Monday, 24 August 2009


I’ve found a new hero this sabbatical – Ernest Shackleton, the great Antarctic explorer.

Sir Ernest Shackleton has been described as ‘the greatest leader that ever came on God’s earth, bar none’ for saving the lives of the twenty-seven men stranded with him on an Antarctic ice floe for almost two years. [i] Ironically, and this is why Shackleton can be such an inspirational mentor, he failed to reach nearly every goal he ever set:

· He failed as part of a three man team to reach the South pole in 1902.

· He failed leading his own team six years later a heartbreaking 97 miles short of the Pole, but only after realising it would mean certain starvation for his team to carry on.

· He failed in his 1914-1916 Endurance expedition. He lost his ship before even touching Antarctica.

His story is no glorification of failure and there are plenty of ‘successes’ and he ‘failed only at the improbable; he succeeded at the unimaginable’. [ii]

Only recently has Shackleton become to be regarded as an example of what it takes to be a great leader and three of the reasons why I believe his example has so much to teach us apart from being a great true adventure story, are:

i. In a rapidly changing world he was always willing to venture in new directions to seize new opportunities and learn new skills.

ii. He learnt most about success through failure.

iii. He invested so much in other people.

The main source of my reading has been ‘Shackleton’s Way’ by Margot Morrell & Stephanie Capparell which combines his story with application.

[i] Margot Morrell and Stephanie Capparell, Shackleton’s Way, Nicholas Brealey Publishing, 2001, p1.

[ii] Ibid., p1.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Luke 10

I’ve just got around to reading some of the www. news (July). In this edition Younoussa Djao, of New Generations International and Serving In Mission, shares principles that have made a break-through for the gospel possible among some of the remaining nations to be reached. What I found re-assuring was he is not advocating anything new, or beyond us here:

i.                   Go where Jesus is about to go.

ii.                  Make sure to pray!

iii.                Look for the person of peace.

iv.                 Either do your ministry through the person of peace or leave.

v.                  Respond to the needs.

vi.                 Present God’s word via ‘discovery bible studies.’

vii.           Start Churches that multiply.

You can read the whole article at the above address. I was pleased to see Luke 10 featuring quite significantly as it’s become a key text for us over recent times. It’s encouraging to recognize these principles have been passed on after working with groups where ‘there is much resistance to the gospel’. I continually hear people telling me how difficult it is here, there or wherever for the gospel and am intrigued as to how they measure the difficulty.

Monday, 17 August 2009

I watched Jessica Ennis win her gold medal in emphatic style last evening, which was wonderful to see in a British athelete - the way she came back on the final bend of the 800m was great. A good prelude to Usain Bolt's incredible 9.58 seconds 100 metres - absolutely staggering and it does still look as if he'll go faster still. All this, of course, is an attempt to bury the disappointment of Liverpool's lacklustre start to this season - I listened in agony to the radio whilst collecting Maggie's parents for a few a few days break. So, still on sabbatical and had a bizarre conversation in church yesterday trying to arrange with a friend who's going to help me get going with my golf. The question I'm asking myself is how come it';s so difficult to arrange something when I have such a flexible schedule? The fact is I've planned so many things in my 'spare time', I have busy spare time diary - the thing about blogging is you broadcast your character flaws in public - stupid, or transparency?
Whilst on spare time - had a great evening on friday watching Twelfth Night in the open air at Dyrham Park. Went with some friends and took a lovely picnic - and it didn't rain! It was one of those quintessentially English occasions (well, I imagine a visiting tourist would say that anyway). Average age was .... well, I felt average ..... what was interesting was the friendliness between fellow picnickers - laughter was aided enormously, however, by the guy next to us whose chair collapsed under him just prior to the second half!

Friday, 14 August 2009

William Henry Fox Talbot - with gratitude.

This is the famous Oriel window in the South Gallery at Lacock Abbey, Wiltshire. It was the image of his first photo! We’re fortunate to live near to Lacock Abbey, which for many years was the home of William Henry Fox Talbot (1800-1877) one of the outstanding pioneers and contributors to the development of the photographic process. Nowadays, we live in such a visual and graphic world, where the influence of still and moving images is so much part of everyday life, it is difficult to imagine life without the discoveries of Talbot. Talbot did not invent photography, but he did discover the process, which has underpinned photography for most of the last 160 years. It was whilst on honeymoon and trying to unsuccessfully sketch the scenery around Lake Como in Italy, he began to imagine a new machine with light sensitive paper that would make the sketches for him automatically. Of course, whether he should have been thinking about such things whilst on his honeymoon, is another matter. He ultimately discovered the negative/positive process and went on to develop the three primary elements of photography: developing, fixing and printing. One thing I didn’t realise until yesterday, is he was also a Biblical scholar. It explains why he titled his most famous book ‘The Pencil of Nature.’ This resonates with the expression, whose origin I can’t recall, ‘the habits of God’ used to describe the patterns we see in the natural world. This is exactly what the world beyond the church needs to see – discernible patterns in ordinary, but real lives, which have a divine origin – something which displays the divine imprint.

Talbot described how he took his pictures:

"Not having with me... a camera obscura of any considerable size, I constructed one out of a large box, the image being thrown upon one end of it by a good object-glass fixed at the opposite end. The apparatus being armed with a sensitive paper, was taken out in a summar afternoon, and placed about one hundred yards from a building favourably illuminated by the sun. An or so afterwards I opened the box and I found depicted upon the paper a very distinct representation of the building, with the exception of those parts of it which lay in the shade. A little experience in this branch of the art showed me that with a smaller camera obscura the effect would be produced in a smaller time. Accordingly I had several small boxes made, in which I fixed lenses of shorter focus, and with these I obtained very perfect, but extremely small pictures..."

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

RUN video

I've only just got around to looking at the new RUN video site - it's taken so long the special offer has ended, which is always a blow. However, this is a great resource because it allows you to preview whatever video clip you think you might need before you pay for it - pretty good I think. You can them download whatever you want from just £2.49 and then use it as often as you wish. Well done Chris.

Monday, 10 August 2009


Working hours and Ministry is always an emotive subject, and having a sabbatical, does make you think a little more about it again. Interestingly the greatest defenders of not having a maximum hours ceiling are Ministers themselves and, as someone who works alongside quite a number, I can say more problems occur in Churches because of Ministers working too much, than working too little - I have very few lazy Ministers. Whether they're busy doing what they should be doing ........!
Anyway, the European directive for junior doctors working a maximum number of hours (in their case 48) brings an interesting angle to the argument and I've always maintained with deacons if their Minister is 'working' in more than 16 sessions out of 21 per week they every much a problem than someone not doing enough. 
This weekend has been lovely in many ways - had time to go cross country schooling with Ben on friday, went to watch Forest Green Rovers play my home town team, Kettering, on Saturday. This was followed by a lovely meal cooked by a friend of Ben's who's staying at present whilst we watched the balloons from the Bristol Balloon Festival fly overhead, nice BBQ yesterday after church - in the sun!, film club after evening service - all good fun and leisurely. I'm convinced that the whole principle of sabbath is, as Jesus says, is for our benefit - it's not just we need enough leisure time for rest, but the rest of our lives need it to live.

Friday, 7 August 2009

preaching - not dead yet

Wasn't planning on a blog entry today, but thought I'd better say 'hi' to anyone who looks me up as a result of The Old Forge being featured as Christian blog of the day (today, friday) by BUGB Communications department e-mews sweep - so, thanks guys. We were originally planning to go with Ben to an event at West Wilts, but 'cancelled due to extreme weather conditions' - I guess they mean the glorious sunshine I'm looking at out of my window! Presumably waterlogged ground.
I notice Steve Gaukroger has been quoted as saying preaching is in a worse state now than 25 years ago - at Keswick I think. I tend to agree with you Steve, but fear everyone will read 'the need to invest more in training' as being a question of finance and, in the credit crunch environment, not be too keen, Either that, or we'll take the defensive stance and defend why preaching shouldn't be given the place it once was etc. Interestingly, I was having this conversation with two old Spurgeon's College colleagues recently. We were in danger of sounding like grumpy old men, but there were not a few comments about how the old style of sermon classes (where you preach to the whole faculty and student body) could be quite harsh and hugely challenging experiences, but ultimately made you reflect more on how you come across than the present more pleasant styles of critique, which don't seem to prepare people to handle inevitable later criticism. So, if Steve's going to try and promote more decent preaching, go for it. 
One of the things I pick up form people in congregations is the fact that too much preaching leaves them unmoved and untouched. Irrespective of how carefully the content is put together, if the preaching passes the listener by, it achieves nothing. Too many preachers are presuming their congregation will be convicted by truth, whereas they are looking to be led into truth by something more ..... human? 

Thursday, 6 August 2009

how old are Baptists?

Am I a Baptist, or an Anabaptist? Am I part of something, which is 400, 500, or 2000 years old? I would have loved to have been able to go to Amsterdam for the celebration of 400 years of Baptist history. Basically, however, we needed to have a holiday before Emily returned, but neither is there any money left in the kitty for such purposes. I wanted to be there to breathe and feel the temperature of what is still talked about as the Baptist ‘movement’ throughout Europe. What was it about the DNA of the group which first met on Bakkerstraat where a baker named Munter allowed the first English Baptists to be, to live and worship.

What I find fascinating is how we tend towards seeking to own, rather than be owned, by this sense of movement. Of course, it’s not just Baptist who are prone towards making the institutional expression of any movement the end rather than the means. I still find it intriguing why most English Baptists seek to disown the influence of the Continental Anabaptists. After all, in 1525 in a prayer service a company of fifteen believers, formally devoted to Ulrich Zwingli’s evangelical reformation, were led by what they were convinced was a divine call to establish a brotherhood of believers under the outward sign of believers , as a confession of faith and a pledge to live a true Christian life. Baptism. There is, to my mind at least, a clear line of influence of this big idea, which runs from this group, of whom Conrad Grebel was acknowledged as the first leader of the ‘Swiss Brethren’, to the English group led by Thomas Helwys and John Smyth.

I’m perfectly happy to belong to the legacy of the Amsterdam foundations, but let’s not pretend ‘we’ were first and only we ‘we’ are right in any case. Paranoia about distinctiveness is OK if it’s distinctiveness, which is tried and tested by the Biblical witness to the mission of God, not if it’s paranoia determined by our allegiance to what have become our own traditions. So, for example, I frequently hear reference to the Church meeting as a Baptist distinctive. This is then interpreted as the way British Baptists have conducted these for the last 100 years, or so. However, wherever I’ve spoken to Baptists from elsewhere in this world, which is rather larger than the British Isles, I hear something else – this tends to lead to me to conclude ‘we’ think we own, rather than being owned by.

Monday, 3 August 2009

attachment and separation

Having at least downloaded some photos from last week in Dorset, I found this one spoke to me a little more about attachment, loss and separation – most likely due to some of my thoughts on welcoming Emily home from Brazil on Saturday.

Her plane landed at 2.57, but it wasn’t until 4.10 she appeared through arrivals. That was a long hour during which I had a myriad of thoughts and feelings, which focused much of the last five months:

‘what if she’s not on the plane?’, ‘what if it’s crashed?’, ‘what if we’re waiting for the wrong plane?’ (it had already landed you Wally). I think the last few months will have helped me empathise with more people on a deeper level. How do missionaries deal with the sense of separation from those they love? How do the families of those who go away long-term cope with their emotions? How do people feel about God who may appear to have removed loved ones from their presence? What about the expectation of someone who’s died to still walk through the door any moment? What about those who would love, but haven't been able to have children? So, as you’ll begin to realise, a sobering and introspective chapter, which I’m sure has done us both some ‘good’, but it sure is good to have her home safe and well – oh yeah, she’s off again next week, but that’s only to Scotland! 

Another angle has made me think about how we support those abroad from our fellowships – this time from a parents’ perspective rather than as a church leader. I’ve developed a much greater sympathy for those who petition the pastor for space for ‘their’ passion!

Now having had some holiday I need to get some blogging done too, but this is different - this is therapy.

Saturday, 1 August 2009

home from holiday

Just before we went away I spent a weekend decorating and listening to the Open and Ashes simultaneously – great fun, even the decorating! I was gutted for Tom Watson – at 59 it would have been tremendous and he was so close. The England victory in the Ashes series was also fun to listen to – I might just wait though, before e-mailing Cricket loving Aussies, till the end of the series.

However, we’ve just returned from Dorset after what now sounds like a miraculous experience! We arrived home to the official news – ‘the wettest July in the West Country on record.’ We obviously did really well in missing the showers and only had our coats on a couple of times. Some great walks along the Dorset coast – arrived home so we could collect Emily from Heathrow today – which is why I’m up so early on a Saturday: need to get the welcome home banners up!