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...