Post the first from the conference (see yesterday)

So, the conference has begun. I am not sure what the collective noun for Baptist Ministers would be:

A splash?
A hubbub?
An ostentatious humility?
A dissent?

Whatever it is, we have got one.

The collective noun for ‘Christians’ is ‘church’. We are church when we are together. At this conference we are a temporary expression of church and represent  a microcosm of the gathering of churches together into the collective noun for churches: Church.

We are a diverse group. Wonderfully we’re far less male than in the past and we may be getting younger (well, on average). And that’s a strength of any church: inclusive diversity.

At the vicar factory that turned me into a minister we learnt about the Homogeneous Unit Principle – that churches that are full of similar people grow faster because people are more comfortable with those who share their outlook on life. Well that may be so, but it is a pale imitation of a church that is diverse and inclusive of all. HUP is bland and insular by comparison to what church should be.

We’re not perfect, but please God make us as inclusive and accepting as you are.

Be blessed, be blessing.

O God our help as age is passed

I am now an old geezer. A birthday has taken place that has moved me to a new status in life. It’s not my birthday: it’s the 18th birthday for number one offspring (aka Thomas). That means that I am now a parent of an adult.

Eek! I can feel the life and energy draining from me and I am already ordering my walking frame!

Of course that’s ridiculous. The turning of a page on a calendar from one day to the next does not suddenly make me ancient, nor does it suddenly and magically bestow adult maturity and experience on 18 year-olds. Why we think that someone who is 17 years 364 days old (even allowing for leap years) is unable to vote intelligently, will drink alcohol less sensibly and be unable to do any of the other things that an 18 year old can is beyond silly.

We all know of people who are old in years but immature in outlook, and younger people who are mature beyond their years. The young people at my first church gave me a keyfob (that I still use) that says, “I may be getting older but I refuse to grow up.” Despite this, we insist on treating people collectively. We have these arbitrary lines in our legal system because they have to be drawn somewhere. We are too big and complex a society to treat everyone as an individual: it is impossible to create a system whereby the maturity of individuals is judged more subjectively than by age alone.

Why is it that churches have adopted this mindset? Why do we group people and treat them as collectively coherent, coterminous and collaborative? So we talk about ‘young people’ or ‘children’ or ‘older people’ or ‘Christians’ or ‘non-Christians’ or ‘members’ or ‘congregation’ and assume that this means that they think the same thoughts, react the same way and relate to one another. Jesus refused to label anyone or put anyone in a box. Even those whom he described as ‘hypocrites’ because of their legalism (a self-selecting group for whom this was one of the defining characteristics) he still treated them as individuals, met with them and spoke to them in ways they could understand.

How differently would you explain your faith to someone who was incredibly wealthy from the way you would explain it to someone who is hungry? If you wouldn’t, perhaps you should realise that Jesus did! When he explained what following him looked like he used different images for different people. To some fishermen he invited them to become fishers of people. To a bright spark in the religious elite he spoke of being born again. To others he spoke of being part of his flock or receiving life in all its fullness. To an ostracised woman at a well in the heat of the day he spoke of offering living water. He spoke of getting great treasure and he spoke of being bread that nourishes the soul.

When I was little I was shown a diagram that had God on one side of a chasm, me on the other and the only thing that could bridge the gap was Jesus’ cross. And  I remember being told that being a Christian was about ABC – Accept Jesus as your Saviour, Believe that he is God’s Son, Confess that you have done wrong. And that was the good news of Jesus. All neatly packaged and explained in a cheesy tract.

I am not belittling those methods (much). I am certainly not denying the truth inherent within them. But if they are the only models we have, we are surely in dire need of a fresh inspiration from God’s Spirit and a release of divine imagination so we can communicate the good news of Jesus in different ways to different people. Why do we think that Jesus needed lots of different ways of explaining it yet we only need two? And why do we expect we are all supposed to be free samples of Jesus with a kaleidoscope of different experiences, personalities, vocabularies and skills yet deliver a monochrome message?

Be blessed, be a blessing

Apparently a true story of an inflexible approach and failure to communicate:

Last May a man living in Newton, Massachusetts received a bill on his as yet unused credit card stating that he owed $0.00. He threw it away. In April he received another and tossed that one, too. The following month the credit card company sent him a nasty note stating they were going to cancel his card if he didn’t send them $0.00.

In retrospect, he probably should have let them do that. Instead he called the company and was informed that (are you ready for this?) the problem was the result of a computer error. They told him they’d take care of it.

The following month he reasoned that, if other charges appeared on the card, then it would put an end to his ridiculous predicament. Besides, they assured him the problem would be resolved. So he presented his card for a purchase. It was declined.

Once again he called. He learned that the credit card had been cancelled for lack of payment. They apologized for (here it is again) another computer error and promised they would rectify the situation. The next day he got a bill for $0.00 stating that payment was now overdue. Assuming that this bill was yet another mistake, he ignored it. But the following month he received yet another bill for $0.00 stating that he had ten days to pay his account in full or the company would take necessary steps to recover the debt. He gave in. He mailed in a cheque for $0.00.
The computer duly processed it and returned a statement to the effect that his account was paid in full. A week later, the man’s bank called him asking him why he wrote a cheque for $0.00. He explained the problem at length. The bank replied that the $0.00 cheque had caused their cheque processing software to fail.
The bank could not process ANY cheques from ANY of their customers that day because the cheque for $0.00 caused a computer crash. The following month the man received a letter from the credit card company claiming that his cheque had bounced, that he still owed $0.00 and, unless payment was sent immediately, they would institute procedures to collect his debt.

This man, who had been considering buying his wife a computer for her birthday, bought her a typewriter instead.

biblical evidence

NIV Deluxe Bible: Bold Print

I have had to admit defeat. I am getting older. The latest evidence of this is sitting on my desk in front of me. It is a new Bible. I accept that this is not prima facie evidence of my ageing, so I will elaborate.

This Bible is printed with a slightly larger than normal font. This is necessary because my eyesight is deteriorating gently and I now find it more difficult to read without the use of reading glasses. Vanity encourages me to point out that the need for reading glasses is right at the bottom end of the scale, and has also encouraged me to buy a Bible with larger print rather than wear reading glasses.

I tell myself that the reason for this new Bible is that we have changed to new Bibles in our church. The editions that we have are new New International Version Bibles (2011) which were bought in order to replace the ones that had been worn out by years of use. I love the fact that they had been worn out! My usual Bible was a previous edition of the NIV and so did not match what we are using on Sundays. This new version is new NIV (2011).

I’m still not entirely sure why they decided to call the new edition of the NIV the NIV and not the New NIV or something completely different to distinguish it from previous editions.

And then there is getting the right language. I discovered that if I bought a NIV Bible produced by Zondervan this would be an American English edition rather than a British English edition. Alongside the slightly different spellings there are also occasions when different words are used. My benchmark was Luke 22:60. In British English we read about a cock crowing whereas in American English it is a rooster. I discovered that British English editions are published by Biblica (in case that is useful information for you).

Who would have thought that getting a Bible was as complicated as this? For many people in the world it is not complicated at all: it’s impossible. We take for granted that we can read the Bible in our own language and have so many different translations and versions and versions of translations and editions of versions of translations that whilst the choice is bewildering it masks the reality for others in the world.

I have resolved that I will not take this new Bible for granted. I hope to wear it out. And at the same time I will continue to pray for and support the work of organisations like Biblica  and Wycliffe Bible Translators who are working to provide editions of the Bible in all world languages.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

The little girl was sitting with her grandmother, who had presented her with her first little children’s Bible, in an easy-to-read translation, when she was just a few days old. Now, a decade or so later, the elderly lady was ready to spend a few sweet moments handing down the big old family Bible, in the King James Version, to her only grandchild.

Understandably excited, the youngster was asking a number of questions, both about the family members whose births and deaths were recorded therein, and about various aspects of the Scriptures themselves. Her grandmother was endeavouring to answer all the child’s questions in terms she could understand, but the one that stopped her cold was this sincere inquiry:

“Which Virgin was the mother of Jesus? Was it the Virgin Mary, or the King James virgin?”

the middle ages

Today I have passed a significant milestone in life. It’s my birthday. I am 45. That’s okay. I can cope with that. But what is disturbing is that for most surveys and occasions in which I have to declare my age I have now transitioned from the comforting 35-44 age bracket to the slightly scary 45-54 age bracket.


Am I now officially middle aged?

look both ways…

glassesThis morning I gave in.

It was inevitable.

I am definitely getting older.

There is proof.

I bought myself some reading glasses!

They are ‘off the peg’ glasses at the lowest possible strength, which I will use when I am wearing my contact lenses. I don’t need them when I am not using my contact lenses or ‘normal’ glasses. I only realised I needed them when I bought a new Bible recently and found that the print was too small. So now I am in the curious position of correcting my eyes with contact lenses to correct my distance vision and then having to overcorrect my eyes with glasses to correct my close up vision. 

So now I am ‘double-looking’. Hmmm. Something seems a bit daft about that. But daft is normal for me! It reminds me of an analogy created by John Stott, one of the most prolific and inspiring writers of our time about the Bible and the Christian Faith writes about ‘double listening’:

“The phrase “double listening” has always been significant for me. And it means that we’re called to listen both to the Word of God, and to today’s world, in order to relate the one to the other.”

My double-looking reminds me that as well as double-listening to the Word and today’s culture I also need to pay attention to what is close to me and what is further away, looking through the lenses of the Bible. How does it relate to my own life and circumstances? How does it relate to those who are trying to follow Jesus; exploring following Jesus; interested in Jesus; dis-interested in Jesus? That is not just the task of preachers on Sundays, we all need to seek to do it all day, every day.
There’s a guy with a Doberman Pincer and a guy with a Chihuahua. The guy with the Doberman Pincer says to the guy with a Chihuahua, “Let’s go over to that restaurant and get something to eat.”

The guy with the Chihuahua says, “We can’t go in there. We’ve got dogs with us.”

The guy with the Doberman Pincer says, “Just follow my lead.”

They walk over to the restaurant, the guy with the Doberman Pincer puts on a pair of dark glasses, and he starts to walk in.

A guy at the door says, “Sorry, no pets allowed.”

The guy with the Doberman Pincer says, “You don’t understand. This is my seeing-eye dog.”

The guy at the door says, “A Doberman Pincer?” 

He says, “Yes, they’re using them now, they’re very good.”

The guy at the door says, “Come on in.”

The guy with the Chihuahua figures, “hey why not?,” so he puts on a pair of dark glasses and starts to walk in.

The guy at the door says, “Sorry, pal, no pets allowed.”

The guy with the Chihuahua says, “You don’t understand. This is my seeing-eye dog.”

The guy at the door says, “A Chihuahua?”

The guy with the Chihuahua says, “You mean they gave me a Chihuahua!?”

DISCLAIMER: This Blog does not endorse the impersonation of disabled people for the purposes of ‘getting away with it’, save in the telling of jokes. Don’t park in a disabled space and fake a limp. It’s not big and it’s not clever!


Another sign that I am getting older. I was sure I was 45 until a friend wished me a happy palindromic birthday. Took me a while to work out that 2011 – 1967 = 44. D’oh!

Campus motto: Bottoms up Mac
Dennis, Nell, Edna, Leon, Nedra, Anita, Rolf, Nora, Alice, Carol, Leo, Jane, Reed, Dena, Dale, Basil, Rae, Penny, Lana, Dave, Denny, Lena, Ida, Bernadette, Ben, Ray, Lila, Nina, Jo, Ira, Mara, Sara, Mario, Jan, Ina, Lily, Arne, Bette, Dan, Reba, Diane, Lynn, Ed, Eva, Dana, Lynne, Pearl, Isabel, Ada, Ned, Dee, Rena, Joel, Lora, Cecil, Aaron, Flora, Tina, Arden, Noel, and Ellen sinned
He did, eh
Lived on Decaf; faced no Devil
and more at (that’s the website not another palindrome, but wouldn’t it have been awesome if I had been able to make this sentence palindromic?)

21 today!

Why are people reticent to reveal their age? After we reach 29 it seems that we would rather not tell people how old we are. We may say we are ‘twentyteen’ or cough violently as we are revealing our age. Or there’s the good old fail-safe ’21 again’.

happy birthday
I am 21 today.


Okay, it’s my 21st Wedding Anniversary, not my birthday, but at the age of 43 that seems to be more a more significant and important celebration to me than my age. 21 years of being married to the wonderful Sally! 21 years of seeing her gorgeous smile. 21 years of … you get the idea. This would be a long, self-indulgent and perhaps nauseatingly sentimental blog entry if I kept going! It struck me this morning that I have been married to Sally for almost half of my life!

Running on EmptyThe Bible encourages us honour and venerate those whose personal odometer is clocking up impressive numbers.We are to recognise and draw on their wisdom and experience. We are to take care of them. We are to consider them blessed by God.

There’s a verse in the Old Testament (and quoted by Peter in his first sermon) that both amuses and puzzles me:

“And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.

(Joel 2:28)

Dreams seem to be aspirational and ephemeral. Visions seem to be dynamic and, well, visionary. I like the idea that dreams are our minds way of organising and filing the thoughts and activities that we have – helping us process them and make sense of them. Visions seem to be more about looking to the future than reflecting on the past.

Is this how we work out whether we are young or old? Do you dream dreams or do you see visions? If you have both, perhaps that’s middle age!
The significant aspects of that passage are not musings on the differences but recognition that God pours out his Spirit on ALL people. How he speaks to us and through us is not as important as what we do with what he says. To pre-empt any Harry Hill-esque evaluations of dreams and visions (which is better?) it seems to me that in God’s wisdom he is telling us that we need young and old – those who can look to the future and those who can reflect on the past.
It’s my wedding Anniversary today (did I mention that?). Sally told me this morning that last night she had a dream that I gave her an expensive necklace to celebrate our anniversary.
“What do you think it means?” she asked.

This evening she will find out.

I’m going to get her a book on interpreting dreams!