Friday, 21 November 2014

The Story of My Life through The Best Songs Ever

An OHP - found on

Well, there's a title to get the twitter bots to follow me!

As anyone who has ever played or sung with me in a band will tell you, I can't remember lyrics. I wouldn't stand a chance on the X-Factor/American Idol/The Voice. It doesn't matter whether it's the fifth or the five hundredth time, or how passionately I sing, I still don't get the words to 'You're the Lion of Judah' right (I can just about manage 'Be still and know that I am God' - at least the first verse anyway)...

But that doesn't mean the words aren't important. In fact, one of the most helpful things I ever had to do was back in the late nineties, when I was responsible for leading worship at the Queen's University Belfast Christian Union. Thursday afternoons were spent in the Elmwood Building, pre-Google, copying song words from Songs of Fellowship 2 or Spring Harvest '98 into a word processor, resizing to at least 24pt, printing onto paper, then rushing to the basement of the Administration building (because I'm a last-minute kinda guy) to get the pages copied onto acetates for use on an overhead projector.

That practice cost me sweat and tears: sweat because it tended to be a Thursday afternoon when the fans in the computer lab would stop, the network would go down, the printer would seize up, or the nice people at reprographics would have a ten million page copy job under way and were about to go home for the day. The tears, however, were for a different reason. As I typed out 'And can it be' word for word, I engaged with that hymn in a way I never had when singing it. Simpler 'spiritual songs' resonated with me as my heart cried out, "Yes, Lord!"

As I look back over time, whole songs or simply phrases here and there from specifically Christian sources as well as the pop charts and random radio-listening have struck me powerfully. I've created a playlist of those tunes, the 'Soundtrack to My Life', and every now and again I remind myself of the selection. In the coming months (and let's face it, with my blogging track record, years) I hope to share some of those lyrics and the meaning they hold for me. I'll try to find a video on youtube so you can experience the songs too.

Meanwhile, are there any songs or portions thereof that are impacting your soul at the moment?

(PS - if you're ever responsible for operating words on a screen during sung worship, I found this article helpful over 15 years ago - it still works! -

Thursday, 20 November 2014

The Gift of Still and Thankful Presence

I've been at JMC - the Junior Ministers Conference - for the last three days. It's fairly strange to realise that I'm now in my seventh year of ministry (at least, this sort of ministry anyway): it's like I'm in Upper Sixth of the school of post-college life already! 

The conference took the form of a teaching retreat this year, with an emphasis on centering prayer. Towards the end I could sense words forming in my mind that deserved to be recorded. I'm not sure whether they're a poem, a hymn, or something else - they probably don't work as either! - but here they are for your reading pleasure.

Transcendent and immanent God of power and love,
Set apart in holiness yet drawing close enough
To breathe upon your servant the words of liberation
That quiet down the soul and bring us life:
Receive our gift of still and thankful presence.

When anxious fears and memories of failures past and present
Appear to fill and flood the depths of my obsession,
Now pluck us from the muddy mire to join you in the dance of life,
Your people free to seek the peace that passes understanding:
Receive our gift of still and thankful presence.

Ignored God who courts and woos, tenderly calls my name,
Invites us dwell in One-in-Three, a union for all time.
We hear your call to live in Christ, in love, in peace, in joy;
Now sent in grace your people rest, empowered through grape and grain:
Receive our gift of still and thankful presence.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Statues of Liberty

Forgive the Methodisty nature of this one - I was at a day of teaching and reflection on the nature and calling of the church on Saturday. As a denomination (a family of over two hundred congregations), we're hearing a call to fluidity, relying on our identity in Christ, being ready to set aside yesterday's dreams (or even false dreams), and to dig new wells for life in this era of transition from modernism to whatever is coming next.

One exercise included a room filled with images. Here's one that struck me, and the note I wrote about it:

[The note says: The Statue of Liberty is Freedom Concretized. She stands for freedom but is herself frozen in time. How can we as a denomination be set free from all that binds us, to actually be the disciple-making movement that our DNA, history and desire tell us we are?]

Obviously one response to my question is, "just do it" - which in a sense we are. But for the vast majority of people in our churches, I don't think they know how to make disciples, and may not actually want church-as-they-know-it to change much. We have some ideas, but what about you? Any wisdom to offer? Do you find yourself in a similar, or different, place?

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Ice Bucket Challenge

As the song goes, I could feel it coming in the air - the friendship noose was coming ever closer as person after person succumbed to the Ice Bucket Challenge. Started as a prank nomination thing on the internet, it took on a charity edge when an American organisation related to Motor Neurone Disease was connected to it. Here in the UK, Macmillan Cancer Support picked up donations quickly, and these are the two most prevalent organisations related to the challenge now. The concept - challenge some friends to have cold water thrown over them: donate a small amount to charity if you do it, donate a larger amount if you chicken out. There are pros and cons to this sort of thing, people will always debate it - but as far as I can see, it simply raises the profile of a charity, raises funds, and gives us a laugh. Nothing wrong with that.

So - the dreaded facebook notification appeared on my phone yesterday morning, and I decided to follow through with the challenge. Here's the result in a bit better resolution than facebook can manage (the text of the cards is reproduced below in case you can't read it!).

Ice Bucket Challenge
Text ICE to 70550 to donate £3
Text FINE to 70550 to donate £10

The Ice Bucket Challenge is probably now a cynical plot between Facebook and mobile phone companies, generating extra revenue by silently auto-playing these videos on smartphones and using up everyone's data allowances.

That said, the causes are worthy. I've seen Macmillan nurses at work through personal and professional experience, they really are amazing.

And sure haven't we always loved throwing cold water over our mums in the summertime?

Therefore I have happily succumbed to the challenge. Thanks John for nominating me, I really appreciate it.

Jesus says anyone who offers a cup of cold water in his name will not lose their reward. So today, the Purpose and Leadership Group of the Methodist Church in Ireland is going to be greatly rewarded...

Go on then. You know you want to!

I nominate:
1 - my mum, Averil
2 - this team's culture-changing leader, Heather
3 - fellow traveller in missional discipleship, Mark
4 - and it seems my big little brother hasn't had to do this yet – Steve :)

Don't forget to donate! Lots of Three Quids (or Tenners if you prefer to stay dry) adds up to a lot!

PS Isn't it nice to see a minister wearing their collar these days? ;-)

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Help and Hope

There have been a number of suicides in our area recently, a tragedy that has reared its head before but had been more calm for a while. Our church is connected to one of the grieving families and so I was present for the funeral of a beautiful young woman the other day.

The depth of pain was tangible in the packed church, thronged with young people in their best party clothes, because who owns a funeral suit at 19? The pastor spoke of coming across a clump of stinging nettles on a walk, with a clump of dock leaves at their base - the antidote to the pain being present alongside. He confessed that we as the Church have not been present enough in the community to bring the soothing peace of help and hope when life has stung many people.

I agree. Our heads are so often concerned with the internal workings of the church that we forget our commission to go into all the world. Even as I type I'm reminded that I'm excited to have been part of a process that has discerned, under God, the way forward for our church in coming years. But one of the key elements of our future is to be missional disciples, people who live in the world so we can be with those who have been stung and need help and hope.

As I walked to the graveyard I wondered to myself, "Why am I here, walking in the middle of these young people in pain, a collared dork who nobody knows?" And then it struck me - standing at the graveside as the rain blew horizontally on the gathered mourners - I can simply be here. With my umbrella. Covering the young people who didn't think to bring one. I stepped forward and shielded a few folks from the full effects of the weather. They didn't notice but they didn't get so wet.

A few people went out to walk around our town this morning, praying as we went. We chatted with some people on the way, each of whom was hurting. Afterwards we took time to pray for them.

I might look like a dork in my collar, I might not understand youth culture (or any other culture outside the church), but I can hold my umbrella over someone standing in the rain. We can hold a 'covering' of prayer over those who don't realise they need it. We can walk the streets and see who happens to cross our path. We can listen to God's Spirit whispering peace and compassion to the heartbroken.

And with gentleness and respect, we might be given the opportunity to share the reason for the hope that we have.


If you have been affected by suicide or are contemplating harming yourself in any way, know that you are cared for, and that there is help and hope to be found. Come round for a coffee. Drop into The Hub or The Edge. Or call Lifeline (in Northern Ireland) on 0808 808 8000.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Invite, Welcome, Befriend

You may have heard of 'Back to Church Sunday' - it started in England about ten years ago, encouraging local churches to have one Sunday a year where every member had the chance to be an evangelist in a low-intensity manner: invite a friend to go to church with them.

There was an initial flurry amongst Methodist churches in Ireland, with a few success stories - one year, (as far as I remember) around 120 people came to Methodist churches across Ireland with a friend on that Sunday, and continued in worship from then on: the equivalent of planting a new church.

But the energy began to ebb, churches started saying things like 'we did that last year' or (because the set date was at the end of September) 'it's too close to Harvest'. Essentially, our folks got too focused on the EVENT instead of the ATTITUDE.

Back to Church Sunday have changed tack this year, morphing into 'A Season of Invitation', offering church members a series of opportunities to invite friends to join them in worship. The reasoning is that multiple invitations increases the statistical chance of a person becoming part of the fellowship, which hopefully will lead to contact (or renewed contact) with the Gospel and the family of believers. I think that's a healthy and helpful shift. But if local churches run with this programme simply as a programme of events, the energy will once again leak away to nothing after one or two years.

The key (as explained in some B2CS training a few years ago) is the attitude within a whole congregation of inviting, welcoming and befriending. When the whole body has the heart for people and love of God that is expressed through inviting friends to meet someone they love, that is winsome. When the friends make that bold step to walk into a church building (or any gathering of Christians, there can be a fair amount of apprehension if it's been a while since being part of a fellowship, nomatter where or when we meet), there needs to be a warm, real welcome - smiles, handshakes, thoughtfulness, food! And the attitude of all the people needs to be 'these could be new best friends!' (rather than the approach of, 'I wonder could they do youth work?').

Recently we visited a church on a weekend off. Their website didn't have service times on it and didn't mention whether there was a Sunday School or creche. We drove past the building the evening before to get the start time but weren't convinced our boys would survive without some age-appropriate content. We didn't set an alarm! But we were woken at six by one of our little angels and were able to get there a minute after start time. The front door was closed. Then there was a corridor with no signs pointing to the sanctuary. The door to the sanctuary was closed and no-one was there to open it, say hello, or tell us about children's stuff - and once inside, the back rows were filled with local folks so we had to troop to the front.

It was an uncomfortable exerience for us, making us wonder why anyone without the habit of Sunday worship attendance would ever put themselves through it. Certainly, the folks were warm afterwards. But it made me think about our own place of worship and whether we can better help people who make the brave step of coming out to church. I'm encouraged when I chat to newcomers and they tell me they had meaningful conversations with several of our people during coffee time after the service. I hope we are good welcomers. We can probably do better.

But Inviting, Welcoming and Befriending does not happen just because we're told to do it. It happens because a people's hearts are on fire with the love of God. And it's also not evangelism - at some point we need to be ready to gently share the hope that we have in Jesus.

When did you last invite someone to accompany you to a worship gathering?

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Night and Day Prayer

At the encouragement of the Methodist Church in Ireland, we operated a prayer room for 24 hours on 25-26 January 2014. While the emphasis was put on helping as many people as possible to pray in a focused way during that time, rather than specifically covering every hour, only four hours went without cover - and the room was used a few times after the original 'night and day' period was complete.

There were six areas in the prayer room; the first depicted a waterfall and encouraged us to step into the water - a challenge to get 'wet feet' even during our time in the prayer room, an openness to God's leading and a commitment to follow.

The second area focused on the Methodist family in Ireland. Younger visitors painted their vision of the church family. Participants were invited to pray for one or two Methodist congregations in Ireland that they hadn't been to before. Some wrote their selections on a map - Ballymoney, Ballynanny, Bannfoot, Blanchardstown, Carlow, Carnlough, Cloughjordan, the Down District, East Belfast Mission, Galway, Pettigo, Shannon and Skibbereen.

The third area offered space to reflect on our personal holiness - an opportunity to confess sin to God and rest in his grace-filled presence. The fourth gave a simple example of how to share the change brought about through faith in Jesus: a step into courageous evangelism. People completed 'from... to...' cardboard testimonies, using just a few words to indicate God's transformation.

Some examples included: from being lost and lonely, to knowing God's life-changing peace and love; from being worried, to being the most happiest person in the world; from despair, to hope; from encountering a difficult time, to the ability to help and support others in a similar situation.

For many people, by this point their hour had already come to an end! But those who were able to linger engaged with the fifth area, with a challenge towards compassionate social action. The final part of the prayer room helped participants to consider what idols there might be in their own lives and in the church - a couple of responses pointed towards selfish pride, and fear regarding a lack of resources.

The impact of the prayer room was felt by each of the children and adults who used it. One younger person commented afterwards, "It made me think I am special and thoughtful. God is always there. He is so nice, kind, lovely, special." An adult wrote in the guest book, "Peace and understanding - a lovely experience. Perfect atmosphere to meditate and reflect." And another, "So peaceful. Quiet space. Just sat in His presence."

The effects of this prayer-full weekend continued to be felt in following weeks, with a fresh sense of God's presence in worship, a fruitful Church Council retreat day, and a commitment to pray for the town and its churches at a special praise and prayer event to be held in March.

Prayer rooms take a fair bit of work to set up, organise and maintain. But is it worth it? Absolutely.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

12 Practical Tips On How To Do What Jesus Wants Us To Do

In January the Methodist Church in Ireland encouraged us to consider the theme, "Covenant and Choosing" so we could take extra time on the meaning and impact of the 'Covenant Prayer'. The third service focused on Christ at the Centre, using Luke 10:1-12. What follows is an excerpt of the script I was working from while preaching - I say 'working from' because it rarely comes out word for word the way it's written! You might like to read the bible passage before going any further...

There’s a type of article going around the internet at the moment that is gaining traction very quickly - Lists with quirky titles that aim to convey photos, facts or opinions in any number of subjects. Such as:

  • 12 Mind-Bending Facts About Your Brain
  • 18 Celebrities You Didn't Know Were Really Short
  • The 26 Greatest Fake London Underground Signs In The History Of Fake London Underground Signs

They’re not all just incidental facts or time-wasting amusements. Two lists that I found helpful recently were:

  • 7 Crippling Parenting Behaviours That Keep Children From Growing Into Leaders, and
  • 5 Really Bad Reasons To Leave Your Church

In Luke chapter ten, Jesus sends out his disciples on mission – it’s what he wants them (and us) to do. And because we want to live with Jesus at the Centre of our lives, we want to do what he wants us to do! Or at least try! So, here are:

12 Practical Tips On How To Do What Jesus Wants Us To Do

  1. Everybody Goes – let’s note from v1 that he wasn’t sending the church leaders on this particular trip (he did plenty of that at other times) – this mission team is 72 ‘others’: which is pretty much the size of this church. We are the perfect size of church for going where Jesus wants us to go.
  2. Pairs Are Perfect – Jesus’ preference is that his followers go into the world in twos: this isn’t a solitary calling. Who do you serve with?
  3. Be A Basket Case Believer – Jesus says the harvest is plentiful, and who are we to doubt him? If he can feed thousands and have 12 baskets of leftovers from tiny resources, why not save thousands through what we do in his name?
  4. There’s Always Room For More – we aren’t to be precious about our role in God’s mission, we don’t need to protect our niche activity or our pew, because there are so many people to be reached, we need all the help we can get.
  5. Pray For Protection – because lambs in a wolves’ world get eaten up for breakfast. Our battle is against the powers and principalities, and the only way to effectively fight them is through prayer.
  6. Go FROG Style – Fully Reliant On God’s provision: ‘the Lord will provide’
  7. Eyes On The Prize – what’s the easiest way for you to be distracted from God’s work? Embarrassment, fear of failure, or the attraction of easier or more interesting things? ‘Do not greet anyone on the road’ – keep focused on Jesus and who he’s calling you to.
  8. Give Peace A Chance – when you enter someone’s home or meet them on the street, what’s the first thing you talk about? - the weather? - What’s your deepest desire for them? - that the sun would shine?! - Jesus says to bring peace to them. Peace that goes to work in the middle of their mess.
  9. Stick With It – if the people God gives you are receptive to your life and your Saviour, don’t be tempted to move on prematurely, searching for more influential or interesting folks. He’s put you in their life for a reason; your presence, words and actions bring peace to them.
  10. Eat Their Food – Jesus has a lot to say about food, and he does a lot of teaching around the table. His disciples are to receive the hospitality offered by the people to whom they have been sent: doing so honours the host, blesses the recipient, and seals the welcome. We get to know folks more quickly, easily and fully when we eat at their table.
  11. Make Them Better – ah. These last two are a bit more awkward. For one thing, we have very little practice in healing sick people. Practically, we can make sure folks have enough healthy food and water; we can ensure they are in contact with their doctor. But will we have the faith and guts to pray for our new friends to be healed in Jesus’ name?
  12. Tell Them Good News – yes, there are ways that we can live our lives that speak abundantly of the effects of faith in Jesus, but in the end, ‘how will they hear unless someone tells them?’ This, above all things, is what is at the centre of our calling – “The Kingdom of God is near” ... Jesus is near. Befriend people, bless their socks off, but never forget to introduce your friend and King Jesus to the conversation.
Are there any other things that those verses encourage us to do while living on mission? Which 'tip' strikes you most? Is there something you can do to put it into action today?

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Misery - Caught between Justice and Grace

Oh my, what a moving movie is Les Misérables! We saw the London show a number of years ago - Bring Him Home had me a blubbering, inconsolable wreck on that occasion - but I don't think I understood the story until last night. Two strands stood out for me in particular: one was the misery of squalid poverty, eradicated from our contemporary society to a large extent but still very much in existence in other parts of the world. The other was a cadence of 'justice and grace' whispered across the characters and the years.


I probably intended to further develop the thinking above, back in February 2013. But a year later it hasn't happened so I'm publishing a little rather than nothing. Good movie! Must watch the DVD I bought on 'special offer' now it's even cheaper and no longer new...

Blog Re-Booted?

I've been feeling the nudge to get back into blogging. Which I'm sure all of you avid MinisterMoo readers are very excited about. So, watch this space. I'm going to play with the layout and stuff and then might consider posting something.