5 Questions to prepare yourself for 2014

I always find New Year an excellent time for a bit of an audit of my life. It’s is a double milestone for me, as I have a birthday on 31st December (birthdays are always another great time for life audits). Rather than set New Year’s resolutions I find asking good questions and then trying to reorientate my life works for me. Here are 5 questions I am asking myself to prepare for 2014 I thought they might be worth sharing.
Take a look and see if there are any more I should add?Let me know if they help you.

2014

5. Are God’s priorities driving my life?

– Is there anything God wants to change about what I am doing?
– Has my personal growth, career, ambition or reputation dislodged God from the rightful centre of my life?

4. How can I demonstrate God’s character this year?

– How can I be more godly in my family, workplace, neighbourhood, social media usage?
– What areas of my life is the Holy Spirit prompting me to shine more brightly for Christ?

3. What new habits might help me to be more attentive to God?

– Prayer – how can I listen more effectively to God?
– Bible study – how can I allow God’s word to set the direction of my life?
– Communion – how can I deepen my relationship with God’s people?
Whom could I help to grow in their faith? Who could help me grow in maturity?
– Rest – how can i make sure my work does not become an idol?
– Reading – how can I keep my faith fresh and engaged through reading helpful literature?

2. To whom can I show the hospitality of God?

– I have used the word hospitality rather than generosity because one way we sometimes try to alleviate a guilty conscience about poverty is to give money away rather than give ourselves away.
– Is there anything I can do to offer hospitality to the vulnerable in my community?
– Are there more children we can consider fostering or adopting?  How can I better support those that foster and adopt?

1.How can I effectively share the good news of Jesus in my life and words this year?

– The thing I am most grateful for in my life is the gospel. The good news that Jesus’ life, death and resurrection have opened a way for me to be adopted into God’s family. I don’t want anyone to miss out on this incredible privilege and so I want to look closely at my life to see how I can better share the goodnews graciously, winsomely and clearly.

The West will not and has not saved the Rest

World Christian Movement Volume II: Modern Christanity from 1454 to 1800
Dale T. Irvin & Scott W. Sunquist

I had a strange feeling as I read a book about missionary heroes to my children each bedtime. Each hero was a white man who had travelled from the West to save the poor natives.

I had another strange feeling as I read a recent book about the Spiritual danger of doing good written by a CEO of a Christian microfinance development charity where we learnt a lot about the author and some famous american friends he had but all we heard about the rest of the world was how grateful they were for american help and how corrupt people were in Africa.

So it was with great relief that this volume arrived for me to review.

history-world-christian-movement-vol-iiThis book tells a lot of the untold story of global Christianity over the 350 year period between 1454 (just after the fall of Constantinople) to 1800 . Its a tough read but told with a lot of verve and rigor. You will be introduced to new names and new perspectives in the global church that will help western Christians see that we have lots to be ashamed in our history and that we might need a rethink as we uncritically step in as the missionary saviors of the world.

I was encouraged to see so many women named among the heroes and influencers of the church and especially pleased to read about indigenous leaders from around the world taking the lead in the spread of the gospel.

It is sobering reading as sadly the church’s collusion with empire, colonialism and slavery are very clearly outlined. It is also encouraging reading as statements such as “An observer in the 17the century could hardly be faulted for not expecting Christianity to have much of a future in the continent of Africa” when today so much of Africa is full of faithful believers.

This volume combines some fascinating story telling with historical analysis. The individual stories of global Christians humanize the grand and global narrative and provide inspiring cameos of Christian living.

For example: I loved the fact that the beginnings of the African church in West Africa is attributed to evangelical former slaves that came back from Nova Scotia in 1792 or that the key players in the change in attitudes to slavery in Europe were people like Olaudah Equiano and Ottobah Cugoano.

But the global analysis is fascinating too: for example the way that just as Christianity was spreading as a tool of colonial power and control was just the time that Christianity was facing its most radical challenge at its then European base (ie the reformation). Another example was the impact of the Lisbon earthquake had on religious and theological reflection in Europe.

I hope that this volume will be widely read as the story of the World Christian movement is not just the story of white missionaries (grateful though we all are for their grace and sacrifice) but by thousands of our brothers and sisters around the world who inspired by the Spirit and the word of God spread the good news of Jesus in word and deed wherever they were.

Christmas Videos worth sharing

Preachers have a lot of work to do at Christmas. Lots of services means lots of opportunities to share the amazing good news of Christ’s coming. But because we are preaching from the same few Christmas Bible texts to the same congregations year on year, we sometimes need help to keep it fresh. These 2013 videos might just help: (in case you missed them here were my 2012 videos)

1. Hamlet the Annunciation

I really liked this left of field stop motion Christmas video. If you can get over the idea of a non-kosher animal retelling the story of a Mary a Jewish virgin meeting an Angel. Some brilliant and very cute voices and songs. Wait till the end for a cheesy bacon joke.

2. Christmas Time

Here’s a student pitched Christmas video from UCCF; its a little dead pan but it’s trying to have a tougher vibe with its spoken word / rap approach. Some nice animation. Possibly a little too long but a clear gospel message that raises some great questions.

3. Dark Christmas

I have shared Glen’s video previously, but this a very professionally made video with some great rhyme and powerful sentiments. Would love to have heard a call to follow Christ’s care for the vulnerable but nevertheless a very good Christmas video. Loved the background music especially.

4. Unto Us

This is powerfully made little video which would be a great intro for a sermon. Loved the Eastern European immigration vibe and the nice rendition of “O Come O Come Imannuel”. There’s a link to a mini series too…

5. Joseph

Just been sent this one from one of my favourites from last year Dai Jones. This video won Nativity factor this year – so nice job guys well done.

5. Joseph

6. Star News Bethlehem

Another great video from our friends down under in New Zealand. Great use of child actors and even an 11 year old first time director! Impressive CGI at the end. I found it somehow very moving when the penny drops for the news anchor.

7. Holderness Christmas

Not a video telling the story of christmas but rather a promotional film for a new family business nevertheless it may provoke some interesting conversations if you showed it and then had a little discussion. Click here for a blog on it and the video. 

8. InstaChristmas

If you use Instagram you will love this powerful Australian retelling of the Christmas story made up just from photos…

5. Joseph

9.  Jesus vs Santa

Another new Christmas video from Glenn Scrivener – this one may make you dizzy but it will make you think

10. Someone is Coming

This Christmas video puts the nativity in the context of the whole Bible story

11 Immanuel

This video (courtesy of Matthew Firth) takes one of my favourite carols and gives it a powerful new twist. Enjoy.

Do you know any other new Christmas videos worth sharing?

▶_Hamlet__The_Annunciation_-_YouTube

How not to argue with Chandler

I admit that I was drawn to this video by the spectacle of watching Chandler Bing (aka Matthew Perry) get grilled by Jeremy Paxman. But instead Paxman is strangely absent from the debate leaving Peter Hitchens to rule the floor.

Four things I learned from this conversation

1. Empathy is vital to communication
Peter Hitchens comes across as particularly cold in this debate. He denies Chandler’s experience of addiction and ends up resorting to cheap pot shots in the argument. Chandler however opens up about his past, shares his experiences in a very vulnerable way and then offers some practical ways that addicts like him can be helped. It makes Chandler’s argument a lot more compelling as a result.

“read something other than your book”

2. Play by the rules
Because Chandler asks permission for an opportunity to speak he is then invited to take the floor by Paxman which means he has shown courtesy and deference to his host. This further warms the audience to him and against Hitchens who shows very little respect to anyone in the room.

3. Never insult your opponent (unless you can do it in a charming and playful manner)
Peter turns to name calling when he runs out of arguments, Chandler does too but he manages to do it in a charming and humorous way. Peter resorts to belittling Chandler’s argument and response and loses the argument because he loses his sense of humour. Even though they are on diametrically opposed sides (someone somewhere at the BBC must have thought for the sake of ‘balance’ you get someone who denies that drug addiction exists to talk about the impact of drug courts) Chandler finds a way to compliment Peter for making a good point in the argument.

Not that your aspirin point wasn’t genius but you don’t know what you are talking about

4. Try to communicate with you co-council beforehand
Baroness Meecher ends up arguing against Chandler which makes it more difficult to argue effectively. [ I had a similar problem when on a twitter debate with some militant atheists recently when 6 day creationists decided to join in… I don’t think it helped the overall case about the relationship between science and faith. ]


Baroness Meecher was the expert, in the room and yet she was consistently ignored and put down by both Chandler and Hitchens. This had to be pointed out to me by my friend Pete Philips on twitter. I was so awed by the star power of Chandler that I didn’t even notice this example of “everyday sexism.”

What did you learn from the debate?

Matthew Perry

You might like this Chandler Bing vs Matthew Perry quiz.

Keeping up with the Holdernesses

So its that time of the year when we decide to write Christmas letters to tell you how amazing our lives are. It can be an excuse for shameless boasting about the holidays we have been on, how beautiful our kids are or how well they are doing at school. Well here’s the video that one ups all of our feeble attempts.

A news anchor, his actress wife and his adorable intelligent children all do some amazing singing and dancing. But don’t worry this is not just a christmas letter to shame all other Christmas letters its also a show reel for Dad’s new business. Kudos for slick presentation and some impressive rapping.

christmas jambes

Cheesy? Clever? Creative? or Commercialism – what say you?

Friends lets make sure Jesus stays at the centre of our Christmas celebrations this year. Let’s make much of him and not too much of ourselves.

What does Joey Essex teach us about Christmas

You may have seen the following interview from Heat Magazine with Joey Essex who is the star of “The Only Way is Essex”
.
.
.

Heat Magazine: Will you put a nativity scene under the tree?
Joey Essex: What does that mean?
Heat: You know what a nativity scene is, surely…
Joey: An activity screen? Is it a box you put presents in
Heat: You know, when Jesus was born…
Joey: Oh! The hay round the bottom of the Christmas tree!
Heat: His mum and dad, Mary and Joseph…
Joey: They put him in a cot?
Heat: A crib…
Joey: Like a house? What was that song they used to sing? :Bursts into song “Baby Jesus! Bethlehem! And he used to sit in a little barn?” That was a sick song. I really want to start going to church.
Heat: And the three wise men brought him gold, frankincense and myrh…
Joey: [incredulous] How do you know all of this…

I enjoyed getting to know Joey a little bit through the lens of the I’m a Celebrity Get me Out of Here TV show. He comes across as a really nice lad who hasn’t necessarily had the educational opportunities many people have enjoyed across the UK. For some this makes him an object of ridicule, for me I find his take on things very refreshing. There was a lovely moment in “Celebrity” where Joey discovers a Stick Insect:

I love the wonder and excitement that  Joey brings encountering this creature for the first time. In cynical times these are refreshing emotions to behold. I would love Joey to hear the good news of Christmas not so he passes some kind of public acceptability test but because Christmas contains some world changing news for Joey and everyone else on the planet.

The “Baby Jesus in a little barn” is the King of heaven. That would be mind blowing for Joey to grasp.
Jesus was as my favourite carols “Hark the Herald Angels” puts it:

Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth
Hark! The herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn King!”

The Christmas story is not just historically true but is life changing.
But I don’t just want Joey Essex to come to know the Christmas story in its reality this festive season, amongst the commercialism and the cynicism I want to recover again the mystery and beauty and wonder of Christmas. An opportunity to do just this has come to me through our work in fostering and adoption….

Our foster son has been asking a lot of questions about Christmas. There’s something exciting about helping someone come to understand the Christmas story for the first time. As I have answered his questions I have tried to explain the nativity story in a way he can understand something of its beauty captivates me again. If you want know again the wonder of Christmas take time to explain it to someone – both you and they will be helped as a result.

If anyone sees Joey on the streets of Essex this Christmas time – please invite him to a carol service by the looks of things he will love it.

Not Ashamed

Which parts of God’s story do you think people who don’t claim to be Christians should know?
That’s the question I am wrestling with as I listen to some of the feedback about The Bible TV series currently airing on Channel 5 on Saturday nights.

Many commentators are willing to put aside their personal preferences about the style and format of this docudrama. The logic being: I personally don’t enjoy watching Country File, but other people do and it encourages people to better care for and appreciate the countryside, so I can cheer it on even if I don’t actually watch it. But other comments from Christians flying around social media have argued that The Bible TV series is putting people off Christianity for life. I do understand some of the challenge. I felt uncomfortable as I watched Abraham shout for God and for Israel as he charged against the Canaanites, or King David shout for Israel as he storms Jerusalem, or the now infamous “Ninja Angels” rescue Lot from Sodom. It is hard to reconcile a God who loves all the nations with one that assists Israel in battle.
But let’s be honest: is the embarrassment with the way The Bible TV series has presented these things – stark, sometimes hurried, often not contextualised with enough of the background story? Or is our problem with the Bible itself (which tells these stories often even more hurriedly, and with not enough background information provided in the text itself)?
Some may argue that, as Christians, the New Testament is our book so all of this Old Testament stuff is not worth sharing with a mainstream audience. Of course, this wasn’t Jesus’s approach to scripture, but the good news for those who think this way is that the series is going to arrive at the New Testament in Saturday’s episode.

130325-jesus

But the question in my mind still persists: are we embarrassed about the Old Testament? Do we need to protect people from it? Is it bad news that Noah and the Exodus are coming to cinema screens in the New Year?
I am of the opinion that there is nothing to be ashamed of in the Bible. I would rather help everyone who is interested to explore the whole of the scriptures. Yes, there will be things that we find difficult to understand, difficult to explain. But that has been true all the way through history. Imagine, if you will, an ancient Jewish couple retelling the story of Abraham to their children. God’s call to Abraham would have been a nice bit to pass on, but what about him sleeping with his wife’s maidservant Hagar? Slightly embarrassing to narrate to children. Or what about trying to explain why God would ask Abraham to sacrifice Isaac? That could give the children a few nightmares. So perhaps we should edit the stories so that they don’t offend? Snip a bit out here, ignore a bit there? Focus on the palatable stories that describe God as a loving father or just keep our attention on the nice side of the Christmas story?
Famously, the preacher C.H. Spurgeon spoke in 1875 at a meeting of the British and Foreign Bible Society:

There seems to me to have been twice as much done in some ages in defending the Bible as in expounding it, but if the whole of our strength shall henceforth go to the exposition and spreading of it, we may leave it pretty much to defend itself. I do not know whether you see that lion—it is very distinctly before my eyes; a number of persons advance to attack him, while a host of us would defend the grand old monarch, the British Lion, with all our strength. Many suggestions are made and much advice is offered. This weapon is recommended, and the other. Pardon me if I offer a quiet suggestion. Open the door and let the lion out; he will take care of himself. Why, they are gone! He no sooner goes forth in his strength than his assailants flee. The way to meet infidelity is to spread the Bible. The answer to every objection against the Bible is the Bible.

Lets help all of God’s story to be told. No one is claiming that the Bible Series is the infallible word of God. But it is attempting to tell faithfully the key parts of its story to a new audience. May it inspire us to do an even better job of communicating the whole counsel of God to this generation.

See also Four Reasons I am Cheering the Bible TV Series on.

Dark Christmas

Kudos to Glenn Scrivener who after a brilliant Halloween video now brings an excellent Christmas one.
With a lovely literary flourish this spoken word piece draws on together some powerful themes around the dark and difficult side of christmas and helps connect people to the comfort that Christ can bring to us.

Love to hear more of a call for us to join in with Christ’s mission to the who lowly, shameful and vulnerable.
The gospel story captures our hearts and minds but must transform our actions in response.

Well done Glenn for reminding us again of Christ “our brother in strife.”

4 reasons to cheer the Bible TV series on

  I know I can definitely get out of the wrong side of bed and take a contrarian view on things from time to time.
I know that if we love God then we want his name and reputation to be well represented in the public square.
I know that when Christians create music or art it can sometimes be cringe worthy.

So when the US blockbuster series “The Bible” hit the UK last week on Channel 5 I understood why some of my brothers and sisters in the church decided to publicly criticise it on social media. I can understand that I could have easily taken a similar approach.

But I want to encourage a different approach to the rest of the series. Here are four reasons why:

Bible_Warrior_Angel_37877871-P

1. The Lord of the Rings factor

Let’s say it right at the beginning: the book is better than the film. Of course the scriptures are the inspired word of God and no piece of art inspired by it could have a similar status. But when the Lord of the Rings film series appeared, some purists argued that the films had dumbed down the books. By turning the book into a film some things were lost. But what happened was that the books returned to the best-seller list. Through the films and the book sales, the stories were opened up to new audiences. I think the same could be happening with the Bible series. This is not a perfect reconstruction of the entire Bible. How could it be? It is a ‘greatest hits’ approach to the big stories of scripture. As a result of the inevitable constraints of time and budget, decisions had to be made about what to include and what to cut out. Not everyone will agree with every decision. But would we not be better celebrating – and praying for – the new audience that is being reached with the Bible story, rather than criticising the particular decisions that have been made?

2. The illiteracy factor

I sat and watched The Bible with a group of 11-14 year old children this week. Most of them have very little contact with the church apart from our little after-school group. Most of them knew virtually nothing of the biblical story. I asked for a score out of 10 from the group after they had watched the Creation, Flood and Abraham story and they gave it a 9. They grasped something of the biblical story that they hadn’t before. A few months ago I met with Roma Downey one of the producers of the show and she told me that their intention was to bring the Bible alive to a new generation. Whatever we think of the way the series has been made, should we not pray that this aim will be achieved?

3. The entertainment factor

The Bible TV show is not Homeland, The Killing, The News Room or The Good Wife – all shows that I love to watch for entertainment and pleasure. The Bible TV series is not trying to simply entertain an audience; it is trying to educate and inform. The Bible is attempting to bring the scriptures to a new audience. If you know your Bible really well, and you are familiar with the entire narrative, this TV show is not aimed at you. Some of the criticism of the Bible series has been that Christians haven’t enjoyed it – they haven’t got anything out of it. Brothers and sisters it is not for us. Which other television programme has done a better job at making the such a large swath of the Bible story accessible to a mainstream audience? Before we critique the show for not entertaining us enough, perhaps we should ask whether or not we personally have communicated the scriptures any better to such a large audience?

4. The Timing Factor

I have been in many church service where the preaching has been average if not downright boring, and no doubt some of those times I have been the preacher in question. But let’s imagine that an average preacher is doing their best to explain the big story of the Bible to an attentive audience of people who are not normally in church. Would it be helpful for me to stand up and shout “This is very average; I wish I was listening to a stand up comedian instead” and then very publicly walk out of the church? Now of course I believe in freedom of speech, and everyone is entitled to their point of view and to choose what they do with their time. But if I am someone that cares about helping people to encounter God in their lives, I might choose to either hold my tongue or, if I really couldn’t bear it anymore, to subtly and quietly sneak out of the service. Alternatively, I could choose to stay in the service and cheer when this average preacher says something good; when they get something right – that would have a really positive effect on the audience and may even help me to have some useful conversations with people after the service. So when the Bible is on TV again, why not encourage people to engage with it – cheer when it goes well rather than heckle?

Just as with an average preacher or even a poor preacher, there is a time and a place to offer constructive critique. But, it probably isn’t best done in the middle of the sermon not just for the preacher’s sake but for the sake of the audience being distracted from God speaking to them.

A way forward?

Twitter and social media  is a great place to have a conversation while the programme is on. It’s great to raise questions and make comments. If we only give “cheer leader” type commentary then I guess that will come across as a sales pitch. So lets raise our questions, make our comments, suggest how there is another side of the story being portrayed, reflect on why we wish another story from scripture had been included but in a way that is positive about the overall aims of the show maybe and that directs people to encounter God in scripture for themselves?

What do you think friends?

Launching a faith that sticks

Sticky Faith Launch Kit

I am a big fan of the Sticky Faith movement. I had the privilege of meeting up and interviewing Kara Powell its director for Youthwork Magazine when I visited Fuller a couple of years ago.

So I was delighted to receive a review copy of this new resource.

Design

I love the design of the book.
Its printed on high quality paper and uses some excellent fonts and design features to help get the message across.
This might seem like an unimportant detail but it just makes the resource feel very professional and up to date.

Cross Cultural

This is basically a companion resource to help churches bring about culture change on the way we do age integrated ministry. It’s a 180 day countdown with a fair amount of detailed planning including everything from a model email to send parents to plans for parent-youthworker consults. Some people will love the level of detail others will be frustrated by how much handholding there is and the relative sparsity of new content.

icons-and-ipad

Three big ideas

The three big ideas that make up the core of the material are very helpful.

1. Shift from a Behaviour Based Gospel to a Grace Gospel
This has got to be a core value for every aspect of the church to make sure that we are being faithful to the gospel. I believe we need to help every body involved in teaching from parents to preachers, from youth workers to those working with the elderly to be very clear about the gospel and to make sure when we are teaching everything from Old Testament stories, to sex or the book of James that we are underlining the nature of grace and also the scale of the gospel. But that is a whole other blog stream – see here for some links.

2. Shift from Dry Cleaning Parenting to Ministry Partnership

As parents we can’t just drop off our kids at the youth activities “dirty” and expect to pick them up “clean” at the end. We have to play our part in the spiritual formation of our children. See here for some links on this front.

3. Shift from Two Table Church to welcome young people around one family table

Rather than having a separate kids table and a grown up table at family gatherings there is a great advantage on being one family table. So in the life of the church what can we do to integrate the two tables of youth and adults together. I would say that we have a bigger challenge; we have more than two tables dividing up the church. We have children, youth, students, 20s-30s, singles, marrieds, retired and a whole bunch more that we need to find a way to integrate together.

This resource comes with some unlockable online material but after logging in with my unique code; no matter how I tried I couldn’t get the video content to download. When this does work I am sure that will add a whole new dimension to the training opportunities that this resource can provide.

This is a good resource which comes without some of the theological baggage that other US based family faith products come with. It could be used by churches from a very diverse spectrum of evangelical convictions. It does come with an American perspective and assumes quiet a bit about the scale and set up of your youth and children’s ministry. It lays the foundation for some changes to take place in youth ministry but I would say that it has gone for gradual step change that in the end only get you so far. I think we need a more radical shake up

I am very interested in this whole area and am currently reading my way through everything I can find on helping children to transition to adult faith. I would love to know any suggestions you have for my reading list: