. Examples of him helpfully illuminating the background include the significance of the backdrop of the roman empire in Jesus statements and actions, the significance of the woman touching Jesus cloak within his Jewish context and also the portrayal of rabbinic discipleship and what this opens up in our understanding of Jesus calling his disciples.

Thirdly, he makes some very good points, very well. He talks directly, decisively, but humbly and often with humour. I enjoyed agreeing with him more than I enjoy agreeing with other authors who leave me feeling slapped by their ideas rather than nurtured. Pithy little statements like the word "Christian is a great noun and a poor adjective" hit the spot so well.

Fourthly, he is pretty brutal in his honesty, in his doubt. I appreciate that. The entire tone of the book is like reading about someone who could be your friend because even when they have not got it altogether they are honest about it. I like that.

Fifthly, I can see why some people hate this book and choose to publically disagree with Rob Bell from their pulpit. "The Bible is God's word, the rest is just commentary" is enough to raise the hackles of plenty of people, and I can see why especially conservative evangelicals are very twitchy about some of the things he says and some of the suggestions he makes. A modernist, tightly cohesive, systematic theological position this is not. Hell being full forgiven people who have not chosen to trust God is a bridge too far for me, and claiming truth wherever we find it is no easy feat and well out of the comfort zone of many evangelicals.

I would recommend people read this book. I found it very provoking, in a good way. Parts of it stray beyond where I feel led by scripture, and he gives me permission to bring my ideas to the table. I come from a church tradition that is determined to build a wall, and in some ways have chosen a specific set of bricks with which to do that while ignoring others. The trampoline looks like a lot of fun. This has given me much food for thought.

And if you do not understand what that means then you had better read Velvet Elvis.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

He is risen!

Today is the big one.

I don't worship a set of ideas.

I don't worship a moral framework

I don't worship an institution.

I don't worship a book.

I don't worship a dead prophet.

I don't worship a cultural identity.

I don't worship a distant God.

I worship a living God, who came to us.

I worship a risen Lord.