Vicar's Blog





The battle of Dr Spock’s Baby and Child Care.

November 17th, 2017

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The battle of Dr Spock’s Baby and Child Care. As you would expect, I lost.

I did explain to Jacqui:  “But you haven’t even held it, let alone read it, for at least 25 years!”

However, she patiently explained that the book represented too many memories just to be taken to the charity shop. So it stays (for now).

But I persevere as we downsize in preparation for our move next spring.

For downsizing can be a challenge, especially to those of you who hoard.  “You’ll never know when I may need it!”

In reality most of us live our lives following the Pareto 80:20 Principle.  This means, for example, that we wear just 20% of our clothes for 80% of the time.  There’s ample room for getting rid of stuff, even giving it to someone who may actually need it.

Myself, I am in the minimalist category.  I have already got rid of nearly all my books.  Most to family, others to friends;  the balance to Book Aid and charity shops.  And other paraphernalia.  Even my faithful Adidas Tokyo spikes which I last wore in 1975 had to go, sold via eBay to a collector in London for £39.

The strategy is straight-forward.  You begin in the rooms farthest from the heart of your home.  That’s where there are more items that are simply being stored rather than used.

So I have already tackled my daughters on all the memorabilia they have dumped over the years on our top floor.  I quote to them Anne Valley Fox:  “You can’t have enough of what you didn’t want in the first place.”

But people do find getting rid of things extraordinary difficult.  They need professional help.

In fact, only last year I bumped into an old friend to discover his wife has a new job.  She is a professional declutterer.  In fact, you may not even know that there is a professional body, the APDO. That is, the Association of Professional Declutterers and Organisers.  I wonder if there is a HELP line.

Jesus, of course, didn’t have much time for clutter.  He calls us as we follow him to travel light.

So he sends the twelve out on their mission:   “Do not get any gold, silver or copper to take with you in your belts. Do not take a bag for the journey. Do not take extra clothes or sandals or walking sticks.”  (Matthew 10:9)

After all, as his disciples Jesus teaches us to sit light to things to ensure that our possessions do not possess us.  He reserves the right to say to us at any time as he said to the rich young ruler: “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Matthew 19:21)

But there’s more to clutter than jumble in the attic.  As novelist Eleanor Brown observes: “Clutter is not just physical stuff, it’s old ideas, toxic relationships and bad habits.”

And here again we may well need a professional declutterer – the Holy Spirit himself.

First, our time.  We can so easily fill our time with all kinds of junk.  Not necessarily wrong in itself:  it just means we do not have enough time to do what God wants us to do.   What the apostle Paul calls ‘redeeming the time.’ He write:  “Don’t waste your time on useless work, mere busywork, the barren pursuits of darkness.” (Ephesians 5:16)

That does not necessarily mean, of course, that we do not watch MOTD – which would be a blessing the way Everton are playing this season.  But it does mean a certain introspection as we submit our lives afresh to Christ each morning.

Sometimes it may mean a determination to do nothing rather than to fill our time with meaningless activity.  Being still gives the Holy Spirit the space to direct us.

And then the way we think.

The Victorian designer and social activist William Morris once said, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”   He could have been talking about our minds.

Again the apostle Paul challenges us:  “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8)

Very simply if it’s good, it’s beautiful.  And we hold onto it.

But such decluttering is difficult.  And it needs the same level of discipline, ruthlessness even, as when we downsize.  All that junk – old ways of thinking we know to be wrong and yet strangely persist.  All of it, we give to the Lord as we open our minds to his scripture.    Again, each morning.  .

No wonder the New Testament repeatedly emphasises the renewal of our minds, an alternative mindset, as we encourage each other to think Christianly.

Here I dare to quote Dr Spock himself:  “The main source of good discipline is growing up in a loving family, being loved and learning to love in return.”  (Baby and Child Care page 679)  The family of God, of course.

Does the Shack work?

November 10th, 2017

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The strange thing was not just that the Rose Theatre at Edge Hill was full but that  knew almost everyone there by name.  It was Wednesday evening’s showing of The Shack.

Many of you will have read this New York Times bestseller. At church we sold nearly 100 copies of this imaginative novel  from Canadian author William P. Young.

Well, now it has been made into a film, a difficult enterprise to say the least.

Essentially the book deals with the one event in life we all fear – our young daughter being abducted and murdered.   Where is God in all this?  We discover this as the father is invited by a mysterious note in his mailbox to return to the remote shack where his daughter’s bloodied clothing was found.

For there he encounters God.

What makes this novel so unusual is that Young depicts God as three persons.  - Papa, Jesus, and Sarayu.  And to begin with Papa is represented by a warm and welcoming African-American woman called Elouisia.  As the embittered father, Mack, relates to each character so he begins to see the tragedy from a new perspective and his healing begins.  He even glimpses his resurrected daughter fully restored.

It’s a strange, daring book. Young informs us that the title is a metaphor for “the house you build out of your own pain”  And certainly he knew pain as a child.

He writes on his website that “sexual abuse was a frequent part of my childhood. In fact I don’t remember life as a little boy without it being the one constant.”  Tragically his missionary parents were unaware of the torment he was experiencing.”

The film goes further in that the main character, Mack, suffers physical abuse at the hands of his alcoholic father.  He seeks God’s help but as a 13-year-old boy takes matters into his own hands and seeks to poison his father with strychnine.

But otherwise, as far as I can remember, the film stays close to the book – except that in the film the serial killer is not brought to justice.

As a film it was okay.  “Not a dry eye in the house,” someone observed.  It does captures the sheer terror of the discovery that your lovely daughter has been seized by a serial killer.  A little-bit over the top at the conclusion where everyone lives happily-ever-after.

Moreover I appreciated the film version of Elousia, again a warm and welcoming character who makes great breakfasts.  Count me in. However, the later depiction of God the Father by a native American elder didn’t register for me.  In fact, I would hesitate to buy a second-hand car from him.

Jesus the middle-Eastern carpenter seemed friendly enough.  He enjoys going for runs (on water), which I appreciated, though probably too fast for me now.  While Sarayu the Holy Spirit was a little bit too ethereal.

The film works, like the book, in giving us a context for unexplained suffering.  We see through a glass darkly.  However, God welcomes us into a loving, caring relationship with him for he is love.  He delights in us and is pained as we suffer.

Clearly for Young, the writer, the book – which he never intended for publication – was part of his own healing process.

He writes:  “It took fifty years to find that little child hidden in a closet deep in the basement recesses of a broken structure. It is me that God loves, with all my losses and hiding and devastating choices.

And it is you that God loves. You and me, we are the ones that Jesus, along with his Father and the Holy Spirit, left the ninety-nine to go find. This love is relentless, and we are not powerful enough to change it.”

However, the very heart of the Shack, both book and film, is seriously flawed.  There is no need for Jesus to be crucified.  Yes, Jesus shows Mack his wounds – but that’s as far as it goes.  Certainly the cross is not integral to Young’s plot.

As Young’s fellow American, Billy Graham, teaches:  “God proved His love on the Cross. When Christ hung, and bled, and died, it was God saying to the world, ‘I love you.”  And that is where we begin.

Fundamentally the cross of Jesus, how it works, is a mystery. We can use analogies and metaphors but they can only go so far.  At its basic level the cross is beyond our understanding but by no means beyond our experience.

“Because of the sacrifice of the Messiah, his blood poured out on the altar of the Cross, we’re a free people—free of penalties and punishments chalked up by all our misdeeds. And not just barely free, either. Abundantly free!”  (Ephesians 1:7 Message translation).

Such is his compassion God comes to us in our pain to share our pain.  And he calls us to do likewise, to go in his name and share the pain and abandonment of others

A story for Armistice Day tomorrow.

In the trenches army chaplain Studdert Kennedy (aka Woodbine Willie) hears of a small party of solders marooned in no-man’s land trying to save a colleague.  On hearing his cries of pain they had gone out to comfort him but now they too are trapped and under heavy fire.  They too cry out in pain and distress.

So Kennedy crawls out, under fire, just to be with them.

As he makes contact the astonished soldiers ask “Who are you?”

“The Church,” he replies.

“What on earth are you doing here? asks the soldier.

“My job,” replies Kennedy.

Our job too in Jesus’ name.

The Bible is filled with people, like us, who thought that they could get away with it.

November 3rd, 2017

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For 11 minutes last night the world was a quieter place.  Not as colourful maybe – but quieter.

The Twitter feed for President Trump was down.

I think I should disclose at this point that I too follow the President along with 41.7 million other users.  I enjoy having real-time access to POTUS, being alerted to policy developments even as they are made.

But all this came to an abrupt stop last night  I was out of the loop.

As the Times reported in this morning’s edition “Anyone looking for President Trump’s account was told: ‘Sorry, that page doesn’t exist!’”.

But why?  If this could happen to President Trump, it could happen to any of us.  Just eliminated from cyberspace, just like that.

However, Twitter has now published a statement which by my reckoning exceeds its customary 140 character limit.

“Through our investigation we have learned that this was done by a Twitter customer support employee who did this on the employee’s last day. We are conducting a full internal review.”

I must say, I like that.  One operator on their last day decides to do something that they have longed to do maybe for months: pull the plug on the President.

Whether this small act of rebellion was aimed at the President himself or at their employer for making them work on Saturdays, we are still to discover.  As they put on their coat and headed out for Market Street for the last time, they thought  “They can’t touch me now!”

Employees on their last day must be a nightmare for employers.  You could insist that they have their last day the day before they leave – but on reflection, that wouldn’t really solve the problem.

At this point, some 11 paragraphs into this blog, I am wondering why on earth I have chosen this particular subject.  For the life of me I cannot think of anyone in the Bible deliberately doing something drastic on their last day at work.

Short pause to reflect.

No I can’t,  but one useful avenue to explore is the attempt to avoid consequences.  Something we do all the time when we choose to sin.

Whatever we do has consequences, whether we like it or not.  Invariably, we don’t.

“One of Satan’s most deceptive and powerful ways of defeating us is to get us to believe a lie,” observes pastor Charles Stanley.  “And the biggest lie is that there are no consequences to our own doing. Satan will give you whatever you ask for if it will lead you where he ultimately wants you.”

For the truth is that we do not get away with it, as I imagine this anonymous Twitter ex-employee will soon find out. In fact, he or she is about to enjoy their 15 minutes of fame.  As Jesus himself warns “Nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known.’ (Luke 12:3)

For the Bible is filled with people who thought that they could get away with it.  Beginning with Adam and Eve.

“When the Woman saw that the tree looked like good eating and realized what she would get out of it—she’d know everything!—she took and ate the fruit and then gave some to her husband, and he ate.”  (Genesis 3:6).

And everything followed from this act of disobedience.

How often do we think “They’ll never find out/No one will even notice.” Sadly the repercussions can reverberate over the generations.  Sin pays its wages.

But such is God’s love and commitment, he has sought to reverse the consequences of our rebellion.  Above all, at the cross of Jesus.

“But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed.”
(Isaiah 53: 5)

For the Gospel is not just that Jesus takes to himself our consequences.  The amazing truth is that as we surrender to him, we may enjoy the consequences of his obedience, the outcome of his salvation.

“Everyone has to die once, then face the consequences. Christ’s death was also a one-time event, but it was a sacrifice that took care of sins forever. And so, when he next appears, the outcome for those eager to greet him is, precisely, salvation.”  (Hebrews 9:27)

But that doesn’t mean that, in the words of the apostle Paul, ‘Let us do evil so that good may come.’ (Romans 3:8).  That is, if God keeps clearing us our mess, why bother doing the right thing?

For that is to turn the Gospel on its head.  For once we have been grabbed by the love of God, we will want to live lives which honour God.  We will naturally seek his strength to overcome the sin-urge in all of us.

And now, as we serve Christ in this life, the consequences of our actions are eternal, even in “giving just a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple.”

For as Jesus promises: “Truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”  (Matthew 10:42)

Had we known how long we were going stay here, we would have bought better carpets!

October 27th, 2017

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Had we known how long we were going stay here, we would have bought better carpets!

For this Sunday marks my completion of 25 years as vicar of Christ Church, Aughton!  Twenty five years!  Why such a long time?

I guess the essential reason is that God didn’t move me on.  However, from my perspective the reason is the Ministry Centre project. From beginning to end, from acquiring the site to getting the Centre up and running, this venture of faith took some 20 years.

An important project, of course.  However, what is important to hold onto is that the Ministry Centre is merely a means to an end.  But what is the end?

One of my first priorities as the new vicar of Christ Church, Aughton was to articulate what Christ Church was about, what it was seeking to do even as we arrived.

Once I got the feel of the people and place, it seemed to me then, as it still does today, that our key task is to share Jesus with everyone.

However, there’s more to it than that.  For Christ Church is essentially a local church – a parish church with an evangelical ministry.

This was demonstrated as part of the planning application for the Ministry Centre our consultants were able to demonstrate that 73% of the church membership lived within 1.2km of the church site while 84% live within 2.0km of the church site.

So we added that our key task is to share Jesus with everyone beginning with our parish.   Later, as parish awareness faded, we changed this to “beginning with our community.”

So this was the broad goal.  How would be best go about it?

As I arrived I took a detailed look at the church statistics, especially Sunday attendance.  To my surprise there had been an abrupt drop in Sunday attendance two years earlier, in 1990, from about 400 to 300.  And no one knew why.

In fact, this was classic church growth theory.  Christ Church had grown too big, too big for the way we do ministry here. And so the church reverted to its natural size.

As church growth guru Tim Keller observes:  “Size has an enormous impact on how a church functions. There is a ‘size culture’ that profoundly affects how decisions are made, how relationships flow, how effectiveness is evaluated, what its ministers, staff, and lay leaders do.”

So one of my goals for Christ Church was to break through this 400 ceiling by seeking to change our ministries, procedures and expectations.

Now I realise that in the Kingdom of God numbers aren’t everything but to quote Bishop Paul:  “We are asking God for a bigger church so we can make a bigger difference; more people knowing Jesus more justice in the world.  This is how we express our mission.”

So here we are, 25 years later, have we attained this goal?

The answer is that I don’t know.  For the simple reason is that over these last 25 years church has completely changed shape.  While Sunday attendance here has fallen (especially at 6.30 pm), the number of people involved in the life of Christ Church over the week has risen.

Just think 1992: it was a different world with a different mindset.  No Sunday shopping and no Premiership football (until that September).  Air travel was expensive.   I didn’t have my first cappuccino until 1999.

Social attitudes were conservative – at least by today’s standards.  A bygone age.

And since then has been the huge, epoch-making transformation wrought by digital technology.  Even the way our brains are wired has changed.

In 1992 there was no way you could readily communicate with the whole church family.  Now, in a few minutes time, I will press SEND and no less than 282 of you – nearly all Christ Church members at one time or other – will receive this blog.  And that’s not even counting those who will read this through Facebook or Twitter.

It’s not so much that we live in a much more individualised society; it’s simply that we now belong in a very different way. No less than 184 people belong to the Christ Church Facebook Group.  The Christ Church Twitter feed has 259 followers.

Moreover, the Ministry Centre with Café Vista has shifted Christ Church into a seven day a week operation.  I have no idea of the footfall but it is going to be more than 1000 pairs of real, not virtual, feet per week.

So what does it mean to “belong to Christ Church” in 2017? Difficult to say.

However, the more important question is what does it mean to belong to Christ?

Very simply –  whatever our church culture, whatever our social background- the answer is one word: discipleship, that is, godly mature Christians.

For as church growth practitioner Kevin DeYoung concludes:  “The one indispensable requirement for producing godly, mature Christians is godly, mature Christians.”

And that is what we’re about.