Photo credits

The Embalse de Riano in northern Spain. The picture was taken by .... me!

Friday, June 29

SaintSimon does evangelism occasionally

Chatting with chinese lady colleague.  Comparing cultural differences.  Got onto cemetaries - a relatively new feature in china she tells me owing to the old belief that you had to keep the body handy for the afterlife.

Got onto Christian viws of afterlife, physical resurrection, and the question of what happens if the cannibal who ate the missionary then becomes a christian.

This got onto a much deeper presentation of the Christian faith.  She is of a bhuddist heritage but non-religious, although she feels that there is someone out there looking after her.

So I was able to expain about how most religions require good works to achieve whatever salvation they offer, but we can never meet God's 100% passmark.  And so, not wanting heaven to be underpopulated, he comes in the form of Christ to take on himself our sins.  So the sin is dealt with, and we are free.  Free to enjoy a restored relationship with him in which we do good for love, not for gain.

She was very taken, but too reluctant to attach Christian labels to the 'someone out there'.

Now I'm no good at that last little bit of pushing someone into 'making a decision for Christ' and saying 'the sinner's prayer'.

But I did give her the link to Student Alpha, and hopefully something will come of it.

Please pray that those hopes will be fulfilled.

Thursday, June 28

White knuckles, divorce, and bare knuckles

Not mine!

It was a rather tense meeting of our workplace christian fellowship.

One chap was getting off about the need for moral purity among PCC members.  At his church there is a couple who are co-habiting and decline to marry, yet want to go on the PCC.  I agree that this would be inappropriate.  But it led on to a discussion about those who have remarried after divorce being in leadership.  My friend was clearly against it.  Others, including myself, take the view that we all make mistakes, but once we have repented we move on with God.  It is not possible to go back and untangle the mess.  But we get a fresh start.  So it would be inappropriate for a person who deliberately advocates serial monogamy to be on the PCC, but in my view someone who has entered marriages with the best of intentions only for them to fail, should not be penalised for ever.  Move on. 

I related the tale of a clergywoman I know.  Her first husband was gay and the marriage was never consummated.  Even so the congregation treated her with contempt when she escaped that situation.  Under stress and on the bounce, she remarried too quickly.  It seemed to be going well but when the Lord called her into ordination the man reacted badly and started to abuse her psychologically (this is not my assessment - it was Relate.  The woman tried to get him to go to Relate with her but he refused.  She had to go alone.  Relate analysed the situation and classified his treatment of her as being significantly beyond the level at which they would be concerned).  The woman accepts that she could have done more to save the marriage, but I knew her at the time and testify that she had already done more than was reasonably expected of her.  Also, the Bishop was kept informed of all these developments, and in his view he was happy to ordain her despite the second divorce, nowing the circumstances.

So lots of people have theoretical objections to remarriage which I fully understand, but as a church we fail to manage the gap between the theoretical ideal and the practical reality.  Marriage is for life and has to be entered into with that understanding.  But once it is broken, it is broken.  Jesus teaches it is wrong to divorce and marry another.  I read that as refuting the idea that you can sanitise adultery (or deliberate serial mongamy) by divorce.  I don't read it as forbidding remarriage of someone who has already suffered a divorce and is now making a fresh start in a new life in which they unintentionally meet someone else.

I think Jesus manages that gap between theory and reality - pure doctrine and compassionate practice.

I don't think my friend handles that gap.

As we talked his knuckles were white, his forearms and clenched hands shaking with tension.  I rather got the feel that if his hands had not been clenched together, he woudl have hit me.

I like people to be passionate about their beliefs.  But his mannerisms did nothing to pursuade me that he was right - quite the opposite.

Back in the pulpit

Now that I am a little more established back at our original church, I have already been asked to preach.

It will be on 14th October.  It will be on Jospeh, but exactly what is unclear.  When the Vicar asked me to do it he said "It's 'Joseph - a man of Character' from Genesis 37 v1-11 which is the story of Potiphar's wife".  Only, that passage is not Mrs P its Joseph's dreams.

So I need him to provide some clarity about what I am actually supposed to preach on!

Ironically, the last time I spoke (which will be nearly 2 years previously) there was a similar mix-up about the date and the topic.  I insisted on going ahead with what I had prepared, and it turned out to be my best sermon ever.  So maybe it is the Lord who arranges these little mix-ups.

Monday, June 25

Ordination news (addendum 2) - the weakest link

Others in the line:
  • a local franchise restaurant manager,
  • a woman in a wheelchair with severe mobility and communication difficulties yet clearly under the influence of the Spirit,
  • a very quiet and timid chap,
  • an epileptic 
“God has chosen what is weak in the eyes of the word” 
“and last of all … me, as one of untimely birth”

Ordination news (addendum 1) - the spiritual gift of tears?

"There is something about me that finds tears of joy flow very easily – I only have to see a group of people walking down the street with a common purpose and it sets me off."

I like to think that this is the Holy Spirit in me and have heard people describing tears as a 'Spiritual gift' but its not on any of the Biblical lists I know.

The only other person I have come across who was like this was a gay Catholic I knew at school, who liked John Paul II - but God would never put his Spirit on a gay Catholic, would he? (??!!??)

Ordination news

On Saturday night I prayed that there would be a ‘significant conversation’ on Sunday at church. No particular topic – just something of value.

I expected the conversation to involve me directly, during the coffee time after the service.

It turned out that the ‘sermon’ was the conversation. The Vicar wanted the service to have the theme of ‘vocation’, and so he called his two assistant ministers onto the platform and interviewed them, firstly about how they came to faith and secondly how they came to be called into ordained ministry and what procedural hoops they had to jump through. The Vicar also gave his own accounts.

Then at the end he asked all those in the church considering ordination or ‘something’ to come to the front.

At this moment I was at the back with my three year old jumping all over me asking for drinks and things. So I was not next to my wife to influence her decision. She felt that the call was definitely [Spellcheckers!!  previous edition of this post had 'deficiently', which does not convey the same meaning at all!] for her and went to the front, along with a few other people. I went too, not really for my sake because I felt I was already on the road, so to speak, but I went to ask her if she wanted me there to support her or to stay away to avoid detracting from her. She asked me to stay.

Then members of the congregation were asked to come and lay hands on those who had gone to the front. One man that I don’t know (one of those who have joined while we were away) came up behind us and put a hand on each of us. My three year old was now running loose at the front, and we hoped one of our other kids would come and get her. Our eldest did, but then came back and laid hands on both of us. The three year old continued to jump up at me like a small dog ALL of the time I was being prayed over. I don’t remember if the people with us prayed individually – I think it was just the prayer from the Vicar at the front over everyone.

• I was being prayed over about ordination
• I was next to my wife
• She was being prayed over about her own individual but linked call
• My son was laying hands on us
• He knows a lot of the history leading to this point, and was endorsing us

I found all this totally overwhelming. There is something about me that finds tears of joy flow very easily – I only have to see a group of people walking down the street with a common purpose and it sets me off. So you can imagine that the items listed above are individually strong ‘cry’ triggers for me but taken together it set off Niagara falls. Which was embarrassing, with my son watching.

In one of my earlier posts I worried about what would happen if the house swap went ahead – it didn’t seem compatible with our vision for ordination.

Now God has spoken powerfully and clearly.

House swap – no!
Ordination (for both) – yes!

(This does not rule out buying that house in the normal way in due course if we sell ours – watch this space!)

House news

They said ‘no’ to the house swap deal. They felt it needed the support of their congregation, which would be divided.

I’m disappointed, but feel they have made the right decision – there really was no point in them incurring all the costs of moving for no real benefit.

Mrs was much more despondent over the weekend, because it felt like all of her dreams – that she has invested time and effort into and found her self-esteem from – were ripped away from her. Again. Hence the scenic tour of northern England. She feels better now (see next post!!), and is in the process of putting the house on the general market.

Grim up north?

Took tour of the north of England on Saturday, including Durham, Newcastle, Carlisle, the Eden valley (saw a steam train on the Settle-Carlisle railway), Penrith, Ullswater, the Kirkstone Pass, and Windermere.

Water levels were high in the lakes owing to recent rain.

Kirkstone pass was very foggy – could barely see to the next corner (which people who know the road will know is not very far)

Tuesday, June 19

The trouble is ....

... if the hosue swap option works out, what happens to my sense of call to be a stipendiary minister?

Monday, June 18

House news

Some good, some bad.

Lets call the figure we felt our house was worth X, which is about 117% of the price we initially paid for it. (In 2007 at the peak of the housing bubble our house was valued at 126% of X, so on paper we have lost £loads in 5 years – but never mind that was never real money)

This is based at looking at houses for sale in the local newspaper that are similar to those that were at the same price as ours when we bought it in 2003.

This is also very close to the value predicted by Nationwide House Price Calculator, which comes out at 98.6% of X

On Friday, three valuers came round.

1. 97% of X

2. 91% of X

3. 103% of X  but we didn’t really believe this one because he was just looking at prices other houses in the street sold for in the last XX years on the computer, and ours is a totally unique house. In the end the 103% was just a case of him not denying a value we suggested to him.

Valuers 1 and 2 were both very full of praise for our house - the layout, the size and the way in which we present it. They just lamented the market conditions. ) Valuer 3 didn’t really have any comments to make.

On Saturday a fourth valuer came. He was also full of enthusiastic praise for the house, recognised its uniqueness, and said that he would go away and think about it carefully and let us know on Monday (still waiting).

Also on Saturday, we had the first visit for the church we hope to part-exchange with.

This was a bit demoralising – like Valuer 3, they didn’t smile or make positive comments as they went around.

Now obviously, they don’t have the commercial reasons for making us feel good about the house, in fact quite the opposite. But whether you are an agent or a potential buyer, you still can’t hide your real emotions about the property. So we were disappointed.

Also I put my foot in it by letting slip things that I should have kept quiet about.

However – its not all doom and gloom. They didn’t say ‘no’ – they said they have to go back to the church committee on Thursday, and would talk numbers with us after that. And they may not have been emotional about the house because they are not looking at the aesthetics for living in themselves: they will be either selling it or renting it out to students.

So lets still smile, and pray for a positive outcome.

Friday, June 15

Doubts about my position on homosexuality

Thinking aloud.

Its not as simple as I thought.  The church of england response to the government equalities office consultation “equal civil marriage” makes me less convinced about my line on complementarity than I used to be. One theory that I have been taking on board is that homosexual people exhibit characetristics of both genders, and that therefore the image of God (which requires both Male and Female in marriage to be complete) is still fully reflected in a gay couple. But if you have two men who are each [say] 25% female, that still only adds up to 50% of the amount of 'female' required. Mathematically you could argue that a male homosexual [25% female say] should therefore only be permitted to marry a lesbian [25% male, say].  BUt all that assumes that it is a mathematical thing.  It may be that just any mixture of the two genderswill suffice and its not a thing that can be expressed mathematically at all.

Another line of thought in my head is that since am fairly Calvinist in my views on predestination, I do believe in a Mr or Miss Right.  And so for me to accept gay marriage implies that God has also planned a Mr Right for John and a Miss Right for Jane.  And while its easy enough to accept that God is merciful to people in their need, its a bigger pill to swallow that he is actively and premeditatively involved in this way.

I suppose I am still in a position where although I have my ups and downs in theological terms, the reality of a conservative view on these things is that people who try desperately hard with much prayer to cease being gay often end up commiting suicide rather than continuing 'sinning'.  For which I admire them - I am not that devoted!  But the fruit of the doctrine - suicide - implies to me that the doctrine is wrong.  'By their fruits you shall know them' applies to doctrines too.

Faith or Delusion III

Well, this is an important day.

Spent days and weeks of extreme physical effort getting the house ready for sale, peaking in a strenuous climax yesterday.  The house looks so nice I don't want to leave (not that I ever did).

Today the valuers from 4 estate agents are visiting.

Mrs has sent me feedback from the first two.  One was very positive, but gave us a vauation around 90% of what we hoped for.   But then his agency always does low ("realistic") valuations.  The other was much less afffirmative, and was too gormless to actually value it himself.  Just asked - "How much do you want for it?", and when we told him he grunted acceptingly.

I'm still waiting to hear form her what the other two said.

Coming back to the first guy, he said that last year he would have valued it at £XXXk, which is the same as the hosue we want was valued at last year.  So that is encouraging.  He also said that his first estimate, looking at the hosue form outside unaware of our basement imporvement, was less than his final estimate by an amount that was equiavlent to 125% of the cost of the basement.  So even though prices have dropped considerably, we would still be making a profit on the basement element of it. 

Tomorrow is another important day.

The people we want to swap with are viewing our house.

So all the kids have been banned from so much as twitching for the next 18 hours!

Monday, June 11

Faith or Delusion II

We went to see that house again this Saturday.

Before we went in we prayed - "Lord, if this house is not your will then raise obstacles, but if it is from you then give us a good feeling while we are in there."

He gave us a good feeling.

Now lets stand back a bit - if we went into a showroom of fast cars saying the same prayer, it is quite likley that we would be seduced by the gleaming curves and the smell of leather.  It could still be delusion. 

But looking at the house, things that we had had concerns about and were checking on seemed to melt away.  The satndard of secor was generally OK to move in - not the deriliction we remembered.  The kitchen was actually very posh - we had previously been fixated on the ugly hole where the dishwasher goes.  It was all just generally better than we remembered.

It was a bit scary that they have cannibalised the radiators from the ground floor, but they say they will replace them.

And some of the weeds in the back patio have leaves that look like Japanese knotweed - but I think the stems and general shape are different.

And so we do feel that it is the Lord's will that we should at least start to enter negotiations with their idea of a house swap.

So we have sent them outline details of our house, and they still seem interested, and are coming to view our house next Saturday.  We have also booked 3 or 4 estate agents to value our house on Friday and to give us their valuations.  This week is the last frantic painting and furniture re-positioning.

And so it is all looking good.

But I'm still not sure where we will put all the kids to sleep.  There are fewer bedrooms, and Mrs wants to set up her 'Play church' through two of them.  She has even said I will have to start sharing her bed again - which would be good in many ways but I still snore and I've got used to having my own room.  I don't think she appreciates how much I need to have some man-space in the house.

Friday, June 8

I'm a link!

At heart I am an evangelist.  I want to spread the good news about Jesus as far as possible.  I want to tell everybody.  When I get to heaven, I want to meet people who say "I am here becasue of you".

The trouble is, I don't really have the gift of evangelism.  I don't find that when I tell them, people sign up for the deal.  For most of my life, my only achievement has been to convert an agnostic into an athiest.

The reality is that in western society, it is quite rare for someone to move from unbelief to belief as the result of one conversation with one person.  More commonly, it's a combination of a lot of incidents, lots of links in the chain, that nudge a person towards faith.

A long time ago I went to see our reclusive neighbour.  I think it was about the fence between her garden and ours.  She invited me in, and I found myself in a very messy house, with an under-exercised dog and an overweight and unhappy woman suffering mobility problems.  As part of the conversation, it came out that I am a lay minister in the church, and I offered to pray for her to be healed.  She accepted, and I laid hands on her and prayed.  OK, it wasn't clever that I laid hands on the nearest part of her body which was her knee - could have been misinterpreted.  OK, she wasn't healed.

I went home.  didn't think much about it.  Occasionally felt guilty that I hadn't followed up the contact.  Had occasional dealings with her over a shared water supply pipe, but didn't really get engaged in conversation.

But recently, my daughter's ladybird tent was picked up by the wind and dumped over the fence.

I had to go round and see the lady again.

When she opened the door, it was like a different woman.  Broad smile.  Colourful clothes.  Much slimmer.  "you're looking well" I blurted.  Expalied about the tent.  Went through her tidy house to shunt the tent back over the fence.  Then she said "I'm coming to your church tomorrow night for the joint service" [when the main members of the town's 'Churches together' group worship as one on a bi-monthly basis].  It turns out that she has been attending a course similar to the Alpha course at the Elim Pentecostal church, has also done a counselling course and is joining their counselling team.  She didn't say explicitly 'I've been born again' - but the evidence was there.  She did say that she was really touched by the time I prayed with her (and I don't think that was an allegation of sexual assault on her knee!), and from the contetext of the conversation it was apparent that it had been a factor in her being open to the church. 

So I was a link in that lady's salvation, and I feel that my life on earth has started to be worthwhile.

To fulfill the Great Commission, we don't have to drag people all the way from unbelief to belief in one session.  It's just a matter of giving them those little nudges in the right direction.

Thursday, June 7

Bishop Alan on homosexuality (and stuff)

I insist that everybody reads this: - beyond-sneering

Ford KA power steering rack available

EDIT 29 July 2013 - ITS GONE. SORRY!

I have available a power steering rack for a Ford KA.

I used to own a Ford KA.  As they often do, it developed a leak in the power steering.  Around this time my parents bought me a new car, so I never bothered to get a new MOT on the Ford KA and kept it off road (SORN) so that my son could take it over when he passed his test.  When he passed, I bought a reconditioned steering rack, and a church friend was supposed to come and fit it for us for free.  But he never came, and my son's best insurance quote was a prohibitive £3500 so I never chased it up.

The KA deteriorated on the drive for over a year, and in the end I sold it for scrap last week.

I still have the reconditioned steering rack , which I never put on it, still in its box with the sale note.  I'm planning to move house and want to get rid of clutter.

If you want the steering rack, I'm open to offers.  I'm too disorganised to get round to posting it, so you would have to collect.  I don't particularly want to reveal my address on the blog, but if you are interested leave a comment with your email and I will contact you.


EDIT 29 July 2013 - ITS GONE.  SORRY!

Seeing the impact of conservative views about homosexuality

Very interesting chat at one of the BBQ’s I attended over the Jubilee weekend.

Setting the scene:

One of my main concerns in returning to my original church has been its conservative stance on homosexuality – which as I have explained in detail in previous posts I have moved away from; not becoming a wishy-washy unscriptural ‘liberal’, but using conservative Bible Study tools to conclude that we got it wrong. In my first four services back at the church, three of them contained comments that would not have made a homosexual feel wanted.

And when I have had a chat with the Vicar, he has said that he recently attended a [conservative] seminar on the topic, and was planning to hold some discussion of it in the PCC.

At the BBQ I found myself talking to the Assistant Minister, who was at the same conference. She said that she had felt uncharacteristically angry during the same seminar, because they kept referring to it as a lifestyle choice.

She has a bit more insight that many: her first husband was a gay man who got married in the hope that it would cure him of homosexuality. But of course, it did not – he was never able to consummate the marriage, and they ended up separating. Having never been truly married, she then married someone else on the rebound and had two children. But the marriage did not work, and now we have an assistant minister who on paper is twice divorced – which does not go down well in all circles. Now it turns out that her son, when he hit puberty, found himself to be gay. This caused him great distress. It was not at all what he would choose! He spent a lot of time sobbing. Eventually his Mum picked up the clues and said “Are you worried about your sexuality?” He pushed past her, but later texted her “yes, I am”.

He went to the church youth leader – “I have a lesbian friend who would like to come …” He was given chapter and verse about the sinfulness of it all. Uncomfortable at the church, he went to the Elim Pentecostal church. They tried to cast demons out of him.

Eventually the lad let it slip to his Dad. If the Dad was a nicer chap he would have still been married to the lads Mum. He had a very old fashioned view of everything – (including women’s ministry in the church which is why he could not handle his wife being ordained resulting in their split), and he was not skilled in expressing his views diplomatically. So the lad - who had never taken any kind of drugs - took an overdose of caffeine tablets.

This is the consequence of conservative views of homosexuality and the unloving way that they are usually expressed. “Love the sinner but hate the sin”, they say, but that’s not what they do.

So it was good to be able to support our assistant minister, and give her pastoral support instead of her giving it out all the time. She really needed a sympathetic ear.

She asked me to pass on to her a paper I wrote ion 2008 describing my changed views.

She also let slip that one lady in the church – who I always see in the company of another lady that is rather butch – is a lesbian. It figures. She should not have told me, but I’m not too surprised. But I also know this lady to be a truly practising Christian – it was she who when we were unemployed gave us 100% of her competition winnings, which I think she really needed herself.

So please pray that when this issue is discussed in the PCC, that the Holy Spirit will be present. We need the discussion to be civilised, gentle, and loving, but also frank and honest. We want to remain true to scripture; we don’t want to make culturally convenient excuses. But we don’t want to be causing severe heartache to people unnecessarily.


Wasn’t that all very patriotic, by the way? 

If a republic is such a great idea, why was the ‘socialist’ Obama congratulating the Queen on her sixty years? 

And if an elected president would be better, why is the Queen supported by 80% of the nation – far more than any elected politician could ever enjoy?