Thursday, 31 December 2009

End of the decade, it's nothing special...

Ten years ago there was a big palaver over the end of the millennium. This end of the horribly named noughties seems all a bit low key in comparison. Remember the worry about Y2K and the millennium bug? Everything was going to stop and chaos would reign. Seems to be going okay, so far.

Ten years ago we had a real blast in a field in Kent. Friends thought (for some reason) that it would be a good idea to hold a Millennium party in the garden in a marquee, resulting in a four course sit-down meal for eighty people. All cooked on a Aga if I recall correctly, goodness knows how they managed it. Not my department, I was a waiter. It was hard work and at about 2am I recall saying how tired I was and my daughter, then three and a half and wide awake, laughing and saying "But you're the Daddy". Because, obviously, 35 year olds could never be tired. It was a great night and I think I'll always remember it.

Ten years ago I was part of the team to take down the marquee because (for some reason) the party hosts were going skiing the following day. I say, to my shame, that a hangover rendered me pretty useless for the task.

This New Year's Eve will be much more low key... some episodes of Outumbered, a game of Risk perhaps, food for just four and watching midnight fireworks over the bay from a cottage in Devon. Very different from 1999 but it'll still be good.

Have a good one yourself; here's to 2010...

Friday, 25 December 2009

A good one

So this was Christmas...

We sang our last carols of the season this morning, the congregation a little disappointing with less than we would have most Sundays but a good time had by us I think.

After coffee and lots of friendly chat together we went our different ways. We had a couple of single elderly people back for Christmas lunch with us and it was a great experience again. Elderly man who lost his wife in '96, very witty and sparky and easy to have around. Woman of 88 (I was surprised to learn) and as sharp as a needle, funny, self-deprecating and almost embarassingly grateful to be with what she describes as "a normal family" for Christmas. Hmm, I wonder if she thinks we aren't very holy.

I took them back the long way home at about 5pm, taking in the Christmas lights and came home reflecting how such a small effort seems to have made a big difference to their day. It was far from a hardship for us. The kids enjoy it as well and it's kind of exciting to see that becoming a part of how they think things are done. These people would have been on their own otherwise and we are grateful for wise people who showed us many moons ago that this is a part of being church family together.

I hope you had a great day too and you get a decent break over the holidays.

PS - The picture is for illustrative purposes only, our dinner was much nicer. And far bigger.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

How many?

The total number of carols sung this year (barring any late changes tomorrow) has been just 50. This is less than I thought it would be but is still enough.
I am coming down slowly I put the finishing touches to tomorrow's service by listening to a vintage XTC concert from 22nd December 1980. The picture is a bit earlier than that I think as I think that is Barry Andrews on keyboards and he had left by then to be in Shriekback.
Like you care!
Anyhow, MERRY CHRISTMAS - have yourself a merry little one!

Monday, 21 December 2009

Carols by Candlelight

Well, despite the onset of carol fatigue we had a great day yesterday. The morning service was a good time, especially as we welcomed two couples into membership. One couple are already deeply into the life and work of the church but have taken some time to get to this point concerning membership. They are great people, really solid, and an encouragement ever since we got here - in fact they threw in their lot with us at the time we arrived, as did a number of other people; more than a coincidence, I feel.

The other couple are older retired folk who have been in churches all their lives. They described themselves yesterday as being comfortable when they got here but that they were less so as a result of being in the church (!) and that they had both re-dedicated their lives to God since being here. There's a good definition of effective preaching that fits - that the comfortable would be disturbed and that the disturbed would be comforted. The sermon looked at Christmas from a Child's Viewpoint and challenged us to be more like children in order to enter the kingdom. Child-like as opposed to being childish.

The evening service is perhaps our best of the year. We light dozens, perhaps hundreds, of candles and the whole thing has a wonderfully intimate feel to it. We sang favourite carols together with the best of the new ones; Underneath the Shining Star, Joy Has Dawned, and From the Squalor... and read the usual passages plus a couple from the wonderful Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones. And afterwards we all came out of the service to see a light dusting of snow on everything. It was like being in a film. A good day.

Friday, 18 December 2009


Our local Ritz does a great deal on a Thursday morning where you see a film for £4-20 and get a free cup of coffee and a biscuit as well. It's a perk of having Thursdays off.

This week's offering was Nativity! I partly went because I was desperate for new Christmas talk illustrations but really enjoyed it. The previous week I had been to see the one about "The men who stare at goats" and this knocked it into a cocked hat.

If you get the chance then go - it's great fun and quite moving in a soppy sort of way. I certainly had something in my eye at one point. Will be going again next week and taking my family with me.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

(Not quite) all aboard

Today a whole lot of people from church are going on the Carol Train. A steam train makes it way up the line and at every station people get out and sing a coupel of carols, all pile back in and do it again at the next station.

I managed to shock someone from the congregation today who had dropped into the office and in parting he said, "See you tonight". His jaw literally dropped and he didn't know what to say when I told him I wasn't going. "But you...", he spluttered before being unable to finish the sentence. Because surely if there's one thing a vicar likes more than singing carols it's steam trains?

I went to a carol service last night and I have two more tomorrow. So far I have sung 32 this season. Why would I want to sing carols tonight as well?


Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Joseph - a good man

Quickly trying to regain lost credibility (a scarce commodity as it is) after the last post.

I preached on "Christmas from a man's viewpoint" (idea from Hybels) last Sunday. In the course of my research I googled the phrase only to get, "Did you mean to search for: christmas from a woman's viewpoint". Says it all really. We looked at the stereotypical male who, like Jim Royle, sits in front of the TV rather than doing anything constructive to help at Christmas.

Contrasted that with Joseph who is described as being a righteous man. He was someone who left his fiance alone before they got married and then decided to do the honourable thing and go for a quiet divorce when he was devastated by the news that Mary was preggers. Also looked at him as a man who listened to God and obeyed him and someone who was fully involved in the business of raising Jesus. Amazing to think that Jesus would have learnt about God as a child from Joseph!

I then asked how we guys measure up to Joseph's qualities. Not so well I suspect. My conclusion? As a Christian I am supposed to become more and more like Jesus. I'm not sure I even look much like his earthly Dad.

The ladies loved the sermon. But next week it's their turn.

Anyhow, I only discovered this track today - too late to use in church even if it had been culturally relevant here. But it could be useful for a youth club talk on Friday. Don't know how I missed the song last year but there's a link here for those who are as out of touch as me.

Could be even better than the Wombles...

Wombling Along

Heard We Wish You A Wombling Merry Christmas in the supermarket today and, you know, it rocks! You don't believe me but listen to it on the internet and then tell me I'm wrong. If I were doing a disco this Christmas it would be one of those you slip in at the end of the night. The store followed that with ABC's All Of My Heart; I'll be going just for the playlist at this rate.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Joy Has Dawned Upon The Earth

During the season of carol singing I have a new favourite modern carol. Hardly a crowded field I know but this is a mere five years old, easy to sing and packed with good theology. Have I put you off yet? Joy Has Dawned is by Stuart Townend and Keith Getty, who are responsible for much great music for today's church. Of the four verses I like the third best:

Shepherds bow before the Lamb,
Gazing at the glory;
Gifts of men from distant lands
Prophesy the story.
Gold, a King is born today,
Incense, God is with us,
Myrrh, His death will make a way,
And by His blood He'll win us.

The three gifts is a great sermon outline and I am blown away afresh by the image of the shepherds bowing before the Lamb of God.

Well worth looking out for on the internet or rediscovering if you have the live Stuart Townend double CD; it's tucked away at the end of side one.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Carol Count

I've decided to keep a count of the number of times I end up singing a carol in a service or at a meeting or gathering this year. I am only on 9 so far. What do you reckon the final score will be?
Hope you like the picture of the brother and sisters in their frocks.

Wine and Wisdom

We had our first (ever - probably) Wine and Wisdom event at church last night and I was very relieved that it went so well. Some of the guys here were very unsure about it (to put it mildly) but I feel that if we are trying to be user-friendly to people outside church then we need to take small risks like this. Afterwards people had clearly enjoyed it; no-one drank too much and everyone knew some answers.

There are a few that don't get it still. Afterwards one person said that it was a shame that there was no Scripture Round and someone else said we ought to challenge the church down the road. But lots understand that it's about trying to be a friendly entrance point into church for people who might want to come and see what we are about at other times. And those people invited friends who want to know when the next one is. Which is so cool.
It reminded me that I am working cross-culturally within my church here. Wine and Wisdom would not have been an issue in my old church but these are different people in a different place. The great thing is that while in my old church people might be a bit blaise about an event like this, for people here that embrace it they are thrilled at the liberation that they didn't realise they had and they are keen to do more. They are rethinking what the culture of the church might look like and they are getting excited about what it could look like. That's exciting for me too. Why should church be boring?
I think I need to keep working at broadening the culture of the church so that it's not so strange to outsiders and to be fair, lots and lots of people here understand and welcome that. But I also have to be careful not to be controversial for the sake of it and I need to understand why people feel the way that they do. We want and need to do the hard thing of taking the church forward together, not the easy thing of taking some of them and abandoning the rest.
I need a lot of that wisdom!

Fighting Talk

Was startled in the bath as I listened to Fighting Talk on Five Live yesterday and heard the name of a very good friend. He was being name-checked for supplying a gag for Tom Watt. Someone needs to - boom boom. No, I really like Tom, he's very funny on the show and the gag was pure Andy Chapple. Take a bow, sir! You can catch it on the listen again feature when the question is (quite early on) about sports people as trees.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Who's the Daddy?

I got a phone call yesterday asking me to play Father Christmas at short notice in school - which does nothing for my phone phobia. Lead me to wonder whether this is more motivated by my age or my carefully cultivated girth?


Monday, 30 November 2009

Gone to the Dogs

The organist is away for Christmas, leaving me searching for CD versions of carols for a few services. We often sing to CDs so it shouldn't be a problem. But finding decent versions is proving harder. The worst of the lot is this CD of Christmas Carol Favourites for Dog Lovers. Until you have heard Spike and Jerry bark along to Hark the Herald, Christmas hasn't really started. You can check for yourself if you wish....

The one about the Bishop and the Carol Singers

Thanks to the BUGB website I give you this excerpt from today's Daily Mail, quoting the Bishop of Croydon:

In Why Wish You A Merry Christmas - a new book published by the Church of England - the bishop also criticised schools which introduce snakes and grizzly bears to nativity plays.
He said it had the effect of 'relegating the story [of Christ] to fictional fantasy'.

'I always find it a slightly bizarre sight when I see parents and grandparents at a nativity play singing Away In A Manger as if it actually related to reality,' he writes.

'I can understand the little children being quite taken with the sort of baby of whom it can be said "no crying he makes", but how can any adult sing this without embarrassment?'

However, the Right Reverend Nick Baines calls carols 'embarrassing'
He said that Jesus would be abnormal if he had not cried as a baby.
'If we sing nonsense, is it any surprise that children grow into adults and throw out the tearless baby Jesus with Father Christmas and other fantasy figures?' he added.

'Once In Royal David’s City has Jesus as "our childhood’s pattern" — even though we know almost nothing of his childhood apart from one incident when he was 12 years old and being disobedient to his parents — and invites children to be "mild, obedient, good as he", which means what, exactly?

'This sounds suspiciously like Victorian behaviour control to me."

Has to be said I have some sympathy for him.
PS - I have posted the picture of the Bishop in case anyone thinks it's the other Nick Baines, out of the Kaiser Chiefs.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Bowie to come to Burnham-on-Sea?

More in hope than expectation I searched just now for details of ANY dates from the Thin White Duke, who has just denied stories that he is to play Glasto next year. On the first site I tried I get a pop-up box asking, "Do you want to be notified when Bowie comes to Burnham-on-Sea?"

Not sure the chances are high.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Homesick for a place that is no longer there

The joy of the iPod. I keep it on shuffle a lot of the time which means I am occasionally laughing aloud to the juxtapositions it throws out. More unlikely mixes have included Kraftwerk followed, without missing a beat, by Hugh Palmer (a fellow who's sermons I listen to regularly). It's even better when it's the other way round and following a sermon the guy says let us pray and where they haven't taped the prayer you go straight into something like Coz I Love You by the Wonderstuff (genuinely the last thing to come up on my listening).

Today the Skids came up with Working For the Yankee Dollar and I thought of Steve Mills as I always do when I hear the Skids. Neither of us were great fans but I remember an occasion when we all jumped over the wall of the school playing field we spent all of our time in and into the alley. Steve sang "Into The Alley" (a clever word play on the Skids' biggest hit) as we did so and we all laughed. He will not remember it and if he does he may deny it but it happened. I was there. Happy and uncomplicated days.

Funny how music takes you back.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Terry Henry

Well, I was cheering for Ireland this week while my wife wanted France to win (for lesson planning reasons). What a shame that the winning goal was nothing of the sort, both offside and a double hand ball from Thierry Henry. Although, as my wife commented, the French are very good at the sport of handball; the men were Olympic gold medalists in Beijing.
Henry's comment after the match was "I will be honest, it was a handball. But I’m not the ref. I played it, the ref allowed it. That’s a question you should ask him," In other words, "It's not my fault guv, blame the ref!" (can be read with optional French accent if you prefer.)
Thierry went down in my estimations this week. Something that I'm sure won't bother him unduly, but here was a great player who lit up the Premiership and then... this. He knew it was handball and he kept it shut. What a shame. What a missed opportunity to be truly heroic.
Having said that, who's to say that none of us would have done the same thing? 70,000 French fans go ballistic because you have had a hand (I know) in the goal that put your team through to the World Cup Finals. Do you hold up your hand and confess? It would take some real guts to do that. What would you do? What would I do?
There was someone on the radio this morning who, I believe, hit the nail on the head. They were saying that in the nineteenth century sport was promoted as an activity that would develop character in people. The flip side of that is that sport also reveals your character. I discovered this nearly 25 years ago when I was a new Christian and playing Men's Hockey. I was aware that my language didn't fit my new profession of faith in the heat of battle.
I guess this is what is so sad about Henry's handball. It's revealed something of his character and it's not pretty. I'm glad that my flaws are not exposed so publicly. We sometimes say that sport is totally unimportant but perhaps we see exactly here why it is important. In a tight situation, it reveals who we are and what we are really like - the real me rather than the sanitised version I like to project in life and on blogs. It reminds us that we are not as great as we would like to think that we are. And that we need saving from ourselves.

Saturday, 14 November 2009


It's the time of year when the Carnival comes to town. If you have never seen it you really should, it's quite a spectacle, part of the world famous Bridgwater Carnival circuit. It was a cold but dry one and the two hour parade contained some amazing floats. At one point the Helloween cart was followed by one with the theme the Kingdom of Heaven (all wings and harps and Robbie Williams' Angels). That kind of thing seems to sum up Carnival, throw in some young farmers in drag dancing to the Wurzels and you get the idea.
I make it sound awful. Come and try it. It's said to be the biggest illuminated Carnival in the world and quite unlike anything I had seen before. And it comes down the end of my road so it's really easy to get to.
The pictures here are of the winners of the two main classes. The top one is a Robin Hood tableau - the class where the people on the cart have to freeze into position for the whole two hour procession and they are judged on their cart and their ability to stay stock still. The second, Joust, won the overall category and the thing that made them stand out was that the dragons on the front actaully breathed fire.

And it goes very well with a flask of mulled wine.

Vinyl Countdown

Well, it had to happen one day and that day was last week. I packed the boxes and headed to Oxfam in Exeter. They were very understanding and gentle with me, leading me to conclude that they must have had special training. Perhaps a one day seminar on "Middle Aged Men and their Records - Bereavement, Empathy and Grieving". I realise that those who know me will require photographic proof, hence the picture. It doesn't look like much in my big boot but it was 160 albums, 120 12" singles and a stack of singles too.

I'm doing okay. Thanks for asking. Some days are obviously easier than others but a day at a time, I guess. Time is a great healer they say and so long as I don't linger near Radio 2 for too long and hear a tune that sets me off I should get through.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Headship and Head Scarves - 1 Corinthians 11

Why did I think it was a good idea to preach through 1 Corinthians? That's what I was wondering as I set about 1 Cor 11:2-16 last week. Head hurt and lost sleep over such a varied set of interpretations, some of which I thought were pretty disgraceful.

V.3 and headship - what's that about then? There seem to be three options.

1 - to have authority over
2 - to represent
3 - to be the source of

The general idea seems to be that the language points to #3, though I have an inkling that #2 is helpful too. Not so convinced by #1 but some very intelligent people would disagree and I might be wrong. Feel a little like Alesha Dixon asked to judge Strictly, though to be fair she would be better qualified for her task than I feel for mine.

In the end does it matter much? If headship is about ruling over and having authority (which I don’t think it is) then what should it look like? How should a husband have authority over his wife? By loving her and being prepared to lay down his life for her, according to Ephesians 5. Ephesians 5:21 – “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ”.

I don't think you'd see a lot of difference between people who read head as meaning #1, #2, or #3 if they are seeking to be like Christ in all they do.
After that the hat issue was a doddle. We will still have the role of women to address in 1 Cor 14 but at least we can relax a bit in the meantime while we talk about the gifts of the Spirit!
The biggest encouragement of Sunday was where people disagreed (as a handful did). They were each so gracious and loving as we talked and it's what family should be like. We were able to discuss and even laugh about the subject and to do so with the security that this needn't and shouldn't change anything between us in terms of relationship.
That feels very precious indeed.


There's a great cartoon here of Moses standing before a parted Red Sea and turning to the Israelites saying, "What do you mean, 'It's a bit muddy?'"
I used it in a sermon on 1 Cor 10 recently because it is so easy for us to be like that. We are a rescued people, freed from slavery by a loving God. And sometimes we grumble, "It's a bit muddy" when we should be rejoicing that we are on narrow way that leads to salvation.
End of sermon.

Music that no-one else cares about...

At long last two searched for albums have had mp3 releases.

The Men They Couldn't Hang - The Domino Club and Faith Brothers - A Human Sound are both vinyl albums I own and now I can listen to them on the iPod.


The power of encouragement

Was very frustrated at the game on Saturday. Exeter City were playing at home to Wycombe. Wycombe are bottom of League 1 and we are struggling too after two successive promotions. In the end we equalized in stoppage time to earn a point. We didn't set the park alight but the boys played alright and a win wouldn't have been undeserved. I would venture to say that we looked very good for the first 25 minutes.

But then it kicked in. The verbals from the home crowd at their own team. Every misplaced pass, every missed tackle, every perceived lack of effort. I guess a number of the crowd are used to us winning a lot of games over the last couple of years and playing some fantastic football at the same time. Now it's tougher and - unbelievably - some are calling for our (most sucessful manager ever) to go.

It's incredible that the team plays as well as they do with the rubbish they have to put up with from so called supporters. It cannot help the cause.

If Paul Tisdale were to pack up and walk away we would only have ourselves to blame. Thankfully he seems to be more gutsy and more intelligent than that.

There have been times in the past when church seemed discouraging because of the moaning and grumbling that went on. I can now see it was very small beer indeed.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Frankie Says Relax

Spent some of my day off today making soup while listening to Radio 4. The arts programme closes by saying that tomorrow they will be celebrating 25 years since Frankie Goes to Hollywood first burst upon the scene.

Being raised in the sticks I was pretty unaware of the whole Frankie thing until being at a concert and seeing all the Frankie Says Relax teeshirts. Oddly it was a concert featuring unlikely Frankie bed fellows (I know...) Nazareth, Jason and the Scorchers (who were bottled-off), Gary Glitter on his umpteenth comeback, Marillion (who were a lot of the reason I was there) and Status Quo. It was billed as "Quo's Last Stand" their last concert ever. they were also on the radio this afternoon talking about how they have always toured and only took a year off in about 1984. They are touring again this autumn. It was 25 years ago when I saw them and - as is the case every now and again - I feel a bit older. Quite a bit older.

But then I am spending my leisure time making soup and listening to Radio 4.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

The fuss over funerals

An Anglican priest has found his blog hit the news - time to be careful! Ed Tomlinson has caused a bit of a fuss with his comments on funerals - you can read the story here:

Basically he says that sometimes he wonders why he bothers. At the Crem he has to stand by like a lemon as people have a Tina Turner song played or "My Way" as the coffin disappears behind the curtain. He says he has better things to do.

I have some sympathy with him and in a slightly different context Jesus did say to to let the dead bury their own dead. Doubtless Jesus would get into trouble for having that on his blog.

Some personal observations from funerals I have officiated at:

  • Sometimes you do feel like a spare part as some people seem to have you there because it is the done thing. They seem to have no real interest in anything other than getting through the best way they know how. And I guess that's understandable.
  • It is emotionally gruelling to do funerals on a regular basis and I say that as someone who takes less than a dozen a year. Ed will, in all likelihood, being doing one or more a week.
  • I find that the hardest funerals to take are those where there is no obvious hope in the face of death because the deceased expressed no interest in God. Playing ''My Way'' at a funeral is a good expression of that independent spirit that says, 'I make my own rules'. The Bible calls that sin.
  • You may find this odd but the easier funerals are where you know and love the person and know that they trusted in Jesus in the face of their death. You still grieve but it is tempered by a certain joy as well - "we do not grieve as those without hope" as it says in a book I am reading.
  • I was once at funeral where "Goodbye My Lover" by James Blunt was played. It was very raw and ripped shreds out of people - a ghastly experience.
  • Most of the relatives I sit with are grateful for assistance in planning the funeral and I have never been turned down when I have offered to pray for them at the end of our meeting together. I can leave booklets about coping with grief with them.
  • The Crem service is about 22 minutes long where I am (it varies around the country) which is a little too rushed for my liking. But it gives me a little time to lead people in prayer, read a short passage from the Bible, and to speak in the address of the hope that can be found in the face of death through trusting in Christ and his forgiveness.
  • Nearly everyone I ever buried has the most wonderful person imaginable. I look forward to people being a little dishonest about me at my funeral.
  • Sometimes you wonder whether anyone is capable of hearing much at the service itself.
  • I often think that my 'aftercare service' is sadly lacking in terms of following people up a month or two down the line. Realistically do we have the resources to do this though?
  • I think that nearly all the families I have dealt with have been very thankful and they have expressed that to me.
  • I never feel like doing anything after a funeral. Which is difficult when you have a funeral in the morning.
  • I'm glad that I am able to be of assistance in this way but I don't go out of my way to look for funerals, they are hard for clergy too.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Too late!

Harvest hymn sung during our evening service recently contained the lines:

"Thine is our youthful prime,
And life and all its powers."

We sang it with an average age in the room of around 65.

We saw the funny side.

You a church? You can't come in!

Received an email today from some people who want to start a gospel church for those who like a more traditional service in Canterbury. After an intervention from the Cathedral their booking was cancelled two days before they were due to go live and they were told they are not allowed to book any of the (church-linked) school property that they were planning to use. Julian Clary, on the other hand, is allowed to play one of it's venues next week.


Thankfully they were able to arrange a new venue and will go ahead with the opening tomorrow.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

My old gall... now a fully fledged teacher, having yesterday finished her NQT year.

The girl did tremendous!

Giving Away Money - 4

We have gathered in most of the envelopes from "Burnham's Got Talents" and most of the results are in.

Drum roll...

We gave out eighty envelopes containing a tenner each and gave out the challenge to put those talents to work. Which means I was £800 down to begin with and silly as it might sound it felt like a big risk. And to be sure some of the envelopes haven't been returned and may never be. A quarter of the envelopes were returned with the ten pounds and nothing more - which I find quite amazing given that we spoke about the parable of the talents and the fate of the duff servant on the day it was given out. I got one note back telling me the point of the parable was to show that we could be trusted with small things in order to be entrusted with greater things - but simply returning the £10 too. Weird.

But, lots went for it as recorded previously in Giving Away Money -3. One man walked from Burnham-on-Sea to Bridgwater and another sponsored effort was a swim which the woman used to tell people why she was doing it and it gave her the chance to tell people about the church. There are some great stories amongst the feedback.

So we are currently in the position where - without having all the envelopes returned - we have turned £800 to just over £1500. I think it's more than likely that we will, like the good guys in the parable, double what we were entrusted with. Which is a fabulous effort. I'll post a final figure when we know it.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Careforce Conference

I am currently at a conference for young volunteers from all over the world who have just started service for a year or two in churches and projects across the UK. It is quite unlike any conference I have ever attended and it is hard to describe the vibrancy of the event. I have a list of our nationalities somewhere which I will post later but it is an amazing mix of people, white faces are a minority, and it is a privilege to spend time with such a loud and enthusiastic group. I am doing some Bible readings here and it is humbling to be speaking to these people and I rather suspect that I will gain more from the experience than any of them. Speaking to so many people of different cultures means I can't reference old 80's sitcoms in my talks. I am comforted (again) by the fact that God can speak through a donkey if he so chooses.

Here is the list: Uganda, Cameroon, Kenya, Ghana, Wales, Mexico, Slovakia, Namibia, Nigeria, Germany, Peru, Scotland, Colombia, Philippines, Canada, England, Pakistan, Japan, Northern Ireland, India, Gambia, and Tanzania.
Heaven will be like this.

Friday, 25 September 2009

What do you say?

Very busy this week but squeezed in a quick pastoral visit to someone who is ill and used to be in our church (long story). Within a couple of sentences I am told, "You've put on a lot of weight".

I left (later) with two questions:
  • What do you say in a situation like that?
  • Why did I bother?

Going up

Nice of a member of the congregation to give me a diary for 2010. What does it tell you about me and/or the congregation here that it's a trade diary from a Stairlift company?

End of the Season

Last round of games and with the summer having officially ended earlier in the week, what better way to spend a day off than in the warm sunshine watching a county match? So, to Bristol to see Gloucestershire score 418 in the day for five wickets against a de-mob happy Kent.

I met up with Dad and we enjoyed a lovely day chewing the fat (and given what we ate that is about right). Always good to spend a day like this and the weather and the amount of runs scored was a bonus. It was a grand day out.

The picture is of James Franklin who scored a century to go with his five wickets of the day before.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Power to all our friends

“One sometimes meets super-spiritual people who claim that they never feel lonely and have no need of human friends, for the companionship of Christ satisfies all their needs. But human friendship is the loving provision of God for mankind. It was God himself who said in the beginning: ‘It is not good that the man should be alone’ (Gen 2:18). Wonderful as are both the presence of the Lord Jesus every day and the prospect of his coming on the last day, they are not intended to be a substitute for human friendships.” Stott, BST, p.120.

Blown away by this, this morning. The thing that really made me sit up and take notice was that whilst Adam had a relationship with God in the garden, God still speaks of him being alone without the company that Eve supplies him with. It speaks profoundly of our need for need of friendships and makes me even more grateful for those that I enjoy.

Richard Baxter on Preaching

Found this quote today as I prepare on 2 Timothy 4 for a conference I am going to next week - and very much looking forward to. Be even more excited if I was anywhere near ready.

This doesn't fit what I am doing but rather than lose it:

"Whatever you do, let the people see that you are in good earnest... You cannot break men's hearts by jesting with them, or telling them a smooth tale, or patching up a gaudy oration. Men will not cast away their dearest pleasures upon a drowsy request of one that seemeth not to mean as he speaks, or to care much whether his request be granted."
The Reformed Pastor, 1656. Quoted in Stott (BST), p.107.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Giving away money - 3

Or the 'Anti-Prosperity Gospel' as I like to think of it.

We were away enjoying the bright lights of the city and friends' 25th wedding anniversary at the weekend so don't know everything about the response yet. Envelopes are due in next Sunday. Thought I'd record that a lot of people are in the swing of it though. One man went to a stamp fair and turned his £10 to £25. My wife is making portions of crumble and selling those. We have someone knitting snowmen, a coffee morning and sale, a living room bistro opening for the night (a trained chef doing this); lots of things. Perhaps the oddest is the woman who is a keep fit fanatic who is fining herself everytime she messes up her hula-hooping. Hope I can hula-hoop when I'm 73! As someone pointed out, it's a bit upside down in terms of using a talent because the more you raise the more questionable your talent but good on her! It's going to be an interesting Sunday!

As for me, I have put some stuff on eBay and as I type this I just realise that I've made a mess of the timings - the auctions end after the Morning Service. What a twit!

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Should I be ashamed?

Good church members meeting last night, a potentially difficult decision dealt with gracefully by all concerned. Perhaps we are growing up?

Day off today and so try to adjust my bike brakes for about an hour and a half before giving up and deciding to take it to be mended (having made it a whole lot worse). Why do I feel so embarrassed at not being able to do simple stuff like this? My Dad would have fixed this in a jiffy. He'd be spinning in his grave.

If he were dead.

Monday, 14 September 2009


Yesterday was a real roller coaster of a Sunday. On the programme it seemed a straightforward Harvest Sunday. It seems God had other ideas.

In the morning we continued our series on The Hope of Heaven looking at Revelation 21 and the picture that it paints of heaven. It includes the famous verses about being a place of no tears, no suffering, no death, no more pain.

Afterwards I talk to a visitor to our church, one who I think I recognise but I'm not sure. Turns out he was visiting us and he had been with us last May. He reminds me that he was with his wife who was returning to fitness after a liver transplant. To cut a long story short his wife passed away a few days after they visited us in May and then two months later he lost his father too. He talked about how it felt that I was speaking just to him as I spoke from Rev 21. Of course it was not me, only God can do this. It reminded me what a privilege it is to hear God through the words of the Bible and to be used to help people hear that.

Rev 21 also points out in the last verse that nothing impure can enter heaven. Which is only bad news if you have ever done, said or thought anything bad! So we talked about Jesus - as the only truly pure person - had paid the price for our impurity and how you can have your name in the book of life. I talked about how it's not enough to know this stuff, you have to make a personal commitment. And I did something I rarely ever do. I asked people to consider their response to the invitation that God makes, close their eyes and raise a hand if they wanted to make that commitment.

I felt that I was a bit unclear as I hadn't really scripted it but I lead a prayer and five hands went up. Two are people who have started coming to the church having come to our Holiday Club for over 60s (pre-blog!). They are down to start the Christianity Explored course tomorrow and are as thrilled as we are. One was a lady in her 80s who has been in church all her life but says that while she understood the gospel message she had never responded to it in a personal way before. Hers is a long story but, again, it's exciting that she took this step. The fourth hand belonged to the visitor mentioned above who, having been through such a tough time, wanted to respond to what God was saying to him in the service. And the fifth was a man in his nineties who misunderstood what I was saying. Told you I was unclear.

But, me of little faith, I was taken aback. It is exciting to see what God is doing and we pray that these are the first fruits. Seems he did some harvesting this morning.

Afternoon spent visiting someone in hospital in Taunton, on to Evening Service which I led and preached in and then I went to visit a man who is on the edge of death. I was pleased to go to see him as I got there just before the nurses who came to administer his first dose of morphine, which was something the family were resisting unless it was absolutely necessary. I was able to hold his thin hand and pray for him. He hasn't long and the promises of Rev 21 are particularly pertinent at a time like this.

A long day. A good day. A long post but not everyday is like this and I wanted to process it as I typed. I am encouraged and hope you are too.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Listen Up!

A good friend sent me a copy of this excellent booklet published by the Good Book Company recently and I'd flag it up as a great resource to consider. It has 7 tips on how to engage better with a sermon when you are at the pew end - very simple and clear and full of good common sense advice. It also has a section at the end which includes advice on such things as 'How to listen to a dull sermon.'

10 of those have these at £20 for 20 of them and I have ordered a bunch for the congregation because the Word of God is the most important thing that they can take away with them from a Sunday service. Even when some idiot pastor is dishing out cash.

I'd quote some and give you more details but I've already passed on my copy. Have a look, I think it's worth it.

Giving Away Money - 2

"Well, how did it go?" you wonder. Perhaps. I guess the short answer is that we shall see.

On Sunday I rather nervously took £800 in used tenners to the service. I was preaching on how we use our talents in the light of Jesus' return. The parable in Mathew 25 makes it clear that we will be held accountable for what we have. So, as a practical illustration I drew virtually all the money out of the fund we have for helping the poor and sent people off to participate in what I wish I had had the foresight to call 'Burnham's Got Talents'. The idea is that in three weeks time we'll see what people have been able to do with it.

Feedback to me has been very positive. Some amusement, some enthusiasm, a lot of wondering aloud as to what they will do. The reaction I feared most was the Treasurer's but he was a brick, his only concern being the short amount of time - he is away for half of the experiment. Foolishly I didn't consult anyone about what I had done - I think I had suspicions that I'd be talked out of it if I did. Yet I guess the trust is established and no-one seems concerned. (I should explain that I cannot - as rule - just draw out the church's money whenever I feel like it). Otherwise I would spend even more on filling my iPod.

Some feedback that I have heard secondhand has been less positive - as is often the way! But overall it's been so far so good. I had 80 envelopes for 86 adults and there were none left over so the take up has been high and there was an additional encouragement in that I wasn't expecting so many in church in the first place.

As for me, I am spending my tenner on insertion fees and the like for selling some stuff on eBay. I'm thinking that hoarding stuff ready for Judgement Day might not be such a great tactic and this might be a prod in the right direction for me.

Watch this space.

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Giving Away Money - 1

Am I mad?

Just started a short series on The Hope of Heaven and start tomorrow with Matthew 25 where Jesus tells three parables in a row concerning his return and the judgement that will follow. Structure of the sermon is a doddle:

v.1-13 The Parable of the Ten Virgins - Are you ready for Christ’s return?

v.31-46 The Sheep and the Goats - When Jesus returns as shepherd will you be found to be a sheep or a goat?

v.14-30 The Parable of the Talents - In the light of Christ’s return, how are you using your talents?

Taken them out of order so that my illustration for v.14-30 doesn't completely drown out the first two sections.

Yesterday I went to the bank and drew out £800 in used tenners. The challenge is for whoever is in the congregation on Sunday to take a tenner and use it for the kingdom. The money is from a fund we have for giving aid to the poor and idea is that we increase "talents" as the servants did (v.20-23) and that it all goes back into the fund so that we can do all things we are supposed to do as true believers in v.35-36, feed the hungry, clothe the poor, look after the ill etc.

But it's not primarily about fund raising. It's about being accountable for what we are entrusted with. Jesus' parable tells us we will be acountable for what we have been given, how we use our talents. And of course that applies to our gifts, time and money. But Jesus does seem to be talking first and foremost about money here.

I am hoping this will be a lesson that lives with us and that we learn well because we have done something to reinforce the words that were preached. In four weeks time we will have our time of reckoning.

The night before the sermon I can't decide if what I am feeling is fear or excitment. I really have no idea how this will be received.

More on this tomorrow I suspect.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Can Preaching be an Idol?

This Tim Keller quote from an article I was reading yesterday made me think:

"I would say in the Reformed world - I see this with young guys - we make an idol out of being a great preacher. I know a lot of guys who, more than anything, they want to be great preachers. They make an idol out of the gift of preaching. They want people to flock to their banner, because they're such great preachers, and as a result they're not working on pastoring, they're not working on listening to people, they're not working on evangelism. They're working on their messages. They want that more than anything else. It's an idol... and it's all based on mistaking spiritual gifts for spiritual fruit."

Something to think about.

Big School

My son left for secondary school yesterday, all nerves and brand new uniform. He came back with tales of new lessons and new friends and all seems well, thanks in part to a helpful older sister.

It has got me to thinking about how formative that transition to big school is for us. I don't really remember much of it - too long ago - though I do remember going up for an introductory evening the previous term and seeing that something exotically called chicken fricassee was on the menu. Despite my thorough Comprehensive School education, I still don't know what a fricassee is. Must Google it later.

But this summer I met up with old friends who I realised I had first got to know 34 years ago - friends that I met on the first day of Secondary School. We had a barbeque and joked and chatted about old times and realising that my son (the youngest of the group there) was about to start a similar adventure made me feel a littler older.

If the boy comes out of it with friends like mine in his middle age he won't have done so bad. And he'll be bright enough to learn what a fricassee is, how to make it, and then have the good sense to know that it probably isn't worth the effort.

PS - to save you the effort, it's a generic term for any kind of white sauce usually used in poultry dishes. Though the Greeks use it with pork apparently.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Of course, he is right...

Was settling down to try and read my Bible just after breakfast this morning and the fellow next door who is... well, lets say a little erratic at times... decides to play the Killers for me very loud in his garden. The refrain booms out, "He doesn't look a lot like Jesus" and it feels oddly directed at me. And just because I am paranoid, it doesn't mean people aren't talking about me.

Of course, he is right. I don't look a lot like Jesus and I manage to make a mess of it often enough. And so I learn a lesson that is of more use to me than the dimensions of the new temple as recorded in Ezekiel - today's Bible reading.

I am also reminded of the title of David Pawson's autobiography. I find his stuff a mix of very helpful and quite odd to be honest but I like what he called his book: "Not as bad as the truth". His reasoning was that whatever anyone said about him, it was...

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Holiday Club - Finito

Well, it's over for another year. We had a great week, playing pirates as we taught the kids the story of Saul/Paul at Landlubbers.

This morning we had our Holiday Club service and were overwhelmed by the response. We had more than 40 kids in the service which is about 25 more than normal and many families visiting.

We had the team back for a BBQ at lunchtime today and everyone is very encouraged - and a bit tired. It was inspiring to be part of a team of over 30 who helped out throughout the week and who worked together so well.

The local website has a short report and a few pictures if you want to take a look:

Now for some Bank Holiday rest!

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Not saving but droning

One of the blessings of being away on holiday as a minister is that you can go to a church and just be there. When the projector isn't working or the organist gets the tune wrong or the bulletin has numerous errors you can sit back and bask in the knowledge that not only is it not your fault but that no-one expects you to do anything about it either. Bliss!

You also get to listen to sermons as a bod in the pews. I listen to a lot of sermons at home or in the car or on headphones as I move around. But I don't often sit on a (hard) pew and listen to a sermon first hand these days. (I listen to others preach here but we have great chairs).

This has got me to thinking again about how long I should aim to preach for. I think I preach for too long. I am happy to preach for 40 minutes plus but I don't want that to be a barrier to people hearing the gospel. I aim for 25 minutes but almost never hit it. It's probably regularly between 35-40 minutes. And that isn't always good.

Any honest answers on what a good length for sermon would be for you? I'd appreciate your insights as I don't want my verbosity to get in the way.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Holiday Club - a quick update

Just a line or two as I download sound effects for tomorrow's drama. Things are going well and we had around 75 kids today, which was up on yesterday - always good when they come back! The team of thirty is working really well together and we're having as much fun as the kids. For myself, I am helping with the 10/11 year olds and as well as teaching this involves keeping a couple of the lads away from each other. So far, so good though. I am also Captain Book, coming on to explain a Bible story every now and then.

I love these weeks, partly because I can just forget the admin side of things and do what is important, and partly because it is such a buzz to be working as part of a team like this. I quite like not leading it as well - Lin is doing a great job of that - I am able to support different people in their roles instead.

Happy days!

Sunday, 23 August 2009

The set for Holiday Club

This is how we are set up for Landlubbers. All the chairs have been removed and everyone is making last minutes preparations. We have a retired signwriter who has produced our fabulous backdrop with help from his team. The fishing nets, treasure chest, palm trees and other things that you might just be able to make out are all real. The wall in the righthand foreground is where the puppeteer hides as she does her stuff. As always we feel excited and daunted. Please pray!

Now to look through my sermon on Ezekiel for tonight!

Stars on 45

Church was fun this morning. Tomorrow we start our annual children's Holiday Club - Landlubbers. We have 75 kids signed up and the set looks amazing - will post a photo later today.

With Holiday Club on it was appropriate to be preaching on 1 Corinthians 9.19-23, where Paul writes about being all things to all people in order to save some. In doing so he relates and lives differently when with the Jews compared with when he is with the Gentiles. The gospel always remains the same but the way it is brought to people varies tremendously according to your audience.

In the first part of the chapter Paul writes about giving up his rights as an apostle in order to communicate the gospel. As if that were not hard enough, Paul then tells us we need to be prepared to give up our preferences for the sake of the gospel too.
I illustrated this by talking about how we might prefer different musical styles but that we need to put these aside for the sake of the gospel. (This seemed appropriate as the new kids songs are loud and fast). So one way we can apply this is by putting aside our musical preferences for the sake of the gospel.

The first person I speak to on the door after the service tells me, "I didn't like the music today and nor did a number of others."
It made me smile.

PS - The reference to the title of this post? 45 today.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

A great illustration on unity

An old one but a good one. Can never find it when I preach on unity but here it is for your delight...

A joke from stand-up Emo Phillips ...
"Once I saw this guy on a bridge about to jump. I said, "Don't do it!"
He said, "Nobody loves me."
I said, "God loves you. Do you believe in God?"
He said, "Yes."
I said, "Are you a Christian or a Jew?"
He said, "A Christian."
I said, "Me, too! Protestant or Catholic?"
He said, "Protestant."
I said, "Me, too! What denomination?"
He said, "Baptist."
I said, "Me, too! Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?"
He said, "Northern Baptist."
I said, "Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?"
He said, "Northern Conservative Baptist."
I said, "Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region, or Northern Conservative Baptist Eastern Region?"
He said, "Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region."
I said, "Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879, or Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?"
He said, "Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912."
I said, "Die, heretic scum!", and pushed him off the bridge."

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Stupid but funny

Found this today via Nick Baines' blog.

I have a few people in the church here who pass me clippings from the Daily Mail which demonstrate the latest way that we are all going to hell in a handcart. Now they no longer need to, thanks to the Daily Mail-o-matic, which generates random headlines.

Have fun - and if you are so inclined there are links there to similar toys, such as Michael Howard sings the Smiths.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Finding it hard to get the kids to Church?

As a kid I would dawdle and stall for as long as I could to get out of going to church. I never went to the extremes that this 7 year old went to - taking the car and driving off to avoid the service but then Dad didn't have an automatic. The footage from CBS news is found below.

A sad time

I went to the funeral yesterday of a person I didn't know too well but who had came to our church for a while before illness stopped them.
From where I am coming from it was an odd funeral as they talked at length about the person and their attributes and qualities. Lots of lovely things were said, many of which were probably true. But there was no sermon. No opportunity taken to point to how we can have hope in the face of despair. Not much beyond, "they are in a better place". And Jesus was no more than a footnote throughout the proceedings.
A friend here has stipulated that whoever takes his funeral is not allowed to talk about him, only about Jesus and the work he did to open up heaven to us. I am probably too vain to go quite that far - it would be nice to have people exaggerate my goodness at my funeral!
But I think he's certainly on to something.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Four years on....

Either today or yesterday (not sure which) marks the four year anniversary of us packing up our stuff and heading west from Canterbury for the bright lights of Burnham-on-Sea. There have been times when it was a tough gig, as I dare say there will be in the future too. Big adjustments for us as a family and perhaps even bigger ones for the congregation here! But as I look at where God has brought us there are real encouragements.

I am in a church where there has been no opposition to my preaching long sermons as I go systematically through a book of Scripture. This is something that it is easy to take for granted but talking to an Anglican friend nearby who says that he couldn't get away with more than 10 minutes makes me realise what a blessing it is to be free to do what God has called me to.

I am in a church where they have allowed a great deal of change. The pews have gone, the pulpit and platform replaced and other structural changes inside the main hall. We have started a Kids Holiday Club - the fourth starts later this month. The Sunday School has increased four or five fold from the four that were here when we arrived. Earlier this year we had a holiday club for over 60s and there is enough excitement amongst that age group to organise another next year. We have had our first church weekend away. I've been able to introduce dozens of new songs and most importantly we've seen a fresh understanding of grace amongst us - both in terms of understanding it and exercising it.

We have seen a few leave us, through death, through transfer to other churches and - occasionally - they have been difficult ones for us as a church. Yet we have seen more join than leave.

I'm just counting some blessings aloud. Please don't think I am taking the credit for any of this. There were good foundations laid here already and there are many good people here who are faithful and hard-working in their ministries. Some of them have been serving for longer than I have been alive! And anyway, it can only be through God's grace that we see any lasting growth in Kingdom work. Easy to say that glibbly but I think I truly believe that to be the case from my small experience. If it's down to me we are all in trouble.

So, I was just spending some time thinking how good God has been to us here. At times it has felt painful to be obedient but I can see a little better what he's doing here. And there is still a lot to do - we are not the finished article! But as we step forward we do so confident in him.

Back in the saddle

The wettest July in 100 years and we camped in Wales - how clever are we?

We still had some good dry days though and it was a good time to eat, drink, sleep, read and catch up with each other again. More reflections to follow but here's something I liked from Douglas Coupland's novel JPod:

"TV and the Internet are good because they keep stupid people from spending too much time out in public."

Spending 16 days away from the Internet was a challenge at first and a blessing after that. Having spent time in public I am reminded it's good for me.

Friday, 24 July 2009

Preach the gospel

“If a man is called to preach the gospel, woe to him if he stoops to be a king.”

Found this quote as I was reading through some old things. Sorry, don't know where its from - I didn't reference it in my notes - and googling it didn't help. But I am trying to put a series of four talks together for a week I am doing in September and these words were an encouragement. Hope they encourage someone else too.

Outstanding in my field

We're off tomorrow to brave the elements in South Wales with our tent. Will be posting pictures of spectaclar rainfall once we are back and have managed to dry out the camera.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Is there a better band around at the moment?

Listened to Sawdust for the first time today, despite having it for about six months. For a filler album of B sides, covers (including great ones of Joy Division's Shadowplay and Dire Straits Romeo and Juliet) and alternate versions, its a cracking CD. Saw them on TV a couple of weeks ago, the whole of their set from T in the Park, and they were just brilliant. Great songs. When You Were Young from Sam's Town (complete with refrain, "He doesn't look a thing like Jesus") would make a great basis for a Youth Group Talk on 1 Corinthians 7.39.

Even with U2 touring this summer I have to ask are the Killers the best band around at the moment? If not I'd like to know who.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Cover to Cover

About twenty of us are reading through the Bible in a year at the moment using the CWR Cover to Cover Bible which takes you through the entire thing in a year chronologically - i.e. as it happens. Or as CWR think it happened - you'll appreciate that we can't be too certain about a few books.

Overall it has been a positive experience. We have used the evening services to preach on Scripture that most of us have read in the previous week and that has been good to do. It gives us the chance to encourage each other as we read and spur each other on. Sometimes it has helped us understand things that we haven't picked up by reading on our own. At Easter we asked if the evening congregation wanted to carry on with this pattern and they all said yes. Such unity is wonderful, albeit rarer than it should be. Another benefit of the arrangement is that we have an increased evening congregation, as well as having people reading the Bible regularly if not daily and getting a Bible overview. There are helpful maps and charts in the book too. So it is a positive experience for us, though I would also make the following points.

  1. Cover to Cover is a bit more specific in the dates for Bible history than I would want to be. So for instance there is a note in Day 3 that says "The flood approx. 2319 BC - probably a Thursday." Okay, so I made up the last bit, but you get the picture.

  2. I find the section at the end, "For Thought and Contemplation" pretty twee and trite but guess some are helped by them.

  3. Because they use the "Holman Christian Standard Bible" I was a bit unsure about whether to use this or the church Bible when I preached. I have ended up reverting to the TNIV and this has been fine.

  4. The strongest criticism I'd have is that they have been a bit too eager with the scissors in dividing up the text sometimes. So you will be in Hosea and (hopefully following the flow of the story) when suddenly here are some chapters from Isaiah, or Micah, or 2 Kings, or 2 Chronicles, or a Psalm. Which just makes for it being harder for people to see the sweep of the book to my mind. Perhaps the most striking example was when we read Amos and I realised on preaching it that the end of the final chapter was not where I expected it to be. A competition ensued and two church members won themselves a Mars bar (we are big on prosperity here) for finding the off-cut last five verses. Turned out they were before the rest of the book! Examples like this make it harder to read and understand the Scriptures, which is not good.

BUT - it's been good to do this. It means we can preach on Amos and give an overview (with handout if I am organised) in about 35 minutes on the whole book. And it means I am reading more of the Bible devotionally than I would normally. So even though I am lagging embarrassingly behind the schedule at the moment I console myself with the knowledge that I am still doing better than normal.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Durham University Survey

Just catching up and found this...

Mentions amongst other things that...

The study revealed that 62% of respondents did not know the parable of the Prodigal Son and 60% could not name anything about the story of the Good Samaritan.
One respondent said David and Goliath was the name of a ship, while another thought Daniel - who survived being thrown into the lions' den - was the Lion King.

Fewer than 1 in 20 could name all ten commandments either, though to be honest if you were to stop me in the street at a random moment I think I'd struggle too.

Well, no good sitting round saying "Tsk!", we have a job to do and it looks like it's even bigger than we realised. Makes me realise what a great opportunity it is to go and teach these stories in school today.

Should she stay or should she go?

First day at work for a week, coughing a bit but feeling much better. I came back to the following email:

Dear Steve Ayers,

I shall be staying in Burnham for the night of August 9th and have just looked up churches in Burnham and listened to your sermon on Mothering Sunday about Peter. Will you be preaching on Sunday morning the 9th August?

With love in Jesus,

Was I really preaching on Peter on Mothers Day? If so, why?

Still, notice that she doesn't let on as to whether me preaching would draw her to the church or put her off?

I just emailed back to say that she was perfectly safe, I am going to be on holiday.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

How average am I?

A report in last month's Evangelicals Now says that the average FIEC pastor is:
  • 51 years old
  • been in ministry for nearly 17 years
  • works 56 hours a week
  • 6% are under 35
  • 40% are over 55
He (hardly a dangerous assumption) earns between £22,850 and £23,880 a year if he lives in his own house and about £4000 less if he lives in a manse.
I have no axe to grind here and am paid okay. No one comes into the ministry for the money - or the glamour, come to think of it. But is it any wonder that young fellas aren't attracted to serve in a church?

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Preaching 1 Corinthians 8

I'm preaching through 1 Corinthians at the rate of a chapter a week on a Sunday morning. It's tough to say all that you want when you are charging through but I think the momentum keeps us going and I have enjoyed the experience and had good feedback.

I mainly chose it because I don't know it so well as some books and as Andy Gemmill pointed out at New Word Alive, it doesn't get preached much because it's a longer book. So before this I have preached on the cross being foolish and a stumbling block to those who don't believe (1:18-25), the chapter on love (13) and the evidence that Paul gives for the resurrection (15). The rest is pretty much a preaching blank, so this has been a good exercise for me. I love this part of my job, I get paid to read the Bible and study what it means.

Which is challenging. Not only because Sunday rolls around relentless but because it says some tough things to me. Reading through 1 Corinthians I am struck quite forcefully at how out of step it is with our culture. Or more accurately, of course, how out of step we are with the Bible. So we had to take a time-out (and an extra week) during chapter 6 to look at what the Bible says about homosexuality. And last week - in chapter 7 - we hit marriage, singleness, and divorce -affording us much light-hearted relief. I have flagged up a future time-out for divorce and remarriage, which I need to do some serious study on before I wade in. But one thing is for sure, people are talking after services about the Bible. That doesn't always happen and so I am very encouraged.

This week 1 Corinthians 8 and the easier topic of what to do about meat sacrificed to idols. Or is it easier?

While the stuff I get at Asda hasn't generally been offered up before foreign gods before it hits the shelves I have to look at the chapter and ask, "What are the principles for me, here?" Paul makes it pretty clear - that we may have great freedom in an issue but that we cannot use that freedom to destroy others. So while it may not be a problem to eat meat offered to idols (because idols are nothing and there is only one God) Paul does add that if tucking in will destroy someone with a weaker conscience then he'd rather go veggie.

A question that I have often wondered about on the back of this though is, "Does this mean I cannot do anything that another Christian objects to?" This is something I came across in the NIV Application Commentary by Craig Blomberg and helped my thinking:

“The key issue in applying verses 7-13 involves recognising those who truly have weak consciences. Nothing in the context justifies an association of “weaker brothers” with those who are merely offended by a particular practice... Even less justified is the application of these principles to the “professional weaker brother” – the Christian legalist eager to forbid morally neutral activities even though he or she would never personally indulge in those activities. Rather, the weaker brother or sister is the Christian who is likely to imitate a stronger believer in some morally neutral practice but feel guilty about doing so or, worse still, be led into that which is inherently sinful or destructive. The stronger believer’s freedom thus actually has damaging consequences for the spiritual growth and maturation of the weaker sibling... An adequate analogy to 1 Corinthians 8 must have three elements: (a) a threat to Christian freedom; (b) a potential stumbling block; and (c) a Christian brother or sister who might actually be led into sin.” (Blomberg, 165)

So I need the wisdom to discern, "Is this a serious problem for a weaker brother or sister who could be lead into sin? Or is this criticism from a person who simply wants their own way on a matter - again?" And I also need the humility to step back from my rights when that is required.

Perhaps the most important phrase in chapter 8 is "knowledge puffs up while love builds up." The goal isn't to know most but to love best; building others up and not tearing them down. Challenging stuff!

City 0 Spurs 3

But no disgrace there. Harry gave all of his first team players 45 minutes and the rest looked pretty impressive as well apparently. My daughter relished seeing her beloved Spurs for the first time (where did we go so wrong?) and the whole family enjoyed the experience. I followed via text updates on the Spurs website. After the game my son got a picture with Exeter City manager Paul Tisdale. Spot the genius...

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Exeter v Spurs

I've followed Exeter City for a while now but really only in earnest for the last four seasons since returning to the West Country. So I've seen them lose in the Blue Square Premier at home to Burton who were bottom at the time and seen them win a thrilling match 3-2 against Leigh RMI and watched plenty of other sides you may not have heard of. What I am wanting to say is that I'm not just a good time Charlie. I have been to Crawley away. That said, I don't go every week, there's too much going on to arrange life around football, love it as I do. So I think I made about 9 games last season, including our 6-1 home defeat in the freezing cold versus Chesterfield.

BUT - these are exciting times to be an Exeter City fan because two years ago we were promoted back into the League. And then last year they only went and did it again, didn't they? So this year they line up in League 1, which sounds so much more impressive than the old Third Division. This means that they are now playing teams that my friends have heard of. Opening game of the season? Leeds United away. First cup game? QPR at home. First league home match? Norwich City. These are all teams my mother will have heard of. We have hit the big time.

And to kick it all off tonight Spurs came a visiting. A sell out! And I got seats via the website. And I felt too lousy to go. So Mrs A took the children and I will have to wait till later to see the new players and trialists that I've been reading about. Oh, yeah, and all those international superstars of Spurs. Seems like I will have to wait for the season proper to start. Oh well.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

This is the week that wasn't

I got the bug. Swine flu or (even worse) man flu? Who knows. A reasonably mild dose but enough to stop me in my tracks for a few days and the enforced isolation means I got bored. On catching up with a friend's news via their Blogspot I figured, "Why not try give it a try?" I mean, if the Draycotts have worked it out then how hard can it be?

I am, meanwhile, reminded again that whilst I am laid low, the work I am doing marches on. I may have had to cancel things but I am not as indispensible as I would like to think and that is a good reminder for anyone, especially those of us who work for a church.