Showing posts from 2010

Reality TV Nativity

The Nativity has been showing on the BBC, 7pm each evening this week - It has been great. Really good in fact, especially for a generation who haven’t been brought up with the story.They didn’t hear it at school, didn’t see it acted out in nativity plays, didn’t hear it read from family bibles or hear it sung in Sunday school carols.

For the post Christian generation, this series is better than we might have thought. Instantly accessible & attractive to the unchurched in a way that our more well known religious programming is not. No, I’m not knocking Songs of praise, but we’re still not sure who they really make that for, & still not certain who really watches it other than the initiated. About the Nativity, there is no doubt – this is the prime time, One Show slot, picking up all kinds of viewers who have never given any real thought to the Christmas narrative.

Their big hook is the romance, but with it some gritty realism thrown in. We’ve all seen the Christmas cards of Mary …

Happy Birthday Youtube! - Reflections on a shifting culture!

Youtube is 5 years old today! How is it possible that something so young has become so much a part of our normal lives?Do you remember when you used to wait for the news in order to see that clip again, or Match of the Day to see the goals? Do you remember having to watch ‘You’ve been framed’ on a Saturday tea time to see Grandma falling from the trampoline headfirst into the waterbut? Do you remember having to go into record stores to listen to songs that you might want to buy or waiting to see film trailers at the cinema?

The very fact that we can’t really remember life before Youtube proves the point. If you are looking for evidence of the ever increasing pace of technological advance & our reliance upon it, then Youtube is a case in point. Other than mobile phones, the advent of the internet itself & the phenomena of social networking - facebook, twitter et al - it’s hard to believe that any single idea has had a greater impact in shaping popular culture for post moderns ar…

Worship words

Think of the best love songs we sing, the crazy, heartfelt promises that we belt out as the chorus soars. The pledges of unending, unfailing, undimming devotion - If the promises whispered in ears during the last dance of the disco were all kept, we all would have married our first a matter of fact I did! Even there, we danced & sang to Whitney Houston 'I will always love you' at the reception.

We are no different in our churches, singing with genuine emotion & hands in the air each Sunday. This is our equivalent of the last dance, the big moment in the meeting when hearts are stirred, hope of changed lives dawns, brighter futures are promised. I wonder, if we really mean what we say in our Sunday celebrations? Doesn't there come a point where our devotion to our first love begins to overflow into an authentic live of worship?

Words are easy of course. We make promises to each other & to God in worship each week which are about as throwaway as a Lib …

Let Handel handle it........

An incredible coming together has happened today, the perfect combination. No, I'm not talking about Sherringham & Shearer in Euro 96, nor am I so stirred by Hall & Oates greatest album, Private Eyes. Not even the humble fishfinger & white bread sandwich on a cold winters day reaches such heights of greatness.

Almost 270 years ago, George-Frideric Handel had his head filled with a heavenly melody & his old King James Version of the bible open. Within just 24 days, depressed & in significant debt, Handel's Messiah was conceived. This coming together of music & scripture is the genius that leaves me more breathless & watery eyed than my frozen bike ride to the office this morning!

Preparing for yet another Christmas Celebration, I spent a few minutes looking through the old King James version of Isaiah 9.2-7. It's no exaggeration to say that for a short time I was consumed by the beauty & power of these familiar words set to such music. What I h…

Drinking wine through your nose is an antedote to dead religion

In the far north of Germany, a bitterly cold day in those flat, wind swept fields, we were gathered in the upper room of a large wooden house for communion. Seated in groups, cross legged on the floor, large ceramic bowls were filled to the brim with good German wine & handed out.

Being the polite English guests, & not being sure of the custom here, we allowed our German hosts to drink deep first. To our amazement, they lifted the bowl high, their faces disappearing into the rim as they drank straight from the vessel. Smacking their lips, the bowl is passed along - the atmosphere serious, sober, no noise - this was a holy moment, Germans were meditating on truth & nodding serenely to one another as they passed the bowl.

Finally, the bowl came our way, by now, drained almost empty having been passed right around the room. John sits oppposite me, lifts the bowl in accordance with all he has observed, & starts to drink, tipping the bowl & his head back further & …

Bonfires, Mary & the power of a laid down life

Fifty years before Fawkes, England was already lit up by bonfires. During the last 4 years of Queen Mary’s reign 288 people were burned at the stake for their biblical faith, including women and some children. Countless others died in prison. Foxe writes with his usual gusto -‘the fagots never ceased to blaze whilst Mary was alive.’
41 perished in the flames from Sussex, including 17 from Lewes alone – Much of the strong bonfire tradition & feeling in these parts goes back here rather than to 1605 & the Gunpowder Plot.

Bloody Mary of course gets the blame. Her zeal in persecuting the new breed of English Protestants now famous. She perhaps deserves our sympathy though- As the disowned daughter of her monster father, Henry VIII, she grew up in terrible fear & conflict. Mary watched the outrageous treatment of her mother & found her own estrangement from the man who should have protected her the most, her father & her King. No wonder the poor girl had issues! Her sup…

Monsters V Anglicans

Whatever has happened to Halloween? In 2001 we spent a collective £12m in the UK, by last year, this had grown like a prize winning pumpkin to a big fat £235m!
Shoppers to the nations favourite supermarket, Tesco (where every little helps, apparently) can pick up a 'Devil Witch' costume, age 3-10. If these tough economic times are straining your Halloween budget, you can settle for a 'Devil Alice Band' for £3 - I always thought there was something dark about the Alice band.

Before 2001 it seems we were happy spending our money on just the one big festival at the start of the winter season - Bonfire Night. Invented by our Anglican friends to help fuel anti catholic feeling & necessitated by fears of invasion or terror attack. Substitute Catholic for Islamic, add 500 years, & this festival sounds surprisingly contemporary.
You would think that in our current climate of fear, stoked up by an eager press, Bonfire Night would be the perfect symbol of our struggle for f…

'I've got news for you if you were born in the 80's, the 80's'

Calvin Harris sang recently,'I've got love for you if you were born in the 80's'. Thanks for that Calvin, I'm a bit old for you on that basis! However, I've got news for you, for Calvin & for anyone else interested in the development of corporate worship in our churches. If you were born in the 80's you would assume singer-songwriter worship leaders with guitars & bands backing them had always been integral to church life. For todays generation, this is worship – therefore, the best kind of worship is the biggest kind, the conference, the Soul Survivor, New day, the Worship Event.This style has become the definition of worship when in fact it is only one model, & one which probably reflects our pop culture more than the scriptures.

Us charismatics, we’re probably to blame. I remember the 80's. Harris is right. His song develops....'I've got hugs for you if you were born in the 80's'. Was he in some of our early charismatic mee…

Miner rescue, major questions?

Our culture has been numbed: Emotionally & spiritually stunted: Watching minor celebrities come out of a Big Brother house or the jungle, growing fat & helpless on our DFS interest free sofas, living interest free lives.
This week, for once, we have sat up. Emotionally overwhelmed in a genuine 'world' event, watching miners who are now majors. True celebrities emerging from a hole deep underground.

The whole planet was gripped for a few hours. Whatever your time zone, this scene became the sole focus of our attention, the subject of our water cooler conversations at the office. TV's, the internet, blogs & good old fashioned newsprint had our real attention again at last, & recalled how to hold it, how to keep us there for 'just one more'. People couldn't go to bed. Grown men from Hemel Hempstead wept tears for the first time since they stayed up all night to cheer Rhona Martin onto Curling gold at the Winter Olympics in 2002!
Even the inevitable jo…

Saved by a walrus - in the footsteps of Archibald Lang Fleming

When we first moved as a family to Oldham, on the slopes of the Pennines, we were told by our neighbours that we wouldn't last one winter. There's nothing like a warm welcome to the North of England for Southern softies! To be fair, they were almost right, though by sheer brute force, ignorance & many layers of clothing, we eventually managed 9 winters & even became accepted & assimilated into this tough northern tribe.

I've been reading this morning of a feat of endurance in the North of Canada which makes our northern sojourn look like a Sandals holiday. Archibald Lang Fleming arrived amongst the Eskimos as a missionary in 1909. Ok, he was a hardy Scot from Clydebank, but nothing can have prepared him for the extremes of this kind of living. Remember,these were the days of Empire, when British explorer types set off up a mountain or into the Amazon armed only with a machette, a tweed jacket & a fine handlebar moustache!

Fleming needed more than a tweed ja…

Catholic kitsch & lessons in missing the point...

This Sunday we'll be stepping into the shoes of Erasmus, the Dutch Humanist, & going back to the future in seeing how the Reformation remains so important today. Erasmus was merciless in his writings about the Popes & clergy of his day - I wonder what our reforming friend from Rotterdam would make of the circus around the Papal visit this week?

In the 21st Century, Pope on a rope soaps are all very Del Boy Trotter. Today at Twickenham,'I heart Benny' T shirts,caps & Rosary Apps are all on sale to the faithful in a Catholic kitsch sale which we haven't seen the like of since Henry VIII cleared out his garage!

If Tetzel got Martin Luther's knickers in a twist for flogging indulgences, then surely our German Reformation Rebel will be spitting beer out of his nose at todays special offer - Cardinal Newman electronic candles, on sale in time to be held aloft by tens of thousands of Brits in honour of this 'almost' Saint.

Last Autumn I had the privilege…

A new reformation - Zwingli, the Pope & a mirror!

I'm working through some old notes on the Reformation this morning in preparation for our Lifechange Sunday series - Reformation to Revival - The history of the Missional Church in England from 1500 to the present day.

You may wonder what this ancient history has to do with post modern, 21st Century Britain, but you don't have to go far to see the value in looking back. Any generation which thinks it can't learn from the past needs it's collective head fixing, & the UK certainly needs to sit down with a Shrink. Every reason why the UK has an identity crisis & is in a moral/spiritual pickle today can be traced back to roots which have grown over the last 5 centuries.

More pointedly, the church, & not just society in general, must understand how we have got to where we are in order to have a context for where we are going. Perhaps thats why so many in our ranks neither know where they are or intend to go anywhere to do anything about it?!

The Reformers of the 15…

Livin' for the city!

I'm back in the office after August, looking out over warehouse roofs to the gently rolling Surrey Hills, turning autumnal in the distance. Surrounded by rural splendour, peversely, it's the idea of cities that is captivating me at the moment.

We've seen some truly great cities this summer. Rome again. Then a train ride through the 2 sides of Napoli, shiny modern in the centre with a collapsing urban sprawl to rival any 3rd world conurbation. Last weekend we walked London again, our capital still brings out the wide eyed tourist in me no matter how many times I go.

The truth is, I've not been able to shake off the Ninevah story that we worked through from Jonah last month. Ninevah, 120,000 strong, ancient Eastern City, yet so contemporary in it's arrogant swagger - a city needing to be noticed, a self made, self sustaining kind of place where only the strong survive, the rich get richer whilst the poor stay in the gutter. You see, the same old cliches about giant co…

From Ninevah to Haiti

Jonah chapter 3 is a remarkable revival story. Jonah judges this god forsaken city only to find that God isn't going to forsake them after all. Their heart change is so strong & rapid, their revelation of the compassionate heart of God so discerning for a pagan people. The King himself declares, 'Who knows, God may yet relent with compassion?'
Even in their brokenness they had some hope. Jonah must have told them the story of his own disobedience & God’s second chance. We're reading between the lines here, but he surely let them in on the heart of the God who refused to write Jonah off for turning away, but instead humbled him & then invited him a second time to follow. Jesus later tells us that Jonah was a sign to them after all of how God deals with people.

So in their brokenness, they hold to some glimmer of hope & confidence in God.
What a bright light of His mercy into their heavy hearts. Like all the revival stories, how they must have hardly dared…

A faint whiff of whale vomit

Here's a little taster from Jonah for this coming Sunday. The words 'taster' & 'vomit' should never go together in the same sentance of course, but they do here & they are as hard to swallow as you can imagine!
We're in Jonah 3. This disobedient Prophet has woken up on a beach, covered in whale bile & he's had a change of heart. A change of heart which leads to a change of direction. The sat-nav has been stuck on 'turn around as soon as it's safe to do so' for as long as he can remember, but now he does make a u-turn. This is what the theologians call repentance.

He does as He's told, travelling to pagan Ninevah to deliver the message of destruction from God. Only, they're not destroyed. They're broken, they're humbled, from the King down to the cattle, but they're not burned with fire or bolts from the heavens. They may not have understood the full gospel 800 years BC but they showed a heart change which was genuin…

What is Revival?

Readers of this blog will be aware I've been working through, 'The Story of Toronto', by John Peters. There are inevitable questions which follow any discussion on the Toronto Blessing - What was all that about? Where is it leading? Was it revival or some kind of renewal?

Peters attempts a response to these questions by asking another - How is revival defined? In doing so, he shares some great definitions which are worth repeating here for our stimulation.

'Revival is God coming down in life stirring power amongst His people. It takes place when the church is spiritually low & ineffective.' Dr Eifon Evans, Fire in the thatch & the Welsh Revival.

'Revival is a visitation from God that restores life to the church & produces lasting moral change.' Richard Booker

'Revival is a movement of the Holy Spirit bringing about a revival of New Testament Christianity in the church of Christ & the related community.' Dr J Edwin Orr

'Revival is alwa…

Another Toronto Ten

Yesterday I listed 10 Revival Characteristics from John Peters book, 'The Story of Toronto.' Here is another of his lists which highlights some of the key qualities of the Arnotts. These simple, key factors may go some way to explaining the development of the Toronto Blessing.

1/ They place a high value on the teaching of the scriptures. Peters argues that the Arnotts exhibit a quality of character which exalts Jesus. Essentially, they are the same in private as they are in public.

2/ They have a clear understanding of salvation. Expecting salvation to be worked out in daily life in a practical & demonstrable sense.

3/ Both are products of brokenness, devastated by the experience of divorce from their first partners, stripped of pride & self confidence. Frank Damazio comments, 'Anything that is broken is deemed by man to be unfit, & he ends up throwing it away. But to God, only that which is broken is useful....So the vessels of God are ready for revival only when…

10 Revival Characteristics

I've been reading 'The Story of Toronto' by John Peters this week. It's essentially a biography of John & Carol Arnott, & the incredible events surrounding their church in Toronto back in 1994.

The book itself is horrible. Horrible cover, horribly written, a horrible series of lists & repeating arguments. However, the Toronto story itself is so compelling, & Peters a sympathetic observer,that it remains a gripping read.

In one section of the book, Peters outlines 10 characteristics of men that God has used in revival or renewal. They are worth noting here. They are a provocation for those of us who continue to thirst for more of the kind of God we first encountered with such joy way back 16 years ago.

1/ Men used by God often have little external attraction. The Apostle Paul, in person unimpressive, but a mighty man of God.

2/ No stereotypical background. Zinzendorf was an aristocrat, Christian David, his fellow worker in Saxony, a carpenter. Wesley & W…

Touching the Father's Heart

I've been deep in one of the greatest stories Jesus told in preparation for our 'Touching the Father's Heart' event this weekend. The story of the Father's love in Luke 15 is so richly layered & never fails to speak meaning into our lives.

Here are some thoughts that will probably feature in the first session regarding the two sons - The one, painfully aware that he has put himself out of his Father’s house, out of his Father’s love, out of his natural & rightful inheritance.
The other, painfully unaware that his years of self righteous hard work,duty & faithfulness, obedience, weren’t enough to bring him near to his Father. His desire to impress & earn approval hardening his own heart, missing the point & keeping him as far away from home as his younger brother even though he never left .

These two sons are types we fall into. Painfully aware or painfully unaware. Either way, missing the knowledge & nearness of the Father’s love & accepta…

Mr Genor

Stories are always great, but this one about Mr Genor seemed to really hit home last Sunday at the end of the first 'Just Walk Across the Room' sermon. So many people have asked me about it that I have copied it below. I read the story from the book 'Fire Evangelism' by Che Ahn.

A number of years ago in a Baptist church in Crystal Palace, in south London, the Sunday morning service was closing, and a stranger stood up in the back, raised his hand, and asked the Pastor if he could share a testimony.

He said, “I just moved into this area, I used to live in another part of London, I came from Sydney, in Australia. And just a few months back I was visiting some relatives and I was walking down George Street when a strange little white-haired man stepped out of a shop doorway, put a pamphlet in my hand and said, ‘Excuse me sir, are you saved? If you died tonight, are you going to heaven?’ “

He said, “I was astounded by those words. Nobody had ever told me that. I thanked hi…

Top 5 Favourite Walks

I'm thinking about walks you do on an early summers day, staring out of the office window at the distant Surrey hills shrouded in warm, hazy sunshine.
Actually, it's not my fault - We have a babysitter tonight for Caz's birthday. I had a collection of exciting plans stuffed up my sleeve, but rather than suggest we go to see Russell Crowe in Robin Hood I thought I would leave it to her to come to the same conclusion! She stopped the world spinning though by saying she would like to go for a walk. A walk? No CGI, no surround sound, no credits, no popcorn. A walk, hand in hand, talking, listening, work, the kids, friends lives we ought to sort out, putting the world to rights, you remember how it works, yeah, me too......even feelings, honesty, perhaps some kissing...maybe we're back to my agenda again!

So, in preparation for my evening stepping out with a beautiful older woman, here are my top 5 walks. As with any top 5, there are truely great walks that don…

Meet the Good Shepherd

Read John 10.9-16 / Psalm 23
This strong biblical imagery of sheep under the care of the shepherd is key for us in realigning our thinking about who we are, who He is & what we can expect Him to do.
We don’t understand this picture in 21st C west – who after all has ever actually met a real shepherd? The nearest I've got was having to watch 'One man & his dog' on a Sunday evening before Songs of Praise! Regardless of the culture leap, these ideas of shepherding have a radical impact on how we live in the world

There is tremendous pressure on the church. We have an enemy. He is a thief who comes against the sheep. V10. He comes against us to rob, steal & destroy. This is a real threat. His strategy works in the world. There are many who are like sheep without a shepherd & they become scattered.
Jesus however wants to strengthen us with His strategy. V9-10. As we enter through Christ, we enter into safe pasture, pasture where we have abundant life, where we gro…

We happy few......

Warm beer, cricket, stoolball, morris dancing, conkers, maypoles, poll tax, queueing, Brighton rock, Stonehenge, stoney beaches,the Rolling Stones, the rolling south downs, Ugborough Beacon, Hadrians Wall, northern bluntness, Cheddar Cheese, Kendal Mint cake, Eccles Cake, Victoria Sponge, Queen Victoria.

Tea with the Vicar, Harrods, the corner shop, red telephone boxes, 007, Harry Potter, Del Boy Trotter, Whit Friday bands, the Beatles, Benny Hill, the Old Bill, the Robin Reliant, the Mini, the mini skirt, Notting Hill, Robin Hood, Yorkshire Dales, the Daily Mail, Diana Queen of our hearts.

Sunday roast, marmite on toast, open fires, Spitfires, 1066, 1415, 1966, 'We'll fight them on the beaches', annus horibilis, & did those feet in ancient times walk upon Englands green & pleasant land......?

Happy St Georges Day!

Thank you for the music.....

Try as I might, I couldn't remember when I last entered a proper record shop. Amazon now owns me & my entire music collection. I have surrendered to the instant charm of immediacy, the siren voice of the cheap download.

Last weekend I snuck away from the keyboard & wandered into an independent record store in Covent Garden. It was a meandering kind of morning; Lazy, hazy sunshine for slow saturday starters, a long breakfast watching the world wake up around us.
Where people used to wash down a full English with a mug of tea & the daily papers in a rush, they now saunter through sun dappled squares, taking out a skinny latte & muffin, surfing on their iphones.

And so to the record store - We can't even call them records anymore. My kids think a record is something you get from the Police & my explanation that the Police did indeed make some great records only adds to the air of generational confusion.
It's a clash of cultures, a flashback to a simpler, share…

Acts of God & clouds of smoke

I was almost prevented from getting to Torino in January because of unprecedented snowfall, now our trip to Roma looks to have been scuppered by everyones favourite Icelandic volcano. I'm already beginning to wonder what we'll have to fight through to get to Calabria in the summer - maybe fire & floods?

Last time we were in Calabria we faced a wild fire, spitting & leaping across tinder dry land & fuelled by an angry wind up the valley from the sea for 24 hours. We fled the house, grabbing what we could & watched as the wall of flames moved to within 20 feet away, consuming everything before it. Then,as we prayed, the wind changed direction & blew itself out up the mountain away from the buildings. Talk about Acts of God!

So to this weekend, & our TV screens are filled with incredible images of huge pillars of cloud. Volcanologists (not to be confused with pointy eared Star Trek fans) are brought out from under rocks to offer pasty faced expert opinion. I…

Six Degrees of Separation

Never mind six degrees, today I sat one degree, five feet to be precise, away from the greatest Englishman in modern history!
Just another Friday afternoon, & I sat in Caffe Nero reading John Crowder & sorting out my diary, when in walks the Rt Hon Nicholas Soames MP, grandson of Sir Winston Churchill. Here is a man who immediately draws attention to himself, not in an ego-centric way, he just has presence, & plenty of it.

Taking a seat at the ajoining table, I watched him lower his considerable frame into a chair which was never designed to have such greatness descend upon it. It was like trying to balance a grand piano on the quivering head of a matchstick.

I attempted to mind my own business & get into my book, but every so often I was picked up & dropped into the pages of history. His voice, which travelled rather well across the tables, carries echoes of all those speeches that were first heard across crackling wireless sets. So caught up was I in the moment tha…

Long hot summer of cynicism!

It happens every year around the time the clocks go forward. As the daffodils lift their heads, up step the fantasy forecasters & we desperately want to believe them. Here we go again, this morning I read the first headline of the spring to herald a long hot summer in 2010.

The experts who were so narrowly wrong last summer (oh did you miss it?), the same experts who told us we would save on the heating bills through this mild, warm winter - they have dared to come out to play again! I quote, 'a summer of unbroken sunshine & record breaking temperatures, perfect BBQ weather, the best since 1976....'

I know their predictions are about as reliable as the human rights entry on Google China - But I can't help myself, I already feel hope of a suntan stirring in spite of a Met Office reputation for missing the target that rivals the unused directors cut footage from the new Robin Hood movie.

Our problem is that we are just too cynical. We congratulate ourselves over this na…

Does God really want to heal us?

We're learning a lot about healing. In the nitty gritty of ordinary life we are never short of opportunities if we are prepared to step out of our comfort zone & have a go.

Tonight we have a Healing Meeting. The specific naming of this gathering indicates what we hope the fruit will be - yet we remain locked in our experience (or lack of experience) when it comes to seeing the sick healed.

I've seen some incredible breakthroughs over the years, a terminal brain tumour disappearing, a 9lb growth in the womb shrinking to nothing in a week, a deaf ear opening to name a few. However, these high water mark moments of power breakthrough have been punctuated by far longer periods of powerlessness.

Much more frequent have been the times where I've prayed & nothing has happened. Or, if I'm being honest, I've even avoided praying at all. I really have been one of those wavering disciples of whom Jesus despaired, 'You have so little faith, how much longer must I be …