big splash

So, yesterday we had an amazing service at Colchester Baptist Church. Four friends were baptised as believers and shared their faith with us. It was so inspiring, so encouraging and so special to have been a part of it.

I shared with our church that when I was little I used to enjoy watching baptism by immersion because of the big splash. I can remember describing believer’s baptism by immersion to a group of primary school children and they got very excited about the big splash too. They even mentioned it in the ‘thank you’ letter they wrote me.

But, as I said yesterday, baptism makes a splash in a different way. It shows the impact God has made in the lives of ordinary people. Sometimes it’s not easy to see, but yesterday it was impossible to miss! And the ripples spread a long way, too: two of our friends yesterday were baptised because someone they know was baptised and had told them all about it.

I guess that, as a Baptist Minister, you would expect me to be an enthusiast for believer’s baptism. And you’d be right. But it’s a ‘chicken and egg’ situation. I am not sure if am an enthusiast because I am a Baptist Minister or I am a Baptist Minister because I am an enthusiast! Probably both are true…

If you were with us yesterday I pray that you were as blessed and encouraged as I was. If you weren’t, I pray you’ll still be blessed and encouraged and that God will make a splash in your life too. Who knows where the ripples will end up?

Be blessed, be a blessing.

Once there was a millionaire, who collected live alligators. He kept them in the pool in back of his mansion. The millionaire also had a beautiful daughter who was single. One day he decides to throw a huge party, and during the party he announces, “My dear guests . . . I have a proposition to every man here. I will give one million dollars or my daughter to the man who can swim across this pool full of alligators and emerge alive!”

As soon as he finished his last word, there was the sound of a large splash!! There was one guy in the pool swimming with all he could and screaming out of fear. The crowd cheered him on as he kept stroking as though he was running for his life. Finally, he made it to the other side with only a torn shirt and some minor injuries. The millionaire was impressed.

He said, “My boy that was incredible! Fantastic! I didn’t think it could be done! Well I must keep my end of the bargain. Do you want my daughter or the one million dollars?”

The guy says, “Listen, I don’t want your money, nor do I want your daughter! I want the name of the person who pushed me in!”

chaplains are not charlies

Jonathan meets Jonathan (BUGB General Secretary meets Chaplain General)

I have just read a great article in The Times (on Saturday 1 October) about army chaplains. (I’d like to be able to point you to it online, but The Times is subscription only.) It is based around an interview with the Chaplain General (top chaplain), Rev Jonathan Woodhouse, who happens to be the first Baptist Chaplain General. He was asked what the role of army chaplains is today:

To continue to be trusted in bringing the hope of God… My job as a padre is not to oil the wheels of war, but to help the humanity caught up in it.

That’s profound! We may have questions about the right or wrong of a particular circumstance, but our task as free samples of Jesus is always to help the humanity that is caught up in those circumstances and be trusted in bringing the hope of God. A while ago I had a conversation with someone who is exploring the possibility of chaplaincy to the local ‘Gentleman’s Club’. I had no reservations about supporting her in this, but did not have the words to articulate why until I read Jonathan Woodhouse’s words.

There is a fine line to tread in this. By being involved we can be seen to be affirming things that we would not endorse. But this is exactly the sort of thing Jesus was doing. He spent time with people who were regarded as ‘unclean’ and told his critics that it is not the healthy that need a doctor, but the sick. But can polite (predominantly middle-class) churches cope with that attitude today? If (as I reckon he might) Jesus said he wanted to be a chaplain to a Gentleman’s Club wouldn’t we try to dissuade him. Wouldn’t we warn him of the risk to his reputation? Wouldn’t we ask him about the reputation of the church? Wouldn’t we ask about whether he was compromising himself?

And wouldn’t he smile gently and say, “But I love them.” And then he might go back to drawing in the sand while looking pointedly at the stones we are carrying.

You may not formally be a chaplain, but you can be the same to those around you. Not judging, not condemning, not condoning, but loving and being the presence of Jesus where our paths cross with theirs.

Be blessed. Be a blessing.

On Mothering Sunday last year I held a ‘dandling’ competition in our church. We asked some parents to dandle their children on their knees. It was linked to God’s description of how he will comfort his people in Isaiah 66:12 of dandling them. Dandling, for the unititiated, is bouncing up and down on your knees (when our children were little it was usually linked to saying a rhyme about horses). At this time there was a big poster on the route away from our church advertising the Gentleman’s Club mentioned above, explaining that lap-dancing was available there. A young child from our church read this on their way home and asked his dad what lap-dancing was. In a moment of swift-thinking and (imho) genius his dad replied, “It’s dandling for grown-ups!”

ten proverbs for Church Meetings

  1. God can speak through anyone

    Encourage one another and build each other up (1 Thess 5:11)

  2. Sometimes God asks you to take a risk, but he never asks you to be unwise
  3. This is not a democracy. Nor is it a dictatorship
  4. Two eyes, two ears, one mouth…
  5. Age (old or young) is never a barrier to God speaking through you
  6. It’s difficult to hear God speak through those who are absent
  7. When in doubt, pray
  8. When confident, pray
  9. Putting your hand up may also mean putting your hand in your pocket
  10. Jesus’ trial before the Sanhedrin is not meant to be a model for a Church Meeting
  11. Don’t expect your Minister to be able to count

assembled reflections

I have blogged much recently about my travel woes and the removal of gruntle among rail travellers. But I have not said much about the Baptist Assembly itself.Baptist Assembly Logo

I want to say a big ‘Thank You’ to God for all he did and said through the participants. I want to say a big ‘Thank You’ to the participants and people working behind the scenes for being open to him speaking through them.

This was the first Assembly I have attended since I moved up the Baptist ladder from working in the Mission Department at Baptist House and moved back to leading a local church. I loved it. It was SO good meeting so many people who have blessed me in the past and renewing friendships, catching up with news and being with them.

It was also really good to be a recipient at the Assembly rather than a ‘deliverer’. I could sit back and relax in the sessions I chose to attend (all of the main sessions and lots of others). I could concentrate on what God was saying and doing at that time rather than having at least half of my brain (the working half) thinking about what I had to do next and where I had to be. I could chill. I described it to someone as a ‘mini sabbatical’ where I was refreshed and blessed by God through his people.

What’s that? You want to know specifically what God said and did?

OK.

The Assembly theme was ‘Your Kingdom Come’ and I received reminders about the inclusive nature of God’s Kingdom. The invitation is for all and we need to be ready to welcome all who seek to find it through our church. Nobody should be excluded. Nobody should feel unwelcome.

I also received reminders about the breadth of God’s Kingdom. It is not limited to our church, our denomination, or even churches in general. God’s Kingdom is where his will is done on earth as it is in heaven and that is not limited to those of us who are explicitly following Jesus.

I received reminders about the values of our church. I warmed to Jeff Lucas’s church’s approach that includes ‘intentional fun’ as a value of their church. It won’t surprise regular readers of this bloggerel that this resonated loudly with me. Fun does not mean trivial. Nor does it mean flippant or irreverent. It is not always appropriate. But it is something God has given us as a gift.

I received a reminder about the power and value of prayer and was nudged about my own prayer life as well as the prayer life of our church.

I received ideas about different ways of doing things in our church that will be more inclusive and enable more people to encounter God and be blessed.

And, if I am allowed, I felt proud of our church. We are not perfect. We have our problems. We are still looking to follow Jesus. But when people asked me how I was and how it was going I couldn’t help grinning because I am a part of this lovely community of followers of Jesus. I couldn’t help thinking about them on Sunday at service times and wondering how the rest of them were doing. I felt joy as I thought of them. Perhaps it was the closest I have got to being like Paul!

“I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”
(Philippians 1:3-6)

Be blessed. Be a blessing.


One day a lawyer told another lawyer friend that he had become a Sunday School teacher at his church. His astonished friend replied, “You? A Sunday School teacher? I bet you don’t even know the Lord’s Prayer!”

“Why everybody knows that,” the other answered. “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild, look upon this little child. Pity my simplicity, teach me Lord to come to thee.” 

His friend was astonished! He said, “You win! I didn’t know you knew so much about the Bible.”

And a true story:

In my first church we had some football teams that played in the local league. For most of the players this was their only contact with church. It was a club tradition that we always prayed before a match. One day the players realised that there was nobody from the church to lead a prayer. One of them remembered a prayer from school so he prayed: “For what we are about to receive, may the Lord make us truly thankful.”

Wonderful!

God heard the prayer too. They lost 9-0 and found it hilarious!

The Assembly today

Following a rude awakening this morning the day improved significantly – helped by a good cooked breakfast!

Several people have asked me if I am going to make caustic comments about the Baptist Assembly.

No.

Not just because I know from personal experience how hard people work to create an Assembly that will bless those who attend. Not only because of Jeff Lucas’s message this evening that included an urging not to focus on trivia.

But mainly because I am enjoying it; I’m being blessed, inspired and challenged; and Jesus’ Kingdom has come, is here now and will come.

Sent from my BlackBerry smartphone from Virgin Media

And so to bed?

It has been a long day. I have travelled a long way to the Baptist Assembly. But it is GOOD to be here.

I have met old friends and former colleagues. Nice.

I have felt at home among my denominational family. Yeah.

I have worshipped Jesus with over 1500 fellow believers. Woohoo.

I have been blessed by being reminded that nobody is excluded from Jesus’ kingdom by divisions we might insert. Hooray.

Now the decision at 930 pm is whether to get an early night or head out with friends…
Sent from my BlackBerry smartphone from Virgin Media

BUGB gets mentioned occasionally in this blog

I have noticed that the number of hits on my blog increases significantly when it is mentioned on the BUGB daily E-news Sweep email. This often (but not always) coincides with occasions when I mention something specifically related to being a Baptist Christian. This tells me several things:

1. Lots more people read the BUGB E-news Sweep email than read my blog. This is not a problem to me at all. I have no delusions of grandeur or ambitions for world domination.

2. The people who read the links on the BUGB E-news Sweep emails are interested in baptist-related news, ideas and (in my case) daftness. This is possibly because Baptist Christians exist below the media radar unless something goes wrong.

3. The fact that the readership numbers decline after an E-news Sweep mention suggests to me that my blog is not something that attracts that many people. This is also not a problem to me at all. I still have no delusions of grandeur or ambitions for world domination. Indeed I write this blog principally as a means of my own reflections on my life and faith and as a feeble attempt at self-awareness.

Now the thing that fascinates me is whether this blog is sufficiently baptistic to merit a mention in the BUGB E-news Sweep. I think I have mentioned BUGB enough times that sirens will be going off at Baptist House in the Communications Department, but actually this blog entry might be described as ‘much ado about nothing’ so far.

So I had better add some meat to the gravy with an abrupt and unexpected plot twist.

I am incredibly disheartened at the responses by Christians to Rob Bell’s latest book: ‘Love Wins’. It has only just been released into the wild yet a lot of people seem to be getting their theological knickers in a twist about it. Presumably they have all had advance copies of the book and read it thoroughly in order to be so vexed about it. [laughs ironically]

I have ordered the book and when it comes I will read it with an open mind. If his views differ from mine I will accept that this is the case and not start saving for a visit to the USA so I can burn the book in front of his church, launch stones through the windows of his house and denounce him as a heretic who will burn in hell.

I suspect that the book will not offend. It will be thoroughly well researched, thoughtfully (if provocatively) written and will inspire a greater appreciation of God. If so, then ‘Hallelujah!’ If not, then it will be a shame. But I will not give myself a theological wedgy and my doctrinal knickers will remain untwisted.

A while ago Steve Chalke (a Baptist minister [note further mention of Baptists (and another sneaky one) to ingratiate myself with the BUGB (and another!) Comms Dept]) co-authored a book: ‘The Lost Message of Jesus’. In it he criticised the western Evangelical emphasis/bias on the ‘penal substitution’ model of the atonement. He did not declare it unbiblical or wrong, but he criticised how some Christians represent that way of describing what Jesus’ death means for us. He used a phrase to describe how that made him feel, which created a furore. And he had had the temerity to suggest that there were other models of the atonement in the Bible that we ought to explore and teach too. No wonder he was verbally lynched. [laughs ironically again, in case you had not picked it up].

I wonder how many of the people who criticised him had read the book from cover to cover. I did. I also had the opportunity to say ‘thank you’ to Steve Chalke for writing the book and renewing my appreciation of other ways of understanding what Jesus did for me on the cross. So in advance of Amazon delivering my Rob Bell book, ‘thank you, Rob’.

Now it may be that by writing this blog some of you will be finding that your ecclesiastical undergarments are becoming constrictive because they are twisting. Please pause, dear reader, and ask yourself if God is big enough to cope with people exploring him (and if he would prefer us to ignore him). Ask yourself if God is strong enough to withstand it when we write about him (even if we get it wrong). Ask yourself why you are so incensed. And if you still have a theological wedgy and your doctrinal knickers are still in a twist, bless you.

you heard about it here first

On 1 February this year I mused on my blog about what would happen if there was a transfer window system for Ministerial moves. I have another idea which may be a brilliant TV show. (I will tithe my royalties to BUGB Home Mission). When it comes on your TV screen as the next ‘reality’ show, remember where you saw it first.

DISCLAIMER: Any similarities to the ways in which churches actually choose their ministers in real reality is hopefully unlikely, is coincidental but would be very sad.

This was inspired (?) by watching the US version of The Apprentice last night. Other than being mesmerised by Donald Trump’s hair (is that the world’s biggest combover?) I was amazed at the way in which the would-be apprentices fought so hard to out-do their colleagues or run them down.

So… what about a Ministerial Settlement version of the Apprentice? We could get a dozen ministers who are looking to settle into a new church and set them a series of challenges each week. Each week the church in question would hold a church meeting and get rid of the candidate that was weakest.

the axe
who’s for the chop first?

Challenges could include: setting out an evangelism strategy for the church; carrying out a community survey; preaching on obscure passages; conducting pastoral visits to awkward church members (they could be acting if insufficiently cranky to make good TV viewing); explaining the Trinity to four-year-olds; baptising in icy water; changing the colour of the church tea cups; working a seventy-five hour week; and the finale would be judged on how many people became Christians during the show.

The last challenge came to me last night as I was contemplating this blog in the early hours (when I wanted to be asleep) and remembered hearing of Charles Spurgeon and the question he asked all would-be trainee ministers. He would ask them how many people they had brought to Christ. If the answer was ‘none’ he would send them away as unacceptable.

That is a sobering thought, since all of us are called to be ministers wherever Jesus has placed us.

So what about the denouement of each show – the moment when the church meeting gets rid of the weakest candidate? It’s a shame we are not a robe-wearing denomination, otherwise each week instead of being ‘fired’ the individual who is leaving could be declared ‘surplice to requirements’ and be defrocked. So how about they are told, “You’re not required!” or “You’re undesired!” or “You’re unadmired!”

And the name of the show?

How about: “The Injustice” or “The Bad Practice” or “The Prejudice” or (my preference) “The Disservice”

One final question: Where’s seeking God in all the razzmatazz?

Disciple: baffled, but willing to be led

Hello again bloggists. I have returned to the blogcave and am ready to release more random thoughts into the wild.

Waiting for journalists...
not actually chairs at the conference venue
– these look more comfortable!

I have been at the Eastern Baptist Association Ministers’ Conference. It was a real blessing. We were fed well physically (cooked breakfasts are always welcome) and spiritually. I was especially blessed by Glen Marshall’s sessions which had a title that was almost longer than the talks. Through exposing (expositing?) passages in Ezekiel, Deuteronomy and Acts we found ourselves refreshed, inspired, encouraged and challenged.

I loved Glen’s definition that he wanted to make into T-shirts: “Disciple… baffled, but willing to be led”. That describes how I often feel. Baffled that God would call me to do what he has called me to do. Baffled that he loves me unconditionally. Baffled at his grace. Baffled that other people find things I say (and occasionally that I blog) to be helpful. Baffled at… [insert many other options here]. Glen did say that he thought he ought to copyright that phrase, but since he hasn’t I will use it, but give him credit!

The Conference blessed in other ways, with talks by Bob Payne (Vicar in Bishops Stortford (what is a ‘stortford’, why would a bishop own one, and why would you name a place after the fact that a bishop owned a stortford?)), plenty of encouraging and enjoyable conversations with fellow ministers and their partners, and some time and space to reflect, relax and recreate (see Monday!).

Several things are still resonating with me. One is something that picked up from where I started on Monday morning. The idea that praying, reading my Bible and spending time with God are Urgent and Important was reinforced for me. Another was a reminder to be intentional about how we as a church engage with people with the good news of Jesus. Yes, we should be good news, but we should also be ready to share the good news. A third (linked to that) is the thought that perhaps there are occasions to use story-telling as a way of engaging people with the good news of Jesus. A fourth (linked to the second and third) is a reminder that a while ago I was planning to organise a Colchester Magic Club for anyone who was interested in it. I must get around to that… A fifth (linked to 2, 3 and 4) was a reminder that I was also planning to do some street magic outside our church to entertain and bless (and maybe baffle) passers-by.

These conferences are great, but I do come back buzzing with ideas that need time and space to reflect on and implement…

A preacher, who shall we say was “humor impaired,” attended a conference to help encourage and better equip pastors for their ministry. Among the speakers were many well known and dynamic speakers.

One such boldly approached the pulpit and, gathering the entire crowd’s attention, said, “The best years of my life were spent in the arms of a woman that wasn’t my wife!” The crowd was shocked! He followed up by saying, “And that woman was my mother!” – The crowd burst into laughter and delivered the rest of his talk, which went over quite well.

The next week, the pastor decided he’d give this humor thing a try, and use that joke in his sermon. As he surely approached the pulpit that sunny Sunday, he tried to rehearse the joke in his head. It suddenly seemed a bit foggy to him.

Getting to the microphone he said loudly, “The greatest years of my life were spent in the arms of another woman that was not my wife!” The congregation inhaled half the air in the room. After standing there for almost 10 seconds in the stunned silence, trying to recall the second half of the joke, the pastor finally blurted out, “…and I can’t remember who she was!”

prioritising priorities

I can remember a lecture at the Vicar Factory where I trained (the awesome Spurgeon’s College if you are interested). That statement may surprise you for two reasons: one is that I can remember a lecture, the second is that I actually am trained.

Anyhoo… the lecture was in my final year when we were learning some of the practical aspects of being a minister and we were exploring how we prioritise. We were shown a matrix with four words – urgent, important, non-urgent and unimportant. The advice was to deal with things in the following order… urgent and important, non-urgent and important, urgent and unimportant and non-urgent and unimportant. It is sound advice.

But it doesn’t always work in practice. If I focus on the urgent and important I may well spend my whole life reacting to events and working up against deadlines. I will find myself running around doing worthy things but feeling that I am not in control. There is a time and a place to stop, set aside the urgent and important and simply rest in God’s presence, relax in a bath or watch a film with friends (probably not a good idea to try to do all three at once!). This is what God means by recreation. We all need time and space to be re-created, to chill, to breathe gently and to be blessed.

possibly only funny
if you have seen the film,
watch EastEnders and
know about old-style printers…

I am conscious of that this week as I am going to a three-day Ministers’ Conference where I hope to receive, re-charge and recreate. One thing that this could mean is that five days of work will need to be crammed into two days at the end of the week. That is if I allow myself to be dominated by the matrix. But sometimes we need to realise that the matrix is not the only reality (see what I did there?) and place a priority on us receiving as well as giving.

Of course such things as recreation are urgent and important, but if we are honest we know that somehow they don’t seem like that to us or to others.

By the way, I am hoping to carry on blogging at the Conference if they have wifi but please forgive me if there are a couple of blank days…