Saturday, April 25, 2015
Hillsong investigated by journalists for its massive tax-free earnings and its manner of encouraging giving.
Meanwhile Joyce Meyer is coming to France (No! Send her back!) and some friends and colleagues from Bordeaux are involved in the music for her events.
How can you spot a money-raker?
1) How do they ask you for money? How often, how forcefully, how hard, how persuasively...
Generally people ask you most for what they want most from you. That's pretty easy to spot!
If people want you to love and trust Jesus, then you'll be left with that impression.
If people want your money, then you'll get a different impression.
2) What is their style of ministry?
Remember that our saviour's lifestyle was simple in the extreme.
On a scale of hobo to rockstar, he said "I have nowhere to lay my head".
So when someone flies in in their private jet smell a rat.
Rats fly in private jets. Disciples fly economy. Business if they're upgraded.
3) Remember showbiz is a business. The "biz" part is short for business.
The New Testament is very negative towards people who think Jesus is a way for making money.
People build showbiz empires by singing about Jesus in packed theatres and then milking the sheep who come.
But you don't build for eternity like that.
Showbiz empires all crumble.
Only the mustard-seed Kingdom endures.
(I remember reading with joy how some good and wise people in Israel met Benny Hinn at the airport and popped him on the next plane home.)
I'm not very excited by shopping generally but I do have some strange attractions, and one is for bags. I just like bags. Perhaps because it's so hard to find just the right bag? Who knows. Anyway we have one travel bag that everyone in the family likes. It's a lightweight case on wheels, just the right size for Easyjet's cabin bags, and can hold 44L. It's great and sometimes we compete to use it. But when it's heavy, carting it up and down stairs is awkward, and when I thought about station stairs I thought how good it would be to have the weight on your back.
We looked at trolleys that double as rucksacks, but they all seemed rather heavy to me and I didn't want wheel marks on my jacket. So I ordered a CabinMax bag from Amazon. I chose carefully the one that had as few negative reviews as possible and when it came I packed it carefully.
And it worked fine. It does end up rather heavy as you walk along. You take the weight through your hips and knees, but that's better than hauling something one-handed up the stairs.
Because you're carrying it you're careful not to take or buy anything heavy. So no buying books, for example. At Banner that stings a little, but we're planning to downsize anyway so I have to reduce my library, not augment it.
It had four little straps on the sides to squeeze it down to get into Easyjet's size restriction. It had four but one broke so now it has three. Not that that matters too much. The Easyjet people didn't even look at my bag - I guess the word CabinMax printed on it shows it will fit in the gauge - and I didn't stuff it out of shape anyway.
So all in all it worked fine. I would have preferred the strap not to break. But even if the bag had come back totally wrecked and needed to be thrown away it still would have been a very modest expense compared with car-hire.
Oh, an after-thought. I don't think Pat or Catrin would cope with the bag. Too much weight on the back. But Gwilym and I would be fine with it.
Friday, April 24, 2015
Some men say that being a pastor is by far the best job in the world, that being able to manage your own time, eat with your family, avoid the grind of the daily commute, plunge yourself into things you love doing, be paid to read, think, pray and talk to people, that really it's a dream come true.
And they're undoubtedly right.
Others point out that it also means being on call 24 hours a day, constant deadlines, seeing people at their worst, facing criticism and opposition that you rarely get in the secular workplace along with responsibilities, stresses and strains that few others see.
And they're doubtless right, too.
I had the privilege of working in the information technology industry for about 11 years before going into pastoral ministry. It is true that there were moments of great stress - implementing large changes to databases over long hours at the weekend - I remember getting home at 2am and needing to be in work again at 6am. It is true that I had bosses who were wonderful people and who made my job much easier, but I also had one who detested me - I later found out it may well have been because of my faith. I was sometimes on call - I carried a pager. That was a laugh! The one time they called me out it failed to wake me.
However; generally once I left the office the working day was over. I was free. I often left the office and went straight to the prayer meeting or whatever, but the work/rest cut-off was palpable. Working at home is not like that.
I've seen atrocious behaviour in churches and on the mission field that would never be tolerated in the workplace.
And I don't think I was ever in physical danger at work - I suppose I coud have done myself a mischief that day we had to drag the computer up the stairs because the lift was broken - whereas I can immediately think of a couple of occasions where I felt distinctly unsafe in pastoral ministry.
Here's my perspective. On my travels in the UK recently I met lots of pastors who are or have recently been on leave because of stress-related illness, or are taking anti-depressants, or are struggling in one way or another.
The apostle Paul's example is a help. He seldom talks of the price he paid for his ministry. But it was there, nevertheless. People close to him knew about it and tried to help. And sometimes he would open up and write about it. But generally he still served with a great sense of joy.
We can't just deny the problems we face. What good is that? How does that help anyone or honour the Saviour?
But we are wrong to blow it out of perspective, too. Yes, troubles come. Yes, people may need to take extended periods of rest. Yes, people may need psychiatric help. But the work is worth the price you pay.
Thursday, April 23, 2015
When I saw that a book by Rico Tice on Evangelism was available for review I rushed to sign up to read and review it. Rico first came to my attention some years ago (ahem, ahem) when my colleague Mark and I used to fly from Liverpool to London for Christianity Explored training courses. We found someone who was pretty well in every way larger than life. We were met and embraced by his generous, joyful spirit. We discovered various members of his family, including the Ayatollah (I wonder if he still calls her that?) And we caught something of his infectious enthusiasm for seeing other discover the joy of salvation.
I devoured the book happily on train journeys around England and Wales, riding the crests and the troughs of the experiences Rico relates as he talks us through his subject. It's the same Rico, though time has brought lots of changes, of course.
It's not a long book: it's divided into just eight chapters in which Rico explores the various motivations and hindrances to sharing our love for Jesus with others. Sometimes it's very challenging. Sometimes very funny. Sometimes very practical. Sometimes quite painful to read. Always it's very orderly, clear and methodically presented.
Though Rico refers to changes in Western attitudes and thought, this is no mini "Gagging of God". It's a pretty straightforward book on personal evangelism. If you're after philosophical reflection you'll need to look elsewhere.
But if you want to be challenged to trust the King, love the lost, pray and proclaim, take hell seriously and love the Saviour more than your own life - or reputation - then this book is for you.
Wednesday, April 22, 2015
Tuesday, April 21, 2015
One has recently adopted the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith.
Another has grown to 60 members in its 12 years of existence.
Churches are reaching their communities with café church, with food banks, with all kinds of initiatives.
It was so very very encouraging to see that God is at work.
At the same time it was clear that this comes at a price.
Many pastors struggle with burnout, with stress-related conditions or with diagnoses of depression.
Fine, caring pastors, well-trained and with elderships in place in stable, growing churches.
I am in no position to offer an analysis or a diagnosis.
Over the next few days I'll do some reflections on the various things I saw and did in the UK, including the churches I visited and also the Banner of Truth Conference.
Meanwhile three weeks is too long to be away! I got rather tired towards the end and also caught a cold at Banner - the first cold in ages, but hey!
And our grass is knee-high! I know what I'll be doing tomorrow!
Saturday, April 18, 2015
Not only that, but I ought to have posted a review for a book, and it was a good book. I shall do that soon.
Meanwhile a brief reflection on the Banner of Truth Minister's conference.
Splendid accommodation once more on the lovely campus of the university in Leicester. What makes the campus so nice is the gardens with their beautiful flowering shrubs and trees.
The theme was frightening - "The minister and his suffering" - but in the end the conference was very happy and positive. I had to do a paper on "Missionaries' problems and suffering and how churches can help them", so I had a sleepless night before and after, but lots of encouraging remarks including "Do you not think that could become a book, or at least a pamphlet, or at least a series of articles". My initial response was "No, of course not" but I modified it to "We'll see." We'll see indeed.
And surprise, surprise, the folk at Banner are in fact very easy to preach to, they listen extremely well and encourage you with the odd nod, grunt, squeak or howl.
The food at Banner is always delicious and copious and the staff charming and helpful.
Then after visiting the splendid folks at Little Hill, who didn't see my best side because I was so very tired (see above) I got to Bath and have slept quite a lot!
Tomorrow Freshbrook am, Widcombe pm. Monday gentle strolling in Bath and preparation of bags for flight and on Tuesday I fly home.
Saturday, April 11, 2015
Because of UK delicacies that are unshoppingable in France.
Like Bourbon Cream biscuits, Cadbury's Mini-Rolls, Sponge cakes with buttercream filling, bacon, pork pies, pickles and chutneys, the list is unthatisallable.
You have to no the temptation to glutton on all these things. And thus far I have surprised myself by noing LOTS of opportunities to greed.
At Maesycwmmer, which was basically a cake-fest sandwiched between two messages from Sinclair Ferguson, I noed all the Victoria sandwiches and gooey carrot cakes etc (how could I?) and ate one mini-roll and a Welsh cake.
In the supermarket I have nogoed the biscuit aisles as well as the pickles and chutneys.
But today I have some bacon to make a bacon butty for lunch, and an individual pot of rice pudding! FIESTA!
Up I went. No sign of it. I looked across at the signs painted on the booths (I had my glasses on!). There we are! "Sunday School Supplies" just between the pet food stall and the record shop.
And that's all there was. "Sunday School Supplies" painted on a booth - left over from the Bible Depot.
OK. Now W H Smith has some books tucked away behind the coffee and chocolates but Lears is long gone. Perhaps there's still a shop by the Student Union. That means there's no bookshop in Central Cardiff?
I noticed that the Cardiffians are not much like the Bordelais. Discreet, well-dressed, stylish, the Bordelais walk quietly from shop to shop, clutching the bags. The Cardiffians chatter, joke, shout, and fool about in their tee-shirts and leggings or cargo-pants.
Hang on. There was a Waterstones down by the side of James Howell. Phew. It was still there.
I dare say the oriel bookshop is there somewhere if you hunt.
Friday, April 10, 2015
I started at the National Museum of Wales, the Amgueddfa Genedlaethol Cymru, where I made a beeline for the gallery where the Impressionists are displayed.
Thanks to the sisters Gwendoline and Margaret Davies of Gregynog, the Museum has a fine collection of art, including sculptures by Rodin and paintings by Monet, Manet, Degas and Van Gogh, among many many others. The sisters were heiresses of one of the great fortunes of Victorian industry and, encouraged by their understanding of their responsibility to the Lord Jesus Christ - they were Calvinistic Methodists - they invested substantial sums to purchase new works of art, advised by London dealers, but choosing themselves what they thought they ought to buy. They bequeathed their collection to the Welsh nation, and so we have free access to wonderful paintings of Monet's waterlilies, of Rouen cathedral and scenes of Venice as well as many other wonderful treasures.
Easter Sunday at Saint Mellons was very happy and encouraging with a splendid morning worship together with Holiday Bible Club prize-giving attended by lots of Sunday School children and their parents. In the evening I preached and it was good to be back in a traditional Welsh chapel building again.
Then my friends took me to my sister's house in Porth where I spent the remainder of the week.
On Tuesday evening I was at Ebenezer in Swansea. Then on Wednesday my hosts took me to Swansea bay to dispel forever the image of "lovely, ugly Swansea".
I caught the train to Cardiff - a train every half-hour, but just small, two-carriage trains so very full, then met my old friend, Ian Parry, founder-pastor of the Bay Church, which in its 12th year counts 50 members and a congregation of about 80 people. Ian and his wife, Liz, have four gorgeous children.
A couple of hours spent with my other sister in Rhiwbina, then back to Porth.
Tomorrow I am going to take a rest-day in Cardiff, my old stomping-ground.
Sunday, April 05, 2015
And the book doesn't disappoint. Its scope is perfectly suited as a help to preachers and as a guide for personal reading. The book has 614 pages, which suggests a somewhat weighty tome, but you have to remember that Acts is a rather long book. Not only that but Waters' approach is pleasantly light and very readable.
He quotes often and provides good footnotes, citing people like Barrett, Calvin, Longenecker, Marshall, Stott, Witherington - a wide range of sources. He is strong on his understanding of the more heavily-discussed (disputed?) passages, and doesn't allow himself to get sidetracked into too much debate.
Perhaps one of the features I most appreciated about the book is the insertion of frequent sections of application. Now application can become dated quite quickly, but here it focuses wisely on principles that can be applied in many different contexts and situations.
In short, this is a splendid book, to be commended wholeheartedly.
Saturday, April 04, 2015
Friday, April 03, 2015
But they can't connect to the wifi.
Tried to fix it online using Free's magic toolbox, but the configurations I put in don't seem to be activated...
Oh well. I have suggested that Pat asks our neighbour to negotiate with the internet company for her.
Thursday, April 02, 2015
Wednesday, April 01, 2015
Still, once the bus came I had a pleasant journey to the airport through parts of Merignac I had never seen before, then a short wait at the airport, a pleasant flight and a friendly greetings from the Henwoods who had come to meet me.
Stage 1 accomplished. Contact the girls in Bordeaux, talk and sleep!
Tuesday, March 31, 2015
Monday, March 30, 2015
Sunday, March 29, 2015
We are eagerly awaiting the arrival of a plumber, who phoned to say he'd be coming Saturday afternoon. This gave us an immediate problem because the person who does Saturday afternoons normally doesn't come till pretty late, if at all. Leah came to my aid and I was relieved at my post at just before 2, then was given a lift home by Pierre le Grec.
Pierre le Grec had come into the shop with my old friend Heber, a student who I used to meet up with years ago. Heber is passing through Bordeaux on the way to visit his beloved in Slovakia, and he brought his customary smile, good humour and a touch of Haitian sunshine to a grey Bordeaux day.
The plumber didn't come.
At five I left for the long and winding journey to Cenon for the Chinese group. Big mistake. The roads were CLOGGED with cars after a football match and the bus was about 1/2 hour late by the time we got to the tram stop. Still, I had a nice nap on the bus!
Still it was a happy time with the Chinese, who again told me that I have not mastered the pronunciation of ANY of their first names.
Back to the bus stop in time for the 10:10 bus 4 to not come, then to take the 11pm instead. Very thankful that it came. On the tram we chatted with a medical student in his sixth year, who is supervised by our next-door neighbour.
On the bus I dozed off again, and awoke to find the same chap standing right next to me. It turns out that he lives in a flat at the end of our road and he knows me because I say "Good morning" to him as he stands on his balcony to have a smoke. We chatted about his job, his family circumstances, his flat and so on.
I got in in time to put some clocks forward and fall into bed.
Saturday, March 28, 2015
Friday, March 27, 2015
Meanwhile Mrs Davey's back is OK. Today she sauntered off to Carrefour to obtain the little essentials that had been left off the list of the megashop I did yesterday, and she is up and about and smiling and saying her back's OK.
Meanwhile it has warmed up a little today. It is hard to believe that yesterday, almost at the end of March, we had the stove lit all day.
And the plumber phoned and said he'll call tomorrow afternoon.
Tuesday, March 24, 2015
Sometimes it's a movement that sparks it off. Sometimes it's too much lifting or carrying. We've been doing some gardening, nothing heavy, but I don't know if that was the source of the current flare-up, but it's happened.
She's cancelled her stints in the Maison de la Bible and started on ibuprofen. We hope that all will calm down this week so that I can come to the UK with no great worries. If it develops into a big problem then I might have to cancel the trip.
Thanks for praying!
Monday, March 23, 2015
And I leave for England on 31st March, and Catrin is studying for her bac, much of which entails the internet...
Well, on the way to the Chinese group on Saturday I was charged with getting some eggs and other comestibles. This I did with such panache and speed that I called in at the Free shop and:
1) ascertained that Catrin's mobile phone is on Free with 20GB of 4G (lots of internet connectivity)
2) it is really easy to switch people to Free, so I planned to switch Pat on Monday
3) switching to Free for the fixed line and internet is also quite easy.
"It takes between 6 and 15 days."
"Normally 6 or normally 15."
The guy looked me in the eyes. "Normally 6." (Ha! We'll see!)
On to the Chinese group. We were not numerous but we were of great quality.
I suggested that since Saturday evening is prime work time for restaurants that people should be asked what day and time might suit better for the meeting...
Each morning we turned off and on the modem to see if the line was working again.
I decided that if on Monday the thing still didn't work I would zoom off to Free and switch Pat's mobile phone over and also request moving the internet.
So Monday morning our workman came to sort out the damp damage in the spare room, then off to Free I went, returning with Pat's new phone card and having signed up for internet.
Then I tweeted about my move.
All of a sudden Bouygues people leapt to reply. "What's the problem? Can we help?"
A couple of hours later the internet is working.
Saturday, March 21, 2015
Hi! Our internet connection is down.
The technicians say it's a software issue rather than hardware. They do autorecovery procedures overnight, so we try out each morning to see if it's back.
The failure coincided with the eclipse, so it may be due to that, or possibly due to hacking by North Korea or terrorists.
Wednesday, March 18, 2015
I haven't attended a council meeting for some months, but since I am away in April for that council AND for the AGM I will be there this evening.
On the bus and tram I chatted with a friendly guy who started the conversation by lamenting the need to travel by bus and tram - "it's restrictive". I told him how liberating I find it and we talked about the various ways of doing the things you can't do by bus - buying furniture, going to the dump, etc.
I told him about Citiz/Autocool and Drivy, and he told me about BlueCub, then we reminisced about bizarre French cars of the past. I told him about my Ami 8, and he told me about the Méhari he once had (I was green with envy) and his DS21 (I'd love to try driving one of those one day) and the Fiat 500 (that one he could keep).
Then, all of a sudden we were at his stop and he got off. Still, it was an agreeable start to the day. I hope we meet again.
Monday, March 16, 2015
1) Meeting the Men of Meaux - representatives of a church that dates back to the time of Briçonnet, Farel, and the others of the Circle of Meaux. I ate lunch yesterday with the heirs of the reforming Bishop of Meaux. How awesome is that.
The church is currently not attached to any union of churches and so they are seriously considering becoming members of UNEPREF.
2) Meeting Nely Vos, the missionary attached to the Friedland Church in Marseille. I had heard so much about her but it was good to meet her.
3) Meeting my host couple, who lived in Bordeaux years ago, when Yves was pastor of the Eglise Libre.
4) Meeting Arnold, an alarmingly young theologian, Calvin specialist, now working on the Trinity in the OT, who was great fun.
5) Being back in the Cévennes, where the valleys, villages and coal tips remind me of the Rhondda.
6) Seeing some very dramatic restructuring of the church committees and regions achieved peacefully and with rigour.
7) Hearing Yannick Imbert speaking on Apologetics and inter-religious dialogue.
8) Not having to count the votes this time!
9) Good journeys there and back, on the way in Harriette's comfortable car, on the way back in a comfortable train.
Here's some photos.
Thursday, March 12, 2015
So later today we will drive 6 hours to La Grand'Combe, not far from Alès, which isn't far from Nîmes, which is just up the road from Montpellier, in the deepest darkest Cévennes, for the National and General Synod of the Nation Union of the Protestant Reformed Evangelical Churches of France.
I'm travelling down with Harriette in the Smitmobile but coming back on Sunday by train. It will mean 7 hours by train. I think. Between then the synod will accomplish marvels. The regions of France are to be abolished. The South-West region will be no more. Neither will Languedoc-Cévennes nor Provence-Ile-de-France.
The new denominational structure will be lighter, leaner, slimmer, swifter, more adaptable, quick-thinking and decisive.
As a humble pasteur-associé I don't have a vote, but I usually end up counting the votes so ... let's just say that there are ways and means.
I will try to add photos and perhaps the odd reflection from Synod.
Monday, March 09, 2015
Anyway, they all arrived, they ate, they had the first session, they went to settle for the night, then it all began. Catrin just vomited. Others had diarrhoea. All had to use one of those special turkish toilets - a hole for squatting. Que du bonheur!
We had a picnic sat on a bench in the first sunshine of Spring.
Then some television together, listen to last week's message from Deeside, and preparation for Sunday.
Sunday evening was a happy time. We were a few people fewer, probably because of the Mark drama being put on by the GBU in Latresne that evening.
However, our friend Nico was visiting and he was able to have a good discussion with one of our young folk who has read and been impressed by a singularly unhelpful book by some US presbys who decided to cross the Tiber, "Rome, sweet home". As Nico is currently engaged in swimming the Tiber in the other direction, I was extremely glad to get them together and let them talk. After all, I may know what indulgences are and how one uses a rosary, but I've never been in the system.
When I got home Catrin was waiting to recount her adventures, still looking somewhat ... drained ... but basically OK.
Saturday, March 07, 2015
Book review : God's Battle-plan for the Mind, The Puritan practice of Biblical Meditation, by David Saxton
Well, it's not put quite like that. Instead a time of mindfulness is recommended. To turn aside from daily pressures and our usual mindlessness(?) and to focus simply on who and where you are. Previous meditation techniques spoke of emptying the mind. Now we are told to focus the mind, to be fully present.
Christians have a third way. (See what I did there?) Instead of emptying the mind, which David Saxton says opens us to the possibility of "spiritual predators, and instead of focusing the mind on me and my circumstances, we can raise the mind higher. Paul would say, in Colossians 3, "set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things"
Saxton tells us that the Puritans considered long and hard how to put into practice Paul's exhortation, as well as the other countless encouragements to turn our thoughts and minds to God, his word, his promises, his goodness and the salvation he has accomplished for us.
This is not a long book. It has 12 chapters, but some of those chapters are very short indeed. There is some repetition. But there probably is no book that more thoroughly considers how practically to engage the Christian's mind with the truth of God. It's an encyclopaedic vade mecum of Christian meditation.
Are there weakness? I would say perhaps two, and I hesitate to mention them.
Firstly sometimes the book comes across as being somewhat gloomy and joyless, more focused on the dangers than the delights. It's a pity, because I think that those who may benefit best from the encouragement and practical advice in this book may give up reading it or even be put off. We are called to persuade the unwilling and not just to "preach to the choir".
Secondly, what preacher is not aware of the danger of sounding more like his puritan heroes than the puritans do? We can slip into archaic forms of speech that are unhelpful. Obviously when one quotes puritan authors then those quotes will be in 17th century English. But the reader needs to be able to tell at a glance the 17th century puritan quote from the 20th century author's own text. We must write simply and directly. I think the puritans would if they lived today.
So this is a very useful book that deserves and will repay slow, careful study. Think on!