This morning I gladly witnessed some signatures for some friends in our church. It’s something I do on a regular basis. I was chatting with my friends as I signed to verify their signatures and recalled that I have verified peoples’ identity for their passport applications, countersigned visa and residency applications, signed wedding certificates, witnessed wills, and supported applications for children who are part of our church to be admitted to church schools.

I am very happy to do this, not merely because it is helping someone out but also because it is a tiny way of reaffirming the status of clergy in our society. Don’t get me wrong. I am not a saint (just ask my wife). I am not looking to be put on a pedestal (it’s way too easy to fall off them) and I am not looking to be revered (even though I am a Reverend). The reason I am glad to reaffirm the status of clergy in our society is that our reputation and thus the reputation of the church and therefore the reputation of Jesus has been somewhat tarnished. Sadly the public falls from grace of a few have sullied the reputation of many.

There is an ancient story of a small boy who came back from Sunday School and was asked what they had talked about.


“What did they say about sin?”

“I’m not sure. But I think they were against it.”

Yes. Absolutely. We are against sin. But (and regularly bloggites here will know this of me) I am always acutely conscious that Jesus told his followers not to judge others. He warned against hypocrisy (and reserved his harshest words to condemn religious leaders who were hypocritical). He told us not to attempt to sort out a minor defect in someone else’s life while we require major surgery in ours. When I feel my fingers tighten around a stone in my hand I remember a man drawing in the sand and asking me if I am without sin.

So, yes I am against sin. First and foremost I am against it in my own life. I regularly need to ask for God’s grace and forgiveness for the times when I allow his reputation and my life to be tarnished. I need to ask for fresh starts on a daily basis. I need a fresh infilling of his companion-Spirit to help me.

But also I pray that those who don’t mind throwing stones at churches will recognise that we are also places of grace, forgiveness, healing and fresh starts. We are all striving to be more like the people God created us to be, but we are not perfect. Forgive us if we ever project a ‘holier than thou’ attitude. Please God may we project a ‘just like you, but forgiven’ attitude instead.

Perhaps if we are tempted to condemn someone we should fill our mouths with humble pie instead?

Be blessed, be a blessing.


china crisis?

A few years ago I had the immense privilege of travelling with a group of Christian leaders in mainland China. It was a wonderful experience and one that has made a profound impact on me, and on my perspective on life.

I was humbled and in tears when we were introduced to a lady who looked like she was 200 years old, yet she had the spark of youth in her eyes as she told us part of her story through an interpreter:

She had been a nurse during the Cultural Revolution, working in a Christian Mission Hospital. One day soldiers came and took away all of the doctors and many of the other staff, leaving a handful of Christian nurses to care for all the patients. Each week the soldiers would come and beat them, demanding that they deny their faith in Jesus. Each week they would refuse.

With tears running down her cheeks she told us of how, to her shame, one week it got too much for her and she told the soldiers that she was no longer a believer, so that they would leave her alone. When they left she told us of how she wept and wept because, like Peter, she had denied her Lord. She prayed for forgiveness and strength.

The next week the soldiers returned to beat the Christians and were leaving her alone. She went up to them and told them that she had been weak when she denied being a follower of Jesus, but she had asked him to forgive her and he had, so they had better include her in the beatings again. She told them that even though they beat her every week for the rest of her life she would not stop following Jesus.

The soldiers left, and never returned.

What a wonderful woman! What incredible bravery, honesty and faith.

Later in our ‘tour’ we went to a Buddhist Temple as tourists. I was fascinated with how the Chinese people were buying temple currency and then taking it up and placing it before a Buddhist Priest, who had his head bowed in prayer. I was told that this was to buy prayers for themselves or for those for whom they were concerned. I was also told that the temple currency was recycled and sent back to the place where people were buying it to be bought again.

I moved from where we were stood and managed to get a view behind the table where the money was laid and see the priest who was bowed in prayer.

Except he was not praying.

He had his phone out in front of him, under the table, and was busy texting. I presume he was not texting prayers to Buddha!

The contrast between these two experiences has stayed with me. To me they illustrate the difference between living faith and dead religion. One left me energised, blessed, humbled and joyful. The other left me sad, dulled and upset at how people were being exploited.

May I always be more like that old lady than that priest.

Be blessed. Be a blessing.

Unfortunate translations of the Bible can lead to inappropriate understandings of what Jesus meant for us to do. He was not condoning bribery of the police when, in his parable about settling with your opponent before going to court, he mentions that if you fail to do so you will end up in prison. ‘You will not get out’, he concludes, ‘until you have paid the last copper’. (Luke 12:59, RSV).

Of course this could just be a corrupt text.

(From http://jokes.christiansunite.com)


Tonight is the inaugural meeting of Colchester Magic Club. it is a gathering that I have endeavoured to call together of people who are interested in learning and performing magic tricks. I was surprised and delighted when, following a request for a re-tweet from a well-known magician, I was contacted by several people who are interested and are planning to be there.

I did think about placing an advert in the local newspaper but was put off when I discovered how expensive it would be and I wondered how effective a small ad would be in reaching people. The amazing thing about using social networking is that it is enabled me to be put in touch with people who share a common interest and have common friends but with whom I have had no previous contact.

I’m not going to get all nostalgic and reminiscentful here: wistfully hankering for those days when important messages were delivered by pigeons (providing the recipient not only with a message but also the potential for lunch) or even bemoaning the reduction of the English language to txtspk. what impresses me is how interconnected we are. It is suggested that there are only 6° of separation between any two individuals on this planet. In other words you should be able to find a chain of six people who know the other people either side of them in the chain to link you to a complete stranger. I’m sceptical about that – at least I would be if I was not aware of how many friends I have on Facebook who know each other and had not witnessed the interconnectedness of Twitter to provide some people to attend Colchester Magic Club.

A church meeting last year I  mentioned the graphic that the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity used to illustrate the importance of equipping Christian people for work. I have attempted to reproduce them here.


The first one represents the percentage of people who attend church regularly in this country – 6 to 7%. We gather together on Sundays to do our thing. The second one represents those 6 to 7% of people during the week scattered among the rest of the population. They have far more contact with those who are not in church when they are not in church.

Stretching the analogy slightly, if each dot represents a Christian (i.e. us) we could make contact with eight people who don’t go to church but are around us during the week. If we did, bearing in mind that our church is over 230 members, our church could contact almost 2000* people a week with the good news of Jesus. Adding to that equation the interconnectedness that we have in today’s culture and the possibilities are mind blowing aren’t they?

While you contemplate that I’m off to play with magic tricks the Magic Club…

*I appreciate that I have played fast and loose with both the illustration and statistics but I think I’ve made the point!

how not to engage with the public?

A tired pastor was at home resting, and through the window he saw a woman approaching his door. She was one of those too-talkative people, and he was not anxious to talk with her. He said to his wife, “I’ll just duck upstairs and wait until she goes away.”

An hour passed, then he tiptoed to the landing and listened … not a sound. He was very pleased, so he started down calling loudly to his wife, “Well, My Dear, did you get rid of that old bore at last?”

The next moment he heard the voice of the same woman caller, and she couldn’t possibly have missed hearing him. Two steps down, he saw them both staring up at him. It seemed truly a crisis moment.

The quick-thinking pastor’s wife answered, “Yes, Dear, she went away over an hour ago. But Mrs. Jones has come to call in the meantime, and I’m sure you’ll be glad to greet her.”

show and tell?

I am a (very) part-time chaplain at Essex University. Today I took part in a ‘Learning at Work’ day at the Uni. The best way I can think of to describe it is that it is a grown-up version of ‘show and tell’. Now that is underplaying it badly, but the idea is that if you have a passion / skill / interest you can offer to share that with other University employees throughout the day.

I offered to give some advice and training on learning and performing magic tricks. Amazingly a few people decided that they wanted to attend the session so this morning I spent an hour and a half with half-a-dozen people from different departments of the University exploring some of the principles of magic tricks, teaching some simple moves and offering some advice, as well as showing off some of my tricks.

I felt it went okay – nobody fell asleep and all said nice things at the end. On reflection I did not invite them to say who they are (oops) and should have given much more opportunity for them to ask questions / make observations. Even though they learnt some tricks it was not as interactive as it should have been.

But on my way to the University I had an epiphany. (It didn’t hurt!) I realised that this is a good analogy of how churches work. We all bring our skills, experiences, personality and talents and share them with one another. We can all learn from one another. That is part of what Baptist Christians mean by ‘the priesthood of all believers’. We believe that God can and does speak to us as a gathered community through anyone and everyone who is there. That’s Church Meetings / Congregational governance at its best.

And… great summary of how we share our faith could be ‘show and tell’ – show the difference Jesus makes in your life and tell people about it too. Perhaps we need new words for the classic ‘Go, tell it on the mountains…’

“Show and tell it in the workplace, in our homes and everywhere…”

Join in at the back!

A teacher invited her class to bring in something that related to their faith for ‘show and tell’

A Jewish girl brought in a candlestick and spoke about Hannukah (Festival of Light)

A Hindu lad brought in a statue of one of their gods and spoke about their prayer rituals.

A Baptist lad brought in a pale green plate and spoke about ‘Bring and Share lunches’!

armchair supporters

Last Friday evening I watched the England v Algeria game in the World Cup, sat at home on the sofa. I have to confess that I did not sit in silence (even though that may have been the best way to watch the match). I made a number of ‘constructive comments’ in the general direction of the TV. I made comments about the importance of the players passing the ball to each other, about the importance of tackling the opposition when they had the ball, about kicking the ball into the opposition’s goal rather than just in the general direction, and more besides.

Now I do realise that my comments directed at the television do not make any difference to the outcome of the match. I understand that the players and manager cannot hear my comments. I know that it amused my son, who was sitting in the room with me. But I could not help myself. I was very keen for England to win, to play well, even just to score, and I expressed that passion.

This reminds me of one of the more enigmatic verses in the Bible.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. 

(Hebrews 12:1)

It won’t surprise you to know that this verse follows Hebrews chapter 11. It’s important when there is a ‘therefore’ to discover what it’s there for. It refers back to the preceding verses, which are about great heroes and heroines of the faith right from the earliest chapter of Genesis onwards. These are the ‘great cloud of witnesses’ referred to in verse one of chapter 12.

It seems to me that these people of faith throughout history are like I was when watching the England match. They might well be watching us while sitting on sofa-shaped clouds and seeing what we do on a heavenly 42 foot Plasma Screen TV. They are shouting encouragement at us, offering words of advice and wanting us to succeed in our journey of faith, to run and finish the race. We can’t hear them, they do not affect how we live or what they do, but they are still passionate about seeing us ‘throw off everything that hinders’ and ‘run with perseverance’.

I hope that the England team know how so many of us want them to succeed. I hope that knowing that encourages them to do well in their next game. I hope that knowing that the ‘great cloud of witnesses’ is doing the same for us is an encouragement to you, as much as it is for me.

You know that football is taking over your life when…

You video games of Subbuteo for post game analysis
You refer to the sofa as a “dugout”
You can recall the names of all of the players who have played in winning World Cup teams, but can’t remember your best friend’s name.

Murphy’s laws for football fans:
If you are 2-0 up with ten minutes to play you’ll be lucky to hang on for a draw
If in the first round of any cup you beat the defending champions you will lose in the next round to a bunch of no-hopers
Injury time is about 3 minutes longer when you are winning than when you are losing


Two fans were walking towards the stadium to watch the cup final. One said to the other: “I wish I’d brought the piano to the match.”
The second one stopped. “Why would you want to bring a piano to the cup final?”
The first fan smiled sheepishly. “Because I left the tickets on it.”

(more footie-related jokes available at www.footballjokes.co.uk)

>Lift high the cross

>Interesting experience this morning. After our Good Friday Reflection we joined other churches in the town of the Walk of Witness. (I had suggested that if it rained it would be a Walk of Wetness but thankfully the rain held off).

When we got there we looked around and while there was a growing crowd and a Salvation Army Band ready to lead us, nobody had brought a large cross. In the past there has been a substantial cross that has been a part of the WoW but it seems that everyone thought someone else was bringing it (or most likely did not think about it at all, like me). One advantage of being a town centre church is that our building is in the town centre (bear with me) which meant I was able to leg it back to the church and collect our 6 foot (2 metre) cross. The WoW had already started so I joined it with the cross half way down the High Street. I don’t know if I imagined it but it seemed to me that the following crowd gave a small cheer when the cross arrived.

What a contrast to the first Good Friday Walk of Witness when Jesus staggered under the weight of his own execution scaffold and it was given to Simon of Cyrene to carry for him. The following crowd of mourners did not cheer the cross but wailed at what was happening (Luke 23:27).

I have found it helpful this year to follow the events from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday through the week. Right now we are in that state of limbo between Jesus’ death and resurrection. At the end of our Reflection this morning I did not pronounce a blessing or say that we had finished. I left it hanging. Someone commented that they did not know what to do. It was a deliberate act on my part to try to allow people a glimpse of the bewilderment that those who had followed Jesus must have felt when he was crucified, dead and buried.

So, to close