Sunday, 16 December 2012

Radio shropshire Christmas pause for thought

It was one frosty December day, many years ago now but I still remember her very well 

A lady in her early 60's I guess ,smartly dressed for the cold weather, and from the bags she carried she'd evidently been doing Christmas shopping. I couldn't see inside the bags - but the bags themselves bore the names of well known stores 

I'm going to call this woman Jane ( not her real name)..

She'd left the bright lights and the noise of the High Street - not just to come in from the cold .. but into the quietness of a church building.

I welcomed her and introduced myself as the churches minister and asked if she'd been doing her Christmas shopping. 

Actually it was obvious she had - so it was a pretty stupid question really - and she didn't answer either! But to my amazement tears welled up in her eyes and she was soon sobbing uncontrollably her shoulders heaving with grief.

30 minutes and a cup of coffee later we talked, slowly at first but then her words came out in a torrent she shared with me that just a few months earlier she had lost her husband.


How she had wanted, indeed longed, to keep up appearances for the sake of the children and their children and up to this point she was doing well,but coming into a quiet building from a busy street  and talking to a complete stranger meant her deep grief found expression in her many tears

Maybe you're dreaming of a White Christmas looking forward hugely to what we call the festive season and having yourself what Bing Crosby  describes as a very merry Christmas.


And I do  hope your Christmas  is filled with good things.. but there is another kind of Christmas - not white - but blue.


It is the kind of Christmas I remember the year my dad died

It is the kind of Christmas  the bereft  family’s of those children and adults killed in Newtown Connecticut will be experiencing this and every year for there is something especially difficult about tragedy at Christmas

That was the kind of Christmas Jane was having  all those years ago ,and perhaps you too have been bereaved –we often feel the pain most acutely at Christmas don’t we?


Or perhaps you have lost your job and you're wondering how you'll pay back that loan or clear that credit card bill or you're worried about your health or your children or your parents or your marriage.


For many of us Christmas simply cannot bear the weight of expectation of happiness we place upon it


Now this is never easy but if you're dreading Christmas there are things that may help to dispel the darkness: You can find somebody to talk to ,whether it's a friend or perhaps a great charity like the Samaritans  or Relate who are there to help


Or if  memories of Christmas past  are just too painful is it  possible perhaps  to change your routine and go and help out at a church or charity or at a Christmas lunch, or even go for a walk in the country


These are not miracle cures but they can sometimes help get your pain into perspective

And perhaps we can also think about - what for me as a Christian - is the real meaning of Christmas:  Jesus came, not as a flash of light but as a tiny baby whose first cries were heard by a peasant girl The hands that first held him were , blistered, and dirty .the hands of a carpenter


here was a lot of grief and uncertainty around that first Christmas - a day that God became a vulnerable baby in Lucados words "he who sustained the world became dependant on the nourishment of a young girl”

And as the baby grew into a man he was to experience  suffering and rejection bereavement and pain and even death He understands our suffering he cares for us. The Light came into a dark world  that first Christmas and the darkness could never destroy it.


It would be unrealistic to expect everyone to have a Happy Christmas but my hope is we can in the depths of our hearts (even if they are troubled hearts) have a peaceful one.. and I wish a peaceful Christmas for you.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

The results of the census and religious faith

 It has been obvious for a very long time that the number of people self identifying as Christian in the UK was declining rapidly and as I write that decline continues and the rate of decline is accelerating.
Some people are both surprised and alarmed (not to say alarmist!) by this telegraph
I am not surprised by this, nor especially worried.
For too long many Christians have been in denial about what is happening If they look at the results of the last census they should be in denial no longer. This video explains the situation well see here
It is much better for the church to face up to the truth of what is happening, than to bury our heads in the sand.
The census results should be a powerful reminder that" if we do things in the way we have always done them we will get the results we have always got"
I agree with Simon Jones who in a short but powerful blog post finds great reason for optimism Simon Jones blog
Nick Spencer from Theos also has interesting things to say about the current situation see here

As Simon Jones says these could be very exciting times!

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Social media a force for good ?

As someone who has a blog ,does Facebook, and has got a twitter account in the last fortnight,I think I understand the value of new media
Not everyone however is convinced and it's fair to say that there are people who think blogging ,Facebook and twitter are a complete waste of time and really not something Christians should indulge in
While I readily accept that like everything else these things can be used well or badly,I think they have real value in enabling a wider conversation to happen 
Anyway don't take my word for it ,see what Steve Holmes says

Monday, 26 November 2012

Last minute banquet video

We showed this in the service yesterday and it made quite an impression!
I would love to do this one day maybe in 2013? Meanwhile we have got our Christmas brunch to look forward to

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Leaders away time 2012

The leaders of Shrewsbury Baptist Church had a wonderful 24 hours together at Cloverley Hall website here in North Shropshire
We had a great time together in a wonderful place, in lovely countryside that served great food.

I won't write much here about the content or the encouraging and hopeful, outcome of our discussions, but suffice it to say that while these days are often a struggle to organise, (because it is tough trying to clear the diaries of some very busy people)they always prove to be very worthwhile,we get a lot done.

It is so good to have time to pray,share, laugh and even cry together ,it is good to share our hopes and dreams for the future of the church we serve.It was good to have a walk, on a starry night, back from the pub together. I suspect we get more out of these quality times together than we do from half a dozen evening meetings when people are tired I am looking forward to the next time already

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Shrewsbury Street Pastors Celebration@Central

It is a year since Shrewsbury Street Pastors first patrolled the town and last night there was  a  very good turn out at a service at Central to celebrate the first anniversary
There really was quite a lot to celebrate and it was good to hear from the street pastors, members of the local community and others, just how well the project is going. Speaking to the local MP and the town Mayor afterwards they were equally impressed.

During the first year of Shrewsbury Street Pastors not one patrol had been cancelled

To my surprise I found parts of the service very moving as people shared what Street Pastors or being a Street Pastor meant to them as individuals.
I was also struck that during the first year of street pastors alcohol related incidents had declined by 19% from the previous year and even more importantly there had not been one death in the river.So this is a ministry that has not only helped and comforted large numbers of people but also very possibly saved lives.

The 18  street pastors themselves come from a number of different churches in the town and judging from some of the conversations happening afterwards there are a number of  other people willing to sign up
All in all a very encouraging evening for a great project

Friday, 9 November 2012

LICC Imagine day at Central

There was a good turnout of local church leaders from Shropshire for the Imagine day at Central yesterday.
The day was led by Neil Hudson from LICC who spoke helpfully, and with engaging humour, and very helpful power point slides about how churches can equip,envision and support their people to be fruitful on their daily front lines wherever they are.
There was a tremendous emphasis on the importance of making disciples and I particularly appreciated  the very practical nature of the teaching.
We were being challenged throughout the day as to exactly how we could put the teaching into practice in our own local church context in order to equip people for the time they are not in church
It was also great to spend time with other local church leaders ,some of whom I had not met before

It was an excellent day and if you get the chance to go it is well worth the £15 that it cost per person.
LICC IMAGINE details here

I was personally encouraged to see Central used for this day .It really lends itself as a building to this kind of event and 6 months on from the opening is becoming an increasingly busy place to be.;

Monday, 5 November 2012

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

In praise of the BBC

The BBC has recently come in for much deserved criticism,because of the abuse perpetrated by Jimmy Saville over decades
This criticism is largely justified and polling shows  what happened, and the corporations sluggish response to what  happened, has caused many people to lose trust in the BBC as an institution.(Incidentally the Saville affair also shows why every church should take child protection seriously)

There is however much that is good about the BBC and especially about its current affairs flagship programme Panorama.

They did an amazing job of revealing the abuse happening at Winterbourne View residential home and without them this abuse may never have been revealed and the abusers punished for their crimes
see here

Those abused  were some of the most vulnerable members of society and in my view the crimes against them were as serious (,if not even more so) than the ones committed by Jimmy Saville,
I say this because the victims for the most part were so vulnerable they lacked the means to complain and when they attempted to do so they were not believed.

I heard one woman say that one of the reasons Winterbourne View happened was that," very few people visited the home who were not paid to be there" This was a reference to the fact that these young adults are often placed in home hundreds of miles from their families who thus managed to visit them rarely, if ever.
This meant that these vulnerable people could  be abused unseen behind locked doors,unseesn by the world

Panorama returned to this subject last night The hospital that stopped caring  and again showed that abuse is still going on , and people are still being placed in care hundreds of miles from friends and families so really it is down to the legislators, and indeed all of us to get this sorted so that vulnerable people made in Gods image  don't have to suffer  any more and are supported to live in communitites where they know and are known- but thank you Panorama for highlighting the issue and well done the BBC!

* I do understand that not all homes are like this, that there are many brilliant caring professionals working in this sphere,and that carers should be trained and paid properly, but having said all that there is no excuse for what happened at Winterbourne and may still be happening in other places

Tuesday, 23 October 2012


Not the best quality video but Neil Coles says some important things in an amusing  way

Monday, 15 October 2012

Our destination!

We continued our series on 1 Peter yesterday morning looking at the start of Chapter 2 and thinking about the fact the church and it's future.The above video reminded us of our destination and therefore how we ought to live now " punching holes in the darkness"

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Scottish Christians divided

Many years ago when a student I used to worship at St Georges Tron.
Indeed the minister at the time Eric Alexander was not only a wonderful preacher, but also a truly great and very humble person,whose advice I sought at a very important time in my life.
I was therefore deeply saddened to read about the current events at the Tron a town centre church with a significant ministry of service to it's local area as well as to many students studying in the city
This link (press here ) obviously describes only one side of the story and there is another view here and the BBC report here
Whatever the whole truth it is a tragedy when Christians target each other and even threaten to go to law to resolve disputes. 

Friday, 5 October 2012



Discipleship Day tomorrow .Some resources to look at at your leisure

(New Testament) Prayer for Everyone – Tom Wright
Revolution of Character – Dallas Willard 
Hearing God – Dallas Willard
The Divine Conspiracy – Dallas WillardIn Search of Guidance – Dallas WillardS
Virtue Reborn – Tom Wright
The Radical Disciple – John Stott
Re-Jesus – Michael Frost & Alan Hirsch
Too Busy Not to Pray – Bill Hybels
Celebration of Discipline – Richard Foster(New Testament)
 Prayer for Everyone – Tom Wright
Revolution of Character – Dallas Willard &; Don Simpson

 BELLS  Bless x 3 – Everyone in the community has to do three acts of blessing a week, how and why they do it is entirely up to them.
One to a person inside the community of faithOne to a person outside of the community of faithOne to either sideEat x 3 – You’re going to eat with people at least three times.
One to a person inside the community of faithOne to a person outside of the community of faithOne to either sideListen 1 hour/week – One hour a week of contemplative prayer, just listening to God.
Learning reading each week:
1 Gospel1 Other Book of the Bible1 Other Book – Doesn’t matter what kind of book, but it has to be a good book, the best you can find in any given category.Sent – Everyone in the community spends at least 10 minutes reflecting on their day, answering 2 questions:
Where did I work with Jesus today?Where did I resist Jesus today

Sunday, 30 September 2012

Harvest poem

We had our Harvest Festival this morning .
It was a family service very thoughtfully put together by Elise and was about being Good Neighbours in our community
As part of the service this poem was read by some of the young people .I found it very moving It is true it takes a few minutes to read but is, I think, very worthwhile It was written by Vincent Harding as long ago as 1960
Powerful and challenging!
    • I had a dream.
      And I saw a city,
      A city that rose up out of the crust of the earth.
      And it’s streets were paved with asphalt,
      And a river of dirty water ran down along it’s curbs.
      It was a city
      And its people knew no hope.
      They were chased and herded from place to place by the churning jaws of bulldozers.
      They were closed up in the anonymous cubicles of great brick prisons called housing projects.
      They were forced out of work by the fearsome machines and computers,
      And by the sparseness of their learning.
      They were torn into many pieces by the hostile angers of racial fears and guilt and prejudice.
      Their workers were exploited.
      Their children and teen-agers had no parks to play in.
      No pools to swim in,
      No space in crowded rooms to learn in,
      No hopes to dream in,
      And the people knew no hope.
      Their bosses underpaid them.
      Their landlords overcharged them.
      Their churches deserted them.
      And all of life in the city seemed dark and wild, like a jungle,
      A jungle lined with asphalt.
      And the people sat in darkness
      I had a dream,
      And I saw a city,
      A city clothed in neon-lighted darkness.
      And I heard people talking.
      And I looked at them.
      Across their chests in large, golden letters-written by their own hands-
      Across their chests were written the words:
      “I am a Christian.”
      And the Christians looked at the city and said;
      “How terrible…How terrible…How terrible.”
      And the Christians looked at the city and said:
      “That is no place to live,
      But some of our people have wandered there,
      And we must go and rescue them.
      And we must go and gather them, like huddled sheep into a fold;
      And we will call it a City Church.”
      So they built their church.
      And the people came,
      And they walked past all the weary, broken, exploited, dying men who lined the city’s streets.
      Year after year they walked past,
      Wearing their signs: “I am a Christian.”
      Then one day the people in the church said:
      “This neighborhood is too bad for good Christians.
      Let us go to the suburbs where God dwells, and build a church there.
      And one by one they walked away, past all the weary, broken, exploited, dying people.
      They walked fast.
      And did not hear a voice that said:
      “…the least of these…the least of these…”
      And they walked by, and they went out, and they built a church.
      The church was high and lifted up, and it even had a cross.
      But the church was hollow,
      And the people were hollow,
      And their hearts were hard as the asphalt streets of the jungle.
      I had a dream.
      And I saw a city,
      A city clothed in bright and gaudy darkness.
      And I saw more people with signs across their chest.
      And they were Christians too.
      And I heard them say:
      “How terrible…how terrible…how terrible.
      The city is filled with sinners:
      To save sinners,
      To save sinners.
      But they are so unlike us,
      So bad,
      So dark,
      So poor,
      So strange,
      But we are supposed to save them…
      To save them,
      To save them.”
      And one person said:
      “Can’t we save them without going where they are?”
      And they worked to find a way to save and be safe at the same time.
      Meanwhile, I saw them build a church,
      And they called it a Mission,
      A City Mission:
      And all the children came by to see what this was.
      And the city missionaries who had been sent to save them gathered them in.
      So easy to work with children, they said,
      And they are so safe, so safe.
      And week after week they saved the children
      (Saved them from getting in their parent’s way on Sunday morning).
      And in the dream the City Missionaries looked like Pied Pipers, with their long row of children stretched out behind them,
      And the parents wondered in Christianity was only for children.
      And when the missionaries finally came to see them, and refused to sit in their broken chair, and kept looking at the plaster falling, and used a thousand words that had no meaning, and talked about rescuing them from hell while they were freezing in the apartment, and asked them if they were saved, and walked out into their shiny care, and drove off to their nice, safe neighborhood-
      When that happened, the parents knew;
      This version of Christianity had no light for their jungle.
      Then, soon, the children saw too; it was all a children’s game;
      And when they became old enough they got horns of their own,
      And blew them high and loud,
      And marched off sneering, swearing, into the darkness.
      I had a dream,
      And I saw the Christians in the dark city,
      And I heard them say:
      “We need a revival to save these kinds of people.”
      And they rented the auditorium,
      And they called in the expert revivalist,
      And every night all the Christians came, and heard all the old, unintelligible, comfortable words, and sang all the old assuring songs, and went through all the old motions when the call was made.
      Meanwhile, on the outside,
      All the other people waited impatiently in the darkness for the Christians to come out, and let the basketball game begin.
      I had a dream.
      And I saw Christians with guilty consciences,
      And I heard them say:
      “What shall we do?
      What shall we do?
      What shall we do?
      These people want to come to OUR church,
      To OUR church.”
      And someone said:
      “Let’s build a church for THEM,
      For THEM,
      They like to be with each other anyway.”
      And they started the church,
      And the people walked in.
      And for a while, as heads were bowed in prayer, they did not know.
      But then, the prayers ended,
      And they people looked up, and looked around,
      And saw that every face was THEIR face,
      THEIR face,
      And every color was THEIR color,
      THEIR color.
      And they stood up, and shouted loudly within themselves:
      “Let me out of this ghetto, this pious, guilt-built ghetto.”
      And they walked out into the darkness,
      And the darkness seemed darker than ever before,
      And the good Christians looked, and said,
      “These people just don’t appreciate what WE do for THEM.”
      And just as the night seemed darkest, I had another dream.
      I dreamed that I saw young people walking,
      Walking into the heart of the city, into the depths of the darkness.
      They had no signs, except their lives.
      And they walked into the heart of the darkness and said:
      “Let us live here, and work for light.”
      They said, “Let us live here and help the rootless find a root for their lives.
      Let us live here, and help the nameless find their names.”
      They said, “Let us live here and walk with the jobless until they find work.
      Let us live here, and sit in the landlord’s office until he gives more heat and charges less rent.”
      They said, “Let us live here, and throw open the doors of this deserted church to all the people of every race and class;
      Let us work with them to find the reconciliation God has brought.”
      And they said, “Let us walk the asphalt streets with the young people, sharing their lives, learning their language, playing their sidewalk, backyard games, knowing the agonies of their isolation.”
      And they said, “Let us live here, and minister to as many men as God gives us grace,
      Let us live here,
      And die here, with out brothers of the jungle,
      Sharing their apartments and their plans.”
      And the people saw them,
      And someone asked who they were,
      A few really knew-
      They had no signs-
      But someone said he thought they might be Christians,
      And this was hard to believe, but the people smiled;
      And a little light began to shine in the heart of the asphalt jungle.
      Then in my dream I saw young people,
      And I saw the young men and women
      Those who worked in the city called Chicago,
      Cleveland [Melbourne],
      Washington [Bangkok],
      Atlanta [Sydney],
      And they were weary,
      And the job was more than they could bear alone,
      And I saw them turn, turn and look for help,
      And I heard them call:
      “Come and help us,
      Come and share this joyful agony, joyful agony,
      Come as brothers in the task,
      Come and live and work with us,
      Teachers for the crowded schools,
      Doctors for the overflowing clinics,
      Social workers for the fragmented families,
      Nurses for the bulging wards,
      Pastors for the yearning flocks,
      Workers for the fighting gangs,
      Christians who will come and live here,
      Here in the heart of the darkness,
      Who will live here and love here that a light might shine for all.
      I heard them call,
      And I saw the good Christians across the country,
      And their answers tore out my heart.
      Some said, “There isn’t enough money there.”
      Some said, “It’s too bad there. I couldn’t raise children.”
      Some said, “I’m going into foreign missions, where things don’t seem so dark.”
      Some said, “The suburbs are so nice.”
      Some said, “But I like it here on the farm.”
      Some said,
      Some said…
      And one by one they turned their backs and began to walk away.
      At this moment my dream was shattered by the sound of a great and mighty whisper, almost a pleading sound;
      And a voice said:
      “Come, help me, for I am hungry in the darkness.”
      And a voice said:
      “Come, help me, for I am thirsty in the darkness.”
      And a voice said:
      “Come, help me, for I am a stranger in this asphalt jungle.”
      And a voice said, “Come, help me, for I have been stripped naked, naked of all legal rights and protection of the law, simply because I am black in the darkness.”
      And a voice said:
      “Come, help me, for my heart is sick with hopelessness and fear in the darkness.”
      And a voice said:
      “Come, live with me in the prison of my segregated community, and we will break down the walls together.”
      And the voices were many,
      And the voice was one,
      And the Christians knew whose Voice it was.
      And they turned,
      And their faces were etched with the agonies of decisions.
      And the dream ended.
      But the voice remains,
      And the choice remain,
      And the city still yearns for light.
      And the King who lives with the least of his brothers and sisters in the asphalt jungle…
      Yearns for us.


Monday, 24 September 2012

Open Mic evening -Central

Long before we opened our Central building we were determined it would be a building to bless the whole community.

We have already done loads of different things and on Friday we held our second open mic night for young people  at Central.

It was an amazing evening that attracted lots of people .It was great to have them in the building and to get to know some of  them just a bit better. 

I am no musical expert, but even I could tell there were some exceptionally gifted young singers and bands who came along .It was a really great evening and gave young people who are too young to perform in pubs a wonderful platform to share their music 

Here are just one of the groups that played on Friday night

PS In case anyone is wondering their behaviour was brilliant 

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Shropshire Baptist Ministers meeting

I have not been the most regular attendee at Shropshire Baptist Ministers meetings over the years for a whole variety of reasons, including busyness,the fact that I have tended to devote time to meeting with church leaders from Shrewsbury, and one or two other reasons I wont go into here, but I did get along today to Newport Baptist Church for the bimonthly meeting and in the event was pleased that I went.

The people there came from a number of different churches around our large county but also included a hospice chaplain ,a prison chaplain  and our local regional minister.The food was good(it usually is!) and it was good to spend time chatting about matters of common interest which ranged from the Baptist Futures process, to creative evangelism and a whole lot else beside.

Jon Edwards from Ludlow was the main speaker. Jon is a great guy ( I have known him since he was 12!) who has has done an incredible job working in part of Ludlow, that is far removed from the usual image people get of that prosperous and beautiful town.   He is exercising  a brilliant ministry  helping the church put down deep roots in the local community in a load of creative ways. It must have been hard work at times but by Gods grace he and the church he leads have made a real difference.

The other thing that hugely encouraged me this morning was how all the ministers and leaders present spoke about the connections they are making with local people and the ways they are sharing The Good News of the Kingdom in so many different ways.

The meeting made be more hopeful about the future than I have for some time.
My prayer is that the people at the centre of denominational life in Didcot , understand and facilitate in every way imaginable, the good stuff that is happening at a local level.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Spoken word website poem

Showed this near the end of the service this morning
A few people asked for the link so here it is
spoken word website
 and here is the video I thought it was quite powerful and reflective a good prayer and poem by Gerard Kelly that really touched me

Radio Shropshire Pause for Thought

The regular presenter Mike George was not there today ,but it was good to meet Vicky Archer  when I went into the studio this morning. I really wanted to reflect on the fact that though the paralympians were amazing and inspiring ,most people with special needs would never manage that but are still of infinite value to God

Well - what can you say about the Olympics and the Paralympics?

The organisation was impeccable ,The crowds were enormous, the atmosphere amazing, the noise of the spectators deafening and the achievements of athletes quite extraordinary -How they deserved and appeared to enjoy the Parade in London last Monday!

I was lucky enough to get tickets to the athletics on 3rd August and will never forget the determination and dedication of all the athletes but especially Jessica Ennis as she ran the 200 metres on her way to becoming Olympic Champion in the Heptathlon

You only get a brief glimpse of these people on the tv screen, or if you're really lucky as I did in the flesh as they compete... but you don't see the hours, weeks, months, and years of training that went into preparing for London 2012.

We'll never forget the names of many of the winners - Bradley Wiggins, Mo Farrer, Jessica Ennis are already household names as is Ellie Symonds, David Weir and locally at least so are Shropshire's own Danielle Brown and Mickey Bushell.

But there were others who did not win medals whose achievements were also quite exceptional for example Derek Derenalagi who lost both his legs after his landrover was blown up by a Taliban bomb in Afghanistan. The medical staff had given up on him and were about to put him into a body bag ,when one of them detected a weak pulse. They saved his life . Now, with the help of the army's Battle Back rehabilitation program, he is a proud Paralympian.

These are inspirational people who have achieved awesome things and done what they promised to do - to inspire a generation!

But there are many other people who were not at London 2012 who struggle on in the face of incredible odds - battling cancer, caring for loved ones who are disabled, struggling with learning difficulties ….

These are people who will never win gold or silver or bronze, they will never stand on any podium or take part in any parade, but they are hugely valuable members of our community.

There is a temptation for all of us to value people by what they achieve or do in life. Sometimes I think we even value ourselves in that way.

The Bible however tells us that God values us not because of what we do but because of who we are - Human beings made in the Image Of God and loved by Him whoever we are and whatever we have or have not done - God loves us.

That is why Jesus came- to show God's love -Jesus brought to ordinary people a sense of their worth when he touched people no one else would touch and healed people no one else could heal they knew that they were cherished that their lives mattered and whoever you are so does yours.

Many years ago I was a part time chaplain in a hospice in another part of the country ,it was my privilege to spend quality time with people who were very ill indeed and to both laugh and cry with them , as in many cases they neared the end of their lives. The care in that place as in other hospices was quite exceptional... pain was controlled, care was given, people were valued, and the fact that they were valued in many cases changed their outlook on life and indeed on death.

Perhaps the knowledge that God loves us that we are of infinite value to Him will help us imperfect human beings to value both ourselves and each other more.

But whatever your outlook on life or faith - if you can see beyond jobs, money, achievements, prestige - to value yourself and the people around you… for who you and they are – then in my view you’ve struck gold!

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

How to be a bad Christian and a better human being"

I have been reading Dave Tomlinson's latest book How to be a bad Christian and a better human being" 
It is the first of Daves books I have read since his influential "The post evangelical" and as I expected there is much about both this book and the authour to admire,though I need to say that I do not share his theology especially his theology of scripture which obviously means I do not share many of his conclusions!
The book is written in a popular style and is mercifully free of religious jargon
The rather creative  subtitles to the books chapters reveal a bit about their content 
eg" how to keep faith and ditch religion," how to find God without going near a church," how to think with your soul "and how to make sense of suffering."
I admire above all. Tomlinson's focus on the person and teaching of Jesus and he reminds us powerfully that Jesus as depicted in the gospels was full of compassion for human beings;a compassion that Tomlinson rightly shares and seeks to demonstrate in his own ministry,indeed he comes across as a person with great pastoral gifts and an ability to connect with all kinds of different people.
This is evidenced by some powerful stories that he tells from his own experience as a priest, that I think are worth the the money for the book alone.
Long before becoming an Anglican priest, Tomlinson had a central role in the earlier days of the house church movement and spoke at Spring Harvest and other evangelical conferences ,he therefore understands evangelicalism, which make his implicit attacks on it in the book very well directed indeed!
He is surely right to remind us that that there is much more to Christianity than doctrine, and that Christianity is meant to be life affirming rather than life denying ,so there are lots and lots of positives and yet in my view  doctrine is still very important, if our faith is to be grounded properly
 However you don't have to agree with a book to benefit from reading it so if your interested here is the promo for the book

Monday, 10 September 2012

stepping stones

Here is the link I promised I would post on my blog today  Stepping Stones Just in case your interested!

Saturday, 18 August 2012

New preaching series in the autumn on 1 Peter

Our summer series has been based on the Book of Daniel.
As we prepared for that series Steve and I have been reading Gerard Kelly's " Stretch".
It is not an exegesis but it brings out many of the great themes of the book ,especially those that are so relevant for us in the UK today. I mentioned it on this blog; here .
The series has been pretty well received though there is no doubt that many people still find it difficult to re-imagine church for post Christendom.
In the autumn we are going to be looking at 1 Peter which  also touches on the theme of a church in exile.
I think it is critical for the UK church to realise where we are now and how seriously the decline in numbers of those attending church is. This is a necessary first step to change and to re-engaging with a lost world (without compromising our faith in any way)
Over the last few years I have read slot of stuff by authors like Alan Hirsch,Alan Roxburgh,Mike Frost Reggie McNeal who seem to have a grip on where church is in the West and how we need to change to reconnect with our culture, for as someone says " If we keep doing things the way we have always done ,we will get the results we have always got"
Church stats show that those results are not great to put it mildly
Europe is the worlds most secular continent and while 72% of the UK population call themselves Christian only 1 person in 20 is in church on any given Sunday,and 70% of people have no intention of going to a church service ever ! (TEAR Fund survey 2007)
As part of the preparation for our autumn series I am reading Everyday Church by Tim Chester and Steve Timmins see here.I have read quite a few of their books because they not only have a clear understanding of where the UK church is!(.In fact if you want to understand just how serious the situation is then read Chapter 1 of Everyday Church which gives a very concise summery of the statistics) and how it needs to change they are also practitioners working it out on the ground see here

There maybe people who think I bang this drum of the need for missional church  too often and too loudly but so serious is the situation that it is a message that in my view needs to be heard.
As Chester puts it " a farmer cannot blame his crops if he fails to sow and reap Sunday morning in church is the one place evangelism cannot take place for the lost are not there-not until we go out to connect with them where they are,where they feel comfortable ,on their territory.......the bedrock of mission will be ordinary life"

Monday, 13 August 2012

Flower Show weekend at Central

The Flower show is a big event in Shrewsbury.
People come from far and wide to see the flowers ,exhibits, stalls and events and listen to the music.
Our Central building is on one of the main routes to the show.
An obvious opportunitY ,therefore,for us to engage with our local community not only by being open for teas, coffee's and cakes, but by doing various things outside the building like giving people the chance to write on a wall the one thing they wanted to do before they die, ( we got some fascinating answers!)
 We  also did face painting , made balloons into animal shapes,and a whole lot of other stuff. Upstairs we held an art exhibition and discovered our versatile building works very well as a gallery among many other things

All these things were great fun and gave us the chance to meet loads of different people,listen to them,and also have some pretty deep and important spiritual conversations with people who we otherwise would not have met. I think the team who did it were tired but exhilarated
at the end of it all
A really good weekend was finished by meeting together on Sunday morning at Central for worship

This is not something we will do often on a Sunday morning at Central, but is was good to do  it yesterday
Worship was led by our young people's band which gave our worship band a bit of a rest and wefinished of by sharing lunch together
Not a restful weekend but an inspiring one!
Now looking forward to 3 days of Senior Moments starting Tuesday

Saturday, 11 August 2012

5 Things Team GB could teach Church UK -part 3

The importance of Innovation

There is no doubt that one reason Team GB has done so well is that great quantities of money has been poured into British sport.
Money alone though does not guarantee success,but it does pay for both great technology to aid performance and even more importantly for great coaches who use innovative method that improve training and the performance of talented athletes
Despite the popularity of Fresh Expressions I still hear (though less than I used to ,thank goodness) the last 8 words of a dying church " we have never done it that way before"
Society is changing rapidly.we are now in a post christendom era.
I know the Good News of Jesus does not change but the way we communicate that truth has to change
Regular readers of this blog know that I think Alan Hirsch,Mike Frost Reggie McNeal and the other proponents of the missional movement, have some really important, and thoroughly biblical, things to say about the ways we might change but before we even get to that point there needs to be a willingness to try new ways ( or as Hirsch would put it "The Forgotten Ways") I sense we are getting there slowly. I knew a church once where the average age of those who attended was getting higher and higher. Numbers were dropping rapidly and it became obvious, even to those most reluctant to change, that it was" a change now or die moment." That church eventually did embrace change and over time flourished.

Perhaps we are at a similiar moment in the life of ChurchUK?                                                                        

One final word on the olympics and the lessons we could learn.Everyone enetering the stadium was welcomed and made to feel at home.People were always on hand to answer questions and to make people feel at ease,that this was their games Perhaps  the church in the UK  could learn from that too!

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

5 things Team GB could teach Church UK part 2

Olympic Park at night

The importance of Discipleship

Okay, Team GB don't use the word discipleship, but that in effect is what they do. I was listening to a radio interview when one of a pair of young gold medal winning rowers had said how inspirational it was to have the more experienced rowers to look up to "I learn from her all the time ,I listen to her ,I watch what she is doing and think if she can do it then so can I ".I heard another medal winning member of the cycling team say we have learned so much from watching Chris Hoy and Victoria Pendleton,from seeing how they do it and following them."  To me that is a pretty good description of discipleship in action.

I can think of some examples where that sort of learning takes place in church but probably not enough,
Too often young Christians with great potential are not given enough opportunity to use their gifts We are quite good in the UK church at giving people a great theological education and plenty of colleges of all kinds do that very is important that they do.
Do we though mentor people well enough ?Do we coach people well enough? do we simply expect young Christians with embryonic gifts but real potential ,to simply sink or swim?
There is no doubt young Christians have plenty to give ,and should have the opportunity,perhaps in a group setting, to learn from those who have been on the road a long time

The Importance of perseverance

It has been said that sport does not build character ,it reveals it.
Plenty of members of Team GB have big characters. There have been plenty of races where they have had to dig deep .There are times when it would have been easier
to quit rather than finish.
One of the first of the cycling events was the road race ,a tough, arduous ,hilly course .Bradley Wiggins was riding it in order to set up Mark Cavendish for a sprint to the finish .it was days after the Tour de France ,Bradley must have been exhausted. Miles before the end, it became evident he was not going to achieve his goal ;Bradley could have quit but he kept going to the end.
Perseverance is a very underrated Christian quality,it it is one Jesus demonstrates again and again in His ministry.He has a goal in sight,a task to fulfil, he keeps going to the end .He goes all the way to the cross,where he exclaims" it is finished." The task is done!
Many of us human beings have a gift for starting something but not finishing it.Like the apoostle Paul we should seek to finish the race.
I am much closer to the end of life than to the beginning.I am much closer to the end of ministry than to the beginning .God give me grace to finish well.

God give us all grace ,when the times are hard ,when criticism comes ,when people seem uncaring and apathetic to the message of God's love, to keep on going on as the Bible urges us to do.

To be continued

Monday, 6 August 2012

5 things Team GB could teach Church UK--part 1

Like most of the population I have been watching The Olympics and have been astonished by the skill of the athletes, and enjoyed the success of Team GB. It is all very different from when I was a child.
In those days  our usual return from an Olympics was about 18 medals in total, of which a mere handful would have been gold. Now as I write ,we are third in the medal table. 
There are various reasons for this upturn in our Olympic fortunes ,not least the money that has come from the lottery,which has enabled a huge investment in good coaches and great technology to help improve our athletes.They have responded brilliantly.
This year we have also had home advantage, and athlete after athlete, has testified just what a difference the crowd has made and how inspiring it is to run,or sail, or cycle with so many people supporting you.

I have been reflecting on the lessons the church in the UK could learn from Team GB and come up with 5 things  that I place in no particular order of importance. I will cover these over the next 2 or 3 posts.

The importance of being focussed.
 Olympic medallists are not just there for the ride (or the row or the swim)
They know what they want to achieve ,they have a goal in mind and pursue it with all their might.To that end they get up early ,they work long hours ,they put in the hard yards,they don't give up they stay focussed on the goal of Olympic glory
This is inspiring but it is not new ,the apostle Paul uses language in his letters that reveals athletes in his day showed the same determination
"I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us"
As I reflect on my life as a Christian  so far I can think of many instances when the focus of the church has not been the goal of our high calling, but on  rather more trivial things,like worship style ,music used in church ,the colour the walls should be painted, and what kind of furniture we have in our building. I understand that people feel passionate about these things (though not always why they feel passionate about these things!) but they can stop us keeping the main thing the main thing,and distract us from our major calling to love Jesus and others in His Name.
The Importance of Encouragement
As happens at most Olympics ,the nation has got behind the home team and  the team has said it has made a huge difference, that they have performed far better than they would have done otherwise. I heard a rower say it was the crowd that pulled them towards the finishing line.
One of my favourite bible characters is Barnabas who was a great encourager of the apostle Paul ,of John Mark , and of the first Gentile Christians among others..He is  a great role model and his encouragement made a practical and tangible difference to those he encouraged.They became better because of the encouragement
I am grateful for the encourager's I have met in the past and for those that sustain me today.
I would  not have gone into ministry without the encouragement of a pastor who believed in me I wouldn't have remained in ministry without the encouragement of friends and fellow leaders when things just seemed too hard
Too often Christians seek to exercise a ministry of discouragement, rather than encouragement, and because of this other Christians fail to reach their full potential.
I once heard Dick Lucas say that the greatest danger Christian leaders faced was discouragement.I think he is right but in fact the race can be tough the going can be difficult for all of us & we should all seek to be encourager's.It would make a huge difference as we saw spiritual gifts being released and people achieving great things by God's grace.

I will continue with this in the next post

Monday, 30 July 2012

The Olympic family

I have enjoyed the start of the London Olympics enormously.
I thought the opening ceremony was a stunning spectacle and wonderful interpretation of one mans vision of our history and indeed our present.
I loved the fact that it was unafraid of putting into the rich mix ,some of things which would make a section of the population uncomfortable. I didn't feel as as at least one MP did that it was "leftie" ,nor did I think it was pessimistic, but rather it reflected the huge diversity of Britain in 2012 & at various times it made me both laugh and cry.
A work of genius that incidentally included not one, but two Christian hymns.
There is one phrase though from the Olympics that has grated on me enormously.It is a phrase that has occurred both in connection with the discussion around empty seats, and with the special traffic lanes.
Both the seats and the lanes we are told are reserved for " The Olympic Family". These are often the IOC & National Olympic Committee bureaucrats.
I think it grates because it speaks of insiders and outsiders, of a privileged elite who are somehow better than the rest and therefore deserve special treatment and special seats reserved, even if they have no intention of taking them up.
It rather belies the claim that these are the Olympics of the people.The phrase asserts that rather the games don't belong to everyone but to the few.
I am probably being excessively chippy about it.

It did get me thinking though about the phrase "the church family".
it is a phrase which has justification in scripture in both Old Testament and New Testament. Acts 2 indeed shows us how the church behaved and blessed others as a family. It is therefore not the theology of the phrase, but the way it is sometimes used and interpreted today by Christians that can seem troubling.
I have heard the phrase used to justify a club mentality, we belong to the church, we are members therefore we have special privileges, we are insiders and club members,and even “the church is about us” Indeed once many years ago I was reminded that we pay your wages ,you should do what we want" but of course, I may be their servant but they are not my master.

I dislike this club mentality because we are not better than other people ,if we belong to Gods family it is not about our gifts, or our characters, it is all about God's amazing grace "that saves a wretch like me"

Belonging is not about privilege, it’s not about special seats in the grandstand in heaven,or special lanes on the Highway to heaven it is about service.

I dont expect the IOC to understnd this but I am hopeful that the church will

Yes if by Gods grace we belong to God, we belong to His family, but we are there not to preserve our rights, but to serve others as Jesus did, and by our service, done in Jesus Name and power, to make, by Gods grace, outsiders insiders. Isn’t that what Jesus came to do?

Thursday, 26 July 2012

The Olympics come home!

The opening ceremony of the London Olympics takes place tomorrow .I will watch intrigued to see what they come up with..In the weeks to come there will be wall to wall coverage of every Olympic sport.
The BBC will understandably spend millions covering all the events, on a multitude of sites, and I would expect them to do it well.

 I haven't seen what the projected audience figures around the world will be but they must be massive.

It is  Baron Pierre de Coubertin who is deservedly given the credit for founding the modern Olympics but what is less well known is that he got his inspiration from   Dr William Penny Brookes from Much Wenlock in Shropshire see here
Brooks who was decades ahead of his time was convinced that sport would make local people healthier and that exercise was essential to a healthy life style. To that end he campaigned vigoroulsy for PE to be taught in schools, and for that reason too,Dr Brookes  founded the Wenlock Olympian Society which staged their first games in 1850. It was on Brookes  insistence that"the Games  was open" to the working classes   despite pious people complaining  that this  would mean having  a large number of scantily-dressed young men performing in front of women. It was felt that such an event would cause drunkenness, rioting, lewd behaviour, and that men would leave their wives.".... None of these things appear to have happened( because of the games!)

Following the success of the Wenlock Games the first Olympian games were held at Crystal Palace in 1866 drawing a crowd of no fewer than 10000.The legendary cricketer W.G. Grace took part in the hurdles 

Baron Pierre de Coubertin  was invited by Dr Brookes to Much Wenlock to see the Wenlock Olympics in 1890 and spent time talking to and learning from his  enthusiastic host ,who also became his friend. Drawing inspiration from his visit  the Baron determined to re start the ancient games and the first modern Olympics were held in Athens in 1896.
Brookes was not present having died just a few months earlier but Coubertin  said of him

“If the Olympic Games that modern Greece has not been able to resuscitate survive there today, it is due not to a Greek, but to Dr W.P. Brookes. It is he who inaugurated them 40 years ago, and it is he, now 82 years old but still alert and vigorous, who continues to organise and inspire them.”
Baron Piere de Coubertin, 1890.

We can learn a lot from William P Brookes about the importance of vision and how critical it is, whatever the odds, of persistence in pursuing that vision

The Wenlock games still exist today see here