Feb 272014

Followers of this blog might remember that I love my small group! Since last writing about it, though, it has split to form two new groups. Something attracted other people and, so we didn’t become a ‘big group’, we split.

That means Mel and I are part of a new group, with a whole load of new people. We’re really excited about it!

Telling our stories

We’ve decided to kick off this new group in exactly the same way we kicked off the old group a year ago. Every member of the group will have a whole evening to share their story in whatever way, and in as much detail, as they want.

tell your story - once upon a time

Last night, Mel kicked us off.

Mel’s story is such a powerful testimony of God’s grace, love and faithfulness in good times and bad times. She did not hold back in talking about her journey with depression, or the chapters of her life which were hardest. But nor did she hold back in pointing us all to God’s goodness and constancy through it all. Some of her closing words:

“I am in a good place now. I am less angry and more at peace. Bad things come and go, but God remains. I know that with him I can make it through anything, and that he is using me for his purposes. Without him, I would not be able to change from who I was to who I am now. I am learning to trust him more because he is faithful and he is good.”

I was so moved hearing again Mel’s journey. And I wasn’t the only one. There were a few tears last night.

Telling my story

This post isn’t about her story, though. It’s not my story to tell, so I won’t. But I do have a story to tell: my own. At some point in the weeks to come, it’ll be my turn. I will feel many of the things I always feel when it comes to telling my story.

I will feel boring. I haven’t had any Damascan experiences. I haven’t battled illness. I haven’t done amazing things in exotic parts of the world. I haven’t come through great trials or persecution. I know these things don’t matter, but this blog is a place to be honest: sometimes I feel boring.

I will feel self-indulgent. Why should I imagine people should be interested in listening to my experiences? Surely it’s just an exercise in arrogance. My story can’t matter.

So why will I do it? In the context of our group, I think it is such an important way of us drawing closer to each other, being able to really know one another so we can truly invest in one another. It opens us up, gives others permission to know us at a deeper level, bypassing superficiality. It is very powerful.

Tell your story!

But beyond that, why should Christians share their stories? What’s the point? Simply put, I believe telling your story is important because your story matters and no-one else is going to tell it.

tell your storyYour story matters because it is what has made you the person you are. You aren’t determined by your past – of course you aren’t! – but you are shaped by it. And whether you think your story is exciting or boring, it is your story. It is the only one you have. It is the only way that God has worked in your life, the only way He has brought you to where you are now.

Maybe you wish things had been different. But they weren’t. The story of any Christian is a story of God at work in the life of a person loved by Him, made by Him, called by Him. God doesn’t create boring people. There is no boring testimony. The reasons I find it hard are wrong – my story is amazing and it matters.

Your story is amazing! And it matters!

And no-one else can tell your story, because no-one else has lived your story. To keep it hidden is to deny others the hope and inspiration it can provide.

Own your story. Celebrate your story. Remember your story. And please, please tell your story. It is a powerful thing. Don’t hide it.

Repeat after me: My story matters.

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Feb 252014

There’s far more to faith and Christianity than what goes on in our church services, but that doesn’t mean what we do together doesn’t matter. We should make sure what we do is right and honouring to God.

worship songs

An important part of what we do together is sing. But there’s a worrying trend in the worship songs of our churches that needs seriously to be addressed. There’s something we need to put straight:

Worship is about who God is, not who I am

Let me explain. There are lots of songs these days which are all about my feelings, what I want to say to God, and focus far too little on the important truths of who God is. We sing “I just want to praise you”, but never say why. That is not the purpose of worship songs.

The danger is that it puts us at the centre of what’s going on. Worship becomes all about me and my feelings,  and the whole thing is deeply egocentric. I run away with my emotions and forget that God’s nature isn’t dependent on what I feel. And worse, what if it makes people into liars? What if, that Sunday morning, I don’t “just want to praise [God]”? What if I’m not in the mood? Surely far better to declare biblical truths in song to God and to others and leave myself out of it.

Some may say I’m just expressing personal preference, but I’m not. I’m being biblical about worship. Just look at the Psalms (e.g. Ps 18:30; Ps 103:8). And we mustn’t forget singing is a command of scripture. In Ephesians (5:19), Paul writes tells his readers to:

“speak to one another with psalms, hymns and songs from the Spirit”

Note the instruction is to speak and sing to one another. This isn’t about me getting carried away singing pretty songs to God. This is us coming together to sing truth to one another, to be stirred in our hearts by the Spirit to declare tunefully the wonder and majesty of God. That is true worship.

And let’s face it, there are other ways to declare our feelings and our personal devotion to God. In our services, we pray directly to God, and that is of course right and proper. It’s important to do that as a whole body. And in private, in our own daily walks, we will be about the business of prayerful adoration and cultivating a personal relationship with God. But it’s not necessary in songs.

But, before I finish, one final point:

Worship is me relating to God, not about Him alone

Let me explain. There are lots of songs these days which are all about God’s nature, who He is, and focus far too little on the important relationship we each have with Him. We sing “He is exalted,” but never say we are the ones who want to exalt Him. That is not the purpose of worship songs.

The danger is that it leaves us out of what’s going on. Worship becomes all about God and who He is, and the whole thing is deeply impersonal. I restrict my emotions and forget that I should respond emotionally to who God is. And worse, what if it makes people shut off from God in boredom? What if, that Sunday morning I am full of delight and love for God, but am not able to express it? Surely far better to give myself freedom to relate to God in song, not just recite facts about Him.

Some may say I’m just expressing personal preference, but I’m not. I’m being biblical about worship. Just look at the Psalms (e.g. Ps 18:1; Ps 103:1)  We mustn’t forget singing is a command of scripture. In Ephesians (5:19), Paul tells his readers to:

“Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord”

Note the instruction is to sing from your heart. This isn’t about me declaring lofty and abstract truths. This is me taking whatever is in my heart and pouring it out to God in honesty, and us coming together to do that together, to be stirred in our hearts by the Spirit to indulge tunefully in the wonder of knowing God. That is true worship.

And let’s face it, there are other ways to declare and be reminded of truths about God. In our services, we have sermons which teach biblical truth, and that is of course right and proper. It’s so important to do that as a whole body. And in private, in our own daily walks, we will be about the business of Bible study and seeking out truth. But it’s not necessary in songs.

So, hopefully that’s made it clear. There’s one right and biblical way to worship in song. Let’s just all be obedient and stick to it.

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Feb 232014

I’ve been asked to speak at our church’s men’s breakfast soon on this topic: ‘My life as a Christian blogger’. It’s very exciting, and it’s got me trying to get to the bottom of this question: Why do I blog? Here are my top 5 reasons so far.


1. Integrity – not becoming mindless

The main reason I started the blog is the main reason I keep at it. I never want to be someone who just believes things because I do. I have many questions and thoughts about life and faith, and I don’t want to forget to ask them.

This blog is a space for those questions to get explored. Almost every post has a question at its heart. Maybe it’s a question I pose, or maybe it’s a question I had that’s evolved into an idea. This blog helps keep my mind sharp, so I don’t sink into a malaise. I keep thinking, keep questioning, keep posting.

2. Clarity – having to stop typing

Do you ever have those conversations (often with yourself) where you just know you’re right but can’t explain fully why. They go on and on, but you can never really nail what you think or why. It’s frustrating, but also appealing because you never have to be clear about anything, or follow anything through. You can just follow another tangent.

That’s not who I want to be, and blogging forces clarity and structure to my thoughts. At some point I have to stop typing and hit ‘Publish’. I can’t leave an argument half-formed. It forces me to articulate thoughts properly, not lazily. And just occasionally I’ve realised that thing I know is right might not be after all.

3. Accountability – it’s all out there

So I’m trying to find answers to questions. I think that’s exciting, but it’s also dangerous. I could get far too big for my boots, start to think I have all the answers, become mean or arrogant. It is better to go about things publicly, so others can keep us in check.

With a blog, it’s all out there. Once I publish a post, anyone can see it. That includes my wife, my parents, my pastor, my church, my colleagues. That keeps me in check as I write, but also means people can send me a message saying “Dave, that was way off and I think you need to re-evaluate.” People have, and I’m very grateful. I need that. We all need it.

4. Community – what do you think?

I don’t need others involved just to reign me in. I need others to explore these questions with me. I’d be arrogant to think I can crack it by myself. I need people who are different from me, from different places, with different backgrounds, experiences and ideas to help me as I do it. I need people who are wiser than me.

One of the most rewarding things about the year I’ve been blogging has been the comments. If you’ve ever commented on the site or on Facebook or Twitter, thank you! I have been encouraged, challenged and inspired by what others have added to the conversations I’ve started. Without the comment box, the content of this blog would be immeasurably weaker.

5. Relevance – being where the people are

All the reasons so far were in my mind to a greater or lesser extent when I started. This one wasn’t.

I now believe it is very important for there to be Christians who blog. Why? Because the world is living more and more on the internet. There is a whole blogging community, and wherever there is a community of people in the world God calls His people to enter into it and shine His light and love.

This blog has given me the tremendous privilege and joy of engaging with people all over the world, hearing their stories and perspectives, and sharing something of mine with them. I am a passionate believer in the local church. I work for one, and I preach regularly in traditional ways. I don’t want to abandon that for a second, but we the church also need to be engaged online. That’s where people are, and that’s where we should go.

None of these reasons is only possible through blogging, but in whatever way we should seek them all. Who knows though, maybe blogging could be for you! If you’re interested but don’t know how, drop a comment and I’ll give you a few pointers.

If you blog, I’d be really interested to hear why? When I speak at the breakfast, I’d love to include others’ perspectives too.


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Feb 122014

If you were to follow me on Twitter, you would see that my first tweet every day ends with the hashtag #kingsenglish. That is because I have started tweeting summaries of my quiet time reading. This is a post about why.

kings english tweets

‘King’s English’ – great stuff!

The King’s English is a book that started out as blog posts during the year of the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible (KJV). It is a devotional book with a short reading for each day of the year. Each day takes one phrase from the KJV and explores it. The whole thing is online, and the brilliant author Glen Scrivener () tweets links to it each day.

Before I move on, it’s great! Glen has a phenomenal gift for capturing the great truths of Scripture, for finding Christ in the whole Bible, for expressing the heart and character of the Triune God. It reads like a wonderful mix of theology and poetry, and time and time again brings fresh excitement from old truths.

kings english bookI strongly recommend checking it out online, or getting your hands on a physical copy if that’s your thing (it doesn’t have dates by the readings, so you can start whenever!).

But why #kingsenglish?

That’s all very well. Lots of people use devotional books to aid time with God. Mel is using one by Henri Nouwen at the moment. I’ve used a number before. Why tweet about it?

I had a bit of anxiety when I started doing it. It could very easily be seen as “Hey! Look at me! I’m having my quiet time now, aren’t I holy!” Maybe it has been seen that way by some people. Maybe it could be seen as a desperate bid to get Glen to follow me on Twitter, who knows!

But neither of those is why I did it. It boils down to a statement and a question. The statement: social media, and particularly my Twitter account, is a really important and central thing to my life which includes ups, downs, news, celebrations, the exciting, the mundane, the difficult, everything. The question: if that’s all true, why wouldn’t my daily walk with God be on there?

I’m part of a generation for whom – increasingly – if something doesn’t interact with my online life it probably doesn’t mean that much to me. Does my spirituality and faith mean something to me? Yes. Then it should be online.

If someone journaled everything that they ever did, and their journal never mentioned their relationship with Jesus, wouldn’t that be a worry? If my Twitter doesn’t mention it, I think that would be a worry.

Since I started…

Since I started tweeting my quiet times, I’ve noticed a few things. Put together, they mark the biggest development in my commitment to pursuing my relationship with God that I’ve had in a while.

twitter quiet timeFirst, I haven’t missed a day. And that hasn’t been difficult, where at other times in my life it has been. Twitter is one of the first things I check in the day, but I now don’t step into that world until I have spent time with God and have something to say on that platform. By relating my devotional time to something which means a lot to me, it serves as a hook, a trigger. It makes it connected to my day, not something I do ‘before I start my day’. That’s been cool!

Second, I engage more deeply with my quiet time, and with God during it. What I am reading from the Bible (and from Glen) doesn’t stop with me. I do something with it (in this case tweet it), and that should always be the case. It’s not a passive thing, but something that should spur us to action. This little action constantly reminds me of that, and with that in my brain I don’t engage passively. I want to get it.

Third, Twitter isn’t private, and I’ve had people engage with my tweets. That’s cool. Because a relationship with God isn’t a private thing. Sure, it is no-one else’s responsibility to cultivate but mine, but that doesn’t mean it exists only for me. If others aren’t benefiting or able to engage in something because of a deeper relationship I have with God, that probably means it either isn’t really deeper at all. Twitter just brings that to the fore.

Should you do it?

That’s a question only you can answer. But if social media is a part of your life and you want Jesus to be central to your life, maybe some of what’s helped me might help you!

What do you think? Any similar experiences? Maybe for you it isn’t Twitter but something else. I’d love to hear!

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Feb 062014

What does going to a big, nerdy card-game tournament have to do with churchy language? In my mind at least, quite a bit!

churchy language

I’ve always been interested in words and language. I’ve written about it on here a couple of times, but I was struck on Saturday by the immense power of language to make people feel deeply included, or utterly excluded.

Inclusive language

On Saturday I embraced the nerd in me and indulged a hobby (a card game called Magic: The Gathering) by going to a big prerelease event for a new block of cards that’s being released. It was a fantastic day in a room with over 100 other people, all with the same interest, all getting new cards and playing with them. Awesome!

I only knew one person there, but I spoke with lots of people. We all shared the same language. We all knew the words and what they meant. This was one exchange with a guy I met called Andy:

Andy: “What format do you normally play?”
Me: “Mostly just casual Modern games with my mate. Occasionally a bit of Commander, I want to get into that a bit more. We don’t invest enough money for Standard or competitive Modern. You?”
Andy: “There’s a group of us that Draft quite often. That’s my favourite. Theros has been great for drafting.”
Me: “Cool!”

Immediately, I felt at home, included, as though we had a bond. Because we could both not only use language with which we are so familiar, but be understood as we do so. It put us at ease. It was only later that we got to know a bit more about each other. But the bond was already established.

The danger of inclusion

So shared vocabulary can be a powerful force for inclusion and unity. It’s like being somewhere that speaks a language you don’t speak and you bump into someone who speaks your tongue – glorious!

churchy language mtg

My event pack. I didn’t dominate much, though.

There is a big danger here, though. The flip side of making people feel included is that others feel utterly excluded.

If a non-MtG player had walked into that room, they’d have been lost. There was no attempt made to explain all the words and terms, no introductory tutorials in how to play. Nothing. That’s perfectly fair, since it is not an intro event. It is aimed at people who already play.

It was a deeply inclusive event for those already sold on it, but not a welcoming event for people who aren’t.

As much as I like Magic: the Gathering (and I really do!), I know there’s more to life. This post isn’t really about that. It has triggered my thinking about Christians and churchy language. We have plenty of vocabulary and jargon that we use without even realising it. Are we always aware what effects this has?

Churchy language: inclusive and welcoming?

Just like at my event on Saturday, I’m sure churchy language it has two effects:

  1. Creating a bond between those who are already ‘insiders’ and know the language
  2. Alienating those who are ‘outsiders’, don’t know the language but are interested

(I don’t normally use that language of ‘insider’/’outsider’ as it’s a horrible dichotomy, and am using it only to describe people’s relationship with the  churchy language.)

This leave me with a quandary. To be sensitive to the ‘outsider’, perhaps we should stop using churchy language and never use any words that aren’t just part of the rest of the world’s dictionary. But then we miss out on the opportunity for a greater depth of unity among believers (and, as I’ve suggested elsewhere, a stunting of our own discipleship). It’s also hard to engage with the Bible if we throw out all Christian ‘jargon’ because a lot of it comes from the Bible!

But the opposite – “Church isn’t for ‘them’, it’s for us, and if ‘they’ want to join in it must be on our terms” – doesn’t seem to ring true with the radical inclusiveness of Jesus.

I end, then, not with a conclusion, but a question, because I want to hold onto both – depth of inclusion AND welcome to others.

My question about churchy language: does anyone have a way forward? Any thoughts, drop a comment below.

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Feb 042014

On Sunday, one of the youth from church introduced me to ‘Flappy Bird’, a new game app. In the minute or so she showed it to me, I was hooked. I needed to beat my score. My score wasn’t even impressive. It was one. But I HAD to beat it.

This has led to some serious soul-searching. And now this blog post. (In the interest of honesty, I have invested a little time since Sunday playing it. But … umm … only for research…)

Flappy what?!

Question: What on earth is ‘Flappy Bird’?! Answer: It’s a very simple game.

flappy birdYou control a bird. Each time you tap the screen it flaps and rises a little. While you’re not tapping, it falls. So by timing your taps, you keep your bird from dropping to the ground and you guide it through gaps in the middle of Mario-esque green pipes. Your score is how many pipes you get past before hitting one. That is literally it.

‘Flappy Bird’ has gone viral and people are playing it all over the place. It can’t be because the gameplay is so fun. Or because it’s beautifully designed. Or clever. Clearly it has tapped into something in us that makes us just need to keep playing.

I think I’ve work out what that ‘something might be’.

‘Flappy Bird’ and the human condition

The makers of ‘Flappy Bird’ are geniuses. They have realised something that motivates us very powerfully, and played into it to get millions of downloads.

That thing is failure. ‘Flappy Bird’ is designed to make us feel like failures.

flappy bird scoresAt the end of each game, you are shown two numbers: your score that game, and your highest ever score. There are three options here: fail to meet your high score, match it, or beat it.

If you fail to meet it, you can’t stop on a fail, so you try again. If you match it, you came so close (just one more pipe!) and you know you can do it, so you try again. If you beat it (VICTORY!), you feel so good, feel like a champion and think nothing can stop you now, so you hit ‘Retry’ like a boss! And then you almost certainly fail. Back to the start.

Whatever happens, your efforts are never enough. You don’t want to stop on a loss. You don’t want to stop on a win because you want a bigger win.

Deep down we want to defeat our failures by our own great victory, but we never can. ‘Flappy Bird’ is so successful because it feeds on that desire, that feeling that if we try just a little longer, a little harder, we can defeat that failure and become a true champion. The problem is that once we do, the victory is long forgotten, the old target is gone and there’s a new target. And there are even more opportunities to fail to meet it.

‘Flappy Bird’ and Jesus

‘Flappy Bird’ isn’t the problem. Our failure is the problem. ‘Flappy Bird’ works because we feel like failures and we want to fix the problem. It gives us a failure that is just small enough we feel we might be able to fix it.

But the truth is, and some of you might be shocked by this, life isn’t just a game of ‘Flappy Bird’. I know. That’s a big claim.

The failures I make in my life, the failures I keep making, I can’t fix. As much as I might hit ‘Retry’, as much as I may think I’ve now got the perfect technique, I keep on hitting up against those big green pipes and flunking out. Maybe it’s only me that experiences that outside of ‘Flappy Bird’, but I doubt it.

I can’t fix my failures. But I know a man who can. Deep down, humanity knows it’s broken. We know we’re broken. But we can’t fix ourselves. Jesus can, though.

‘Flappy Bird’ plays off our desire to fix things ourselves, to win by ourselves. Jesus doesn’t. Jesus doesn’t say “Get to a new high score and then we’ll talk”. He doesn’t demand we get to a higher level or put in more hours practice. He says “It’s ok. You don’t have to fix it all. I fixed it for you. I got the highest score, and if you’ll let me, I want to load it into your account.”

I don’t know which you prefer, but I’ll tell you this. ‘Flappy Bird’ makes me sadder. Jesus makes me happier.

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Feb 032014

Today is my 25th birthday. Happy birthday to me.


That’s a quarter of a century, which feels like quite a long time, and I’m a little nostalgic. I thought I’d share 25 memories from my first 25 years.

The first 5 years

I don’t think I can do one per year here because exactly when things happened will be hard to work out. But here’s five memories from those early years.

25 rainMemory 1: My earliest memory is being in a pram with a rain cover over. It was raining, and I could see all of the drops running down and joining with one another. I felt trapped and cut off from everything.

Memory 2: Accompanying my mum on her weekly food shops (I think every Thursday?) after dropping my brother at school. I would sit in the trolley and everything was piled up around me. It was fun.

Memory 3: On holiday, ‘sun-bathing’ fully clothed, the sun shining on my face.

Memory 4: Playing with my friends who my mum child-minded.

Memory 5: In reception year at school, doing PE just in my pants and feeling no shame whatsoever.

The last 20 years

I think from here on I can probably manage one per year.

Age 6: At school, asked to think of words starting with ‘U’ but told only to put hands up if we had one ready. I put my hand up, was called on, and confidently said ‘Um’. Was told off for not having one ready and wasting time. First time I felt the pang of injustice.

Age 7: Being told by mum and dad we were moving home to another town (Reading). Ran through to dining room, got under the table and prayed it wouldn’t happen. It did though, and I’m so glad!

25 jugglingAge 8: 8th birthday party, given three juggling balls by my new friend Hannah. Years later, they would be the balls I learned to juggle with. Still have them, and they’re still great. So’s Hannah!

Age 9: Year 4, crying because I had to do swimming at school and didn’t want to. The pool was freezing, and I’m not a strong swimmer.

Age 10: With my friend Ian Crombie, pretending all of primary school was Starfleet Academy and we were being trained to become Starfleet Officers. Big fan of Star Trek at this point.

Age 11: Starting secondary school, deeply nervous on my first day, was almost physically sick. But it got better!

Age 12: About 6 weeks before the big annual production at my drama group, being asked to stand in for the lead because he’d broken his collar bone. I remember being handed my new script with deep pride, joy, honour and nerves. I put it by my bed and looked at it every time I woke up to confirm it hadn’t been a dream.

Age 13: Getting baptised on 14th March 2002, proud to boldly declare that Jesus is my Lord and Saviour. Sometimes I wish I still had that boldness and enthusiasm. Sometimes I do have it, and it’s great!

Age 14: Learning stage fighting in drama lessons at school, and using what I learned to trick one of my favourite teachers into thinking I had got into a full-blown fight. Sorry Mr. Cooper.

25 vantageAge 15: Getting my first job, and doing my first Saturday, at Vantage Chemist. I made some good friends during the 5 years of working there, and learned things about drugs I’ll likely never have any further use for.

Age 16: The first planning meeting for the first children’s holiday club our church ran. I was put up front because I was loud and confident. Holiday clubs would go on to become a massive part of my first experiences of leadership, and so many things I learned from the wonderful Sally Pettipher have served me very well since.

Age 17: Putting on the play Dealer’s Choice at school, the most fun I’ve ever had acting.

Age 18: Meeting Mel for the first time. She was jet-lagged. I was very focused playing snooker. There wasn’t much to say. It was a little awkward.

Age 19: The deep embarrassment of sitting on a man’s face at a cricket match in Oxford because I thought he was a chair.

25 proposalAge 20: Getting down on one knee and proposing to Mel in a place called ‘Chalfont Park’ in Reading. Given how important Chalfont has now become in our life, this has been filled with even more significance for us both.

Age 21: Seeing Mel, more beautiful than ever, walking down the aisle of my home church in Reading, about to marry me.

Age 22: The mixture of tiredness and joy after the first few days of bringing our adorable little puppy Ralph home to our place in Buckingham. He was such hard work, but worth every second!

Age 23: The stress of our first move as a married couple. A combination of sadness at leaving people and things behind in Buckingham, and excitement about what God had in store for us at Gold Hill.

Age 24: Shock, pain, sorrow and confusion on the horrible night that Ralph (our dog) and his friend Mishka were run over by a train and killed. Almost every moment of that evening is etched on my memory, and likely will be for a long time.

Age 25: I’ve only been 25 for a few hours, but I already have a memory: a beautiful breakfast with my beautiful wife!

25 breakfast

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