the baby and the bathwater


insecurity
November 30, 2007, 6:49 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

insecurity: lack of confidence or assurance; self-doubt; subject to fears, doubts, etc.; not self-confident or assured

The story goes like this.

Saul is King. David is the intern. David kills the giant. Then everyone likes David more than Saul. As they march back glowing with the success of victory, the Israelites chant ‘Saul has slain his thousands and David his tens of thousands’. Saul doesn’t like it. And from that moment on he kept a jealous eye on David.

That was a defining moment in the life of Saul.

In that moment his insecurity got the better of him. In that moment his fate was sealed. In that moment he started down the road to destruction. Because insecurity isn’t a small character flaw that a person is OK indulging every now and then. Insecurity isn’t a small wound that causes a person the odd bit of discomfort.

Insecurity is a cancer that feeds on a persons obsession with self.

It kills.

Compare that with this.

David pursues Saul and enters into his camp. He gets into Saul’s tent whilst Saul sleeps. He had a moment where he could kill Saul and claim the crown. If ever there was a moment to make his mark, this was it. If ever there was a moment to remove this destructive force in his life, this was it. If ever there was a moment to guarantee his future prosperity, this was it.

But unlike Saul, David didn’t let his insecurity get the better of him. And in that moment his fate was sealed. In that moment he started down the road to success. Because his security in God gave him the strength of heart to focus on the kingdom of God rather than his own place of influence and power.

The secure person looks for signs of kingdom life but the insecure person looks for possibilities of personal profile. The secure person sees a church growing and lives being changed but the insecure person sees opportunities for extending influence. The secure person lives in the tension of the ‘now and the not yet’ of life but the insecure person sees every box left ‘un-ticked’ in their portfolio as a challenge to their self worth.

However, if insecurity is a cancer that feeds on a persons obsession with self, then security is the mark of a person’s obsession with God.

If I am obsessed with God I will make decisions that shine light on Him, not me. If I am obsessed with God I will find places of hidden-ness to serve Him, not just places of profile to serve Him. If I am obsessed with God I will rejoice in seeing those around me succeed and fly in their ministry, and not be afraid to take a back seat. If I am obsessed with God I will take the route of faith rather than the route of celebrity.

And if I am obsessed with God I will realise just how big He is, and just how small I am, and be satisfied with both.

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tension
November 25, 2007, 4:45 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

tension: the interplay of conflicting elements

We live life in the midst of tensions.

Some of those tensions come about purely because people view things in different ways.

Take our car for example. When I look at our car, I think: “O look, a haven of peace and quiet away from the busyness of life; a place where you can listen to the pleasant hum of radio five live; a place where everything is clean, organised and tidy”. Whereas, when my wife looks at our car she thinks: “O look, a place to store stuff’. Tension results. We have to live with it. At least until one of my songs starts to make a huge pile of cash and I can buy my own car.

Some tensions are creative.

In our songs we get melodies and harmonies that move us from one flavour to the next – from something that builds expectation to something that provides rest, from something that questions the mind to something that satisfies the heart. There may be tension in a painting or in a piece of writing as we seek to explore themes and illustrate emotions. They are tensions that provide interest and colour into our lives.

And then some tensions arise because you are forced to watch disastrous circumstances unfold from the sidelines, unable to have any influence on the eventual outcome.

England vs Croatia. Enough said.

Then there are divine tensions.

Divine tensions.

Makes you want to close down this blog and turn on some trivial television, doesn’t it?

Divine tensions.

But just stay with me for a moment. There’s still a few more minutes before strictly come dancing starts.

Divine tensions.

These are tensions inherent in the nature of God that are not designed to be resolved but form the foundations of His character and activity. They are tensions that we may well never fully be able to explain, but they are tensions that we need to fully embrace as we walk with God.

And here is one of the tensions that I am wrestling with: God is the God of Miracles. He can, and does, perform wondrous acts that can only be explained by divine intervention. Water becomes wine, the blind immediately start to see, the lame instantaneously walk. Yet God is also a God of Majesty. He is a sovereign God, and as such, He makes decisions about how and what and when He will reveal things to us. And sometimes that seems to mean that the sick don’t always get better, that the wine runs out, that the lame have to live with their disability for a very long while.

It’s a huge tension. Miracles and Majesty.

And I often find that people tend to identify themselves with one side of this tension more easily than the other.

There are those that are living for miracles. Their favourite words are ‘glory’ and ‘experience’ and they look for gold dust and diamond studded teeth. They live life ‘plundering heaven’ and ‘walking in the victory’. Just say the right prayers with the right words and with the right hand and body gestures and you’ll see God break through with miraculous power. It all sounds so plausible. But there is a weakness in this approach. It’s consumerism in a brand new hat. And actually God probably isn’t a God who deals out His favours in response to a formula. His miracles aren’t there on the shelf waiting to be picked up and taken to the checkout. He has compassion on whom He has compassion. His choice.

Then there are those who can only understand the majesty. They are resigned to whatever life throws at them. Que sera, sera, whatever will be will be. Their favourite words are ‘humble’ and ‘contrite’ and they sit and wait for an invitation to a royal tea party that never arrives, whilst their lives descend into a numbed inactivity. And there’s a weakness in this approach too. It’s laziness wrapped up in the illusion of humility. And God doesn’t expect the treasures He gives to us to be buried out of sight where they don’t demand any attention. He expects us to invest everything we have in making them work for His purposes.

You see, it seems to me that we actually need to be people who hold in tension the miracles and the majesty of God. We need to pursue Him, and pray for His miraculous intervention in our world and the lives of those around us. We need to draw ever closer to Him, seeking His intervention, but as we draw closer to Him, we also need to bow down lower before Him, yielding to His sovereignty.

And yes, we need to lift our voices as the gathered people of God, crying out for His wonders to be performed in our towns and cities, desperate to see His kingdom grow amongst us. But as we cry out ever louder to Him, we also need to throw off our shoes and remember we stand on holy ground.

And as we do this, we discover one of the main qualities that embracing divine tension brings in life.

Strength.

Tension is the strength for the world’s tallest buildings and longest bridges. It stands at the heart of sky-scrapers in their steel structures, and it rests in the very wires that support the bridges that span our widest rivers. And when we embrace this tension of miracles and majesty we too find our strength. Strength to continue to pray with all our might when we are desperate to see God move in a particular way. And strength to believe that, when the answer is not what we hoped for, God has made His choice from His heart of love that ultimately has our best interests, and His best interests, in mind.

When we embrace divine tension, we find divine strength.

Now where’s that TV remote…..



wonder
November 22, 2007, 12:53 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

wonder: to be filled with admiration, amazement, or awe; marvel

Now you need to know something about me.

And it’s this.

I don’t do tears.

I get frustrated often, angry occasionally, ecstatic very occasionally, emotional now and then. But tears? No. Not me. No way Hosay.

OK I lied. There have been a few times. I cried when my dad died. I cried at my grandparents’ funerals. I cried when things got really bad at a church I was at once. And although I don’t remember, I probably cried a lot when I was a child. But as an adult, apart from these, and a very few other isolated incidents, tears just really aren’t my thing. I’m one of those characters who generally seems to go through life with a very level emotional temperature. I’m not emotionally dysfunctional. I don’t need tones of prayer ministry. I haven’t got some sort of dark secret from my childhood that needs uncovering, exposing and dealing with. I just don’t really do tears very often. Sorry.

So imagine my surprise recently, then, when I was watching a competitor on one of these TV talent shows when I felt the old salty water start to well up. It didn’t actually flow. It just sort of bubbled there just beneath the surface. But it caught me by surprise.

And the program?

X factor.

The artist?

Leona.

It nearly made me cry.

It was weird.

And it wasn’t just the once. It happened a few times. All the way to the final. And then again when I watched the highlights of the series some months later.

Really weird.

Now you need to know something else about me. Before I took the humbling and financially suicidal step into full time worship pastoring, I worked as an actuary in the insurance industry. And for those of you who don’t know what an actuary is, it is basically someone who analyses to death anything that remotely whiffs of numbers, finance or statistics. It was my job to take what may have appeared to be a random sequence of events, and search for patterns, construct models round those patterns, and then predict the aforesaid sequence of apparently random events into the future. I just couldn’t sleep at night until I had understood and analysed, processed and sanitised. And so when I began to sense these tears well up whilst watching X factor I couldn’t just let it go. I had to know why.

Could it be the songs? Well no, because I had heard them all before by other artists such as Judy Garland and Whitney Houston and hadn’t remotely bottled up.

Could it be that the program itself was so beautifully put together? Well of course not. I have watched it before and since and managed to hold it together.

Could it be that because here was someone who had finally silenced even Simon Cowell? Well this is probably something to be thankful for, but no.

So what was it?

And then it struck me.

Wonder.

Something you don’t often see in people these days.

Wonder.

Something that, in this age of self centered-ness and lack of innocence we rarely come across.

Wonder.

Something that is totally missing in most of the talentless egos that appear on our screens most of the time.

Wonder.

This singer came over as someone who really couldn’t believe what she was getting involved in. When any of the judges complimented her on her singing, she seemed totally surprised. When ever she got selected for the next round, she seemed genuinely mystified. Even when she came first in what had to be the most one-sided final ever to exist in a talent show, she seemed to find it incredulous. The rest of the country, and many other counties around the world clearly recognised what an incredible talent she was. But Liona seemed to be almost mystified. She seemed to be truly in awe at what was happening to her. And when she sang, with such a breathtaking perfection, with such a gut-wrentching emotion, you could see it in her eyes.

Wonder.

And through all this I think God spoke to me.

I say ‘think’, because my spiritual ears are pretty dull most of the time. And also I’m feeling a little daft admitting that maybe God spoke to me through the X factor. But just for the moment, humour me, and let’s assume that this was God.

I think God began to speak to me about something that maybe I have lost a little in my worship. O.K. over the years I have probably got a bit better at what I do, I think I understand more what I do, and I have even maybe become more articulate expressing what I do and why. But when I plug my guitar in, and start strumming, maybe, just maybe, I have lost a little of the wonder of what I am getting involved with.

Wonder. The wonder of worship.

And this is the wonder: we actually get to do this. We actually get to worship God. We actually get to encounter Him in our songs, our music, our church. We actually get to do this thing called worship. And even more than this, this thing called worship: it was God’s idea. He designed us this way. It’s at His initiation that we worship. It’s because of His mercy we can worship. From the moment we were born, God has been singing over us. And throughout all of our lives He has been seeking us out. He has been singing over us. And as He has been singing over us, He has been inviting us to come and join in the song. To feast. To be satisfied as His children.

It is underserved. It is unmeritted. It is incredible.

It is wonder-ful.

You see, I could write the most widely sung worship songs ever. I could record the most played worship album ever (‘dream on’ I hear you cry), I could have the most amazing worship band at my disposal (well actually, they are pretty good), and lead worship at the largest of all conferences. But unless I carry a whole heap of wonder in my heart through it all, it becomes a purely intellectual exercise: dull, lifeless and self centered.

Whereas if my worship is full of wonder it becomes colourful, life-giving and life-changing.

Wonder.

Bring it on.



close
November 16, 2007, 9:11 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

close: to take or clasp in the arms; press to the bosom; hug.

Many of you may know that my eldest daughter, Lizzy, had an accident a few weeks ago. She was on her bike. Probably doing some sort of ridiculously outrageous wheely, knowing her.

The first I heard was when my wife called my office and said that she had been sitting on the sofa, apparently in agony for half an hour. I rushed home, and then drove her down to the hospital. Apparently what had happened was that she had fallen off her bike, and as she fell, the handlebars twisted round, and the end of the handlebars went into her stomach.

So there I was, sitting in casualty, feeling helpless as my daughter sobbed in pain, waiting for the doctor to see her. It took a while. Eventually we got her seen by a pediatrician. After a few tests, and a second opinion, we were told that she should have a full scan. It was the equivalent of her receiving a full years ‘background’ radiation in one go. There were other options, but they wouldn’t give the doctors the information they needed, in the detail they needed. So I agreed. My wife had arrived by that time too, and so we went in for the scan as a family.

Lizzy was really brave, and did very well. It was distressing, but she seemed ok by the end. We went back to the waiting room and….waited. I popped of to the toilet. When I returned, my wife and daughter had disappeared. I questioned the nurse, and she told me that they had gone back to CT area. I found my wife there. She looked at me and said ‘they want to do another one’.

That was one of those moments that parents dread. Given that they had been reluctant to do the full scan in the first place, the fact that they wanted to do another one could only mean one thing. They had found something wrong. I could see it in my wife’s eyes. A fear, tempered only with a desire to hold it together for the sake of Lizzy, and my younger daughter Sarah, who was of course with us.

Lizzy had her second scan, and quite quickly we were taken back into the consultant who said they had found some fluid around her duodenum. They said they had done the second scan to try and confirm their suspicions. And their suspicion was that the handlebars, whilst not going through the skin, had effectively momentarily trapped the duodenum between the handlebars and the spine, and had punctured it.

And that, they said, didn’t get better by itself.

They needed to rush her to the hospital in Gloucester because they were expecting that Lizzy needed an operation.

So my wife stayed with Lizzy, and prepared to go in the ambulance to Gloucester. And I left with Sarah, to take her home to try and settle her. As we left the hospital, me and Sarah, hand in hand, she started to weep. Even at that young age she had sensed that she had needed to hold it together for Lizzy’s sake. But now at that moment, finally out of sight from her sister, Sarah cried her eyes out.

And as we walked, hand in hand back to the car, we prayed together.

That evening, I had intended to be at a meeting at church. It was a gathering of all our leaders, cluster leaders and ministry leaders. So, as we drove home, I ran past the church, hopped out of the car, and met my friend and co-pastor Tim, and asked him to pray. I rushed away, anxious to get Sarah home, and then get down to the hospital where Lizzy was headed. I found out later that the whole gathering prayed for Lizzy during that time…many stayed late to pray more.

But I had left, I took Sarah home and got her to bed. I had to lie down with her on her bed to settle her. Eventually she drifted off.

By then a friend had come round to baby-sit. So I headed off to Gloucester hospital. As I arrived and parked, I found my great friend Mark there too. He had left the leadership gathering early to come and give some moral support, and pray for us. We went up to Lizzy, who by then was in the high dependency unit. We prayed, and then waited for the specialist.

Eventually the specialist came and spoke to us. He had reviewed her scan, and decided that he wouldn’t, after all, need to operate. He too had seen the fluid around the stomach, but felt it was better not to operate, but to wait. He now thought that it was just a bit bruised.

Anyway to cut a long story short….

Well, not too short, if you’ve got this far….

Lizzy had a few very uncomfortable days in hospital. Susie was incredible and stayed with her through the nights. And I did the relatively easy day-shift.

By the weekend, five days after her accident, Lizzy was back at home, and feeling much better.

Then on the Saturday morning, she and I went out for morning coffee and hot chocolate together. It was her first trip out after the accident, and she was so much better.Now I’m one of those people who tends to claim little, but be thankful alot. And that morning I was so thankful to God that she was there with me, thankful for all my friends who had prayed, and thankful that Lizzy was apparently well on the road to recovery.

And we strolled into town, in the fresh, cold, but beautiful autumn sunshine.

Now Lizzy is at that stage where she doesn’t like too much contact. I only get a hug if I creep up on her unawares. And holding hands is completely out of the question. But I am allowed to put my arm around her shoulders as we walk. That seemingly is quite cool.

I try and know as much as possible about my daughter. That’s so important as I seek to serve her, and invest in her as a father. That really is so important. But in that moment, we were walking together into town in the fresh early morning autumn sunshine, my arm was around her shoulders, and she and I were smiling. I was close enough to see the glint in her eyes, and the flash of teeth in her smile.

And my heart was captured.

And I thought: all the knowledge I have about my daughter is really important, but it is in this moment of closeness that I am compelled to a life of devotion towards her.

It was in that moment of closeness that I was compelled to live a life of devotion to her.

You see, we can have all the knowledge in the world about someone. But we need moments of closeness where our hearts become captured, moments of closeness when we are compelled to live lives of devotion.



Mistake
November 9, 2007, 12:26 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

mistake: an error in action, calculation, opinion, or judgment caused by poor reasoning, carelessness, insufficient knowledge.

I think I may have made a mistake.

Well maybe not a mistake, at least not a huge one. Maybe it was more of a mis-calculation, an over-reaction. It happens all the time in life: We get challenged about something, we see some things that leave us uncomfortable, and with the best of intentions we go about changing them, and go too far the other way.

The trouble is with people like me is, that for some very strange reason, I seem to have ended up in a position where people listen to me. Despite being a pretty poor singer, a very average worship leader and a technically awful guitar player, I seem to be in a place where my actions and words and seminars and blog articles are actually read by people. Sometimes they may even act on them. And so any small over-reaction on my part is potentially going to be amplified into the lives of others, into other churches around the country.

Scary, isn’t it.

Well, you’re probably wondering what my mistake was. And I will get to it, honest. But first some background.

I grew up as a Christian, in a baptist church in my home town, Winchester. I grew up singing great hymns, played on a not-so-great pipe organ, by a lovely man called Arnold. Arnold even taught me how to play the organ, for which I am very grateful. I sang with gusto. I sang these great anthems about God, probably in the main to show my peers that I knew the bass line.

I then went to University, and suddenly I came across some very passionate, expressive Christians, and they seemed to sing songs to God, not just about God. Over the coming years, I then came across the teachings of people like Wimber. And he taught us about about intimacy in worship. And suddenly I was singing songs like ‘I love You Lord’ with a passion myself. I had discovered intimacy in worship myself. And it was a good thing.

But after a while, I started to feel uncomfortable. Then a little confused. And finally a little empty. As I worshipped more, I studied the word more. And over a period of time, I found that the things I was learning from the Bible were not being reflected in the songs I was singing. At least, they were reflected, but only in part. The songs I was singing had become one-dimensional and thin at the same time that my theology had become mult-dimensional and deep.

And that left me with a problem.

I ended up sitting in some of these big conference halls, full of thousands of people worshipping, feeling like a spectator. I ended up looking through my songbooks with despair as I tried to find good new songs to sing in our church. I got almost angry with the casualness of some of the lyrics I was being asked to sing, which were so theologically weak or just plain wrong.

But after while, I sensed I was not alone, and then some great worship leaders started to write some great songs that were full of truth. Songwriters like Redman and Smith brought a balance to the great songs of intimacy from writers like Doerkson and Tuttle and Ruis. These songs became our modern day anthems. And as we saw the rise of the big conferences worldwide, we saw the rise of more and more of these big anthems of praise. And I loved it. We had rediscovered a part of worship that the church had lost. My own songs, though in no way comparable to those of the aforementioned writers, also took on the anthemic themes. And so my songbook became full of songs that I felt so much happier with. Balance, I thought, had been restored.

But just recently I’ve had this little nagging in the back of my mind. And maybe, just maybe, it’s a the feint voice of God just reminding me of something. “Don’t forget Intimacy. Maybe you’ve over-reacted a little, swung too far with all these songs of proclamation”

And actually there’s some truth in that. And that’s my confession.

But then again, I am still not sure about the use of this whole word – intimacy – in worship. At least, not unless we fully understand it, explain it, put it in a strong theological framework.

The word intimacy in the English language is still almost exclusively used to describe relationships of affection, of a close, personal, and often sexual nature. And in the bible, the language most akin to intimacy is saved for Song of Songs which for me is clearly about a sexual relationship between man and woman. When I normally talk about intimacy in everyday life, it’s one of those words I would only really use in the context of my relationship with my wife. And this intimacy is a safe intimacy: my wife and I have made a commitment to each other in this respect. Almost always, the word intimacy is a word about embrace, an embrace between equals.

But Isaiah 33:13 God says ‘You who are near, acknowledge my power’. Psalm 85:9 says ‘Surely his salvation is near those who fear Him’. Psalm 25:14 says ‘The Lord is a friend to those who fear Him’.

When we come close to God, we certainly are invited into an embrace. But this embrace is not an embrace of equals. Far from it. Intimacy with God is a dangerous intimacy, an intimacy of the creator with the created, an intimacy of the Holy One with one who is made holy only by His grace. The promise is that, if we draw near to God, He will draw near to us. But we also have to know that when we draw near to God, we are compelled to bow down in fear and reverence for who God is.

Then we also need to read Psalm 145:18 which says: ‘The Lord is near to all who call on Him, to all who call on Him in truth’.

You see it is not enough for us to aim to be honest and real and sincere in our worship. We have to aim to be right too. We have to worship in truth, with truth. It is not acceptable to sing songs that have bad theology, merely because they make us feel good, or have good tunes, or are played by very slick bands. God says we should worship with all our hearts and mind and soul and strength. The mind is part of it.

And I think this is where I have got to. Yes maybe I, like many others, have moved a little too far away from intimacy in worship. But if there has been any error in my ways, it has been because I have in the past, had an incomplete theology. And the trouble with incomplete theology is that it can lead us astray, leave us flapping in the wind. My mistake was in thinking that I needed to find balance between intimacy and proclamation, when actually I should have understood that they were inextricably entwined.

So here is my plea. Let’s continue to sing songs of intimacy. Let’s continue to sing songs of proclamation. Let’s embrace God, and let’s bow down before Him. But let us continue, as worship leaders, to grow in our theology and understanding as we do it. And this should leave us, not on the middle ground of balance, but on the solid ground of truth.



Description
November 2, 2007, 6:38 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

description: a statement, picture in words, or account that describes

Worship describes.

Worship describes the symphony of praise from the whole of creation
and the faintest of prayers from a heartbroken mother;
Worship describes the resounding shout of praise from a gathered congregation
and the hidden act of kindness to a person in distress;
Worship describes a glorious encounter with the God of the heavens
and the reality of a conversation with a dying relative;
Worship describes the very real presence of God’s hope and light in the world
and the harshness of living with pain and discomfort and injustice;
Worship describes the joys, colours and harmonies of the mountain peaks
and the hard slog of every-day servant-hood and service;
Worship describes the way I speak to my daughters
and the way I instil a sense of value and identity into their lives;
Worship describes the way I listen to my wife
and the way I share my hopes and dreams and frustrations;
Worship describes the way I rejoice in my success
and the way I put the needs of others before my own;
Worship describes the lavishness of my devotion towards God
and the stewardship of the resources He puts my way;
Worship describes the first breath of a new-born child
and the final cry of a homeward-bound saint;
Worship describes the triumphant song of the victorious warrior
and the humble confession of the contrite heart;
Worship describes the thankfulness for the miracle of life
and the acceptance of a life littered with disappointment;
Worship describes the intentions of my heart as I speak
and the intensity of my prayers as I remain silent;
Worship describes the perseverance of the tear-strewn journey
and the peace in my soul when I arrive;

Worship describes

me?