Saturday, December 27, 2008

Noodles for Christmas Dinner

This Christmas we were invited to Christmas dinner by some friends of ours Yumi and Yenfu. Yumi cooked an amazing meal for us of noodles, rice, cucumber, sandwiches, chips, chicken, gammon... it just kept coming. When we had just about finished a pile of sausages appeared.

Nettes got me a camera for Christmas so of course I took it along to try it out. Here’s Callie just about to tuck into the feast. You can see a few more of my experiments on flickr.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Down and Out in Birmingham

On Thursday afternoon, I went round the city centre with Paul Atkin giving out some presents to some homeless guys. Between us we must have given away about a dozen packages, each containing a hat, a scarf, a pair of gloves, and a pair of socks, toothbrush, toothpaste, soap and deodorant. Many of the guys shook our hands and one even gave us a big hug. He said that he had wanted some gloves for some time and that it was lovely to wear a new woollen hat. Many of us had donated the contents and Paul had already given out lots of these presents and has since packed some more. Paul knows these guys as he has been working with them for about ten years now.

Paul came to our church when he married Jackie this year. Our little daughter Callie was one of their bridesmaids. Since then our church has launched a ministry to the homeless headed up by Paul and Jackie. They spend their time talking to people and helping people in practical ways such as showing them the right forms to fill in to get a flat or distributing clothes, blankets and sleeping bags that have been donated.

On Fridays, we use our little church building as a Drop In Centre. People will come for a coffee & sandwiches, play pool or dominoes and to do some art. I have been dropping in myself for half an hour or so most weeks and mixing with the people. This Friday, Steve our church elder, made us all a glorious curry as a Christmas treat. There was about thirty of us there and we knew that several would be sleeping on the streets that night. We have seen a number of people from the Drop In join us in our Sunday church gatherings at the community centre. And not surprisingly last week there were many there for our church’s Christmas dinner. It is just great to be around these people.

There is a very good account of what we are doing ministering to the homeless in Birmingham, from the website for our network of churches – Lifelink International. It is worth watching the videos. They are not just people talking. There are some good shots of the Drop In and the work on the streets. It gives you the flavour of what we are doing.

Sunday, December 07, 2008


'I got a bit confused about Advent yesterday. I thought it was about Christmas, a good friend tells me it's about when Jesus will return and then Wikipedia cleared the whole thing up by letting me know it's about both!' blogged Carla from 24-7 Prayer. I can identify with this as someone who has only discovered the Christian calendar in the past few years while I have been using the lectionary as a basis for my Bible readings. Anyway here I am again in Advent.

As I write this Nettes and our little daughter Callie are busy with our now traditional Jesse Tree. This year Nettes constructed a papier-mâché tree based on a South American Tree of Life. We just love searching for new ideas. Here are some that we recently found. If you want an alternative idea for a decoration – I think this one might be appropriate in our economic climate. Or if you want to see an art project in the community what about this for an advent calendar? There are loads more on this post by Jonny Baker. I’m sure there are many more ideas around?

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Church That Is Left Behind

My wife, Nettes, brought this book back from a leaders’ weekend with our network of churches. I was very interested as I’m in the process of reading Perriman’s the Coming of the Son of Man. Perriman’s book is such a tight argument that I can’t skim it without losing the plot. So I may be wrong, but from our conversations the two books appear to be converging on similar conclusions. Kobus’s book looks lighter and spends more time outlining and debunking pre-millennial theology especially extreme dispensationalism. The title is of course a reference to the best selling series of novels based on pre-millennial theology.

Having leaned towards an amillenial or postmillenial stance for many years, and more recently been interested in the transmillenial viewpoint, I tend to forget that many Christians either haven’t thought about this or, particularly in the States, have pretty much swallowed the whole pre-mill/dispensationalist argument. So I was amazed to see this hidden camera stunt on Aaron Rathburn’s blog back in September. You could only do this in America :)

I guess in some quarters these ideas are still going strong. Hopefully Kobus’s book will provide a much needed antidote to some in our circles who have picked up some of these thoughts from the God Channel or maybe from the Left Behind novels themselves.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

God Bless Barack Obama

It sounds like euphoria in the States for many now that Obama has got in. The internet is full of OTT statements about this new president. It seems in Britain that many are pleased as, compared with Bush, he appears to have a very different approach to Afghanistan and Iraq. The general feeling is that we will be glad to see the back of Bush who pulled us into a war that we did not agree with. It is with these issues that I feel Obama could be a champion of righteousness and justice. Some Christians may disagree but personally I feel this is a greater issue than Obama’s stance on abortion or gay marriages.

All this talk about change for the better reminds me of when Blair became prime minister. I wonder how long it will last. I also wonder how much of his popularity is due to media hype, as we heard so much more about Obama than McCain in the lead up to the election. But if Obama can take America - and the rest of us - through the current financial crisis well and handle the Middle East and the War on Terror sensibly I think he has the potential to be one of American’s greatest presidents. I also hope that Obama’s election will be a step forward for racial equality in the States. But who knows? Only time will tell.

Thanks to Jack Thielepape and Kris Kros on flickr for the photo.

UPDATE: I've just seen this little book by a Christian publisher. It's a biography that emphasises Obama's faith in Jesus and is written for kids aged 9-12. It looks good.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Interfaith Dialogue

I’ve just got back from watching my little daughter Callie’s assembly on Diwali. Being such a multi-cultural school means that many different festivals are celebrated. When we were praying together Callie recently asked if I would pray that she will remember to talk to people about Jesus – which I did. But also I reminded her to listen to other people and ask them what they believe.

Interfaith dialogue is a major theme in the Awareness Course that a small group of us are still working through in our church. We would not identify with fundamentalist Christians who see evangelism as a monologue, yet we do believe that that our message is of vitally importance. Topics we have looked at recently - the incarnation, Christ’s mission to preach good news to the poor and the sending out of seventy in Luke 10 – all show that we do have a vital message.

An arrogant fundamentalism can be very dangerous and often gives a very wrong impression of religion. I’ve just been reading in Erling Thu’s blog about his visit to Orissa and accounts of the Christian’s being violently persecuted by fundemetalist Hindus. Yes, I heard about battles in the story of Rama and Sita this morning but I know that fighting is not what the Hindu faith stands for. These accounts need to be understood in their cultural context in the same way that the battles in the Old Testament do.

Surely true religion involves humble conversations about our faith without hurting one another, even though we are fervently convinced of its truth? Unfortunately, the term 'interfaith dialogue' has become associated with ideas such as 'all roads lead to God' and 'you tell me your truth and I'll tell you mine'. Is it possible to rescue this term and learn from it the idea of listening to others ideas and beliefs with interest as part of a more humble way of doing personal evangelism? What do you think?

Update: See this related post by Daniel Story on respecting those who don't believe.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Time With God 2008

Last weekend our church did our regular Time With God. This is a 24 hour period when our building is open for us to pray, read or however we want to spend some time with God in a similar way to 24-7 prayer. We have candles, music and plenty of paper for people to draw a picture on or write down prophecies, scriptures or prayers to hang around the building. This time as a family we contributed a few beanbags for the ‘comfort zones’. And there was some play-dough to work with as we prayed. During the night I made a model of the ‘body of Christ’ by making many small figures and molding them into one. I spent some praying with others, did a bit of reading but for a lot of the time I sat in God’s presence with the lights off and the candle burning. As we discussed the time on Sunday morning I was encouraged to hear that others had lit the candles and turned out the lights too. Some whom a few years ago would never have dreamt of doing so. And it was great to see the prayers that people had written pegged out on the 'washing line'.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Babylon Halt

My latest reviews for Cross Rhythms are now on the site - they’re the ones marked ‘New’ on My Cross Rhythms page. Among them is a review of Babylon Halt - an excellent new album from Secret Archives of the Vatican. If you go into the review you can see that Vince Millett of the band is offering a free copy of the CD to readers. I’ve got to give my review copy back so I’ve just gone into Broken Drum Records, emailed them from the contact page and asked for my free copy. Why don’t you do the same? Don't forget to mention that you read about it on my review.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Credit Crunch

What's the answer to today's financial crisis? Getting another credit card? I don't think so. Thanks to Mark Sayers for the link to this disturbing advert.

Over at
Between Two Worlds, David Kotter has some thoughts about the current situation - also from an American perspective - that are worthy of note for Christians. I found this article via Tallskinnykiwi and then Christian Personal Finance. Thanks guys!

Everyday the news seems to indicate that we are moving into a recession and people fear that their livelihood is at risk. For those not eligible for housing benefit or a council house, privately renting can be very costly. Getting a mortgage is thought to be a prudent move by many. In some parts of the UK it may even be cheaper to buy than to rent. But then there is the risk of getting into debt. Of course, taking out a secured loan such as a mortgage isn't debt in itself but defaulting on the repayments is. With falling house prices and a stagnant market a home owner could end up with massive debts. People now need to be more careful than ever if they are not to end up losing their homes.

Our church has just started a mission initiative towards the homeless. There is an ever present need for this but, I was just thinking, with the ways things are going we might be seeing even more people in debt who could end up on the streets in the near future.

Perhaps it is time for Christians to start seriously praying for the economy? What do you think?

See also Credit Crunches by Cross Rhythms' Mal Fletcher.

UPDATE: There is a fascinating money programme article which is linked to an episode this BBC series screened in November. Property: The End of the Affair basically argued that renting could be a lot more prudent than buying. Many first time buyers today can’t get a mortgage and feel they are missing out while others are desperate to hold onto their property ownership. Yet economically it could make a lot more sense for people in the UK to rent, as is the norm in many other countries, rather than buy – especially in the current financial climate. They argued that buying property could be just as risky as borrowing money to buy shares – which as we all know may keep falling.

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Future Direction of Worship

On Thurday and Friday Jonny Baker took part in a symposium on worship at the London School of Theology. I know Jonny through CMS events and worship sessions at Greenbelt but mainly through his blog. He has been asked to be part on a panel of experts on worship that also includes among others Graham Kendrick and Joel Edwards. They are discussing the future direction of worship. To help Jonny out I left a couple of comments on this blog here - a long with a lot of other people - the gist of which Jonny tried to weave into his contributions.

Jonny has outlined some of the thoughts of his fellow panellists here, some of his own contributions here, and his summary of the arguments here. I am following this with great interest and commenting on it as it goes - sometimes with more than one comment on a post. There are some very open and honest thoughts in this discussion, some of which I think are pertinent to our worship experiences in Church Alive. Of course I am not denying that we have some good times of worship - I just want to go further.

Please let me know your thoughts by leaving a comment.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Greenbelt 08

Highlights for me at this year’s Greenbelt Festival included Molten Meditation - a fusion of charismatic and contemplative worship lead by Robin Vincent. As well as in his own session, I saw Robin Vincent in the Proost Lounge – a showcase of new talent from this label who were celebrating their first anniversary. But apart from this I didn’t get to much music. For one thing the Performance Café was always packed out. Does taking part in the hymn singing at the beer tent count? It was amazing.

So what did I get to?

Ikon led what was really an 18 point sermon on lessons they had learnt as a church. It lasted an hour and half but it was brilliant. Every point had a visual illustration and/or activity associated with it - pillows, balloons, video, discussions and lots of laughs.

This year I went to a couple of new venues:

1. St Ethelburga’s Tent where I did a little biblical meditation and heard a discussion on whether Eastern religions could give us any insights into Christianity and…

2, The Breathing Space Yurt where I took part into an insightful yet whimsical event called a Tea Ritual where we heard stories, quotes and demonstrations centred around the hospitality of drinking tea. Then we served each other a genteel cuppa.

Also I deliberately made Callie a priority, queuing to get her into the Children’s Festival and taking her to events such as an all-age service called Trinity Twister on Sunday morning, where we learnt about the trinity, played twister and took communion.

I’ve now downloaded a couple of excellent talks that I missed while I was with Callie: Jenny Baker on gender roles and Brian McLaren on post-colonialism. I might blog about them later and perhaps mention one or two more things.

As usual it was a great time.

Friday, August 29, 2008

When Christian Ministers Fall

As humans we are all fallible including those whose work is serving God. It is sad to hear news of Christian ministers stepping down from their work because of personal issues. It may need a lot of forgiveness if these people have taken a stand against the things that they have done. It may need even more forgiveness when we see that issues have been covered up for some time and that those close to them have either been complicit or naïve. But still they need our prayers more than ever. And let us pray that their behaviour doesn't shake the faith of others.

Recently we have heard rumours of revival in Florida linked to the ministry of Todd Bentley. After stepping down, it is now clear that Todd had a drink problem and an affair. He has now separated from his wife and at least some of the healings Todd claimed have failed to been verified by his associates. Also in the news, Australian youth leader and musician Michael Guglielmucci, whose song Healer appeared on a Hillsong album, has been exposed as faking his fight with cancer, perhaps hoping to claim a miracle in the future. These are just a couple of recent examples that I feel free to quote as they are so well known.

Just because the messenger is imperfect doesn’t necessarily invalidate their message. We need to go back to God to see how much we agree with what such people have taught and practiced. I have always been sceptical of the methods used in the recent ‘revival’ but I do believe that God heals today. If this revival does continue without Todd it may well give it more credibility. But let us not turn our back on what we have learnt from such people just because we hear about them behaving in ways we would not condone.

As reformer and martyr John Bradford once said, "There but by the grace of God go I."

Monday, July 28, 2008

Sharing God

Going to the Eid Mela celebrations on Sunday reminded me that in my banner it says that I am blogging about the Awareness Course this year. So I thought I'd better keep you informed about how it is going.

I am very impressed that this course gives the most positive portrayal of Islam that I have ever heard from a Christian perspective. We looked briefly at the origins of Islam and its early history in this module. It really emphasised the good things in Islam such as how it stands for justice and helps the poor.

Yes, our church is still running the Awareness Course. We are studying next two modules which now involves two or three of us getting together to work through the material once a week. More people in out church studied the first module which I discussed earlier this year.

In module two 'Sharing God' - which compares Judaism, Christianity and Islam - we have also had some interesting discussions about a number of topics such as…

We looked at how to understand the early accounts in Genesis as mythology. However the course wasn’t saying they were untrue. I think the main idea was not to be too worried about the scientific or historical accuracy of these accounts but to see that they teach spiritual lessons.

We couldn’t quite see the idea of Yahweh developing from being chief among the God’s early in the Old Testament, but it was interesting to see the influence of other religions - such as the Midianite God who was also called Yahweh.

At the moment we are on a break for the summer holidays and hope to start again in September.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Who will succeed Terry Virgo?

At the recent New Frontiers conference ‘Together on Mission’ Mark Driscoll brought a prophecy exhorting Terry Virgo to make a five year plan that involved seeking God about who should succeed Terry in the leadership of New Frontiers. In this clip of an interview with Adrian Warnock, Mark Driscoll talks about the prophecy and his time at the conference.

Any comments?

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Christians and Blogging

I just found this brilliant quote from Mark Greene. You can read his article in full on the LICC site (London Institute for Contemporary Christianity).

"[Blogging] …raises important questions about how the Church chooses to communicate – and our need to combine personal conviction with openness to listen. This applies not only in the way we seek to talk to people who don’t know Jesus but also whether we genuinely seek to create space for open communication among those who already do. One of the common criticisms of church culture by Christians is that it is often extremely difficult to voice dissent, explore a contrary point of view, and, more significantly, find a context in which to be emotionally and intellectually honest. Can we create contexts for ‘good conversation’? Of course, at its worst, blogging, particularly pseudonymous blogging, can simply be a self-indulgent way to sound off. At its best, however, it can provide an authentic way to express our true humanity and begin a conversation with other like-hearted humans who are seeking truth, life and a way to live it in a distinctively personal, creative way. And it’s hard to be anything but enthusiastic about that."

Any thoughts?

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Monday, July 07, 2008

Romans Disarmed

Last month I went to Birmingham Cathedral to hear Brian Walsh and Silvia Keesmaat on Romans. Sorry that I haven’t got round to blogging about this sooner, as it was really good. Having read their book on Colossians I was excited about what they would do with this epistle. The day was organised by CMS as part of their Blah series and also advertised in the Hope 08 newsletter. Richard Sudworth introduced them and you can read his comments on the day here. Walsh and Keesmaat’s site is also worth checking out.

I liked Walsh and Keesmaat’s teaching style; they were very good at getting interaction with us even though there were about fifty of us at a guess. They looked a lot at the context of the book and drew out some interesting parallels between the culture of the time and our culture today. Although there are very clear differences they looked at some points which are analogous. They used drama to great effect by acting out someone reading a section of Paul’s letter for the first time with someone heckling.

Their emphasis on the corporate life of the church rather than on personal salvation was something else that I liked but I wouldn't go as far as they did in saying that this is what Romans is all about. But I did like what they said about about not being ashamed of your difficulties from Romans 8. And they saw Paul’s words as subversive and so gave a very interesting interpretation of Romans 13 pointing out that the Roman authorities would not been pleased with what Paul was saying. Rather than making good citizens Paul was criticising the Roman authorities – who denied publicly that they ruled by the sword. Fascinating.

I found listening to this couple for a few hours that Tuesday was a real treat.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Prince Caspian

On Sunday, Nettes arranged a babysitter took me to see Prince Caspian for a belated birthday present. We originally planned to go in May for my birthday but that was the date it opened in the States not in Britain. At last the time came yesterday afternoon. We walked down to the cinema and dropped Callie off on the way. Lots of thanks to the Naylors for looking after her.

The movie? Well... some brilliant special effects. A lot more fighting than expected. It had the message that they should have listened to Lucy and waited for Aslan. In the Bible when Israel went to war without God or turned to false gods they didn’t win. They needed the prophets to seek the Lord. Similarly Prince Caspian and the children needed Lucy to seek out Aslan to bring them victory.

Of course they downplayed the spiritual message. Nevertheless a good film and a good present. Thank you Nettes.

Build a Bear

Saturday I took Callie to a party at the Build-a-Bear Workshop. After games and making wishes on little hearts to go in the bears our party host stuffed the bears and the children promised to look after them. No hard sell of the clothes you could purchase but perhaps that was because we went straight on to Pizza Hut. Thoroughly enjoyable.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Rumours of Revival

Recently I posted about the rumours of revival in The Florida Outpouring. Steve, elder of our church, went to one of the meetings Dudley that are an offshoot of this and I think it is fair to say was not impressed. But I know of one of my friends on facebook who has been over to Florida and is setting up his own meetings up north. Personally I think that it is a mixture: God is moving but people are getting in on the act and hyping it up. I joined a group on facebook to discuss this but found camps sadly divided between those who were saying ‘Oooh! Isn’t this great!’ and those who were saying ‘It’s all of the Devil’. When someone complained of receiving hate-mail I left the group.

I found a much more reasonable discussion on this cartoon on ASBO Jesus. And here are a few more interesting links that I have found as I have followed this discussion across the internet. There was an intelligent reply to criticism by revivalist John Crowther and a positive article by Pete Greig of 24/7 prayer on what is happening. But I found a more reserved approach from another part of 24/7 prayer network. Also Terry Virgo - head honcho of big charismatic house-church network New Frontiers - has plenty of reservations, yet he thinks there may be something in it, especially in the light of this testimony. And interestingly in this recent faithworks article Jim Wallis (author of Seven Ways to Change the World) does say that revival is coming but sees it as more related to Christians impacting social change... So the discussions carry on.

If anyone finds anymore links or thoughts feel free to post them in the comments section below.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Training Courses

As a college lecturer, it’s about this time of year that I get to go on training courses. Increasingly students need activities and support from new technology and can't cope with just lectures. But this requires skills and time. We do have staff development days at college every now and again. But it’s much better to get out and do something organised by others.

This time I’ve been to a training day at Manchester that was not just about teaching tips but also specific to my subject - psychology. I came away from Want To Be A Brilliant Psychology Teacher with a CD of presentations and resources for activities with lesson plans a bit like a cook book. Because they are all on disc I can modify them as I see fit. But if short of time there are some things that I can just use as they are. Wow!

And at the same time over the next few weeks I am doing an online course that is teaching me how to design online courses. Well, at least produce support material for my classes online using an application called Moodle. It actually produces an online environment where students can chat and discuss the material, access material and take online tests.

An increasing part of being a teacher is to update knowledge and skills. To this end all college lecturers are now part of the Institute For Learning and have been given a disc which among other things helps us to keep track of our continual professional development. So I better get working on that.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Blog Spring Clean

Yes, my blog spring cleaning is finally done. Not only have I added links to my most recent Cross Rhythms Reviews but also some extra links including some new blogs that I have found. You may notice that I have divided my blog links from my other links to make a proper blogroll at last. And I have added links to my other Web 2.0 profiles such as facebook and flickr under the heading Life Streaming. Also note that is where my crossrhythms reviews have put. Why not have a look down the side of my blog and explore some of the links?

Friday, May 16, 2008

Is This Revival?

Last night I heard that some people in our church were visiting meetings in Dudley with a guest speaker from the States hotfoot from a mini-revival. Yes, there are rumours of revival going on again in the States particularly this time in Lakeland Florida. Names that I am hearing include Todd Bentley and John Crowther. I am so glad when people truly experience God yet I think we also need discernment. Some of these people’s ideas and practices appear pretty whacky to say the least. Visions and angelic visitations abound. People are not just drunk in the Spirit as they were back in the days of the Toronto Blessing but are ‘sloshed’ and even ‘high’ in the Spirit. BTW thanks to Robbymac for the artwork.

This appears to be something more than just another series of meetings as there are many claims of supernatural healings. But I think people need to be careful about putting these things on a par with some of the great moves of God in the past. There are now meetings being broadcast daily on God TV and plenty of clips available on YouTube. I don’t doubt for a minute that the Holy Spirit is actually working in these gatherings and that some of these healings are actually real. I think it is sad that some Christians are not even to open to things like this happening today. But I am also concerned that media can easily hype things.

Personally I don’t get too excited about appeals in meetings with ministers walking down the lines laying hands on people expecting them to fall over and even less so when it comes to gold dust falling or milk dripping from walls. Perhaps not trickery - as these people do appear honest – but there could be a lot of Derren Brown like suggestion going on. But here is one case of a little girl being healed of a broken elbow that includes the X-rays. Now that would be pretty powerful suggestion! I would be interested in some more objective research into these healings and I think that more medical verification would actually give more credibility to what is happening.

So is this revival? I trust that my comments are balanced. What are your thoughts? I would really appreciate it if people could help me on this one and post their perspective on this, in the comments section. Thanks.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Global Day Of Prayer

Our church is taking part in a massive joint meeting this Sunday to which all the churches in Birmingham have been invited as part of hope 08. This is our part in the Global Day of Prayer on Pentecost Sunday. Our homegroup is having lunch together and then we are meeting up at our church premises in the afternoon to walk into Birmingham for an open air gathering in the grounds of Birmingham Cathedral. Like many churches we are taking this as an opportunity to pray for our city as we walk down aswell as joining with the rest of the Birmingham Church when we get there. Read more about this event here.

Monday, May 05, 2008


We’ve just got back from a weekend at Glastonbury where we went for the arts festival in our circle of churches. As we did last year, we braved the bank holiday traffic, climbed Glastonbury Tor – this time the easy way, visited the mediation gardens and the Abbey as well as dipping into Glastonbury’s Café culture. For Nettes the high spot was seeing Lynne Robertson Hay’s one woman show, for me it was hearing Bosch at the barbeque on Monday.

Friday, May 02, 2008

The Future Of Christian Music

I found this article by Charlie Peacock about the future of Christian music. Mike Rimmer who had just got back from the States said it was causing quite a stir. I think what Charlie Peacock says in this article makes a lot sense. Christian music does appear to be aimed too much at youth and so many people grow out of it. I wonder if Christian music not designed to be used by the church would be better off side by side with other music of its own genre rather than being marketed just to Christians. That is the way he sees it going anyway. Any thoughts?

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Best Homegroup Meeting Ever

A simple old-fashioned conversational Bible study of Psalm 23. Best ever? Well it did go really well!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Give Yourself A Whack On The Side Of The Head

I've just found Roger Von Oech's blog the author of the Creative Whack Pack - a great aid to creative thinking.

Friday, April 04, 2008

My Easter Holidays

Hi! Today I am doing some shopping including getting stuff for a salad and a couple of pineapples for a ‘bring and share’ meal at our church on Sunday. You see this weekend is our church weekend at home. That’s right - at home. It’s like our weekend away but instead of going miles away to a residential conference centre we’ve hired the premises of big church in Birmingham for Saturday and then are at our usual Sunday venue a bit longer. We’ve got guest speakers for the adults and the children, competitions, a talent show and chillout time as well as lots of meals together. Most are catered for except for the 'bring and share' on Sunday.

Just as our weekend away did before - this marks the end of our Easter holidays, which have gone too quickly. The Thursday before Good Friday, Nettes & I took the homegroup in a simple time of remembering the cross using some story telling with some slides on our laptop. On Saturday Callie helped build the Easter Garden - at a local parish church - to be used in an Easter Vigil service later that day, which I went to - just like last year. This year I also went to early morning communion there before getting to our pre-meeting prayer time before anyone else. As a family we later had a wonderful roast lamb for dinner that Nettes cooked this time.

When I’ve had chance over the holidays I’ve been drafting out some thoughts on the theme of identifying with Jesus. These thoughts use some of my insights from psychology in looking at the Bible’s accounts of Jesus. I think these may make it into the blog one day as an occasional series of articles loosely gathered on this theme. They might include such ideas of our longing for Jesus, the incarnation, Jesus’ mission, spiritual disciplines, the atonement, living the resurrection life, the body of Christ and our longing for his return. But this is a long term plan so don’t hold your breath.

BTW I've just noticed that David Matthew has been reading some interesting books on atonement and justification.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Is the Use of Holy Spirit Gifts in Decline?

Several weeks ago Nettes forwarded me an email from a friend of hers Alison Hull who was writing an article for Christianity magazine and asking people for comments. The article was about the charismatic churches discussing the decline in the use of gifts of the spirit that she has noticed. I emailed Ali my observations and thoughts and amazingly a quote from my email wound up in the article along with a number of quotes from Christian leaders and ex-leaders. My response was as follows:

“Though it may not be exactly what you were after these are my honest thoughts on the subject in our situation. In a small church like ours I would say that how people use gifts in public meetings changes as people with different gifts, styles and temperaments come and go. It is also the case that we all hopefully grow in our own faith and experience of God over time so it is difficult to be objective about such trends. That said, I have noticed some possible changes over the past ten years or so…”

It was this next part of my answer that was quoted. ”…The way people speak nowadays is much more down to earth and less hyped than it used to be. I don't hear people whipping up the crowd with meaningless jargon anymore. I think we are less dogmatic that everyone's experience, for instance with baptism with the Spirit, should be the same, and I also feel that we are now on a verge of beginning to use people's gifts in more creative planned activities. I wonder if these changes simply reflect changes in society as a whole that is more sceptical of hype and more tolerant of differences and desire more creativity.”

The full article is called 'Hands Down' and is the lead article in the March issue of Christianity. You can read it here if you have a subscription. Otherwise you will need to see if you can find any copies of this issue that have not sold out yet.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Citizens of Two Kingdoms

The final part of the Awareness Course was a rather short section that encouraged us to be secure in our own faith as we discuss it with others and to bring in God’s kingdom in all that we do. I have really enjoyed this course and it is good to hear people in our church discussing issues to do with culture. I found it provided an essential backdrop to where we are as a church in Birmingham and a context to where the church in Britain and worldwide is currently at. Our church has more modules of this course but we have not quite decided how to work through them with, what will probably be, a smaller number of us who wish to continue.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Fear, Faith and Change

This week on the Awareness Course we were looking comparing what Christian believes about the authority of the scriptures and comparing that with Islam and Judaism. Apparently a major difference is that Islam sees the Quran as the ultimate authority. Every word is believed to be the word of God hence they read it in its original language and revere the actual books themselves. Interpretations or Sharia decide what is the correct meanings and application of the scripture i.e. what is Halal – the right thing to do. Similarly our Old Testament particularly the Torah is treated similarly by the Jews.

However these interpretations tend to be very literal whereas usually when Christians interpret the Bible we would tend to approach it differently. For instance we would attempt to understand the style of writing, take into account the context of a verse in the whole Bible and attempt to understand the cultural context in which it is written. We would then apply our understanding of these principles with an awareness of our ever changing cultural context. Though it is scary this means that we are forever journeying in our faith re-applying it to new cultural contexts in are ever changing world.

As Christians rather than saying that our ultimate authority is the Bible many would tend to say that our ultimate authority is Jesus. We would use the Bible as a sign post to point us and others to Christ rather than a finishing post. Of course we love the Bible and it is very dear to us but we do not exalt it to a place of authority above God himself. But rather than simply using our logic to prove points of doctrine from texts in the Bible we are thrown back on God himself to discern how to apply the Bible to our situations that will involve relating to people who may be living very differently from ourselves.

BTW you might be interested in David Matthew's notes on this book that challenges the idea of the inerrancy of scripture.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Half Term News

Half term has nearly gone and I’ve still got lots of marking to do. As well as playing on facebook, I have so far managed to catch up with some reviews for Crossrhythms and be part of an interesting discussion on mission in our church.

But I have had some time with my little daughter Callie. One day we went to Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery again and did another workshop at the icon gallery. We also popped into the Halcyon Gallery on the way.

I’ve also been catching up with the news. I’ve been following the recent debate in the news about the role of Sharia law. I think that these comments by Richard Sudworth are the most sensible response that I have found so far. What do you think?

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Tolerance, Dialogue or Embracing Diversity

We had another interesting discussion last week in the Awareness Course. This time it was on how to dialogue with other faiths. The main emphasis was on humility. By this we meant realising that our faith is ‘incomplete’ in the sense that we are all on a journey trying to understand our faith better. We wouldn’t say that all faiths lead to God but we had to admit that Judaism is based on God’s revelation in the Old Testament and Islam appears to have some Christian roots. Even though we may disagree with the teachings of these faiths we still wondered if someone of these faiths – or others for that matter – who were sincerely seeking God may find him without hearing the message of Jesus.

Anna did a great job pointing to the idea that since Christ died for all then all or justified, for which there is possible support for in scripture. She deliberately presented this as an interesting idea but quite as a convincing idea. What would be the motivation for mission if this was the case? We were a little more convinced that as God reveals himself in creation then there may be a possibility that someone could come to know God without hearing the message of Jesus. But I think in this section we were saying more about what we didn’t know than what we did know. But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Also we discussed how we may learn from other people who are not Christian ways of outworking our faith. For instance, Eastern culture can teach us a lot about hospitality that we don’t practice in the West as we are socialised to retreat into our own private worlds – especially as we are so busy with our stress filled lives. But hospitality is more than having people round for a meal. Helen mentioned the idea of imaging we are the host wherever we go and so making sure everything is alright for everyone. Finally we were challenged to think of who we know who has a different faith and how we can be hospitable to them.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Mission Shaped Intro

Another course that is worth a look is this one on Mission Shaped stuff from CMS. Follow the PowerPoints and PDFs and find some interesting thoughts on rethinking church to reach contemporary culture. One difficulty I have with this is that it is obviously aimed at people in settings such as Anglican and Methodist and feeling a bit ineffective. Not that any type of churches have all the answers but it would be interesting to adapt this to take other types of churches, such as ones like ours, as starting points in the re-thinking process.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Resurgence of Religion

Today in the Awareness Course we were discussing religious fundamentalism and how this as increased across the world in recent years as a reaction to increased secularism in Europe and yet has different roots in the Middle East and America. Fundamentalism is often viewed negatively. To be fundamentalist as it is associated with very arrogant thinking and literal interpretations of scriptures. None of identified ourselves as fundamentalists but maybe we would have done many years ago. Unfortunately we didn’t really get a chance to discuss evangelicalism.

We had a bit of a history lesson not only looking at how the Enlightenment in Europe heralded the way for secularism but more interesting tracing history back to Middle East we were also noting that there was a time when Christians, Jews and Muslims lived together in a greater harmony than today. Eventually their cultures were suppressed by the Ottoman Empire which apparently they have never recovered from and they are still trying to re-establish their cultural identities today but very much in conflict with each other. I wondered what they had in the past that we don’t have today.

We then briefly turned our attention to the States. It was interesting to note that Americans prefix their national identity with say English-American or Afro-American. We discussed how this American identity is reinforced seeking a common enemy – terrorism today – ‘reds under the bed’ 50 years ago. We finished off mentioning that although associated with influences of moral majority/right wing fundamentalism it is surprising how much immorality comes out of American media.

Monday, January 21, 2008

How to download videos from YouTube

I recently saw this little ad on anorexia. I’ll be teaching anorexia at college soon. Although it is great that we can show the internet in class through the computer projectors it is frustrating that videos are blocked. I found it on YouTube and thought that it was a pity that YouTube doesn’t let you download the videos. 'Is there another way?' I asked. Well a colleague showed me If you copy the address of your video into this site then it will save it for you. The downside is that you need to install the video player from keepvid's site in order to watch the video. So though this will enable me to play any YouTube video when I’m offline on my laptop I still can’t use it at college because the college system won’t let me install the player. Oh well! Never mind.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Living in a Global Village

Globalization was the topic for this week’s Awareness Course. Our fast developing communications technology means that it feels like the world is getting smaller. Increasingly your location on the globe becomes irrelevant as you can talk to anyone anywhere and have products transported from anywhere to your doorstep. Time doesn’t matter that much either out of season as fruit and vegetables are increasingly available. This has produced improvements in the quality of people’s lives especially in the West but at what cost?

Some of the effects that we discussed included how graduates in developing countries are likely to end up with careers in call centres, and how the vast majority of say our toys and shoes are made in China because labour is cheap there. But with raising fuel costs and increasing awareness of these conditions for how long can this keep prices down. Might the decline of farming and manufacturing in the West mean that we may not be in any position to compete?

The course argues that developing worlds perceive the influx of media technology (e.g. flat screen TVs, mobile phones, internet connections etc.) as a deliberate attempt by the West – especially by America – of exporting their culture. They see this as today’s imperialism or colonialism. New technology is resulting in a decline in respect for elders whose wisdom is becoming seen as dated. In a similar way they ask ‘Why should thousand year old civilizations be told what to do by a nation that is only a couple of hundred years old?’

On the other hand Westerners may feel invaded by the waves of immigration that have occurred in recent years. Whereas ethnic minorities to some extent may have retreated into ghettos we should remember that the Bible encourages us to be hospitable to aliens. We discussed how the Bible seems to affirm the idea of nations although it comes second to our citizenship of God’s kingdom and certainly should not be expressed at the expense of others. One interesting comment was that the sort of political correctness in local government that aimed to impose these minority cultures on the masses probably peaked about five years ago.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Conflict of Cultures in the Third Millennium

The Awareness course kicked off this morning and very quickly we got into a very interesting discussion about what it is like to live in Birmingham where so many cultures live side by side surprisingly peacefully despite the flare ups of the odd race riot that we thought is probably due more to poverty than ethnic issues. Which is worthy of note as the aim of the course is after all to help us as Christians living in a multi-cultural society to be aware of and to develop our understanding of other faiths and cultures in order bring peace.

The course discusses the fact that in a world recovering from colonialism people are asserting their own ideas of spirituality. It was commented that we are continually encouraged by our culture to be tolerant but the meaning of this term – as is the case with so many terms today – is mutating and coming to mean agree with or condone. Christians cannot afford to be like some of the puritans who withdrew from their culture but instead needs to be incarnational within it, i.e. we are to bring the attitudes of the Trinity into our relationship with others.

We are today in the UK living in post-Christian culture. There are still many principles in our laws that are grounded in a Judeo-Christian viewpoint such as being innocent until proven guilty by the testimony of witnesses and principles of hospitality to the foreigner. Interestingly we can see recent changes in the Government’s approach to multi-culturalism as the buzz word of ‘diversity’ is giving way to the new buzz word of ‘commonality’. Gordon Brown talks about what we all have in common as British citizens such as the values of fairness, respect and tolerance which we were saying is in effect an ‘over tolerance’.

So how are we as Christians to transform our culture? On one hand we can come over as too aggressive but on the other we can be like, “The man who marries the spirit of one age and becomes a widower in the next”. We discussed the values of complaining to the media and petitioning parliament as the ‘Christian Institute’ does and thought that it was more important to petition for laws that were issues of ‘justice’ to others rather than ‘righteousness’ for instance against laws that would impede us in to preach the gospel. But complaining or petitioning we said often come from an idea of defending God especially when people complain to media say about blasphemy. But our God does not need defending as “our saviour has already been humiliated”.

We wondered if we need to shift our focus on transforming our culture from one that complains and lobbies to one that says, let us do our work in a godly way just as Christians called to politics do their work in a godly way. We finally discussed how we are to both educate others and ourselves about our faith as we do this. It is as we apply our faith (and explain it to others) that we really come to understand it.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

The Awareness Course

I am very excited about the a new midweek teaching programme that our church is about to embark on called ‘The Awareness Course’. This course was co-written by Father Nadim Nassar who spoke recently at Celebration 07 – the annual conference for our group of churches - and he is part of an organisation called the Trinity Foundation for Christianity and Culture. The course can be run in any type of church or denomination. It is designed to explore what it means to be a Christian in a multi-cultural world that embraces many different faiths. It discusses how we can hold on to our unique faith whilst still appreciating and respecting others as part of our diverse culture. To this end this course enables Christians to be strengthened in their own faith and to learn about other faiths at the same time. One of its stated aims is to reduce fear and ignorance, bringing peace and understanding whilst examining the world of the 21st century from a Christian viewpoint. It looks like this will involve both presentations and lots of discussion. Three of our church members have been trained to deliver this material and there are PowerPoints and lots of handouts that accompany this course. It all looks really good. I’ll let you know how it goes.