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Showing posts from 2014

So much of the story is in the telling

We all have myths

We believe myths about the origin of the world, about what's wrong with the world, about what can fix that, about where the world is going.

Literary scholar CS Lewis noted that we all have stories to explain how we see the world. We all have myths. The questions that matter are whether your myth gives a good account of life, and whether your myth is a true account of life.

Lewis and his friend Tolkein considered the possibility of a True Myth, the Christ story.

For me, coming to the opening chapters of Genesis is a great opportunity for mythunderstanding. To think in terms of story. I want to avoid getting into a faith vs. science debate especially when that leaves both a cheapened view of science and of the world... derived in the context of chapters of literature that promote science and give the richest possible understanding of this world.

Take an example.

The story of the fall in Genesis 3 is a story that makes emotional sense of our sense of broken intimacy, of our desire t…

The 50p challenge reveals an ugly posture

I wrote a reflection on the implications of Sainsbury's recent poster gaff at Think Theology: An Ugly Posture.

Photo by Chris Dodd.

New: Grace Church Exeter

I've recently joined the staff team at Grace Church Exeter. We're learning to explore, experience and express the goodness of God in our city.

My role is as Communications, Ministries & Training Coordinator. This occupies me with a great mix of things I love to do with communicating, producing resources, teaching and training people to equip them for life in our city.

You can have a look around our new website and get a feel for what we're up to in our city.

2003-2014: An end, and a new beginning...

I started this blog when I joined the UCCF staff team in September 2003. Eleven years and more than 3300 blog posts later... I'm still doing both. 
However, my time with UCCF is soon to end. I'm moving on to a new role on the staff team of our church in Exeter as Communications, Ministries and Training Coordinator. A new season with new rhythms of life. I'm looking forward to new opportunities and a newly localised life (after seven years of itinerant ministry across the South West) as I dig into living in our city, raising my family and building our church.
I'm not sure where, if at all, this blog fits within that new shape.

What's my role? (Nehemiah 3)

MP3 via frontiers church blog.

Hugo lives in the walls of a station in Paris in Brian Selznick's magical novel (now a Martin Scorsese film). He keeps the station clocks running as he explores the question he shares with many of the other characters in the film. Who am I? What's my place in the world? Looking out through the glass clock face he muses:
“You know, machines never have any extra parts. They have the exact number and type of parts they need… if the entire world is a big machine, I have to be here for some reason. And that means you have to be here for some reason, too.” Who can't empathise with Hugo? At our different stages of life we might ask ourselves what it means for us to make a meaningful contribution. And we could talk about church which is good enough but much more about our city. And by city I don't just mean the metropolitan area but the city and its area - some live in the city and work outside it, some live outside and are connected to it...

Hu…

Good news for The Narcissist

The centre of the book of Galatians is the geekiest verse in the Bible. Galatians 3:16 says that promises were made to Abraham's offspring and that is not many but one. One offspring who is The Christ.

The Galatians, like Peter at Antioch, and me have fallen into a narcissistic legalism where legal standing with God and belonging to the family have become about what I do rather than these things having been fully accomplished by the gospel of the Triune God.

Paul constructs from personal testimony and from Biblical Theology at response centred on the revealed Son of the Father who is proclaimed to all peoples (1:15-16), the crucified Son of the Father who loved me and gave himself for me, who brings those from all peoples into the blessedness of the Triune life as adopted Spirit-filled Sons of the Father.

The difference between a self-centred life and finding your life in the life of the Triune God is bigger than the difference between thinking the sun orbits the earth and how th…

Blessed is The Man! (Psalm 1-2)

Who are the blessed? The rich? Famous? Talented? Those with autonomy? Those free from others constraints. Other cultures would differ but this is our story. The haunting memory of a better story makes us cynical about such a story, yet still we fawn over our celebrity gods.
Psalm 1-2 say there is one blessed man who meditates on the law, as kings could. Like Joshua/Yeshua by the word he prospers, a kingly tree. He's the LORD's Christ (Anointed). The king of the Holy Hill. The Father’s Son. He inherits all creation.

But, we don't believe Bible reading makes you rich so what is this? Not I? Who is this blessed champion?
Against him are the wicked and sinners. Kings of the world who rage against Christ to overthrow and dethrone him. The autonomous... they will be blown at like chaff, they perish, .they will be broken. Their apparent victory is hollow. Their blessedness quickly fades.
The song speaks to them. The wicked are warned and invited to align with the blessed man, no…

This is my Father's world

We've used this song a few times recently at our church. Matt Giles adaptation of Maltbie Babcock's hymn. Matt's ability to freshen up the musical arrangements and lyrics of old hymns is a precious gift.

This is my Father’s world, and to my listening ears
All nature sings,and round me rings
the music of the spheres.
This is my Father’s world, I rest me in the thought
Of rocks and trees, of skies and seas;
His hand the wonders wrought.

This is my Father’s world, the birds their carols raise,
The morning light, the lily white,
declare their Maker’s praise.
This is my Father’s world, He shines in all that’s fair;
In rustling grass I hear Him pass;
He speaks to me everywhere.

This is my Father's world, yet here His Son was slain,
Though God from God, He esteemed it not,
by human hands betrayed
This is my Father's world, His works shall not be lost
God’s love would bring us home to Him

Though Jesus be the cost 

This is my Father's world, why should my heart be sad?
The Lo…

Standing in a queue: A parable on serving people

I live in a provincial city. Small enough to walk across in just over an hour or so, and its serviced with a branch line railway that makes transport a bit quicker. From time to time I get the train into the city centre because it's a 6 minute journey and that saves me 25 minutes walking time plus is a bit easier when I'm carrying stuff. Invariably I then walk home.

This morning I did that journey. I boarded the crowded train and was delivered to my destination. I'd not been sold a ticket on the train (and there isn't a ticket machine at my station) so I knew I'd have to queue. I found myself quickly the 20th person in a queue that soon stacked up behind me. With one person serving.

This post isn't really about railways.

And nothing I'm writing here is to complain about the station staff who are generally excellent and friendly.

I've worked in Customer Service and it's often a thankless task and gladly forgive occasional grumpiness. The shriek at s…

Something as simple as a glass of water

In a fictional tale, told by David Foster Wallace, an older fish swims past two younger fish and sayswe can't live long without waste "Morning boys, how's the water?" They swim on for a while until one turns to the other and says "What the hell is water?"

It's said we take for granted the technology that already exists when we're born. We adapt to what is developed as we grow up. And then we get suspicious of the stuff that arrives after we turn thirty.

The middle aged person today critiques today's youth for relationships based on texting and snapchat, wishing they would just make phonecalls... and yet that's a call for one kind of technology instead of another. Face to face unmediated contact is ultimate (1 Cor 13) and so maybe a phonecall is better than a text message, but we all have technological bias.

I graduated University without having a mobile phone, and having never drunk real coffee. I'm not sure how long I could survive tod…

Video: Find me in the city

Find me in the city from Trinity Media on Vimeo.

I wrote this for my Word Alive seminar on God and Technology.  Much credit to John Dyer's book From Garden to City and UCCF's long standing clarity on doctrine of creation and the value of work. The video doesn't have any audio. I think Kings Kaleidoscope's Higher Throne makes a good musical backdrop.

Awesomeness: Word Alive 2014

It was 1am on a Friday morning in the Spring of 2002 when I sat down with a group of Reading University students to watch Paul Thomas Anderson's film Magnolia. Our host that night is now a tutor for the OCCA and I remain thankful that he gave us the experience of this unsettling and outstanding film.... and for the 4.30am ride home through the cold of the night on the back of his scooter.

I've been on the UCCF team for 13 years now and its nights like that that capture what UCCF is about for me. Gospel-loving people, engaging constructively with people about the ideas and imagination of this world, together. And Word Alive is a part of that family - with all the grown-up graduates, their kids and many others around too for a week around Easter.

Last week was my first time at Word Alive since 2008.
I wish my family had been there with me. 
I wish *all* the students I work with had been there. 
I wish my church Community Group had been there.

We experienced:
The Don Carson on J…

The knock at the door: a real life parable on the challenges of communication

Photo by Jackie
I opened the door.
"Hello Mr Dish."
I assume salesperson, and in the middle of dinner quip back, with a smile: "Not a great start, thats not my name..."
"Really?" comes the reply before a check of the clipboard and a second attempt. (Later my wife will gain a new surname too...) I'm handed a flyer, and it turns out this is our long serving local Councillor.
"Do you vote?" (Only about a third of the neighbourhood do...)
"Yes."
Checks clipboard.  "Oh, yes I see you do." (I confess I'm not really warming to her at this point...)
She reminds me for a second time that she's been representing us for a long time. "Will I have your vote?"
"To be honest, it'll depend on policies..."
"I'm sure you've read my six monthly newsletter..." (I don't recall...)"I'd love to see what you can do about the speeding on our road."
"Well, if you will live on a m…

Top 5 tips for your Weekly CU email

Image Cesar Garza. Creative Commons
I've been receiving weekly emails from Christian Unions for most of the last 17 years since I signed up for one as a fresher. I've been working with CUs pretty much ever since.

Here's my top 5 tips on using this medium well which I'd suggest as part of a wider communication strategy. For some strategy is a dirty word but being organised and well ordered is a deeply spiritual thing, and sponteneity is often used as an excuse for disorder and laziness.

Longest and most important point first.
Please add your tips and thoughts in the comments.

1. Pretty much anyone can sign up for the CU email. 
That means this is not an "in house" commmunication but a public communication. Assume you have a mixed readership.

Don't talk about "non-Christians" (lets ban the term please!), beware of stuff that would be weird if your friends who don't know Jesus read it - because they (or someone elses friends) probably are read…

Misread

With thanks to James and Dan, a meditation on Luke 10...
Standing tall, standing proud. Ready to impress, ready to win.
To ask the killer question. In the Emporer's New Clothes.
He's misread himself and the one standing there.

Blind to the obvious. The king of his castle.
Is lying in the gutter.  Beaten up and dying.
He's misread himself and the one standing there.

Now his chosen victim is coming. The roles reversed.
The most unlikely of friends, for the most unlikely of men.
He's misread himself and the one standing there.

The true good Samaritan. The one he wanted to crush.
Has come to bind his wounds. Has come to lift him up.
He's misread himself and the one standing there.

Blind to my blindspots. Sure of myself.
Wise in my own eyes. While everyone sees the fool.
I misread myself and the one standing there.

"I'm giving you my dreams." With so little idea of my loves.
Things I never knew mattered. Until they're taken away.
I misread myself and the one…

Find me in the city

In the beginning, the creator paints in the broadest of brushstrokes.
The sky and the land, the land and the sea.
Cutting through the formlessless to give it form.
With the technology of language 'let there be light'.
The creator creates sub-creators who live in each of these.
Filling up what was empty with the possibility of fulness.
The birds of the sky, fish in the sea.
Animals and Homo Faber on the land.
To each he says - multiply and be fruitful.
First the Creator, then the sub-creators.
Make more of you like you.It is good but not finished.
Good but incomplete.
And to humanity last of all he says - have dominion.
It is very good but not finished.
Very good but incomplete.
Add the detail. 
Wield language and name animals.
Duckbilled platypus, a pig and a cow.
Take up tools and work the land.
Sub-create form and fulness, make a garden for praise.
A fracture, a scar, a cut in what's good.
Now, cultivate the wilderness of the land into habitats for life.
Garments …

Less policy; more gospel theology

People who follow Jesus differ. Maintaining unity isn't easy. How do you do it? We need something better than requiring conformity.

In Romans 14, Paul identifies one cause of difference as being due to the strength/weakness of faith. He anticipates in Rome's church that people will look at the cleanness of food and the specialness of certain days differently. All food is clean and all days are holy for someone who follows Jesus, but some have weaker faith and don't embrace that freedom.

Principle 1. Welcome as God welcomed you (neither the weak or the strong in faith should judge the conservatism or liberty of the other).
Paul addresses how they welcome one another - 14:1-3. Knowing God's welcome of someone else (and yourself) defines your welcome of others. A strong faith appreciates God's welcome deeply, and is surely exponentially welcoming.


Principle 2. God cares about the heart more than its actions (tick box pastoral care isn't the gospel way).
We can want…

No God in the Old Testament unlike Jesus

Luke is a meticulous historian, gathering up eyewitness evidence about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. But he's also a stellar theologian, interpreting the eyewitness testimony he records in light of the writings of Moses and the Prophets and Psalms to show the necessity of the death, resurrection and subsequent global proclamation about the Christ.

Luke says: this Jesus who was eyewitnessed is that Christ of the Scriptures.

Luke reports that Jesus' coming will bring forgiveness of sins like the sun rising for a new day (Luke 1). As Jesus dies Luke tells that the sun's light failed. Yet at dawn on the third day the Son comes, telling his witnesses that forgiveness is to be heralded to all people groups. No imperialistic imposition, but warm beams of divine love shining out from the risen Son.

Mike Reeves has said "there is no God in heaven who is unlike Jesus" and Luke would agree wholeheartedly. The Son reveals his Father whom only he knows.

But, Lu…

Jesus enjoyed wine. Jesus had blisters.

I love this short video from Tanya Marlow


On Sunday I was reflecting on the resurrection appearance of Jesus with his friends in Jerusalem. I appears and they are doubting and troubled, though they become joyful and marvel. They assume he's a spirit but Jesus' kind of spirituality isn't 'spiritual' -- it's embodied, physical. Unlike Plato, unlike Mani, unlike so many of today's secular religion that struggle with bodies and food and sex and death, the follower of Jesus finds one who validates and values all of these things. And amazingly, there is now a physical human body in the life of the Triune God... and one day, he'll be back here on this planet, walking with his followers... and the frustration will be over, the blisters will heal and the wine will be better than ever.

Can we talk about talking about Jesus without sounding sinister?

On Sunday I spoke for our church on Evangelism. Usually talks on evangelism aren't presented in evangelistic contexts, but our church is exactly that. We operate on the assumption that we're not just gathering followers of Jesus but all kinds of different people. 
For me it felt like the latest in a long line of real-life exercises contextualisation, trying to embody the good news of Jesus so it can be heard by our city. It was hard work but I really do think its possible to talk about pretty much anything to do with the good news of Jesus with anyone - you just need to think hard about your tone and your language and your heart.
The follower of Jesus doesn't exist in a bubble away from everyone else in this world. But if we live like we have our own sub-culture we'll start to use language (which reflects attitudes) that is at best rude, and at worst at odds with the very good news we believe.
Terms like "Non-Christian" are major red-flags, for example. Con…

He was known to them in the breaking of the bread

On Sunday we considered Hearing God Speak through Communion. I was personally refreshed to consider this again and then to take and receive the bread and wine - physical proclamation of the good news of Jesus. We saw, from Luke 24:35 - "how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread."

Leithart puts it this way in a sermon on Luke 24:
"But Word by itself is not enough. Even after Jesus has explained everything about Himself in the Scriptures, the two disciples still don’t recognize Him. That occurs only when He breaks bread with them It is the same for the church throughout the ages: The Word without the Bread is merely intellectual, detached from the things of real life; the Bread without the Word turns into a magic act. When the Scriptures are taught and the Bread is broken, then Jesus can be known." Elsewhere he also notes from the structure of Luke 24:
"the point of the structure is to highlight the mission that the disciples are being given. Throu…

#WGUK14 Here is love (Matt Giles version)

Matt Giles has added some extra verses to a well known hymn and taught them on Friday evening at the Worship God UK conference.

Here is love vast as the ocean
Loving kindness as the flood
When the Prince of life our random
Shed for us his precious blood

Who is love cannot remember
Who can cease to song his praise
He can never be forgotten
Throughout heaven's eternal days

Here is love, that conquered evil
Christ the firstborn from the grave
Death has failed to be found equal
To the life of him who saves


In the valley of our darkness
Dawned his everlasting light
Perfect love in glorious radiance
Has repelled death's hellish night


Here is love vast as the heavens;
Countless as the stars above
Are the souls that He has ransomed,
Precious daughters, treasured sons

We are called to feast forever
On a love beyond our time
Glorious Father, Son and Spirit
Now with man are intertwined

The resurrection has NOT already happened!

There are people in the church who say "the resurrection has already happened." They may not use the phrase but the idea is gangrene. It is deathly. It is setting up a snare for people. It is the stuff of shipwrecked faith. It cuts off the blood flow and leaves parts of you dead. Dangerous stuff.

But, really? So says Paul to Timothy (2 Timothy 2).

Now, be clear. In the same chapter he says that Jesus is "risen from the dead." That resurrection has already happened. Our champion has his victory! But there is another resurrection to come.

The Christian life is union with Christ.
It is "if we have died with him, we will also live with him."
Repeated in parallel: "if we endure, we will also reign with him."
Death and resurrection. The cross and the crown.

But where are we today?

Some want to say we're in resurrection and reigning now.  I'd like that.

And in some senses we are. It's absolutely certain. As sure as Jesus' resurrectio…

God's engineers and toilet cleaners: thinking about technology

I've been pondering the effects of technology on life, particularly through the lens of Christian life, ahead of a seminar on the subject at a conference later in the Spring. Some early sketches.

Many Christians measure their spiritual health by their personal bible reading. Yet, for 1500 years until the invention of the printing press that wasn't really possible for the vast majority of believers. They accessed the Bible, some times in their own language, as it was taught publicly, but wouldn't have imagined personally reading its pages.

Gutenberg's printing press changed your spirituality, though it made possible Popish indulgences that so provoked Luther. Technology changes your world. Technology, good, bad, neutral...

Christian conferences are also the fruit of technology that enables large residential and meeting facilities to be built and rapid transport to get people there, not to mention the technology that spreads word.Technology, good, bad, neutral...

Or thi…

What does your heart love?

“A world view is a commitment, a fundamental orientation of the heart, that can be expressed as a story/myth or in a set of presuppositions (assumptions which may be true, partially true or entirely false) which we hold (consciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the basic constitution of reality, and that provides the foundation on which we live and move and have our being” James Sire (The Universe Next Door, IVP)

We all have worldviews though we may not realise we do... and we might have a false or partially false one... we probably all have inconsistencies.

Looking at the world John Calvin wrote: “There is no colour in this world that is not intended to make us rejoice” And yet, from the Bible he observed, “the heart is an idol factory” People are lovers but we love the wrongthings, turning created things into our gods.

CS Lewis warns, tread carefully around idols:
 “It is our painful duty to wake the world from an enchantment. The real universe is prob…

Hearing God speak through prayer

People pray. It doesn't seem to matter too much what you believe. Muslim or Hindu, Christian or Atheist cry out to someone or something. Who hasn't found themselves in a hard place and cried out "O, God..." or in better times and cried "Thank God..."

Download MP3: Hearing God speak through prayer (30mins).

We pray. Yet, it's hard. You lie on your bed to pray and it feels like the words bounce back off the ceiling as you address your petitions to the light fittings. You find a quiet place to pray and suddenly everything you've procrastinated about for days seems urgent. You pray and you pray and you pray and nothing happens and so you give up. Or, you think my life is already too full and too busy, I have no time to pray. And the biographies of the greats who rise before dawn to pray make it worse.

When I'm weak I think I can't pray until I'm stronger. When I'm strong I don't feel the need to pray so much. I'm caught between a…