expending your energy

power buttonToday I had an email from our energy supplier to tell me that a new statement was available online. Earlier this year we changed from one of the main suppliers to a smaller one that seeks to use more renewable energy while at the same time actually being cheaper than some of the main ones. That seemed like a good deal.

I checked online and looked at our usage (partly estimated because we haven’t been with them a year) on a clever chart which showed how our Direct Debit related to our projected annual costs. At the moment, in the summer months, our energy usage is much lower than it will be in the winter. We use less gas because there is no need for the heating to be on. We use less electricity because it is lighter for longer.

At the moment we are in credit with the energy supplier (and they are paying good interest on that credit – better than my bank!). During the summer we will no doubt build up a lot of credit, which we will then use up in the winter. I am hoping that at the end of the year it will all balance out. It seems reminiscent to me of Joseph’s advice to Pharaoh in the Bible – to store up food in the years of plenty ready for the years of famine.

Our consumer culture seems to discourage that approach. If we have the resources then the ubiquitous advertisements will urge and entice us to spend it on newer versions of what we already have, or on new things that we don’t have. If we don’t have the resources then that’s okay, stick it on your credit card and pay it back later. If you can’t get a credit card or you have already maxed it out, no problem – take a so-called payday loan and repay it at iniquitous interest rates that bear no relation to the actual cost of borrowing.

Buy now, spend now, live for the moment – don’t worry about the future.

This is the moment where the preacher really lays into the culture. Get ready. Brace yourself…

Luke 12:16-21 New International Version – UK

16 And [Jesus] told them this parable: ‘The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, “What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.”

18 ‘Then he said, “This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, ‘You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.’”

Hold on, is Jesus actually endorsing the consumerist approach here? Is he really suggesting that saving and planning for the future is wrong and pointless?

Well, no.

He was actually parodying the ‘more, more, more’ mindset that is behind our consumerist lifestyle: the part of us that responds willing to the enticing adverts. I missed off the last line of what Jesus said in that parable – this is the actual ending:


20 ‘But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?”

21 ‘This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich towards God.’

And a little later on Luke tells us that Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

It’s not that prudent planning for the future is wrong. What is wrong is a dependence on ourselves, our resources and our plans and a failure to recognise that there is a God-dimension to all of this. Our Father in heaven wants us to acknowledge and rely on him for our daily bread. He wants us to recognise how valuable we are to him and how much he is looking out for us. He wants us to realise that living a comfortable lifestyle is not the aim and purpose of life: he created us for eternity with him that will surpass anything we can imagine.

Saving and planning for the future is not bad. Living within our means is not wrong. In fact they are commendable and worthy approaches to life. But if that’s the limit of our forward thinking we are investing in the wrong things.

Be blessed, be a blessing

some assembly required

I have been given two books. The lovely Sally, my wife, went to a charity shop yesterday and came back with a carrier bag of books (they are selling them by the bag now!) and two were for me. One was a book of card tricks, and I won’t be sharing any quotes from that with you. The other is a selection of stories told by after dinner speakers. This one tickled me:

A visiting clergyman went to a small village to take the evening service as the resident parson was ill. As he had not been there before he arrived in good time and had a look around the church. He saw a collecting box with a card over it: ‘For church expenses’ and he put in 10p.

When the service was over the verger came into the vestry with the collecting box. He said, “It has always been our custom to give the contents of this box to any visiting clergyman we may have.”

coin handHe selected a key from a bunch he held and, after opening the box, he said, “My word, sir, you are lucky tonight: there’s 10p in it!” and he handed the money over.

When he reached home the clergyman told his wife and small daughter of his experience. The girl’s answer was, “Well you see, daddy, if you had put more into the box you would have got more out of it.”

[insert your own application here*].

Be blessed, be a blessing.

*That’s where some assembly is required for this bloggage.

the future is bright, the future is God’s

Hello, dear bloggites. I hope and pray that 2012 will bring blessing, comfort, encouragement and peace to you all.

It will also probably bring a lot more bloggerel from me – you have been warned!

The good old Baptist Union of Great Britain is having a very serious look at itself in the face of a very large hole in its finances. As part of this they have formed a ‘futures group’ to “re-imagine what Christ is calling us to do as a Baptist people in the UK, prioritise key areas of our shared life and mission and in doing that move towards a balanced budget.”

Now while I applaud their approach, which includes a wide-ranging consultation process, and while I agree that we should always seek to be financially prudent in our planning, I can’t help feeling just a twinge of concern that this is being driven by financial concerns rather than God’s mission imperative. I appreciate that as a charity we must seek to be good stewards of our resources and that we cannot continue to use up resources recklessly. But if God wants us to be doing some things, we can be sure he will also provide the resources for us to do them. In fact, I reckon he already has, but it may be that they are currently being used in the wrong places or in the wrong way. I hope that this is the main thrust of the process.

I can’t help but be reminded of the following parable:

The Parable of the Bags of Gold

    14 “Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. 15 To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. 16 The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. 17 So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. 18 But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.

   19 “After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. 20 The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’

   21 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

   22 “The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’

   23 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

   24 “Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25 So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’

   26 “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 27 Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.

   28 “‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. 29 For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 30 And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ (Matthew 25:14-30, NIV)

DIGGING IN THE DIRTI fully appreciate that this parable is not about denominational budgets and priorities. But I wonder whether we will have the courage to take the resources that God has given us and risk them in mission, or whether we will be keeping them in holes in the ground? And perhaps we ought to excavate the holes in the ground (reserves in local churches as well as national) and see whether we are being good and faithful servants with the resources in them.

What sort of God do we serve? For me, that’s the first question for the Union, associations, local churches and us as individuals too. Only then should we consider how we use the resources he has given us… anyone need a spade?

Be blessed, be a blessing.

There were two guys working for the city. One would dig a hole, he would dig, dig, dig, the other would come behind him and fill the hole, fill, fill, fill. These two men worked furiously. One digging a hole, the other filling it up again.

A man was watching from the pavement and couldn’t believe how hard these men were working, but couldn’t understand what they were doing. Finally he had to ask them.

He said to the hole digger, “I appreciate how hard you work, but what are you doing? You dig a hole and your partner comes behind you and fills it up again!”

The hole digger replied, “Oh yeah, must look funny, but the guy who plants the trees is sick today.”

thinking outside the blue sky

Yesterday I attended a roadshow that was telling us about the forthcoming changes to Baptist Ministers’ pensions. It was well-presented and clearly explained, and I was impressed with the depth of knowledge of those who were sharing this with us. I think the changes are needed, prudent and wise. I won’t attempt to try to explain in detail what is happening, suffice to say that there is a £60million black hole in the existing pension scheme that means it is unsustainable in its current form.


That’s a big black hole.

We’d need to win the Euromillions Lottery on a mega rollover week in order to fill the hole. Now there’s an idea. Why not use the existing fund to buy tickets that cover every possible permutation, then we would guarantee winning the top prize and fill the hole. Except that there’s no guarantee we would be the only winners. And it’s supporting the lottery, which is not something that we would want to do as an organisation.

But it’s thinking outside the box. It’s blue sky thinking. It’s looking in unlikely places for the answers.Box

By the way, where is this box: outside of which thinking is to be encouraged? Can we only come up with good ideas on cloudless days? That precludes us from thinking much in the summer in this country…[Thinks for a moment. Lightbulb goes on] aaaha! That’s why we all go on holiday in the summer: our brains are less imaginative because the sky is overcast or it is raining!

At our last Deacons’ Meeting we were challenged by these verses:

20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (Ephesians 3, NIV)

The question was asked, “What can you imagine?” And the rejoinder was offered: “God can do immeasurably more than that!” One person said that they could imagine that the church would be full on Sundays within a year. With what I can only attribute to his grace laced with his sense of humour, last Sunday God filled the place as we were visited by over 30 students from the University who are looking at different churches around Colchester! But if that verse is true, why couldn’t God do that?

I was challenged to consider whether sometimes I am thinking in a dark corner of a small box on a rainy day when it comes to what I hope and imagine God will do. I have not heard a promise from him that he will fill the church within a year, but I have heard promises of his faithful presence, his power and encouragement, his joy and his peace, his strength and his compassion. If we are all free samples of that to the world God may yet fill the church – and every other church!

Be blessed, be a blessing.

Three clergymen split on a lottery ticket and they won the grand prize of a million pounds. The first one, an Anglican Vicar says “this is a blessing, but how much do we keep for ourselves and how much should we give to God”?

After a few minutes he said “I know we’ll draw a circle and throw the money up in the air,whatever lands out of the circle we’ll keep and whatever lands in the circle we’ll give to God.”

The Catholic Priest pipes up and says, “You know it’s a little windy, I think we should throw the money up in the air and whatever lands inside the circle we keep and whatever lands outside of the circle we give to God.”

They then turn to the Baptist Minister and ask his opinion, and the minister thinks for a moment and says: “I think we should throw the money up in the air and and whatever God wants he can keep and his generosity he will allow the rest to fall to the ground for us.”

mixed up and ambivalent

I have just come back from a visit to the International Christian Resources Exhibition at Sandown Park Racecourse (!) in Esher. I am in two minds about it. I went with our Church Secretary as there were several things we wanted to look at from different suppliers and it is easier to see them face to face as well as compare different products. That was very useful. I also met up with a few old friends, which was great.

It is helpful to know that there are companies that can supply our needs as a church that will be sympathetic to our needs and experienced in dealing with churches in similar circumstances. It is useful to be able to see different suppliers and agencies in one place to save having to travel long distances in order to see them or, more likely, buy products and services sight unseen.

But I am uncomfortable (at best) that we are creating a Christian sub-culture. Whenever I have attended (and is that hypocrisy?) I leave the CRE with the nagging feeling that if Jesus turned up in person he may be turning over a few tables. Why do we need specifically Christian socks? How come we need Christian suppliers of pens for our churches?

I see twin dangers that we need to avoid. One is that we as Christians so disengage with mainstream society by having our own subculture that we become increasingly marginalised. The other is that we spend more money and energy on the subculture (with the odious idea of ‘Christian celebrity’ added into the mix) than we do one missional activity – the main thing the church is there for.

Did I hear a voice shouting angrily in the background as a whip was being fashioned from the ropes marking off the queues: “My church should be a place of mission but you have turned it into a marketplace?!”

Subculturish joke:

In a small town there was a Catholic priest, Anglican vicar and Baptist minister.

One day the priest went to get a hair cut. After the barber cut his hair the priest wanted to pay him. The barber said, “Oh no, I will not accept any money from a man of God.” So the next day when the barber went to open his shop he saw a bottle of whisky with a thank you note.

That day the vicar came for a hair cut. Again the barber said, “Oh no, I will not accept any money from a man of God.” So the next day the barber went to open his shop and found a bottle of claret and a thank you note.

That day the Baptist minister came for his hair cut. Again the barber said, “Oh no, I will not accept any money from a man of God.”

The next day when the barber went to open his shop he found 10 other Baptist ministers.