too good to be true

iStock_000008192999SmallFollowing on from the Spam, spam, spam, spam bloggage earlier this week a friend told me about how they had clicked on a link on a well-known social media website (rhymes with spacehook) and a pop-up had come up saying that they could be in line to win an iPhone 6 or other consumer tech from a giveaway section on a large online retailer named after a South American river. They clicked again and found that, lo and behold, they had won a top of the range iPad!

But they were a bit suspicious. The link supposedly to this retailing giant’s website was to the .com version not the .co.uk version, but it was still showing the value of the items in £s.

And more than that, they had never heard of this retailer giving away such expensive items. And why would they?

In the end they applied the ‘if it seems too good to be true then it probably is’ and tried to leave that page. But the pop up kept popping up, and when they tried to delete it the page it was referring to was definitely not the online retailer.

They managed to close the windows in the end, but when they were telling me about it I wondered whether that might be similar to how some churches go about things.

We tell people that we have an offer that is too good to be true, offering them things that they would want, and then when they decide that it’s not true we make it difficult for them to leave. That sounds like a cult to me!

What do I mean? Well, some churches seem to promise a relationship with God where all your dreams come true. Or they say that if you become a Christian then everything will be wonderful after that. Or they suggest that following Jesus will answer all your questions. Or they say that your problems will fade into insignificance if you become a Christian…

And (forgive me if I lack faith here) that’s just not what I read about in the Bible, and it doesn’t match with my experience of following Jesus. Your problems don’t disappear, but you do find that you are not alone with them because you can become more aware of God’s Spirit in you. All your dreams won’t come true, but you may find that your hopes and dreams change to become more in line with God’s will. Everything is not always wonderful, but grace, hope and forgiveness are available in abundance. All your questions won’t be answered, and you’ll still doubt at times, but you’ll find that the questions might seem less important, or might even change to better ones…

I wonder whether churches add special offers to the Good News of Jesus because they wonder whether it’s enough – a relationship with God, a fresh start in life, God’s Spirit in you, a worldwide family, a purpose to live for, hope for the future… But I believe that if we are honest with people that ‘life in all its fullness’ includes the side of life that can lead to the expression of expletives but knowing that God is with you in it, perhaps they will be more ready to believe us with the rest of what Jesus has to offer.

Just a thought.

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Be blessed, be a blessing

fruitful gifts

Dear bloggists

I hope that you did not feel too short-changed by yesterday’s bloggage. I could not resist being a bit cheeky and hope that it might have at least caused the corners of your mouth to curve upwards slightly. Today I am getting a bit more serious…

"I want yours!"
“I want yours!”

A while ago I wrote a poem about prayer-envy (it’s the prayer pome if you scroll down on that page). I could have written a similar one about preaching envy, pastoring envy, memory envy and so on… There are so many people whose gifts as Ministers are so much better than mine. I am not saying this out of false humility (my family will tell you that!). I am not saying this because I actually have the envy I have hinted at above. And I am not saying this because I am have issues around self-esteem. I am saying it because it is true: there are many Ministers who are better at these things than I am.

But while I may not be as good as them, God has still called me, equipped me and wants me to get on with being the best I can be as his Spirit encourages, trains, supports, inspires and transforms me. He has given me the array of gifts he has given me in order to fulfil the task to which he has called me: and he wants to help me to make the most of them. He wants me to learn, to grow, to improve, to emulate what I see of Jesus in others and his Spirit is at work in me to help that happen.

And that’s where the rubber hits the road. I should not try to be the other Ministers, I should not try to do things in the same way that they do them. But if I see something Christ-like in them I should ask for God’s help to be like that. It’s not about emulating behaviour, but about character-transformation.

Sometimes it seems to me that we make an unnatural division between spiritual fruit and spiritual gifts. God gives all of us gifts and talents. But believe it or not we can use them in ways that are ungodly – in ways that are unlike Jesus. He wants us to use them lovingly, joyfully, peacefully, patiently, kindly, revealing his goodness, faithfully, gently and with godly self-control. God’s spiritual gifts and fruit are intrinsically linked. If I can do that more and more I will be happy, content and relaxed.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

thanks, thanks and thanks again

Greetings bloggites. I have now started my sabbatical leave and have decided that I will continue to post bloggerel here. There are two reasons: vanity and necessity.

The vanity part comes from not wanting to lose any bloggites like you from my list of followers due to inactivity. I love to see the hit ticker counting upwards and it won’t do that if I am silent here.

The necessity part is not because of some compulsive blogging disorder, but because for me my blog is one way in which I reflect on what God may be saying to me. If I stop and / or get out of that routine I reckon it would undermine one of the purposes of sabbatical leave – to reflect. So, when it is possible I will be continuing to pour out the usual bloggerel.

Today’s comes in the form of a clock. This was a kind and mischievous gift from some good friends in the church, and is designed to help me keep track of my time and plan my days.

I now know what to do during my sabbatical leave

Thank you!

Last week was a family holiday week in Devon, and when we got home there was an envelope waiting for me with some money in it to boost my coffee fund during the sabbatical leave.

The gift was anonymous, but if it was you: Thank you!

Another kind person in the church has given some money towards the cost of the sabbatical leave.

Thank you!

I have received a grant from BUGB towards the costs of the sabbatical leave as well.

Thank you!

And then there’s the opportunity to take sabbatical leave at all. The church has been generous in making this possible: giving me the time and space to reflect, refresh, re-envision, (go on) retreat, relax and alliterate.

Thank you very much!

People have been very generous to me, and I feel incredibly blessed by it all. And that does not even begin to scratch the surface of how I have experienced generosity:

My brilliant colleague Lynsey has been generous in taking over while I have this leave.

Thank you!

My family are having to adjust their routines a bit to cope with me being around a bit more (especially in the evenings).

Thank you!

Many people have assured me of their ongoing prayer support during this time of sabbatical leave.

Thank you!

Others have sent me messages of blessing and good wishes.

Thank you!

And then there are all the blessings I have received from God, exerpeienced through and because of the greatest gift of all, Jesus:

Love, grace, forgiveness, eternal life, His Spirit, peace, spiritual gifts, spiritual fruit, perseverance, his presence, fresh starts, refreshment, the Bible, this church, the list is as endless as his blessings.

So, finally, an enormous THANK YOU! goes to him.

How have you been blessed recently? Whom have you blessed?

Be blessed, be a blessing.

 

There’s this guy who had been lost and walking in the desert for about 2 weeks. One hot day, he sees the home of a missionary. Tired and weak, he crawls up to the house and collapses on the doorstep. The missionary finds him and nurses him back to health. Feeling better, the man asks the missionary for directions to the nearest town. On his way out the backdoor, he sees this horse. He goes back into the house and asks the missionary, “Could I borrow your horse and give it back when I reach the town?”

The missionary says, “Sure but there is a special thing about this horse. You have to say ‘Thank God’ to make it go and ‘Amen’ to make it stop.”

Not paying much attetion, the man says, “Sure, ok.”

So he gets on the horse and says, “Thank God” and the horse starts walking. Then he says, “Thank God, thank God,” and the horse starts trotting. Feeling really brave, the man says, “Thank God, thank God, thank God, thank God, thank God” and the horse just takes off. Pretty soon he sees this cliff coming up and he’s doing everything he can to make the horse stop.

“Whoa, stop, hold on!!!!”

Finally he remembers, “Amen!!”

The horse stops 4 inches from the cliff. Then the man leans back in the saddle and says, “Thank God.”

creative tension

Yesterday I was in a meeting with some incredibly creative and talented people gathered at Baptist House… writers, artists, designers, innovators, bloggers, photographers, film-makers, journalists, presenters, programmers and much more beyond. We had each been asked to share briefly something creative that introduced us to the group. When I first got that email I thought about what I could do: I could do a magic trick, I could tell some jokes, I could stick a rubber glove on my head…

And then, if I am honest, I forgot about it. Indeed I forgot about it until I arrived in the meeting and looked at the agenda. Aaaaargh! I was thrilled that I was not going first, and did some quick brain-wracking. What did I have with me?

No playing cards or props: magic tricks not likely to go well then.

No rubber gloves: that little display will be a bit flat without one.

Couldn’t think of any jokes: not going to go down well.

What to do? The time was getting closer and so far others had shared a story they had written, a radio interview with themselves, a ‘wordle’ they had created from tweets in response to ‘how would you describe me?’… Pressure was building. And I think that was what led me to my eventual solution.

And then I remembered my bloggerel, which may have been what had got me into the meeting in the first place. I had my tablet with me (Motorola Xoom) and thankfully had previously been at Baptist House with it and had logged into the open network. I switched it on, desperately hoping for a signal, and ‘hallelujah!’ there it was.

I thought about reading out a bloggage, but that seemed a bit sad. So in the end I read my ‘symbiosis’ poem (see ‘pomes’ page above). It’s autobiographical and is about the pressure I feel when I can’t find something and how my wife, Sally, is always able to find them.

I think it went okay. But if you were in that meeting and are now reading this, I am very sorry for being unprepared. I have often wondered whether I ought to start a new blog / ministry called SOTP. It stands for ‘seat of the pants’ and would relate cautionary tales about just about getting away with things or preparing at the last minute. I would intend it as a warning and encouragement to be prepared, however I have a feeling that it might turn into a celebration of all things last-minute and be counter-productive!

I want to say ‘thank you’ to the BUGB Communications Department for hosting the meeting, which I found very insightful, inspiring and encouraging. I hope it met the purpose for which they called the meeting – to help look creatively at how we communicate as a denomination. I drove home with lots of ideas buzzing around my head. Some of them may emerge one day. You’ll probably read about it here first.

One person during the meeting said, “I am not creative,” and in that context with so many talented people I felt like agreeing with them. Except that we are all creative. I believe it’s part of being created in the image of our Creator. Some people get creative with paint, with computers, with websites, with words, with images, with video and so on. Some people get creative in the way that they encourage others, look for ways to bless them, do their work diligently, suggest ways of doing administrative tasks better, in the intonation of their voice as they speak, even the way that they greet you. We are all creative in our own way: and that’s what makes the kaleidoscope of people around us. Look to see creativity in anyone and you will find it – appreciate it when you see it. Look for it in yourself and give thanks to your Creator. Then get creative!

Be blessed, be a blessing.

COPLEMTLEY – that’s completely out of order. (see yesterday’s bloggage for context, and yes, there may be a series!)

motivation, inspiration, perspiration

I have been reading a bit recently (and doing some personal reflection) on different strengths and weaknesses, different preferred learning styles and different ways of looking at life’s problems and blessings. We are all different. If that comment shocked you, welcome back to the real world from wherever you have been cocooned for the rest of your life.

But recognising and acknowledging those differences is important. Once we have done that we can start to consider how we can accommodate those differences in our relationships.

One thing I read recently in a book designed to help us be better people and maximise ourselves (yes it is American) was saying that we should spend more time playing to our strengths and less time trying to improve our weaknesses. I can see that there is some wisdom in that. If Usain Bolt decided to become a marathon runner he would probably finish last, but because he trains and works to his strength as a sprinter he is awesome.

But there’s something that niggles me about that attitude. If we only ever focus on our strengths, how will we grow as a more rounded human being? If we only maximise the bits we are good at, do we settle for less than adequate in other areas of our life?

In our evening service this Sunday we will be looking again at spiritual gifts: 1 Corinthians 14. I reckon that these gifts are often latent within us and God’s Spirit simply wakes them up, enhances them (perhaps) and gives us the courage and desire to use them. Look at Moses. He resisted God’s call, saying that he was no good and couldn’t speak well in public. Later events tend to affirm that God was right (He will be glad to know He has my endorsement!).

Look at yourself. You may find that in your daily life you have to do things that are ‘outside your comfort zone’, but you do them and having done them you have the confidence to try again (unless you fall flat on your face). God’s Spirit takes what we offer him and asks us to  do what he knows we can do with his help.

This is not, “I can do anything I put my mind to,” or, “you can do it if you want it badly enough.” Those are blatantly not true. You won’t be able to fly unaided no matter how badly you want to. But you can do anything God wants you to. He will motivate you, inspire you, equip you and encourage you but you need to put it into practice, practice, practice.

He has the resources (many of them planted in you already), the grace, the encouragement and the wisdom to be able to help you help him help others.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

1. How many charismatics does it take to change a light bulb?
Only one since his/her hands are in the air anyway

2. How many Calvinists does it take to change a light bulb?
None. God has predestined when the lights will be on. Or… Calvinists do not change light bulbs. They simply read out the instructions and pray the light bulb will decide to change itself.

3. How many Baptists does it take to change a light bulb?
CHANGE???????

4. No. Really, how many Baptists does it take to change a light bulb?
At least 15. One to change the light bulb, and three committees to approve the change and decide who brings the potato salad.

5. How many TV evangelists does it take to change a light bulb?
One. but for the message of light to continue, send in your donation today.

6. How many fundamentalists does it take to change a light bulb?
Only one because anymore would be compromise and ecumenical standards of light would slip.

7. How many Anglicans or Catholics does it take to change a light bulb?
None. They always use candles.

Swiss Army Ministers

I am still processing a lot of the ideas, information and inspiration that I received from the conference this week. (Did you notice the alliteration? I am a Baptist minister who trained at Spurgeon’s College!).

[brings thought process back to the matter in hand] Ahem.

When I trained at Spurgeon’s College (note joined up link) I was trained as a Swiss Army Minister. That is a Minister who is able and expected to fulfil all the roles needed for being a Minister in a church. There is nothing inherently wrong with that. Most churches need their Ministers to be a Jack (or Jill) of all trades and master of at least one.

But I was struck at the conference by the thought that Paul’s five-fold description of ministry in Ephesians 4 from verse 11…

It was [Jesus] who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers,    12 to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up  13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

… is Swiss Army Ministry in many churches. The Minister is expected to be an apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher. This places an incredible burden and responsibility on her or him, and indeed probably places unrealistic expectations on her or him. Paul was speaking of different people being called to those roles, not ONE person fulfilling all those roles. Yes, there will be aspects of all of the roles that will be fulfilled by a Minister, but can we really be omnicompetent? I know I am not (even if I sometimes delude myself that I am or start to believe my ego).

In churches of any size that is difficult to do. In larger churches it is impossible for one person to fulfil all of those roles adequately. This is why larger churches need teams of people that complement each other (and hopefully compliment each other too). This is why churches that are not larger need to make sure that the roles are being fulfilled by different people within the church and not expect their Minister to do them all.

I can remember at Spurgeon’s College being asked what my personal mission statement is. I said that it was to do myself out of a job. My naive ambition was so to equip my church that they did not need me any more! As I look back on 17 years of being a Minister I realise that more often than not I have tried to be a Swiss Army Minister and in the attempt or in the projection of being such a person I can disable others from fulfilling their Ministry.

I am in the process of trying to explore the five-fold ministry and consider which of them is my primary gift. That is NOT to say that the others are less important. What it does mean is that I need to work harder on the others to ensure that other people are released, encouraged and trained to use theirs so that instead of a Swiss Army Minister we have a whole toolkit of ministers (aka the Church).

And let’s never forget the purpose of ministry – “to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”

So what are you?

Corporal Jones was assigned to the military induction center, where he advised new recruits about their government benefits, especially their insurance.

It wasn’t long before Captain Smith noticed that Corporal Jones had almost a 100% record for insurance sales, which had never happened before. Rather than ask about this, the Captain stood in the back of the room and listened to Jones’s sales pitch.

Jones explained the basics of the Insurance to the new recruits, and then said: “If you have Insurance and go into battle and are killed, the government has to pay £200,000 to your beneficiaries. If you don’t have insurance, and you go into battle and get killed, the government only has to pay a maximum of £6000.”

“Now,” he concluded, “which bunch do you think they are going to send into battle first?”

Dear Father Christmas…

It’s only 29 days to Christmas. Somehow the countdown seems less important to me than when I was a child. I’m not sure how far back the countdown would be (I don’t think it ever reached 3 figures) but with a birthday in February it always seemed a long time until presents.

On Sunday morning we had a guest preacher for our church anniversary, Rev Chris Andre-Watson. Chris is a buddy of mine from my days at the minister factory and it was a joy to have him with us. One thing he said resonated with me when he was speaking about our consumerist society. He said that they were thinking of renaming their daughter ‘Argos’ because that is her favourite book. She goes through the new catalogues ringing the items she wants. That is also our experience with one of our offspring, especially the autumn/winter catalogue because that is the one that would have potential Christmas presents in.

Is it just my imagination or have Christmas lists become more demanding? I think it used to be that you would ask someone for some ideas of what they would like as a gift. Now we give people exact details of the items we want (including colour) and expect that this will be bought. I don’t want to discount myself from this process as I know I do it too, but there is something brilliant in my experience about the unrequested and unexpected present. The item that you have no idea what it is until you open it.

Christmas presentsThis shopping list approach can become the paradigm for my praying if I am not careful. I have been looking again at my prayer life and whether the balance is good. I realise that a lot of the time I have a Christmas present list rather than some ideas. I know what I want Jesus to do for me rather than ‘this would be nice but your will be done’. But God is gracious and patient with me. He gently corrects and encourages me to keep at it. And on a regular basis he blesses me in an unrequested and unexpected way. Like the encouraging letter, email or phone call. Like the ‘thank you’ for something you had not realised anyone had noticed. Like the joy of seeing people grow into and in their faith.

I’m going bald (in case you had not noticed). I asked Father Christmas for something to keep the rest of my hair in. He gave me a paper bag.

Buddum tish