Saturday, 31 May 2014

Cycling the Isle of Wight

My good friend Sean suggested recently that I come out of cycling retirement and join him and others on the annual cycle fest that is the ride around the Isle of Wight. A wonderful idea until I remembered that my ego is even bigger than my gut (which these days is quite something), how fit all the others are and how unfit I am! I have therefore had to come up with the following game plan for the ride...
  1. Survive - Most likely scenario is that I get so tired that my head drops or I forget how to corner at speed and go headlong into a lampost or more likely on the Isle - a thorn bush.
  2. Not to sustain an injury. When surrounded by such relative titans, it's easy to fall prey to the temptation of pretending to be fine, keeping pace with them whilst not admitting that I am over stretching myself and dying inside and in the process strain, tweek, pull or even rip a muscle I forgot I had.
  3. Not to frustrate my fellow cyclists utterly by my relative lack of fitness compared to them who have not only been training consistantly, but upped their game since I forsook the sport to court and marry my wife! Fortunately, they are a very gracious bunch, so this is the least of my worries, but I would still love them to feel that we had a good blast round the island.
Anything else is a bonus!

In case you were wondering, I do love cycling, genuinely. As with many things - the risk is part of the thrill. I just don't want to be the weak link in the chain gang.

To that end, I went out for the first of a few training rides so that I have a semblance of fitness in time for the 25th July.

I want to look like this:

But I fear, I will probably look like this:

Still, it can only get better from here! :-S

Friday, 30 May 2014

Resources Theological

For a while now, the Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship have run a theology resource website called Theology Network.  It is good for entry level study as well as having deeper level stuff and it is all free!! :-)  You can become a mighty armchair theologian from the comfort of your own commute!

Now, in a similar vein, Mike Reeves and the good people at the Wales Evangelical School of Theology have launch - their long term vision is to make robust and sound theological study available to the masses and restore the link between the theology school and the local church.  The framework Reeves gives is incredibly compelling...

If you have a desire to grow in understanding of the Bible and the treasures of church history, but don't have the time and or money to attend a full course - this is one to watch.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Personal Reflections from Catalyst Festival 2014

Reflections might be too glorious a term for some of these, but…
  1. It was wet.
  2. It rained.
  3. I managed not to have to go to the loo in the middle of the night! (Believe me, if you have never been camping, this is a major achievement esp. when the weather was a wet as it was - sound of running water etc.)
  4. My new gas-powered Trangia and Pocket Rocket burners worked a treat. Phew!
  5. There are many different types of camping. Elli and I exemplified the expedition variety where everything you take has to have at least two different uses or it justify being packed in the bag, compared with (all?) the rest who were into home from home camping - someone even had a microwave in their tent!!
  6. Elli and I took two tents, one for us and the other for our stuff, although some thought it might be one for me and one for Elli, as if we were going it Abraham and Sarah style…
  7. It was great to go to something like this again as I can't remember the last time I properly attended something like this - probably Word Alive in my student days back in the year 2000!!
  8. Great to catch up with friends and get to know others better on the RFC camping plot. It's always fun / interesting what you learn about people when you go camping together. No doubt they would say the same about observing me… :-S
  9. Me getting "foot in mouth disease" moments and being rescued by my wife…
  10. Elli and I went to a seminar on fostering and adoption. Provocative to say the least - there were moments when there wasn't a dry eye in the house, as stories of God's redeeming love in the day to day were shared by carers who have faithfully cared for vulnerable children for many years. I had a hard time holding it together at one point. Along with the beautiful stories, three thought provoking (over?)-statements that have stuck with me from that session are: 1. Adoption is the heartbeat of the Gospel, it is how we come into the family of God. 2. As an overflow of 1. Many see adoption and fostering as a Plan B when Plan A has failed - e.g. they cannot conceive or have had their desired quota of biological children and find they have space left over, but why not integrate it into your plan A family planning schedule? 3. If every church in the UK took in one one child who needed fostering or adopting, the finding placement crisis in the foster care / adoption system would be eradicated. And in case you're wondering, we are thinking about it as a part of our plan A family planning… that's why we went to the seminar. Watch this space.
  11. Dave Devenish on building multicultural churches was excellent too. He pointed out three different types of cultures: 1. Law/Guilt (traditional Western society) 2. Honour/Shame (Eastern and Postmodern Western societies) and 3. Security/Anxiety (Tribal/Animist societies) and how the Gospel is good news to all those different groupings - Simple, but outstanding in helping me to think through how to reach the increasingly ethnically diverse land we live in. I had a shower of pennies dropping all over my head!
  12. The main meetings were excellent. Great sung worship and some exquisite contributions - like manna from Heaven. I heard Mike Pilavachi for the first time - quite an experience! And it was good to put faces to names I have heard much about in this time of switching apostolic spheres (from Newfrontiers to Catalyst Newfrontiers).
  13. Was great to be on the prayer ministry team and have the privilege of praying for people.
Main personal take away was to repent of being so caught up in myself and to listen for and be more obedient to what the Holy Spirit is saying and doing. Simple to summarise, but hard to do, because I like control and running to my own agenda. Feel free to ask me if I have acted on this take away three months from now or if I have reverted to the same old habits… If I have reverted, please kick me up the bum.

The Great Porn Experiment

An interesting non-religious take on the dangers of porn. Helpful for anyone (working) with boys or anyone who (knows someone who) is suffering from arousal addiction.

I guess in the West, that probably means everyone…

May the church, in time, be the place where he finds the desired "control" group.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Are you More Interested in Pleasing God or Avoiding Sin?

N.B. Here is the original sin:
Adam said nothing as the serpent tempted (attacked) Eve.
An extended quote from Metaxas' biography on Dietrich Bonhoeffer about an essay Bonhoeffer wrote documenting what he had learned 10 years in to being part of the resistance movement in Nazi Germany. It is unflashily called: "After Ten Years,” and to me has strong echoes of Galatians 2:20. The names of those mentioned in the quote are those who were also part of the plot to assassinate Hitler.
Bonhoeffer had written an essay a few months before his arrest, titled “After Ten Years: A Reckoning Made at New Year 1943.” At Christmas 1942 [he was arrested in April of 1943], he gave copies to Bethge, Dohnanyi, and Hans Oster, and he hid a fourth copy in the ceiling of his attic room. The essay is an assessment of what they had been through and learned in the extraordinary experiences of the ten years since Hitler’s ascension, and it helps us see more of the thinking that led him and all of them to the extraordinary measures they had been taking and would continue to take against the Nazi regime. And it confirms Bonhoeffer’s crucial role in the conspiracy, that of its theologian and moral compass. He helped them see precisely why they had to do what they were doing; why it was not expedient, but right; why it was God’s will.

He opened by framing things.

One may ask whether there have ever before in human history been people with so little ground under their feet — people to whom every available alternative seemed equally intolerable, repugnant, and futile, who looked beyond all these existing alternatives for the source of their strength so entirely in the past or in the future, and who yet, without being dreamers, were able to await the success of their cause so quietly and confidently….

The great masquerade of evil has played havoc with all our ethical concepts. For evil to appear disguised as light, charity, historical necessity, or social justice is quite bewildering to anyone brought up on our traditional ethical concepts, while for the Christian who bases his life on the Bible it merely confirms the fundamental wickedness of evil.

Then he dismissed the standard responses to what they were up against and showed why each would fail. “Who stands fast?” he asked. “Only the man whose final standard is not his reason, his principles, his conscience, his freedom, or his virtue, but who is ready to sacrifice all this when he is called to obedient and responsible action in faith and in exclusive allegiance to God–the responsible man who tries to make his whole life an answer to the question and call of God.”

This was how Bonhoeffer saw what he was doing. He had theologically redefined the Christian life as something active, not reactive. It had nothing to do with avoiding sin or with merely talking or teaching or believing theological notions or principles or rules or tenets. It had everything to do with living one’s whole life in obedience to God’s call through action. It did not merely require a mind, but a body too. It was God’s call to be fully human, to live as human beings in obedience to the one who had made us, which was the fulfillment of our destiny. It was not a cramped, compromised, circumspect life, but a life lived in a kind of wild, joyful, full-throated freedom — that was what it was to obey God….

Bonhoeffer talked about how the German penchant for self-sacrifice and submission to authority had been used for evil ends by the Nazis; only a deep understanding of and commitment to the God of the Bible could stand up to such wickedness. “It depends on a God who demands responsible action in a bold venture of faith,” he wrote, “and who promises forgiveness and consolation to the man who becomes a sinner in that venture.” Here was the rub: one must be more zealous to please God than to avoid sin. One must sacrifice oneself utterly to God’s purposes, even to the point of possibly making moral mistakes.  One’s obedience to God must be forward-oriented and zealous and free, and to be a mere moralist or pietist would make such a life impossible:

If we want to be Christians, we must have some share in Christ’s large-heartedness by acting with responsibility and in freedom when the hour of danger comes, and by showing a real sympathy that springs, not from fear, but from the liberating and redeeming love of Christ for all who suffer. Mere waiting and looking on is not Christian behaviour. The Christian is called to sympathy and action, not in the first place by his own sufferings, but by the sufferings of his brethren, for whose sake Christ suffered.

Bonhoeffer spoke of death too:

In recent years we have become increasingly familiar with the thought of death. We surprise ourselves by the calmness with which we hear of the death of one of our contemporaries. We cannot hate it as we used to for we have discovered some good in it, and have almost comes to terms with it. Fundamentally we feel that we really belong to death already, and that every new day is a miracle. It would probably not be true to say that we welcome death (although we all know that weariness which we ought to avoid like the plague); we are too inquisitive for that — or, to put it more seriously, we should like to see something more of the meaning of our lives' broken fragments…We still love life, but I do not think that death can take us by surprise now. After what we have been through during the war, we hardly dare admit that we should like death to come to us, not accidentally and suddenly through some trivial cause, but in the fullness of life and with everything at stake. It is we ourselves, and not our outward circumstances, who make death what it can be, a death freely and voluntarily accepted.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Tips for Singing Songs of Praise in a Small Group Setting

Below is the body of a handout I wrote for a recent lifegroup leaders training session. Some of the top tips were added by others as we talked it through - this is the result...


“Canned worship is to lifegroup singing what modeling magazines are to teenage girls – they can have the unintended consequence of making our own efforts feel fake and inadequate.”
Richard Walker musing on his sofa 5th May 2014.

We are part of a church culture saturated by canned worship, but what do you do if you’re no Tim Hughes yourself and you're in a life group that doesn’t have a wannabe Matt Redman or Lou Fellingham to whom you can delegate the singing bit??

Before launching off, let me declare, there is nothing inherently evil about listening to worship music or using it to help you sing in lifegroups. But we miss out on something very human and God given if we never sing together unaccompanied.

Massive generalisation I know, but… Our culture says that singing is an expression of feelings. The Bible says that singing is an obedient reality check stemming from seeing who God is and what he has done. Most of our reticence around sung worship stems from us listening more to our culture’s definition of singing rather than the Bible’s. Not that feelings aren’t important, but they slot into a bigger picture. We so often take ourselves and our feelings too seriously - placing ourselves at the centre, rather than taking obedience to God seriously, and putting him at the centre.

Very few people are incapable of singing in tune.  Whilst we may not all have "platinum album" quality voices, God made the overwhelming majority of the world's population to sing in tune, they just need practice and confidence.

The Bible says we should make a joyful noise (Ps. 95, 98, 100), nowhere does it say that it has to be tuneful or beautiful. There is nothing morally dubious about off key, raspy singing.

That said, whilst tone deaf raspy singing is not problem for God, it can be a (big) distraction for us, so here, in no particular order are some tips to help you survive and hopefully enjoy unaccompanied sung worship and minimize the number of cringe worthy moments…
  1. Don't take yourself too seriously, take God seriously.
  2. Most people have never been taught to sing properly and whilst no one needs formal training some tips can go a long way in helping.
  3. Stand to sing. Take some deep breaths together (remember point 1). Stretch if you have been hunched up all day / since you arrived. Like exercise, people need to warm up voices before singing. Nothing will stop you hitting those high notes well like a scrunched up diaphragm and cold vocal chords.
  4. Lead confidently, if you’re reticent, then don’t be surprised if everyone else is. Even if you delegate this part of the meeting to someone else, you still need to help stir everyone.
  5. Pick songs that help your group. If everyone is tired on a week night, don’t avoid worship, sing songs of truth that get their eyes off themselves and onto the living God.
  6. If a song starts badly, people will thank you if you kill it, admit it and start again or choose a different one altogether.
  7. Starting a song at the right speed is best, but if you err one way, err on starting a song too fast rather than too slow.  A too-fast song is weird, but a too-slow song is painful.
  8. Many songs have low verses and high choruses. If the song goes high at the chorus, start singing at the chorus or wherever the high point is, so that you can pitch it appropriately, and don’t all turn into a bunch of strangled cats half way through the song.
  9. Have someone tap/clap/beat out a rhythm especially with modern songs which often have long pauses in between verses and choruses – that’s when the musicians on the CD would be doing their clever twiddly bits.
  10. We do most of our singing in rows meaning we don’t have to try to avoid eye contact. Remind people it’s ok if you catch each other’s eyes as you sing.
  11. Avoid closing your eyes for long periods of time, keep an eye on the dynamic of the group, encourage people to contribute. Often they will do if they get a green light from you.
  12. It was felt that "Here I am (Majesty)" was one of the best songs to illustrate these pitfalls.
  13. As you come to the end of the chorus, say the first line of the section where you want people to go next e.g. Back to the beginning / back to verse .... Etc. Whilst your regulars might do this intuitively, it's especially helpful for those who are new to your group.
  14. If your lifegroup finds sung worship difficult, talk about it together, explore why. Some of the most extravert people can become quiet and reclusive when singing - why is that? Talk about where you are and where you want to get to / should be.
  15. Sometimes we let good practice slip over time, don't be afraid to say "We used to do… and for some reason lately, we haven't, we need to get back there…"
Any other top tips to share?