Thursday, 30 September 2010


I wrote this series of posts a couple of months ago. Now things are settled we want to share them, as an encouragement to others who may face similar experiences.

In August 2007 Shrewsbury Town Football Club opened a brand new stadium, on the outskirts of the town. 10,000 seats, everything shiny and up to date, it was great. I went to the game with my brother and my Dad. Two generations of Matthias’s walking up Oteley Road from our parental home to watch our team in our town.

I thought then, “One day I will be Dad, and he’ll be granddad”. I had this picture in my mind’s eye, not clearly a boy or a girl, but just a little hand, in mine, a little blue shirt, walking up through the gates of the complex and towards the family stand. That would be my delight, to take my child to the game.

The scan had shown a failed pregnancy and we sat at home, numb.

I thought I might feel more angry but I didn’t, just numb.


It is not meant to be this way.

We had been trying for a little while and there was great excitement when we found out that we were pregnant. I love the idea of Esther being a mother, and am delighted that together we have the desire to raise children.

But here I am, and what really hurts right now, in some crazy way that I cannot pin down properly, is that I will never take this child to the game. I will never buy them their first shirt. I will never take them to the refreshment stand and buy them a sausage roll (as long as they promise not to tell Mummy).

All those things, the quirky bits that Dad was to me and I want to be to my kid, won’t happen.

So what do I do with that? Where do I go with that hope?

Proverbs 12:13 tells me that:

“ 12 Hope deferred makes the heart sick,
but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.”

Yep, that is exactly right, heart sick. That feeling in the pit of your stomach. That emptiness. Heart sick. But what is the longing? What is the longing that can be fulfilled?

As yet, it cannot be another baby. If the hope deferred is making my heart sick, then I can’t rely on that same future hope to fix it. That puts me at the mercy of moods and tests and issues. My longing needs to be after something solid. Something robust. Something unchanging. Something pure. Yes, I want a family, yes I want another baby, but my longing to be fulfilled, a tree of life within me, that has to be after God right?

As I reach out to Him and experience his presence. As I open my heart to His words of instruction. As I worship, bare, humble, before my maker. As I long for Him. That is it isn’t it? That is the longing that He will satisfy, the water of life, the bread of life, my hunger, my thirst, my longing fulfilled.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Jesus Culture, Wolverhampton 28.09.10

Last night, we went to the first one night event of the Jesus Culture UK tour.

I have been really looking forward to it.

I made four observations in that previous post which I will now review.

Firstly: I want it to spend an amazing time in God's presence, as I have when listening to the CDs and worshipping quietly, and don't want to be disappointed. I literally have been overcome with emotion while watching the DVD that came with one of the albums, during the Revelation song, the spontaneous worship that comes from it, it was extraordinary.

This was a massive disappointment. Not because the worship was not good. Not because there were not some brilliant spontaneous and prophetic contributions. Not because of anything other than the fact there were no words. No words. No projectors. Nothing.

So basically they stood there waving their arms excitedly singing their guts out while I stood there like a lemon wanting to join in but not knowing all the words, and not knowing the first two songs, at all.

I believe worship is participatory and I want to get involved. I want to sing. I don't just want to stand there and watch someone standing there singing. This was compounded by the repeated assertion to "sing with me" and "all our voices singing" etc, which frankly, we weren't, hardly anyone was, because we did not know what to sing.

During a period of silence between songs it was evident that lots of people around us were simply chatting to each other and watching the gig. That was night and day from what I wanted. I don't see the point of a multi-thousand dollar orchestrated lighting rig when a £400 projector could have helped people enter into the worship. For the songs people knew (Your love never fails) it did warm up a bit and there was more involvement, but that was a major false start for me personally.

Secondly: I don't want the teaching side of it to be poor. Visits to some events/churches in the past have always been let down by the teaching, not least a tendency towards the prosperity gospel.

The talk by Banning Liebscher was excellent. Funny, engaging, prophetic and steered by a wide variety of biblical concepts. His passion for the Bible, the Spirit, the UK and revival was clear. There are things I would not agree with but then there always will be in any talk, but overall it was great. His explanation of holiness not being a list of things you don't do but about giving everything to Jesus was outstanding.

Thirdly: Linked to the teaching, I don't want to be asked for money, or be asked to "sow into a revival", or to "lay up my treasures in heaven" or anything like that. I am there to worship God, not join a band of "covenant partners" who get mailshots and gift aid forms.

Nothing like this came from Jesus Culture, even their merchandise stall seemed accessibly priced. Yet the pastor from a Wolverhampton church who were evidently hosting the evening did go the full hog with an offering, gift aid, sow into the ministry etc. It was not over the top, and my response to stuff like this is more senstivie due to previous experience.

Fourthly: I want any prayer for healing or desire for miracles to be done in a way that empowers and encourages those gathered. I don't want to feel it is over-hyped, and I want the stories / testimonies to sound really robust and clear.

I would say this was 50/50. The way the prayer time was administered was not overhyped and was very clear. People with Asthma went running out of the building and around the block and came back saying they were breathing properly for the first time in X number of years. People with shoulder injuries were moving their arms in ways they said they had not done for months. People with knees that hurt jumped and said the pain had gone. It was very down to earth, lots of emphasis on people praying for each other not the expert on the stage, and overall I would be comfortable with that approach and there appeared to be much evidence of God at work, which is great!

My one niggle was that it started with a major testimony of a man in America who had died and while his body was in the morgue his pastor and others praying annointed the four corners of the hospital with oil and continued to pray and the man came back to life. I am not suggesting this was not true, but I would have liked to know who the guy was, where he lived and which hospital it was. The point of the story seemed to be that the man was now dedicated to sharing the good news, so I would have hoped he would not have minded becoming more well known.

I don't share this to pour cold water on the story, I just think if it is true then we should be bold with the facts and if we can't be bold with the facts for whatever reason then we need to be careful. A resurrection claim would be medically verifiable and I imagine, quite big news locally. Yet I can't find it. Can someone point me to it? I want to believe it is true, but I don't know why it was an unnamed man in an unnamed town in an unnamed hospital.

Overall it was a good evening, and worth going to. I was pleasantly surprised at how laid back it was. I didn't feel pressured. If you wanted to go and throw stones I am sure you would find ample opportunity but I went with an open heart. I can't say I met with God or had a particularly positive experience because I felt disenfranchised from the worship and there wasn't anything really new.

Considering the reputation of Bethel I was surprised to not be either greatly blessed or greatly offended. And I guess that is why I am slightly quizzical this morning, because I am not sure what the big deal is, from both their supporters and their detractors.

Still, their CDs are awesome!

Tuesday, 28 September 2010


I wrote this series of posts a couple of months ago. Now things are settled we want to share them, as an encouragement to others who may face similar experiences.

When difficulty or darkness descends on us we often ask the question “why”?

One comfort for me as a believer in a loving saving God is that I have someone to actually ask the question to! I don’t have to reach out and shout from a hilltop into an untouchable nothingness that drives creation, I can ask Father.

But you know what, I don’t want to. I just don’t want to. That is not because I am angry at God and so am refusing to talk to Him. It is not because I already have an answer. It is not because I have a neat draw in my various “ologies” that team up to make my overall view of God and man which I can open and present myself with a systemised and clear reason “why”.

I don’t. And I am not sure that there is one. I don’t even think that is the right question.

“Why” may perhaps let me know some sort of purpose, or greater good, for which God allowed this to happen.

“Why” may show me the depth of the curse of the fall on creation bringing sin and death and darkness like this. “Why” may, with hindsight give us another child, maybe a family, which we can appreciate, bring up and nurture with such a depth of understanding of just how important it is because of knowing what it is like to lose a baby.

But I am not asking “why”: because I don’t have time. I need an answer sooner. I need to find something now. I can’t wait for hindsight or history or healthy babies to validate our experiences.

I need some light.

So I change the question.

That is right, I have changed the question.

“Why” can wait.

I cannot prove its answer now. I want some rock. I want something to lean on. I want something that this storm of life may rage against but which holds me, secures me, envelopes me. I cannot afford to throw a bit of vague hope that in 20 years time I may look back and think it was OK because God did some good stuff between now and then. I need it now.

My question is not “Why did this happen”, but rather “Who is the answer?” As I reach out in the darkness I am not searching for a worldview, for an insight into the future, for a hope that my circumstances may be ok sometime. I am reaching out for God.

I am reaching out for the one made all things.

For the one who knows what happens in a womb.

For the one who knows unborn children.

For what I cannot know, I need to reach out to the One who does.

Again the Psalmist exorts me… Psalm 62 11-12a
“11 One thing God has spoken,
two things have I heard:
that you, O God, are strong
12 and that you, O Lord, are loving.”

God is loving. That means His heart for me, for Esther, and for our baby, is love.


The warm arms of love, close, holding. The embrace of a Father.

God is love, He is close, He is holding. There is a grace resting upon us for what we face. Not a clear answer, but a clear Father.

God is strong. A fortress. A rock. Unmoveable. Unshakeable. Not just distant strength like a castle on the horizon, but a source of strength, a place of strength, a fortress. For me, for us, for baby.

This world tells us what is “loving”, but often, if we are honest, what is held up as “loving” is also a bit soft, a bit vulnerable, a bit gooey. A double chocolate muffin experience which turns sickly sweet. Yet God is strong. Loving but strong, firm, secure, robust, to be trusted.

The world tells us what is “strong”, but often what is strong is dangerous, distant, a threat. It can overpower, overwhelm, dominate. But God is loving. The king of kings, the lord of lords, the supreme ruler and authority in the universe, is loving, tender, gentle.

I need someone loving who is secure. I need someone strong who is compassionate.

God is loving, God is strong. My question is not “Why”, but “Who” and a glimmer of light starts to shine.

Sunday, 26 September 2010


I wrote this series of posts a couple of months ago. Now things are settled we want to share them, as an encouragement to others who may face similar experiences.

The gravel crunched under our feet as we trudged back to the car. Neither of us knew what to say. The birds in the trees seemed to sing on joyfully regardless, as though unaware of what was unfolding. We got into the car and sat there for a moment, in silence. This was not how it was meant to be. This was not what today was supposed to look like. You know how it feels when you are winded? When some impact causes a loss of breath and you just don’t have any strength for a moment. It felt like my soul was winded. The sudden impact, crushing the air out of my being.

Other friends had been for scans and we had been able to share the joy of the miracle of new life with them.

The scan is the big moment.

You can go public now.

The baby is developing well, the family celebrate, people wish you well, the scan goes up on Facebook and the rest of world “likes” it. It is real, we are having a baby.

Our scan was a painful, dreadful moment.

There was evidence of pregnancy but no longer of life.

Esther sat clutching the small black and white image, gently thumbing the glossy paper as though cherishing a frail loved one. There are not words for a moment like that. The sun was shining, the wind whistled through the branches of the trees, the smell of pollen from the Shropshire fields in the summer sun, and yet a great darkness had fallen.

This being, this bundle of hopes and aspirations and dreams and joyful moments of the last few weeks had gone. What ever it had been it was no longer. Game over.

“Weeping may remain for a night” asserts the psalmist. We are still in the night, and there has been much weeping. If life is a journey, and this is part of our journey, this feels like a very dark and oppressive route. So it is here, in the night, that we want to reach out and find God, to touch the heart of the loving Father, to know Him and be known by Him, to see the light.

Friday, 24 September 2010


I wrote this series of posts a couple of months ago. Now things are settled we want to share them, as an encouragement to others who may face similar experiences.

Life is journey, so they say. We often look back at our journey, with context and hindsight from what has happened. We analyse our experiences in the light of history.

I think the danger of waiting until time and future events vindicate and elucidate an experience is that sometimes you can get a more and more detached view.

The seminar on “singleness” at the conference is led by a man married for 35 years.

A father of 4.

A grandfather of 6.

Sure, they have insight, yes they have experience, of course their walk with God and discipleship has born fruit and they are worth listening to. But what it actually feels like, that empathy, the ability to actually reach out and touch what it feels like for someone in that situation, seems a bit distant. A lot of water has passed under the bridge, and it loses its rawness.

The book on Church planting is written by the pastor with a Church of 10,000 and massive international ministry. Of course it is a good story and God has used them and that is great but what if my Church doesn’t break the 10,000 barrier? What if it is more like 10, and one of them is me and I want to leave? Who writes that story? Who publishes that book?

Who sits there in the dark days, without growth and success and people and profile to make them worth listening to and just spills their guts about who they are and how they met with God in the darkness? I know some have, and this another attempt.

This is for people who don’t have it altogether. For those walking a stage in their journey which is difficult and who are clinging onto God by their finger nails. You see, we are not through it yet. I cannot point you to 25 years of post event happiness and an international ministry that proves I dealt with it well.

We are still in the darkness. That is why I want to share this now.

So it is here, in the evening gloom, bruised but not broken, hurting yet hoping, that we reach out for God.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

5 things I love about Baptists

I was challenged with tongue firmly in cheek by a local Baptist minister why my series had yet to include them. With much hilarity and banter it was agreed that I would "do my best" to see if I could come up with something.

I do think that Baptism matters. In that sense I am a baptist. Were I looking at labelling myself correctly I don't think I would be all that comfortable with the term "reformed charismatic" because of some of the implications of it. I would be more comfortable to be known as a "Charismatic baptist", because that is probably closer to my experiences, friendships and aspirations. In a culture where infant baptism has through many generations caused complete confusion I think that Baptists have got a whopping thing right.

Go anywhere in the world and look for the missionaries. Almost always there will be some Americans, and they will be Baptists. And these days, maybe some pentecostal Koreans will be working alongside them. William Carey and (in some way) the Baptist Mission Society forged a way countless thousands have followed.

Looking through a list of eminent Baptists is a bit like looking through a "Who is who" of evangelical heroes of the faith. Spurgeon alone would this point valid, as would William Carey. Chuck in Billy Graham and you've nailed preaching, evangelism and missions in just three men of God. Looking around people like Oswald Chambers, and several eminent US politicians all feature. These days Piper and MacArthur stand at the top table of people worth reading and listening to.


In some denominations I see a bit of confusion. What is preached as "Gospel" changes church to church, minister to minister. Some of what is presented as Gospel really does not bear much resemblance to the "good news" as I know it. I know if you move to a place and you find a Baptist Church, along with all sorts of quirks and differences that any Church has you will certainly hear the gospel.


Of all the denominations I think the Baptists have done pretty well at holding firm to what they believe and not moving ground with the pervading mood of culture. I look at some churches and what you now see now is so utterly different from what it was, and yet what a Baptist is compared to what a Baptist was does not seem a dramatic journey. "Traditional Baptist" can have a whole load of negative connotations and yet I imagine some of those Churches will remain active in generations to come where newer models and movements have disappeared altogether.

All in all, being a British non conformist I was always going to identify strongly to the Bapstist Church, which is a bit odd really as I have never been a part of one.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

5 things I love about Rob Bell

Rob Bell is an anathema to some Conservative evangelicals and yet a hero to many Christians in the UK. Here are some of the positives I can see.

Everything from his DVDs to his book covers to his glasses screams "Cool". It is not often you get a Christian speaker / preacher / writer who looks like they just stepped out of an art workshop in some trendy corner of London. I don't think "cool" always means good, but we definitely need less "uncool" in the way some things are presented.

Rob is a fantastic writer. His books are real "page turners". Even if you don't agree with a considerable amount of it, you can't help enjoy reading it. He is a great speaker. His speaking tours sell out and his DVDs shift by the tens of thousands. "Everything is spiritual" is worth an hour of anyone's time, if only to marvel at that amount of knowledge being divested from one brain in an hour while still be interesting!

His Church have "Doubt nights" where you can go an ask questions. I like that. Sometimes evangelicals have everything wrapped up in a way that means if you still have a question hanging over you feel second class. Or in a pastoral setting a tightly packed theological proposition regarding the circumstances you face sounds very hollow and doesn't empathise with the fact it just hurts. I think we could learn something by allowing the defence of truth also recognise and edify the doubts that the Truth came to overcome. The Alpha Course has this in its DNA, but I wonder if some of our other settings could benefit from an approach that allows some answers to not yet be found.

If people like Tim Keller or Mark Driscoll get some limelight because of their ability to grow larger Churches then 10,000 people on a Sunday and 50,000 downloads a week also suggests there is something about Rob Bell that is scratching where people are itching. I think this presents something to learn from those who appreciate his style and also presents a challenge to those who dislike it. Bums on seats don't vindicate a ministry and I would struggle to find 5 things I love about Joel Osteen, pastor of the largest Church in America. That said it does prove that Rob's ministry and style resonates with a wide array of people which is something we can learn from. His ministry is reaching certain people in a way ours is not and that leaves us with questions and a bit of soul searching as to why.

Downloads & DVDs are the main way I know most people have been introduced to Rob Bell. Even his best selling books come second. I often see people exchanging Nooma DVDs, or when something happens or the face a difficulty then something in a Nooma DVD comes back as an encouragement.

Our young people faced a very real tragedy 18 months ago. 20 years ago they may have read a poster with the poem "Footprints on". Instead they watched this.

I would not agree with plenty of things he says, but I can see plenty of fruit from his ministry, plenty of challenge to take on board and actually wonder if some of the criticism of him is "guilt by association" with other elements of the emerging Church rather than what he has actually said.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

5 things I love about Steve Chalke

Just a spot of housekeeping before I start this one to frame what I am saying.

I don't agree with him on the subject of penal substitutionary atonement. Not only do I disagree with what he thinks, I also regret deeply the manner in which he expressed it in his book "The Lost Message of Jesus".

That said, I do agree with him on other ways of viewing the atonement, which have a clear biblical basis and pastoral validity.

When all else is stripped away we both believe that Jesus "died for our sins".

We are brothers who will enjoy eternity together.

With that housekeeping done here are 5 things I love about his ministry.

Steve Chalke is an activist who has managed to fit in a bewildering array of activity! Some Christians can be accused of naval gazing. Others of having a "small God" mentality. Still others are risk averse. Steve has channelled righteous anger into activity, and has reached for the stars for the sake of his Lord. As I have said before, if some of his critics had a tenth of his track record the criticism would sound less hollow. I think James (faith without works is dead) would love him.

The "Kingdom" of God is a bigger than us. The extension of the Kingdom reaches beyond our ecclesiastical wineskins and touches all from the rulers and leaders to the oppressed and needy. Steve's ministry with Schools, Stop the Traffik, and all that has been in between takes a wide definition of the Kingdom of God and seeks to bring it about. His focus is not about bums on seats on a Sunday or other things that can deflect a pastor from seeking after the Kingdom of God. No, it is bigger than that, and has led him everywhere from the sofa of GMTV to the negotiating table at the UN.

Before Keller et al made "changing culture" a cool thing to get passionate about Steve Chalke was campaigning, organising and launching all manner of initiatives. The gospel, and the works of the those who bear the gospel should be good news to people. Those people may be in bondage to people traffickers or Aids victims in Bombay or living in a shanty town in Rio or prostitutes in Peckham. We have political freedom which we can use. We can affect the arts and media. We can challenge politicians. We can shape education. We can work together and showpiece all the ways the Church is blessing its local community. Well when I say "We", Steve seems to have.

People I know who have worked for Oasis Trust, or volunteered with Oasis trust, know for certain the value of what they are doing. Steve has an ability to impart vision and get people moving with him in an extraordinary way. It is not a personality cult: because it is not just about him. It is about the kingdom, and action, to shape culture.

I know loads of people who have been abroad with Oasis Trust. For my age group it was a real badge of honour: part of your Christian upbringing. 6 months in Zimbabwe, 12 months in Brazil, forget Thailand or picking fruit in Australia, there is a world out there that needs the love of Jesus being shared with them and your time matters.

All in all, there is much to love and honour about Steve's ministry. "Stop the Traffik" may yet mean his legacy within the UK Church scene is similar to that of Wilberforce or Shaftesbury. Can we actually change a generation? Can we shake off the yoke of oppression? Can we mould the view of society from lack of understanding to visible opposition to human exploitation?

Let's hope so.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

5 things I love about the Vineyard

I spent three years in Vineyard Churches in both Birmingham and Nottingham as a student. Naturally I will always have a soft spot for them.

For several years it felt like Charismatic worship was either Kendrick or Vineyard. It is not overstating it to say that the Vineyard movement had (and in some ways still has) a huge impact on much of what we know as modern worship. It is part of their legacy to the whole Church that needs to be really honoured.

You cannot go far in the UK Church before you bump into someone who was deeply affected by the ministry of John Wimber. If you look at massive success stories like Holy Trinity Brompton or St Andrew's Chorley Wood somewhere along the line a bearded preacher from California with a desire to experience the power of the Holy Spirit had influenced them. You can see hallmarks of his ministry right the way across the Charismatic wing of the Church in all denominations.

Every Vineyard Church I know have mercy ministries right at their heart. Trent Vineyard in Nottingham has grown from a small group to a Church of over 1500 in 15 years, and right the way through they have been loving people Jesus loves, through ministry to the poor. What a fantastic witness The Arches is. I think that makes God smile.

I like their risk taking. I like the way creativity is encouraged. I like the way arty types can express themselves. The boxes of what evangelical worship and interaction looks like have smoother walls in the Vineyard.

I like going to Vineyard Churches. The atmosphere is relaxed. You get american style "Donuts and Coffee". You don't feel judged. Somewhere in the value system of the movement is a desire to chill out and enjoy God. That sparks something in me. A busy meeting can involve resting in God. I like that. Spiritual gifts happen but nothing is forced. It is all quite calm, quite reflective. If I ever burn out and need a place to relax and get myself together and be with God I would probably look for a Vineyard.

As an aside, and cheekily hiding number 6 in a footnote: their conferences tend to be brilliant, and at times have been very important for me.

All in all, the Vineyard have an important legacy, and a key role to play in the future of the "New Church" scene in the UK. Beyond their boundaries the blessing they have been to the Church is far bigger than they are as a movement, including their involvement with stuff like New Wine.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Sharing the love...

Late last year I did a series on what I love about other elements of the Church in the UK.

You can find the posts here:

5 things I love about Anglicans

5 things I love about Methodists

5 things I love about Spring Harvest

5 things I love about Holy Trinity Brompton

5 things I love about the Para Church

I had quite a positive response, including comments from two people involved in the running of Spring Harvest. The intention was to encourage, so I am delighted that it did. The post on methodism sparked a few Methodists to consider the same question, like Micky, Richard and Dave. Although with tongue firmly in cheek I am still waiting for Dave's "5 things I love about Newfrontiers" post!

Anyhow: time for a new series, over the next few days I will consider what I love about other parts of the UK Church scene and maybe even venture overseas. Some of it will be fairly obvious and some of it will be building a bridge of grace.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Jonathan Aitken, Politics, Prison, Peace

Over 400 people attended Theatre Severn last night for an excellent talk by Jonathan Aitken where he told his story of going to prison and how his journey to faith has helped him get his life back on track.

He was witty, sincere, honest, humble and clear.

This was the biggest inter-church outreach event in the town that I can remember for a good length of time.

Supplementing it we have produced and are in the process of delivering 10,000 flyers across the town inviting people to Alpha Courses that start in the next fortnight.

So here we are: Anglican, Baptist, Newfrontiers and Apostolic Churches standing together and offering the good news to our town.

It is a good place to be, but is only the very start of an adventure of what we can achieve together.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

And we are off...

Welcome to a new term. What a week ahead.

This week: up to 10,000 joint Church Alpha flyers going out across the town

Thursday morning, 2,000 invites to Alpha / Harvest Service / Just 10 teaching series / Frontedge service going out to local homes

Thursday evening: over 400 people coming to the new theatre in Shrewsbury for the visit of Jonathan Aitken

Sunday: Harvest services, guest services with lots of invites going out

So how did we prepare? Quite simple. Like we always do. at 6.30am this morning. For an hour.

We prayed.