Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Yes Indeed!

So I am learning some new tricks. I have found a snazzy bit of software that allows me to edit snippets of video really easily (it has to be easy for me to do it!), and I am filling YouTube with bits and pieces of St Catherine's worship...

This one is a sort of "Come Holy Spirit" song, though not necessarily in the Vineyard tradition.

There are more excerpts on my MySpace page - Beautiful One and How Great Thou Art from the same evening back in November 2005, and on the St Catherine's newspage we are attaching all sorts of things... And now that I know how to do it, I have all sorts of plans to make that site well and truly multi-media!

Or for something a little different - with a gently swaying Bishop David Yeoman - try this gentle version of Chris Tomlin's excellent song:

Monday, August 27, 2007

Stoking the Embers

I've been meaning to write more about The Furnace week at New Wine Cymru. But in all honesty, it's still eluding me a little.

I think it is because it was a week that took me entirely by surprise, and as a result I am having difficulty in processing it.

I mean, when the expectation and the experience are connected, it is easy to find a suitable place in one's heart or mind or whichever internal filing system is appropriate for the occasion. It can be locked away in the right place. Like Mary, we can ponder it when time permits, and (perhaps less like Mary, but more like normal life) make it a part of us in easily digestible bits.

When the expectation and the experience bear no resemblance, this ain't so easy.

I went to Furnace without high hopes. Some vision, some excitement, but not a lot. The previous year (and every other time I'd had anything to do with Flames of Fire) had sort of innoculated me against it. I was glad some of the church were going; we'd be OK together - I could escape to them. There would be good stuff along the way (with people like Bruce Collins and Kenny Borthwick how could there not?) but I had no idea how my bit would go, or if many would come, or how my team would do, or anything really. Yes, I had low hopes.

And it was amazing.

I was blown away.

Day by day.

There were times of worship where God was powerfully present, and I just needed to dance for joy. Never mind the kids from our youth group standing there, looking. I just needed to dance for joy. I can't remember the last time that was true. I thought I was too old for that sort of thing! I used to dance at Soul Survivor or Delirious gigs, but this year at the Furnace, I was just filled with so much sheer pleasure at being in the Lord's presence, at the freedom of having such music and such songs, and such a chance to let my spirit soar, I had to dance. I tried not to. It didn't work.

I could see young people catching a glimpse of the possibilities of letting Christ in: words and healings and praying and talking and sharing and learning together. And I remembered that I enjoyed working with this age range. There is a yearning in me, because coming here has been about giving this up, and yet I enjoy this work. So much. The choices and the influences and the time to make right decisions. Lives won in these days for Jesus - oh, what a privilege.

Always a privilege. Maybe again, some time. After all, we have our youth group, and a few students, and the thing I am reminded of is that the words spoken here at these times are key words, not to be wasted, with the Lord blessing those who will listen and follow and those who will guide and show the way.

And I met some wonderful people. Gary and the Ignite team. Diana in the cafe. Andy Booth - heart of gold. Tim our sound man, whose efforts become more and more super-human the more I think about it! Lord, bless these people, and give me grace to keep contact with them.

And above all, I am left exhausted by grace. By God's generous gift of that week. And my gratitude in return is feeble and weak, but true. I am grateful to have been there. It was awesome.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Burning Bush

Click here for a fascinating article in the Times about George W Bush and his public statements about Christian faith.

The comments which follow the statements are a mish-mash of anti-Christian and anti-church-and-state polemic, but the 50 chosen comments from Bush are revealing in all sorts of ways.

Some are just silly.

Despite myself I enjoyed the idea of him denouncing anti-Catholic "bigacy". (Is that the idea that the Protestant denominations get more people attending? We're "bigger" than you?)

And he's probably right to say Osama bin Laden wouldn't really enjoy Hanukkah.

There is also a confusion of culture and faith - though he claims that Freedom isn't America's gift to the world - it is God's (or the Almighty's, or an Almighty's), the terms of that gift sometimes sound very "American Christian" - the alternative being either an aside, an add-on or false religion.

And of course, lots of Christians all over the world want to support a Christian man in George's position but find themselves wincing and running for cover every time he opens his mouth on the subject, as he fails to explain everything from why they switched from an Episcopalian to a Methodist church, to then being recorded on another occasion as saying, "I don't think you order suiciders to kill innocent men, women, and children if you're a religious person". Not suiciders, just regular forces, then it's OK for a religious person to issue those orders.

We wonder - is he for real - faithwise? I pray so. I think. I could not wish him not to be. But he will have to answer for what he has done. As we all will. Though most of us have not had the world's fate and the lives of millions dependent on our judgement and malapropisms, which in that context lose their humour.

A serviceman home on R&R from Iraq this week told me that the place was death and destruction everywhere - worse than he had ever seen it. I had a cold call from a stationery salesman on Wednesday - an ex-serviceman who left the miltary after his wife gave birth to their first daughter earlier this year. He told the same tale - pointlessness and mayhem and soldiers obeying orders that mean nothing.

So I think I pray that George W Bush is for real, faithwise. Because he is beyond a joke for me as I watch families here sweat it out as their boys serve out there in Bush and Blair's warzone, with too many dying for the vanity and stupidity of leaders who mouth statements of faith as if it lets them off the hook. It does not.

We who live by faith don't find you funny, George; just plain offensive. And the less you talk about God, the better that might be for everyone.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Basis of Faith

I've just received a very kind invitation to speak at the CU of the local university. It's the first time I've been able to do this, though I've been asked before. And they sent me a copy of the Doctrinal Basis (DB) of the UCCF, the parent body of all university Christian Unions to sign - which happens to all speakers. It's to make sure we will be Biblical, and fair enough. I used to be Vice-President of the OICCU (Oxford Inter-Collegiate Christian Union) back when the dinosaurs roamed the earth, and I appreciate the way of these things, even if a part of me wants to ask "You questioning how Biblical I am?" in a sort of Mafia voice.

The thing is, just to make sure that when you sign it you are agreeing with it, the good people at the University of Glamorgan CU, or (for all I know) UCCF generally these days have added a line. And I can't sign the line they have added. For a look at the UCCF Doctrinal Basis click here. It's quite a reformed Protestant document, and although the emphasis it places on certain things might not be my emphasis, and although I might then be interpreting things slightly differently to the way the writers would want me to, word for word, I can agree with everything there. Evangelicalism is a big ship; imporatantly the DB recognises this at the top by stating that the Scriptural truths we follow "include" those laid down here. That is, this is not a complete list.

So - if baptism matters a whole lot to you, well, it isn't here. And if predestination is a key doctrine, then I'm sorry but that's not here either. Why? Because within evangelicalism there are different takes on these major theological ideas, and UCCF wants the whole evangelical family to be playing its part in the evangelism of the student world which is its raison d'etre.

For me, there is a bigger, more fundamental idea that is absent from the DB. An idea so huge that it makes me want to say that without it, I fear any staement of Christian belief is at the very least left wanting, certainly sub-Biblical and possibly even a bit less than Christian.

St Paul says "If I...have not love, I am nothing." And this DB has no love. It never mentions it. Never in the sense of God's love - John 3.16, "for God so loved the world..", Romans 5.8 - "God demonstrates his own love for us in this..."; nor in the sense of our worshipful response of loving God and neighbour, the Greatest Command that Jesus gives us in Matthew 22.37-40. Love is absent here, and I find that hard.

But it shouldn't stop me signing, right?


Because that extra line that somebody has added to the UCCF Doctrinal Basis reads as follows: I agree wholeheartedly with the statements above, and consider this an accurate reflection of my own statement of faith.

An accurate reflection of my own statement of faith has to have room for the love of God, and for my love in return. The whole weight of my understanding of Scripture demands it. I come to God no other way than in amazed and grateful love for the one who amazingly, generously, constantly, and seemingly without reason loves me. From the first to the final page of the Bible I read of no other God than this God of love, and his love compels me, draws me, vivifies me; he overwhelms me and embraces me and fills my mind and my heart; his love feeds me, then gives me water to drink which in turn becomes the richest wine and makes me heady, intoxicated with the grandeur and splendour and simplicity and wonder of his love.

So I have written back. And asked for that line to be taken away. So I can sign the rest and go speak to these guys on a marvellous chapter of Mark's Gospel.

I could just cross my fingers and ignore it. But you know me and words. They matter. It's an integrity thing. A small matter. But I cannot sign something which purports to accurately reflect my faith and yet omits the word "love", I simply cannot.

(The next day)

I received a lovely email from the secretary at the CU, generously agreeing with me and apologising for that extra line. She doesn't know how it got there either, and has removed it for me - and for all other speakers who might just have more to their faith than the UCCF Doctrinal Basis allows for.

It's an interesting question: if you were to write a document stating the essentials of Christian faith, what would have to be included? And what, from the UCCF list, would not be there? There are things in the UCCF statement which are not on my essentials list (the hard liners are never happy with my finding a Biblical emphasis on Salvation rather than condemnation, and my not seeing the necessity to mention the two always in the same sentence) but which I am happy to nod along to (in a theologically concerned way, observing that Biblical metaphor expresses Scriptural truth so that when I see the word "condemn" I don't have a concept of pitch forks and flames anywhere near my mind). And clearly from all this something I regard as essential - indeed, foundational to the very character of God and our relationship with him - is omitted from the UCCF list. Anything you want to add?

Monday, August 13, 2007

The Furnace

So last week I was at "Flames of Fire", the New Wine Cymru holiday week.

Holiday. Glory - I was running the Furnace, the 18-30s stream, a new thing this year, and was working from 10am till midnight every day!

Actually, it was great. Last year was hard work. We just had a late night cafe for young adults, and though the content was good - most of the evening speakers came along to chat about things that really inspired them - the venue was hard work as we shared it with a seminar thing, and had to put out chairs, and there were no comfy chairs to lounge on, we had to buy coffee etc and make it ourselves, we had to do everything - and then I had to drive home every night (Builth Wells is an hour away).

As there was just the cafe, it didn't plug into anything else, and it felt like a poorly thought-out add-on. Which it was. I went to the de-brief meeting afterwards ready to resign and walk away. But Gary from Ignite, the youth set up, started talking about combining the young adult stuff with the youth work. Using a part of their venue. Some of their team - who come into this age bracket. Including the top of the youth bracket into a new worship venue - 16-30s. And I began to get a bit of vision. Bother. I couldn't walk away - though I really wanted to.
Gary and Nigel kept encouraging me. The New Wine leadership kept encouraging me. I kept wanting to walk away. (Though I may have not said that out loud.) Nigel put a team together, and I added a couple of people. We put a programme together. I began to get excited by it.
This year - well, the week before the event, Nigel (who was overseeing everything) got ill. And two members of my church died. So my preparation was a little altered... I run a church like a family. Losing two members in one week, well, it is traumatic. I'm not claiming I feel it like Anne's sister or Phil's daughter, but as I sat on my stairs after Phil's funeral just letting myself shed a few tears, knowing I had to get back in the car and drive back to Builth for that afternoon's events at Flames - it was not the week I had envisaged.
Having said that - it was a great week. We had 70 people attend our worship meetings, with the excellent Superhero leading the music, and speakers ranging from Dai Hankey to Don Williams. There was a steady theme through all the evenings, about discovering that God loves us for who we are.
We had 56 one night in our cafe (last year our high number was 19!) - this photo is of MGQ doing a jazz worship set in the cafe. Most nights we had a sort of chat show set up, with guests being quizzed by Lois Richards and myself, plus live music either from the guests themselves - or in Bruce Collins' case, from his son Matthew. Bruce was great - prophesying to the crowd, and explaining about prophesy in the church, whilst perhaps the most profound evening was Andy Booth's instrumental worship night.
One person described coming into our worship times as being like walking into a wall of God. One person felt they had their asthma healed, and then came to me asking for prayer that they might go and pray for their friends to be healed as well. Two people felt they heard angels sing one night as we worshipped - and I can believe it.
We moved the cafe venue from one room to another midweek. It involved a lot of furniture, a PA system, a kitchen re-think - a lot of hassle. I apologetically looked at the team. "Can we do this?" They all agreed - it was the right thing to do - it was no trouble. A can-do attitude. With that kind of heart, no wonder we were in a place where we could be blessed.
Gary oversaw us, with Paul Thompson, and did a sterling job. John, Richard, Naomi, Lois, Maddie, Patrick, Geraint, plus Diana and Elen in the cafe - and Tim on the PA and Nick on visuals - all were great, as were Superhero and my own little band on the two occasions we played. Hard work. Real blessing.
On the final morning, a guy came up to me - I guess he was 18 - he'd had a couple of questions during the week - and he told me he'd had a sense of God speaking to him and hadn't known what to do with it. We talked and prayed and I challenged him a bit. It followed on from things said earlier on, and built on the respect and trust I hope he'd found I'd shown a couple of days before. It was the last thing I did before leaving the site. That he came to me to ask his question and be prayed for - I felt I had done a job well. I certainly enjoyed doing it.
Last year I would have walked away gladly. This year, if they ask me to - I'll be gutted.