Skip to main content

Posts

Showing posts from 2013

Prayer: Am I mature enough to ask for help?

Prayer is both instinctive and seemingly impossible.

In the late Spring of 1979 I was born six weeks early. As a result I spent the first month of my life in intensive care in a Sheffield hospital. I was small and weak and utterly dependent on others. I would then, and for many more months to come, cry out when I was in need.

Fast-forward twenty years and I've grown physically, intellectually, socially and in many other ways. I'm studying Maths at Bath University. I'd been a big fish in a small pond but I was now a very small fish in a big pond, struggling to keep up with high level mathematics. Would I ask for assistance and direction from my tutor? No, I made every effort to cover up, to pretend things were ok and to avoid the one person who might assist me.

It occurs to me that for all the growing I'd done I had perhaps become less mature too?

What could be so difficult about asking for help?

To pray is to ask.

Jesus' friends asked him: teach us to pray (Luke 11…

Review: From heaven he came and sought her

Central to any understanding of Christianity is understanding the signficance of the historical crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth. Everything flows from this. So it makes sense for any Christian who can to meditate deeply on the meaning of the cross of Christ as much as possible. 

I've really valued taking time to slowly read through heavy weight books like John Stott'sThe Cross of Christ, Ovey, Sach & Jeffery's Pierced for our Transgressions, The Cross from a Distanceby Peter Boltand excellent essay collections The Glory of the AtonementandIn my place condemned he stood. More pop-level books like Cross Examinedare great too.

Chapter titles suggest the focus: "We trust in the Saving Blood", "For the Glory of the Father and the Salvation of His People", "Because He Loved Your Forefathers", "For Whom did Christ die?" and "The Glorious, Indivisible, Trinitarian Work of God in Christ." 

I worked with Jonny and David Gibson…

Waste Land: I never thought I would be a work of art

Lucy Walker's film of artist Vik Muniz is fascinating and deeply moving. Muniz is a Brazilian artist who returns to his home country to Jardim Gamacho, thirty miles over the shoulder of the famous Christ our Redeemer statue, Rio de Janerio's major landfill site. A place that is quite literally the end of the line... as working there is for many of its Catadors, who pick through the rubbish to separate out the recyclable material. From them and with them Muniz creates art. One of them later reflecting: "I never thought I would be a work of art"

The 90min documentary explores their world, their stories, the way that Muniz creates art and disrupts the lives of the Catadors offering them hope and the possibility of a different life. Is that good? Is it destructive? Can art really change people? We watched it together as a team recently and I'm still chewing over many of the questions it raises.

Get Waste Land on DVD

Worship God UK: Bob Kauflin interview (part 2)

Concluding my conversation with Bob Kauflin about church music and the Worship God UK conference he's hosting in 2014....

Who are your role-models/teachers when it comes to music in church? 
Keith Green showed me that you don’t have to sit still when you play the piano. Matt Redman taught me how brief spontaneous moments can allow people to engage more deeply with the songs they’re singing. Paul Baloche has shown me much about what it means to be a humble musician. Stuart Townend has modeled beautiful, thoughtful, and theologically faithful lyric writing. Keith Getty has taught me a lot about passion for theology, diligence in writing, and beautiful melodies. C.J. Mahaney taught me about 90% of what has been important to me as I lead congregational song - listening to the Holy Spirit, caring for people’s souls as you lead, the importance of lyrics, the importance of actually seeking to encounter God as you sing and not merely sing songs, the centrality and power of the gospel, hu…

Mary's Song

It's a first century equivalent of the Pregnancy-Scan Facebook post. The Magnficat is a remarkable song. Named for its opening words in Latin translation, in English translation the pregnant Mary sings: My soul magnifies the Lord.

Download mp3: Mary's song.

The song, though speaking of the baby Mary is carrying barely mentions the pregnancy, though it's subject is "God my Saviour" who is indeed the baby in her womb.

God steps into her world, like Vik Muniz stepping into the world of the workers at the Jardim Gramacho in Rio de Janerio (in Lucy Walker's film Waste Land). Artist Muniz introduced hope and inspiration to the lives of the workers at a vast landfill site. Is that arrogant interference or presumption to turn up in someone else's world? Or might it be the very best thing that could happen. What happens when Jesus steps into this world?

The God who became one of us
Its a song that captures the essence of the Christmas story in which God comes to us…

Patterns, structures, maps and context

The Bible isn't a list of propositions it's a brilliantly written library of great literature - in narrative, poems, wisdom and also in letters. The letters are not just off-the-cuff emails. They're carefully crafted communication.

This term across the South West some of the Christian Unions have immersed themselves in Paul's letter to the church in Rome. It's ideal because it hits the basics of faith in the form of a letter designed to catch the Roman church up into a united participation in God's missionary movement in his world.

There's much structure in the letter. I love seeing the big picture and in a letter like this the context is vital to making sense of the whole.

1:16-18 tells of the revelation of righteousness and wrath in the gospel with the subsequent sections showing how God has long been patient with Israel, in kindness giving them time to repent. They hadn't and so the name of God has been held in contempt. Is it worth believing in this…

Worship God UK: Bob Kauflin interview (part 1)

I met Bob in at an airport luggage collection area in 2008. I'd enjoyed his blog on worship and a number of his songs and I'd just picked up a copy of his book on worship. I was glad to hear recently that he's working with my friend Nathan to host a conference on worship in Bath in March 2014.  So, I pinged Bob an email with a few questions to whet your appetite....

Where does your interest in music come from? 
I've been involved in music for as long as I can remember, making up songs on the piano from the time I was 6. My mother was the primary influence and wanted all of her four children to study music of some kind. We had music playing in the house and in the car all the time, mostly classical and standards. By the time I was 12 years old I was hooked on studying classical music and playing everything I could by ear.

Why is music important for Christians? 
That’s a broad question because there are so many ways we can interact with music! Listening, singing, playing.…

Sin, death, wrath and Ashton Kutcher

Warning. This post contains words like sin and death and wrath.
Serious words filled with anguish and emotion and pain and sorrow.

It also has a paragraph about Ashton Kutcher.

Now, I'm not usually a fan of Ashton Kutcher's work but the 2004 film The Butterfly Effect is both deeply disturbing, upsetting and profound. Kutcher's character Evan finds he has the ability to change situations but it becomes apparent that each positive change has negative consequences... the ripples of chaos theory frustrate his attempts to fix his life. Ultimately, Evan concludes the only hope is to prevent his being born. Better not to have lived than to cause such trouble. It's a (sci-fi) solution to the deathly effects of sin but surely not the only way?

In Romans 6 Paul writes to the church in Rome saying:
We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. The Christian message doesn&#…

But why?

Early December and early March are the two seasons in my year when my job steps away from frontline student ministry to be involved in recruitment for new Staff and Interns. That process spreads over the preceding months to connect with people and invite them to apply, but then we come to interview.

Hour after hour of asking questions.
Hearing answers and examining them.
Thinking hard to understand the assumptions behind the answers.
Asking more questions. And then more.

Yes, but what do you mean by that?
Yes, and how did you do that?
Yes, and why did you do that?

It's good practice for normal life, for discipleship, for evangelism. The approach is very similar... the only difference is that in a formal interview permission has been granted to ask and ask and ask.

I find it to be a sharpening experience. A bit exhaustinng but enriching and envigorating.

It fights against just accepting forms of words and jargon and assumed ideas but making me dig deeper, questioning more carefull…

One Forever (Rory Shiner)

I've really enjoyed Rory Shiner's short book One Forever recently which unpacks the centre of Christianity - our union with Christ. Here's his key illustration:


You can get the book and also access the original sermons in audio and video form from AFES.
Saved in Christ
Right in Christ
Holy in Christ
Gathered in Christ
See also Mike Reeves mp3s: Union with Christ

Aronofsky puts Noah on the big screen

The trailer for Darron Aronofsky's Noah is doing the rounds. With the possible limitations of Russell Crowe as Noah it looks pretty impressive. The release date in the end of March 2014 so I wonder if that raises some good possibility for a short Noah preaching series for a church or CU over Easter or early summer term. Who knows how big a film it is but advertising alone will get people thinking about the story.



Six years ago, the Guardian reported:
The script, Aronofsky tells me, is no conventional biblical epic. "Noah was the first person to plant vineyards and drink wine and get drunk," he says admiringly. "It's there in the Bible - it was one of the first things he did when he reached land. There was some real survivor's guilt going on there. He's a dark, complicated character." Noah is famous, compelling, features in kids books, has big-action and is right in the mainline of the Bible's story. You could easily get three messages from the G…

Andrew Bonar's Psalms

I've started reading through Andrew Bonar's 19th Century commentary on the Psalms from Monday to Friday, to walk through the book of Psalms over 30 weeks. You can follow along via @bonarpsalms and http://bonarpsalms.blogspot.co.uk

Esther 5: Gospelicity is upside down

Mordecai has prepared Esther. She's learned her lines. She's survived entry to the presence of the king. And then she asks not for salvation but for a feast... and given a second chance to ask, she asks for another feast. And feasts with the villain. Has power gone to her head? Has she forgotten her people? Is it the mother of all missed opportunities? Outcry. Despair...

Or maybe she's wiser than she looks...

Feasts are significant moments. Esther as a book is built on ten of them. Feasts are where hearts get exposed. Where real business happens. We moved our Community Group three metres from our living room sofas to our dining room table and it deepened our relationships significantly. It's the tragedy of many student houses - no dining room table. Buy a table and start shopping online together and cooking together and you not only save having to go shopping and save lots of time and money but you might just gain a depth of relationship.

God lays a feast for his peop…

Esther 5: A gospelicious world

I love a good Jerry Bruckheimer summer blockbuster but they don't tend to be the films I want to go back to again and again, the stories don't tend to under your skin. They're shallow, popcorn experiences with little character development. And that's ok. But we need richer stories too. Esther sits firmly in among the best short stories. Highly structured, with depth in the detail and the characters and brimming with suspense and emotion.

As the plot unfolds we're given just what we'll need to know about key characters but not in ways that seem too obvious. We're invited to ask questions - what was that about?

In chapter 5 events get particularly tense. Mordecai's rebellion against his arch-enemy Haman has triggered the threat of a genocide at the end of the year. The King and Prime Minister feast but everyone else is in uproar. Esther is in the position to act if she dare and instructed by her adoptive father she agree to go - 'for such a moment …

Sonship #galatiansfest

I've got the opportunity to preach three sermons from Galatians in November for a CU weekend and two seminars on sonship for another. I'm thinking of covering something like this...

1. Pleased to reveal his Son (Galatians 1v16)
This is Paul's description of his conversion to Christ - a devout and successful religious man he was apprehended by the love of God in Christ. The persecutor became a preacher. God reveals his Son and thats' what changed everything for him... he didn't get an idea from other people. People preach that revelation but the true source is always God. The Galatian Christians shouldn't think they should add keeping Jewish law to their faith because the Christians of Judea heard what had happened to Paul and rejoiced. They knew, without knowing him, that he was a gospel man.
Major theme - if you want to know God, see Jesus.
Hence CU gives people opportunity to respond to Jesus. Uncover etc.

2. The Son of God who loved me (Galatians 2v20)
Here Pet…

God and Suffering: my story

Tanya Marlow hosts my 'God and Suffering' story today, reflecting on the expected events we've experienced this year with our son...

Brokenness under the skin.

Lee Mack: I would read the Bible

Desert Island Discs invites guests to select the music they'd want with them on a Desert Island, plus Shakespeare and the Bible, in a closing remark Lee Mack reflected:
"I'm glad you get the Bible, because I would read the Bible. I think it's quite odd that people like myself, in their forties, quite happy to dismiss the Bible, but I've never read it. I always think that if an alien came down and you were the only person they met, and they said, 'What's life about? What's earth about? Tell us everything,' and you said, 'Well, there's a book here that purports to tell you everything. Some people believe it to be true; some people [do] not believe it [to be] true.' 'Wow, what's it like?' and you go, 'I don't know, I've never read it.' It would be an odd thing wouldn't it? So, at the very least, read it."  ComedianLee Mack on BBC Desert Island Discs via Tony Watkins

Francis Spufford - Unapologetic

Don't miss these 80mins of Francis Spufford at the Theos Think Tank on September 26th 2013 reflecting on his outstanding book Unapologetic: Why despite everything Christianity can still make surprising emotional sense. I've also enjoyed his book The child that books built.


Spufford finds a rare angle of appealing for the emotional sensibility of Christianity and recognises that many of our conventional answers miss the mark, not least the way we talk about sin. His answers may not be exhaustively satisfying but the answers we have already fail in many ways too.
#theosspufford says particular semantic problem with sin, has come to mean naughty, indulgent, chocolate and lingerie. Not what xians mean— Elizabeth Oldfield (@TheosElizabeth) September 26, 2013
See also Francis Spufford and Philip Pullman on Justin Brierley's radio show.

Halloween: Trick or Treat

A cracking bit of poetry on video from Glen Scrivener on the meaning of Halloween (yes it's not for six weeks yet but worth thinking about things ahead of time...)


Halloween: Trick or Treat? from 10ofthose.com on Vimeo.

For more see: Pete Dray speaking at Durham University in 2011 on Why God Loves Halloween (pdf)

5 ways to do social media better

Facebook,Twitter, Blogs etc. Social media is a catch all for ways in which the internet allows people to connect and generate content to share, with varying degrees of commitment and privacy and possibility.

1. Accept that Social Media is real.
Social media isn't something to be pitted against "the real world" but is a part of how real people can connect with other real people. It might not be the same as face to face communication but it is real.
I've been a relatively early adopter when it comes to using these new media and feel like I've benefitted from that. But, it's easy to miss out on the opportunities that are available.Technology can have its pitfalls and can expose problems in us, but there are good things here. Don't feel weird about it.

2. Connect with people.
a) People you know - let the tools of the 21st Century add value to existing relationships.

b) People who like what you like - the internet allows you to find other people who are into t…

Oliver Barclay (1919-2013)

Oliver Barclay died yesterday. A giant of whom the world was not worthy, now cheering us on in death as he did in life. Oliver was one of the leading lights of the UCCF movement over the past century, and a man whose fingerprints are left all over churches and individuals in the UK and far beyond.

I had the privilege of meeting Oliver one January evening in 2002 as a quirk of an accomodation plan that had landing myself and my good friend  and fellow UCCF intern Rich staying with Oliver and Daisy for a week. When you sign your name in the guest book on the line under John Stott you realised you're a minnow in a giant's house.

Truth be told, aged 22 I had never heard of Oliver when we were given his name in the dark corridor of UCCF's old Leicester office (a centre he had established). Little did I know how much my Christian life - formed over the previous four years in the air of UCCF - had already been shaped by Oliver's ministry. What we found behind their front doo…

9 ways to nail the first CU meeting of the year

Christian Unions will have their first meeting of term in the next week or so. In the South West we're welcoming over 25,000 undergraduates to University and they're all welcome at our meetings...

How can you nail that first CU meetinng?

1. This is a gathering of human beings. 
This isn't "them and us". Our experience of reality is that we have a lot in common with one another. We breath the same air and share many of the same questions and concerns. At the start of the year no-one really knows anyone, every encounter with other people feels risky, people are likely to be guarded. Appreciate this and set the tone as giving people space. Avoid ice-breakers - they make people uncomfortable and do almost nothing to help people come out of hiding.
(There are questions to ask here about all our communication and social media - are we speaking publicly but 'in house' or are we speaking to the University as a whole...)

2. We're keen to be good for University l…

Learning to walk

"There is something intoxicating in the oldness of it, the strangeness and magic of the legends. It holds both joy and sadness. As we walk about the world, we tread on layers of accumulated culture; the earth is alive with stories. We in turn are ‘story-formed’. We, like our forebears are storytellers, and makers of culture."
James Watts, Shropshire Lore(see also Maximum-Life)

 "Walking upright, or bipedalism, is considered the threshold of being human, the skill that most distinguishes us from our ancestors. It's also immune to improvement. Walking can be a source of meaning. As long as humans have worshiped gods, they have walked to get closer to them. In the Bible, the greatest spiritual breakthroughs occur when the heroes are on journeys; Abraham going forth to the Promised Land; the Israelites crossing the Red Sea; Israel being dispatched to Babylon. From the Haj to the Stations of the Cross, the greatest pilgrimages contain walking."
Bruce Feiler, via Jon …

You can't say that! Hard questions and real people and offensive Bible verses

Christians in University halls meet to read the Bible and pray. They form witnessing communities who invite those around them to investigate the claims of Jesus. An invitation is offered to join them on the journey of exploring their shared questions.

Recently, a colleague and I wrestled with this senario with our Bible's and a whiteboard and lots of questions...

Last year these students read the Bible books of  Luke, Hosea, Esther and Ruth. This year they've decided to work through Paul's letter to the church in Rome (Romans). Very mainstream. And given it was written to show that the good news of Jesus is for everyone and to motivate people to share that message it fits with who they are. It's no ivory tower document, it's from a pioneering leader who works with unceasing anguish and tears.

So far so good. In week 1 they'll read Romans 1:1-5 with a dash of chapter 15 to catch the purpose and theme of the letter. Everyone is new and so a message about how the …

Scribblings on The Book of Daniel

Daniel is something of a pop-favourite when it comes to Bible books. Especially in the student world, because y'know, he was, like, a student, away from home. And that's cool as he works out where not to compromise as he studies, and then you get the challenges to pray even if it's illegal and so on. And then thankfully we run out of time before the crazy stuff in the latter part of the book.

The really famous bits? The lions den and the firey furnace. As Larry Osbourne comments, those aren't really the point because most people thrown to the lions die, and most people thrown in fire die. But something amazing is going on.

The book of Daniel is about dreams and politics and wars and the interactions of a refugee with the Government officials, and about the coming of life to God's people.

Six headings from  book by book with my further notes

1. Praise be to the Name of God forever (Daniel 1-2)
-- Christ the true exiled son pictured in the story of Daniel. We want to…