Monday, June 30, 2008

Bowled Over

Two dreams.

I was at a friends house, asleep, middle of the night. I was awoken by people singing and handing out flowers and chocolates at 4am. It was already quite light. I told them off - why were they waking me with their songs so early? When i returned to my sleeping bag, I knocked over a glass of water producing quite literally a "wet blanket".

Later the same night:

Out ten pin bowling with friends, we had just set up the scorecard on the computer and started to bowl. The first person bowled for the first time - but the automatic reset on the pins refused to work. We asked someone to fix it. It wouldn't reset. Then a screen came down, and when it lifted, there was no more bowling - other sports were on offer: I complained. We didn't want skiing or rafting or clay pigeon shooting. Rafting! As if we were dressed for water! That we were offered these upgrades for free was irrelevant.

I went back to our group - who were now (fully clothed) swimming in a pool. I was not ready to accept the changes on offer - they had dived in.


There are times I feel God speak to me through dreams. For a while it's like a radio tuning in; for several nights the dreams get more vivid, till something sticks out & remains. Here, I am revealed as someone who complains whilst around me other people are trying to bless others. I miss the blessing because it is not exactly what I want or was prepared for.

Yesterday I preached from Romans 6 that we should not live as people stuck in sin - a life with a broken relationship with God, "wrong-teousness", and all the acts that come from that; we should live as people who have a life gifted with a right relationship with God through Jesus - "righteousness". Then after church I was so consumed with a letter I needed to write to someone, complaining about a remark they had made in a letter to me saying they had not said something which they really had said, that I failed to take an opportunity to pray with and bless a non-Christian Chinese student who came into our Church. Complain, complain, instead of bless, bless. Wrong-teousness instead of righteousness.

And I am bowled over by the number of times a day there are opportunities to assert myself and show how right I am, when instead I could find time to bless someone else. I am awe-struck that it takes a couple of dreams to reveal me to myself and make me want to change.

O Lord, thank you for this moment; I am truly sorry. Make me a man of blessing, not complaining, and please, please help me break these unknowing habits of a lifetime.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Welsh Assembly Makes Vicars Lives Harder

Oh yes...pity those poor vicars who have just got new curates. The Assembly have banned the use of electronic dog collars for training purposes. See here for details - though this video from the BBC may only be available in the UK. The rest of you will have to go here for the back story! (It may not all be about clergy but it's a neat idea!)

It's Petertide, when we ordain new vicars. Here are three:
Matthew Trick with his wife Sarah. Matthew was with us for a year as placement student from St Mike's Llandaff, and will be part of this year's Furnace team at New Wine Cymru.

Richard Wood, who has been a good friend for ten years is hiding behind Archbishop Barry here. Richard's wife Naomi was of course Children's Worker here before Kirsty. Appropriately for the ecclesiastical season, at St Davids, where he was ordained, four of the seven were called "Peter".

And Wayne David used to be our oirganist here at St Catherine's, and is now NSM in Merthyr. He was ordained priest (unlike the other two who were made deacon) - which is the free upgrade you get after a year if you behave well & don't thrown into prison. It took me eighteen months, of course, but that's another story.

This is me & Gill Tuck before the St Davids service, after enjoying ice cream & chips (a local delicacy - North American readers need to get a translation matrix in to realise I just said "ice cream and fries") in the sunshine. Lovely. I spent three years in this diocese, 1996-99, and barely recognised this cathedral... but then I worked at St Michael's Aberystwyth before Stuart Bell was made a Canon, so I guess in those days he barely recognised it...

And here are Gill, Stewart and May painting the town red after the service. Honestly, such reprobate behaviour. We had a great trip out.

Seriously, it was a wonderful day - to be there for Wayne, laying hands on him as he was ordained, to support Matthew who looked really in awe of the whole experience, and to be with Richard who has been such a good friend for so many years.

My favourite moment of the whole day was at St Davids. As the communion started, the first person up was Richard's mum, and she received the bread from the Archbishop, and then the wine - from her newly ordained son. I was sitting just to the side and saw the look on her face, and the hesitation, and the immensity of the moment well up within her & threaten for a second to overwhelm. It was a wonderful and holy sight.

Monday, June 23, 2008


So I answered a couple more questions from the box yesterday.

1. If Jesus died to pay for our sins, who did he pay? Great question, but with a problem. Firstly, we use the word "pay" in different ways - I go to a shop to buy a Mars Bar. To get the Mars Bar I have to pay the shopkeeper, who then gives me my chocolate. Or - the people of Zimbabwe are paying for greed of their leaders. In one, there's a transaction; in the other there's not, but people are still paying.

Interesting fact: Nowhere, not once, not anywhere in the New Testament in all the verses about what happened on the cross does it say "Jesus paid for our sins". The NT does not create the problem of somebody needing to be paid, because it doesn't use this language. So why do we?

The best I can come up with is a Trifle.

If you are not British, you might be wondering why I am thinking of "something unimportant" when trying to describe such a weighty matter; but if you are British, on seeing that word the first thing that flashed through your mind was something akin to the picture at the top of this post. That's my point.

A trifle can be something insignificant - or a Great British dessert. It depends on your perspective.

I think that we get the "Jesus paid for my sins" theology because of the word Redemption. And for Gentiles in St Paul's day, they would hear this word and maybe think of the slave market, and of somebody having their freedom bought back. A price had to be paid - and yes, someone had to be paid. Of course, in salvation terms, we are using a metaphor, and it's never too healthy to push metaphors too far - they break. If this is the right picture for Redemption, we need to stop before someone gets paid, or we end up wondering is it the Devil? Or a schizophrenic God? It's a picture to help us understand a truth! Don't force the detail!

Hmm. Trifle. I wonder if I'm talking about a dessert here & you are still thinking "something unimportant"?

I wonder if we are stuck in the slave market, where our Reformation forefathers insisted we should be, when in fact the wonderfully Jewish St Paul was at the Passover feast? For Redemption for a Jew was all about Passover - and just as the people of Zimbawe are paying for their leaders' greed, so at that feast lambs were slaughtered to figuratively pay for the sins of the people. Sin caused death. Sacrifice. During worship. They weren't "paying God", but sin had a price - and in these deaths there was prefigured a time when one would come who would bear the true price of all that had been done in dividing humanity from its Creator as the Son felt seperated from his Father.

You tell me: I'd love to get this right!

2: What does Sooty eat & is he a Christian? Clearly a harder issue, I replied that in our Family service of three weeks' ago I fed Sooty Kit Kats. I did not know his usual diet. And was he a Christian?

People are Christians. Or not. But a heaven that just has people has no place in my Bible - the one I read of there has animals and gardens and rivers and lots of feasting and parties. God promises the redemption of the whole of Creation, and so I think we will be wonderfully surprised by the life we find there.

And for a different take on this - Camillofan had a great post recently. Read it!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Revival Envy

You may have heard about revival meetings at the Ignited Church in Lakeland Florida, led by Todd Bentley. It's a Pentecostal thing (more than a Charismatic thing - for what that means) and it's focussed on two points as far as I can see: healings, and imparting the power to heal to others in order to spread the blessing.

You can watch a YouTube buzz on it here. And then follow the links to see whatever else you would like. But come back - I have some thoughts about it all.

The first and obvious question: is it for real? I don't see why not. I have listened to some of Todd's preaching via the web and found it terrible. If you have to be a great preacher to be blessed by God that cuts most of us out straight away, and actually I think St Paul makes it clear that clever preaching can get in the way of blessing sometimes: go check out 1 Corinthians 2.4-5 to see what I mean.

We want to be purists and pharisees: the guy doesn't get all his theology right (i.e. exactly like mine) so he must be a fake and thereore I can ignore everything else. That position takes some arrogance, some ego.

But wait a minute, comes back the reply, I'm just exercising discernment here! Then let's look at the fruit of Todd Bentley's labours. From what I have seen, poor, weak, crippled, blind, deaf & sick people have come away better than they went to his meetings. I don't like the preaching, I don't like the style of the worship, I don't like the way they get prayed for - but they are getting preached to, they are worshipping, they are getting prayed for, and God is blessing them.

Note to self: the more we preach, worship & pray for people, the more people can get blessed. Here's discernment: if I worked as hard at getting people to come under the influence of the Spirit as is going on in Lakeland right now, we'd see more blessing in Pontypridd.

Second question: am I going to go and see for myself? No. I could. Lakeland is half an hour from my sister's place. This was probably all happening when I was over there earlier in the year and I knew nothing about it. I drove past that church many times. I just happen to think that God is God; not geography. My problems are not I haven't been to the right meeting! And if I open my heart to him and serve him with all my heart, he will bless these people here, these nameless unknown people here, every bit as the "Christian Celebrities" that are flocking to the place I think of as a shopping mall. ("Oh Marcus," says my sister, "Let's go to Lakeland! Dillards have got a sale!" That's my first frame of reference.)

Final concern: hype. Show & tell. I got an email today inviting me to a Sunday evening service in Tonbridge. 189 miles away. "Our senior currently in Lakeland Florida having an incredible time experiencing what God is doing out there and receiving encouragement and impartation for the UK." It then goes on to say that someone (whom I am supposed to know) has prophesied that over the next month God will do something significant so a great list of Charismatic celebrities are going to be a part of what is happening. This is my big problem.

And I want to be careful. Is this revival envy? Do I envy the Kent pastor's enjoying himself so much he doesn't want to come home (which is also in the text of the email) and the fact that he has a church where he can indulge that? Or is there genuinely something daft about this guy (whom I know slightly - we were at Wycliffe together) "receiving encouragement and impartation for the UK." For their church, of course. For their area, why not? For all who would like to come and receive - very sensible. For the UK???

Nothing like self confidence, is there!

And the list of the great and the good who are going to Lakeland that come with this email to validate the whole thing (why does God need validation?) makes me uncertain, and the YouTube clips of miracles and the relentless GodTV coverage (every night, apparently - I never watch it - no sex and violence) just turn what ought to feel like something holy into a freak show. The X-Factor or American Idol, but the early weeks - only the best miracles will make it to the studio shows.

When Jesus healed someone, he took them aside. Privately. Hardly ever in a public place. It was about compassion and care, and often followed with - don't tell anyone. So, of course, people told, and everyone wanted to know more.

These days, we say - tell the world! Show the world! Use YouTube! Smile, your miracle is on TV! And I fear that no-one cares. Because we have made something holy into a cheap version of something nasty.

I'm going to change my mind.If I get out to Florida again this year, I might try to get along to Ignited Church. But my priority will be to spend a Sunday with my sister's best friend Scarlett and her family - I did not know these wonderful people were Christians till this last journey, and for me it matters far more to worship with them than to be a part of anything else God may or may not be doing. For I would give the world for my sister and nephew to share in the love of Jesus, and I have far more faith in that journey happening through these friends than through all the miracles in Christendom.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Still Reading Around

And then I found this.

Check out Richard's Crafty Curate site for some amazing pictures and animations. And do follow the first link and play the animation of this slide - it is simple and beautiful. Thanks Richard for some really wonderful stuff.

Reading Around

Like the rest of you, I take great pleasure in reading around. Ben's Blog (see the links on the right) has some great quotes and I'm waiting to get round to reading some of the books he refers to. Farmstrong is snappy and opinionated and often very funny. Camillofan is by one of my most longstanding friends, and I love her family and her revealing take on life.

MMP defies characterisation. But this I read there today:

But I've been re reading some new testament recently...a profound shock in and of itself....and this sheep biz is all over the place.

It's about "belonging to......"
no, not a group, not a flock....
but to a shepherd.

Go here for the full post and for the full treat. Or just stop what you are doing and think for a while about the wisdom of those words.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Pooling Resources

Final day here at the Bellevue San Lorenzo. So I took advantage of an English couple I was chatting to by the pool to get a shot of me here at the side of the hotel's classic brochure view... and then returned the favour.

This has been a really short break but a good one, and one I'd love to repeat. The hotel is so peaceful, the food so good, the views great and there is plenty of chance simply to relax. Which I think I needed.

When I first came to Pontypridd, Mary who was minister at the church across the road, was always away on holiday. She split her five weeks in the year into a week off every two months or so. At the time I remember thinking that I couldn't understand how she did it - it took me ages to unwind, and then I'd be winding back up again. If I took three weeks off, only the middle week actually worked as holiday. But now I begin to get it. You have to choose your breaks well. Be places where you really can relax. And then a short gap can actually be genuinely refreshing. I suppose this is how some clergy work with caravans or a cottage in the country.

A caravan sounds like hell to me. A cottage in the country? Depends which country. And whether there's a waiter who brings me strawberries and champagne.

My simple tastes are easy to please.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Guesting on Farmstrong

My good friend JD Walt on his excellent blog Farmstrong (which you really ought to include in your favourites) has been asking questions about how we define worship, because (to quote) "the way you define worship will determine the way you design worship".

I had a think about that and emailed a thought or two, which JD has posted on his site. have a read and either reply there or here if you have any comments.

Chocolate Cake for Breakfast

To be accurate, chocolate gateau, fruit tart, torte, sweet croissants, bread, ham, proscuitto, cheese, fresh fruit, fruit juice, cereals, scrambled eggs, fried eggs, bacon and coffee.

Not that I had all that obviously.

I am allergic to cheese & I don't like cereal.

Then I felt like some exercise, so I ambled down into Malcesine & caught the paddle steamer across the lake to Limone.

More cobbled alleyways and tiny shops, though slightly classier shops really - fewer "gift" places and more nice foody stores.

Which clearly I needed.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Devil May Care

Lake Garda. Where James Bond crashed two Aston Martin’s recently – or at least, his stunt man did. And where I am on holiday. Reading the latest James Bond novel by Sebastian Faulks.

In the most beautiful hotel. Glory. Praise God for all his good gifts


OK, we all know I love my food. But the proscuitto and melon, quail and risotto, veal, and white chocolate and pinapple dessert followed by the most perfect cappucino ever that I am currently enjoying make this hotel like heaven on earth. Officially.

Plus they are showing all the football.

Without Steve MacLaren.

PS - thanks Andy for the video of Matty - fantastic!

Maths Equation

Here are the questions we have had in our question box for me to answer so far.
1. If Jesus is the Son of God, why do we call him God?
2. In 1 Corinthians 15.29 what does it mean about “those who are baptised for the dead”?
3. So if Jesus died to pay for our sins, who is he paying?
4. What would you give Sooty to eat & is he a Christian? (He appeared in a recent sermon!)
5. If you continuously turn your cheek with offensive neighbours, do you persevere, & if so for how long? Do you keep saying hello or do you give up?
6. Why do the Jews celebrate the Sabbath on Saturday? I know they must count Sunday as the first day, but there must be more to it than that.
I’ve had a go at number 1 so far. And you know, I think my answer was great, but I think others would disagree. I mentioned it this weekend to someone who replied – “Great! Trinitarian theology!” and I thought to myself, “No, not really.”

I mean, I could have chosen to answer it that way, but I didn’t. “Son of God” biblically is surely primarily a kingship title; not a relational one? It occurs forty-odd times, as opposed to “Son of the Father” which actually only gets the one look in. And the Father/Son relationship of Jesus and the Father is complex because although Jesus calls God “Father”, there is a question about how equivalent this is to a human relationship in the dynamic of the Trinity.

I didn’t go there.

I stayed with Kingship. Which is what I think “Son of God” as a phrase is actually about, though I accept that there is a bigger question as well. Because Scripturally I think it is clear that the true king of God’s people is – God himself. So when the Gospels (and especially Matthew) spend time establishing that Jesus is the true King of God’s people (“Son of God”), they are by that route making it clear that Jesus is God, and not doing some daft false confusing relational maths equation of “Jesus equals his own Dad” standard.

But what would you have said? And how would you answer the ones I have to do when I get back from holiday?

The Godfather IV

Ben, Micah, Flo and now Laetitia. I am amassing godchildren.

When James and Bethia asked me to be godfather to Laetitia, I was both astounded and thrilled. I am sure they have rafts of spiritual people they could ask, and the phone call I received from James whilst I was at the New Wine leaders thing at Harrogate was totally unexpected. Bethia was quite clear – my role is to pray; others will give gifts. Which is lucky, because I am pretty poor at working out what a little girl would like for her first Christmas.

But I will pray for her.

And as everyone was busy getting ready on Sunday morning, Laetitia was entrusted to my care. So I sat chatting to her for a while, and then I thought – hang on, no-one’s around, why don’t I pray? So I placed my hand on her head and prayed for the Lord to bless her, and for her never to have a day when she does not know Jesus in her life.

It was a joy to spend some with some of James and Bethia’s friends and family. The Ewins are always good company, and James’ mother Lindy was in fine form, and this was the first time I really got chance to talk with her husband Brian (Hutton – the law Lord). Bethia’s mother and father were a delight too, and again I had really only seen them at the wedding, so this was a lovely chance to meet them properly.

James’ church is plugged into an organisation called Christians against Poverty which works to give financial advice to struggling families, and to bring them to Christ. I think I need to find out more about this group; in the current climate, and with some families in Pontypridd undoubtedly suffering, this may be something we need to think about.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Nice n Easy does it!

Thanks to Matthew Truelove for the editing, and to Chris, Dan, Tom, George & Stephen for the playing!