targeted adverts

Advertisers pay money to put their adverts in the places where they thing the right people will see them. Daytime TV is full of ads from injury lawyers because they reckon that those who have had an accident at work will be lying on the sofa recuperating.

The internet is getting smarter too. Ads on Facebook are apparently tailored to my profile, which may explain why I have been regularly getting ads for cheap clerical shirts. But the internet is not smart enough yet. They have not worked out that I don’t wear clerical shirts, nor that I am based in England and am very unlikely to be importing clerical shirts that I don’t wear from the good old US of A.

Clearly it is in the interests of companies to try to find potential clients and the software that they use to try to identify such people is getting more sophisticated. I am not going to get into the privacy questions here, which are immense and difficult to work out, nor am I going to have a rant against rampant commercialism. You’ll have to look at other bloggerel I have written for that.

What intrigues me is the idea of targetting those who are most interested. What if churches could somehow discern who was more interested than most in finding out about the Christian faith? We could focus our efforts on them.

In a sense that’s what Back to Church Sunday is about, inviting people who used to go to church to come back, because at least they may be lukewarm and may have some residual happy memories of being in church that we can tap into and use to encourage a return.

In a sense it’s what Alpha courses do, extending an invitation to those who are interested in finding out about the Christian faith to come into a warm, welcoming environment in which to learn and discuss. Those who come are those who are interested.

In a sense it’s what happens on Sundays. Those who come over the threshold of the church are, on the whole, people who want to be there. The majority may already have a vibrant faith but some come to find out more.

There is always room for improvement though. Perhaps we could find out from local census data how many people describe themselves as Christian in our town and compare that with the church attendance figures. That way we could perhaps offer some targeted advertising at the wards in which the disparity is the greatest. Perhaps we could carry out our own local surveys and discover those who say they are Christians but don’t go to church. If we got their contact details we could make sure we contact them and extend invitations to appropriate events or courses.

Or perhaps we could do what Jesus told us to do: “Go and make disciples, teaching and baptising them.” As a strategy goes it’s not very specific. It’s rather lacking in detail. It’s actually pretty vague. He did not say that we should limit ourselves only to those who are interested. He did not say that we should focus on those who are closer to the Kingdom of God. In fact he went out of his way to announce that the Kingdom of God was within the grasp of everyone – whether or not they were ‘warm contacts’.

Who are you sat next to as you read this? Who will you meet later today? Are they ‘warm’ or ‘cold’. It doesn’t matter. God is empowering you by his Spirit to be a free sample of Jesus to them. Making disciples is a gentle process in which God uses us to explain, encourage, discuss, invite, share, bless, serve, support, pray, give and serve (yes I know I said that twice) those around us and give them a taste of Jesus.

Ask for his help and you will be amazed at how much he has already been at work in the lives of those who don’t think they are interested in, or even are hostile to, Jesus.

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!”

open minds

Mind the GAPIt’s later in the day than I had planned to post this, but I hope you won’t mind. Actually this bloggerel is all about minding. Or at least the opening of minds.

Prompted by a friend’s request (see yesterday) I looked in my Bible on Sunday to suggest some passages for him to read. One of the ones I suggested is perhaps my favourite chapter in the whole Bible: Luke 24. There is just SO much in it!

I love the contrast between despair and delight that Jesus’ friends experience when they realise that he is risen from the dead.

I laugh at the comic timing of Jesus as he appears to Cleopas and his friend, disappears just as they recognise him and then reappears just after they have run a mini-marathon back to Jerusalem.

I revel in the convincing proof he gives to his friends that he is alive – foundational to the faith of millions across the centuries and about 2 billion today!

I am encouraged at how slowly his friends realised what was actually happening… perhaps I am not so slow myself.

And at the moment I am excited by the possibilities of two Bible studies in the chapter – one peripatetic and one at a primitive cafe-church. Jesus opened the minds of these people to show them how what was happening in front of them had been right in front of them all the time. It was hidden in plain sight in the Bible (or at least the bits they had at that time). God consistently reveals more about himself to his followers. He is in the business of opening our eyes to the truth by his Spirit at work in us. And he is always keen for us to get to know him better.

And of course he finishes by telling them that they will be free samples of Jesus once they have received the Spirit. (OK it’s a very loose paraphrase!).

May Jesus open your minds today…

Be blessed, be a blessing

There was a barber that thought that he should share his faith with his customers more than he had been doing lately. So the next morning when the sun came up and the barber got up out of bed he said, “Today I am going to witness to the first man that walks through my door.”

Soon after he opened his shop the first man came in and said, “I want a shave!” The barber said, “Sure, just sit in the seat and I’ll be with you in a moment.” The barber went in the back and prayed a quick desperate prayer saying, “God, the first customer came in and I’m going to witness to him. So give me the wisdom to know just the right thing to say to him. Amen.”

Then quickly the barber came out with his razor in one hand and a Bible in the other while saying “Good morning sir. I have a question for you… Are you ready to die?”

mundanity

Bored Bear 1I have realised why I sometimes feel pressure with this blog. I know that a few of you bloggists like to read the bloggerel in the mornings. But as often I am blogging the reflections I have had about life, the Universe and everything, I need to have had time to reflect, to consider, or just for something to have happened. That’s not always possible.

Today is a case in point. Soon I have to go to the church to serve at Open Door and I won’t be back here until mid-afternoon. If I do not reflect on anything before I leave, or if I am running late, or if nothing happens, then some of you are left bereft of bloggerel and (I know the truth) don’t have a joke to make you chortle/groan.

But my life is mundane. Few exciting things happen. A lot happens that needs to remain confidential. I don’t want to make things up for you, mainly because it won’t help me (there is a selfish motivation to this, you know). I think I have more or less run out of inspiration that I can gain from looking around my study. Not many new things arrive here (except a new monitor – see earlier this week and you will see how my mind works…).

But that is part of the point, I think. Life is mundane on the whole. Few of us live high-octane, adrenhaline-fuelled lives. Life as portrayed in the soaps and films is (sorry to break this to you) fiction.

So when Jesus promises he is with us always, he is not only there in the exciting moments, the tragic moments, the joyful moments, the devastating moments. He is also there in the mundane, the everyday, the boring. The knack is first to look for him there and then to spot him. It’s a bit like Where’s Wally? (or Waldo  across the Atlantic). Where’s Jesus? He’s there in the warm smile from the person you let pull out in front of you. He’s there in the cup of tea of coffee that helps you relax. He’s there in the awkward phone call you’d rather not make. He’s there in the discussion about last night’s telly…

Be assured. He’s with us. I find that he sometimes jumps out and goes ‘boo!’ and other times remains discretely in the background. But he’s there.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

Some more from Milton Jones:

Old ladies in wheelchairs with blankets over their legs, I don’t think so…retired mermaids.

Incredible to think isn’t it, that every single Scotsman, started off as a scotch egg. Cold and gingery.

Sometimes I wonder what my grandfather would think of what I do, he spent his whole life in the kebab business, was buried with all his equipment, Probably turning in his grave.

The pollen count, now that’s a difficult job. Especially if you’ve got hay fever.

I lost my job as a cricket commentator for saying “I don’t want to bore you with the details”.

Militant feminists, I take my hat off to them, they don’t like that.
Source: http://www.thehumorblog.com/live-universe-dvd-milton-jones/557/#ixzz1Y6JGkSyA

running commentary

Eric Liddell

I have been reflecting on Eric Liddell. His story is best known from the film Chariots of Fire which I am sure we will see a lot of in the lead up to London 2012.

He was a strong believer in Jesus and believed that competing in the Olympics on a Sunday was dishonouring to God. So instead of running in his favoured 100m he ran in the 400m. In the film we are led to believe that this decision was made at the Paris Olympics but in reality it was made several months beforehand when the schedules were announced. Eric Liddell spent the remaining months training for the 400m but only managed modest times.

As the race was about to start he was handed a piece of paper from one of the American team with the words: “He who honours me I will honour” and that inspired Liddell to run the race of his life. He won the race by running it flat out (it was normally run more like a middle-distance race with a sprint finish), knocked two seconds off his personal best and broke the World Record.

If you want to be inspired, watch this clip on Youtube.

The following year Eric Liddell left to become a missionary in China where he worked in Education and Medical missions before being captured by the Japanese in WW2 and interned in a camp. He died in the camp a few months before the war ended. One of the survivors of the camp, Norman Cliff described Liddell in his book as “the finest Christian gentleman it has been my pleasure to meet. In all the time in the camp, I never heard him say a bad word about anybody.”

In the film (and why haven’t you watched the clip) Eric explains to his sister about why he runs. “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.”

What words would you substitute for ‘fast’ in your life? And when you use that gift, are you offering it as an act of worship? Do you sense God’s pleasure?

Be blessed, be a blessing

The Sports Coach stormed into the University Vice Chancellor’s office and demanded a raise right then and there. “Please,” protested the Vice Chancellor, “you already make more than the entire History department.”

“Yeah, maybe so, but you don’t know what I have to put up with,” the coach blustered. “Look.”

He went out into the hall and grabbed an athlete who was jogging down the hallway. “Run over to my office and see if I’m there,” he ordered.

Twenty minutes later the athlete returned, sweaty and out of breath.

“You’re not there, sir,” he reported.

“Oh, I see what you mean,” conceded the Vice Chancellor, scratching his head. “I would have phoned.”

the fruit of the burger

Yesterday was brilliant. We had a lovely service in which we baptised two people with very different testimonies, as I mentioned last week.

just a bun so that my veggie friends are not offended

It was very moving to hear how Dan had turned up at an outreach event we were hosting for Hope in Colchester (Hope 08), drawn by the music. He sat and listened and someone invited him to come to church the next day. He has been coming since then and gave a moving testimony about how he has given his life to Jesus and is committed to following him. If you were part of the Hope 08 event, be blessed and be encouraged about the fruit of that day. Those who organised it, hosted it, played and sang, cooked burgers on the barbecue and gave them out, chatted to the people on our forecourt or in the street, be encouraged because God used that event as a significant milestone on Dan’s journey of faith.

We often don’t get the privilege of knowing that something small we said or did made a significant difference to people’s lives. They move on, we move on, time passes and we forget all about it. Adeyinka, the other person we baptised on Sunday, said in his testimony that I said something to him which helped him decide to be baptised. I honestly can’t remember it. But God used that moment to bless and encourage him.

I want to encourage you to keep on being a free sample of Jesus this week. You may never know the impact it makes on others around you, but God is at work behind the scenes and he can turn a sentence into a new chapter in someone’s life. He can transform a cup of coffee into living water (water into wine is nothing!) He can change a phone call into a conversation with him.

I also want to encourage you to pause and marvel at how incredible God is. He takes ordinary acts from ordinary people and does something extraordinary with them that translates into faith.

Be blessed and be a blessing.

Burger-related joke

At a local Burger King an elderly couple came in and ordered one burger, one order of fries and one coke with two glasses. When they got to their booth, the man placed a napkin in front of himself and one in front of his wife, then proceeded to divide the fries, cut the burger in half and divided the coke equally.

A gentleman nearby noticed and offered to buy them another burger, fries and Coke.

The woman then said, “No you don’t understand. We’ve been married over 50 years and all our life we agreed to split everything right down the middle.”

Her husband then began eating, as she sat with her hands in her lap.

The gentleman nearby noticed and asked the lady why she wasn’t eating.

She replied, “As I said before, we split everything right down the middle, and it’s his day to use the teeth first.”

footprints

I was thinking earlier this morning [sound of readers fainting in surprise] and for some reason the phrase ‘leave nothing behind except your footprints’ came to my mind. Psychologists may have fun with analysing that but I want to lead you along my train of thought that came from that starting point.

FootprintsThe phrase is one which is used to describe how we should treat the countryside when walking through it or camping in it. In other words take all your rubbish with you, leave no human-made objects behind you and minimise the impact on the environment to that which will soon fade naturally.

I realise that it is not intended as a description of our life, but I sometimes wonder if sometimes I live in the same way – leaving nothing behind me except my footprints. Most of us want to be remembered when we have shuffled off this mortal coil, and I guess most of us want to be remembered fondly. But what will be our legacy? Not financial, but what difference will our lives have made?

I think this is where it links to yesterday’s blog. How many people will give thanks to God because we led them to him? How many people will be in heaven because of us? How many people will give thanks to God because we were his hands and feet and voice and hug and encouragement and cook and shopper and gardener and chauffeur and … and … and…

This is not so we can have a great eulogy at our funeral or so there will have to be a full-page spread in the paper to print our obituary. It is about making a difference in the name of Jesus so people will say how wonderful he is.

Footprints

WARNING – if the ‘footprints in the sand’ reflection / poem is precious to you I would advise you to stop reading this blog at this point and re-read ‘footprints in the sand’ instead for your edification and encouragement. Reading on will probably ruin it for you.

OK?

Still here?

You have been warned.

A man had a dream. In his dream he saw himself walking along a beach. He looked back and saw footprints in the sand behind him and realised that he was looking at his life stretching out behind him. He saw all of the major events in his life.

As he looked he realised that alongside his footprints there was another set of footprints that belonged to Jesus – his constant companion.

He looked closer and realised that there were occasions when instead of two sets of footprints in the sand there was only one set of footprints.

The man turned to Jesus and asked, “Lord, why are there times when there is only one set of footprints? Is that because you were carrying me?”

Jesus turned to him and smiled. “My son,” he said, “that’s when we were hopping!”

Keep on hopping with Jesus 😀