Jun 252014

Regular readers of this blog will know I love my small group! I’ve talked about them here and here (and one of the people in my small group wrote a post for me here). Last week, we started something new.

We are studying the book of Ecclesiastes every other week when we meet. We each commit to reading and reflecting on the same chunk before we meet, and then we discuss it together. I’ve decided that I’m going to blog along with this, trying to capture some of what we’ve discovered as we’ve studied this oft-neglected book (inevitably conversations stray beyond the strict boundaries of one specific chapter, so there’ll be thought from other parts of the book, and of the Bible, as well).

Last week we kicked off with Ecclesiastes chapter 1.

ecc 1

Life under the sun: meaningless

These verses can make pretty soul-destroying reading. They speak of the meaninglessness of everything in this world. Work, pleasure, wisdom, knowledge. Ultimately, nothing lasts, nothing new comes along and things just keep going round and round and round. Some things may be good for a while, but then we die, rendering it all ultimately pointless.

It’s not very hopeful. As one person said last week, “Ecclesiastes 1 may not be the best thing to read on a Monday morning when you didn’t really want to go to work anyway!”

This is Solomon’s declaration about everything in this world, under the sun. None of it really means anything beyond itself. Nothing has a higher purpose or meaning. It’s all just there. Until it’s not. And even that doesn’t matter, really.

The word meaningless isn’t a positive word. Nobody uses that as a positive thing. And the very fact that we use ‘meaningless’ as a negative shows that we like meaning. We want for our lives, for this world, to mean something. We all want meaning.

So this is a pretty bleak picture.

meaningless tolstoy

What about … OVER the sun, maybe?

This might make me a little unpopular, but I believe it’s true: if this life and this world is all there is, then nothing has any real meaning or purpose. The most we can hope for is to enjoy it a bit while it lasts, but none of it matters.

But Solomon’s description is of life ‘under the sun’ (at one point ‘under the heavens’). When looking at this world purely as a self-contained system, when judging it by its own merits, it’s meaningless. Solomon’s understanding of the world, though, would have been far from that.

He knew and understood there was more to life than that. In Hebrew biblical thought, the physical world we see around us is just one part of the much larger spiritual realm in which God exists and rules. There is FAR more to life than meets the eye.

meaningless under the sunThis isn’t all there is.

Where does your meaning come from?

What these verses do, then, is not slam this world as pointless. They do something far more than that. They expose the fact that without God the world is meaningless, so we stop looking for our meaning anywhere other than God.

The truth is, we often give the things in our lives – jobs, relationships, money, hobbies, pleasure – the wrong kind of significance. We think they have such meaning, but on their own they don’t.

This is why Ecclesiastes 1 is exactly the sort of thing we should be reading on Monday mornings when we didn’t want to go to work anyway. We need to be reminded that there is a purpose to this life, that God made things for a reason, made us for a reason, made us to work for a reason, rest for a reason, fall in love for a reason.

Remembering that God is in this world and has plans for it gives everything meaning, but the right kind of meaning!

It stops things masquerading as all-important and instead lets them take their rightful place. Their place as something which God has made for a purpose. Something through which we can find God, serve God, love God. Something through which we can partner with God to bring about His purposes.

Everything has a purpose, so everything is an opportunity. That isn’t soul-destroying at all. It’s liberating.

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Why & how do I write this blog?

Jun 162014

Today I have had a post published on someone else’s blog, and I wanted to mention it here. It is on the wonderful blog of the even more wonderful Debbie Duncan. I know Debbie from our church. She is a lecturer in Nursing in London, and is married to our pastor Malcolm. She has four children, and I think they’re all great!

blog hop

What’s it all about?

The post she’s published is part of an idea called the ‘Monday blog hop’, where different writers talk about their writing, why the do it, how they do it, and other interesting things like that. Then they nominate another couple of writers to carry it on and host their post the following week.

Some in the series have been published authors and others – like me – are not. This blog is where I write, and at the moment that’s it!

The four questions I answered were:

What am I working on?
Why do I write what I write?
How does my work differ from others in its genre?
How does my writing process work?

So if you’re interested in any of that, head over to Debbie’s blog and it’s all there. But by way of a teaser, here’s a confession I make in the post:

I talk to myself a lot. Whether in the shower, while walking the dog or driving the car, I am someone who processes my thoughts by talking about them so I tend to start trying to argue with myself or an imaginary friend out loud.

I’ve nominated two people: my wife and Debbie’s husband. So this time next week their posts should appear here…

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Am I exclusive like Francis Maude is?

Jun 122014

Yesterday at our staff prayer meeting at church, we had a bunch of different newspapers out and we prayed for the world and all that’s going on in it. I saw a story about Francis Maude, UK Cabinet Office minister, and it made me sad.


He was speaking about making government services more readily available online, and he said:

everything that can be delivered online, should be delivered online

So far so good. Whether it be paying tax, dealing with driving licenses or accessing benefits, using the internet to access services is at once both far easier for most and much cheaper for the government (and the tax-payer). Government services should be delivered online. But then he carried on:

… and only online.

It was those three words that have troubled me, and many others.

Pushing the marginalised to the margins

The problem is quite simple: not everyone can access these services online. For many – particularly the elderly – the digital world is so foreign and scary that the ‘one-off lesson to help them get onto the internet’ is just not sufficient. Making services available online is tantamount to refusing services to some people. Others – particularly those who are poorer – simply cannot afford internet access.

It is those who are already among the most vulnerable in our society who will be affected most harshly if this happens.

What is perhaps even more troubling is the arrogance not just of assuming everyone can get to grips with the digital age, but that everyone should. Maude justified his aims to force digital involvement on people by stating that “we think that is a better thing for people’s lives.” Inevitably, to maintain this position, you have to deride those who do not want it, and Maude happily writes this group off as what he calls online ‘refuseniks’. Because name-calling always helps.

Essentially, this is the marginalisation of the already-marginalised. I believe it is wrong.

A call to inclusion

Jesus included people. People others had given up on. People others told Him not to include. People who had never been included in their whole lives. And He calls us to do the same.

It isn’t the job of the government in this country to do something just because Jesus would (though it is the job of this government to serve the needs of all citizens, not just those who are easiest).

exclusionBut just because we Christians cannot demand our government act in a certain way, we ourselves must do so. It’s easy to point fingers, but what about us?

Who are our churches excluding? Who is it we would really rather weren’t part of our communities? What do we do without realising that turns people away? Are we afraid of the messiness of doing life with certain types of people? How do we inadvertently tell people they’re not welcome? What names do we create for those people?

I am beginning to lead on our church’s use of the internet, digital and social media. I believe this is an important thing for the church to take hold of. But I would be horrified if I discovered that promoting Jesus-centred use of social media led others to believe that because they don’t have a Facebook account they are no longer welcome. I need to be careful about that.

We must include everyone, and nothing should be a barrier to that.

So I pray the government would rethink. I pray the government would reach out to the marginalised with inclusion. And I pray I would too.

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Jun 042014

Last night my church did something that reminded me of one of my favourite things ever. It was a joint church prayer meeting. May not sound much, but I loved it. It embodied one of the best things ever:

Churches being united.

Mixed hands linked together in unity

I grew up in a youth group run by people from a number of local churches. A few of us from my church helped at another church’s children’s holiday club. In my previous job, one of the best things was the really close relationship between the local churches. I was even given space in their office to work from. I love it!

Church unity makes me so so excited, and here are some reasons why.

It’s good for us

A church is a family. I love my own family very dearly, and I think there are splendid things about us. But I also know there are pretty odd things about us too. Not all families are like ours, and that’s fine. In fact it’s good – it would be rubbish if every family were like the Criddles.

A local church can have many marvellous things about it, too. But it can also have its own quirks, flaws and foibles. There isn’t a single church in the world for whom that isn’t true. When we come together with other churches, we learn from each other. We Baptists have oodles to learn from our Catholic brothers and sisters. They have plenty to learn from us.

And beyond just learning from one another, unity keeps us grounded, reminds us we aren’t the big picture. The big picture is the whole worldwide Church that Jesus is forming for Himself all over the world. This is what Paul says about that Church:

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:4-6)

Could it be any clearer? We are one. Everything about us – from start to finish – should drip with unity. Remembering that, acting like that, helps us remember we aren’t the real deal. We’re part of something bigger, and that should inspire us!

unity pope archbishopIt’s good for our communities

Just like the Church doesn’t exist just for those who are part of it, our unity shouldn’t exist just for us either. When we are united, we are better able to make an impact for Jesus in our communities.

As hard as we try, it’s difficult not to fall into the trap of being parochial. Do I want to see my own church growing? Yes. Of course I do, I want to see God on the move and doing things through my church. That isn’t wrong. What is wrong is that desire becoming greater than wanting to see the kingdom of God grow in my community. That is far more important.

When we honestly come together from different churches to work together, we’re forced to leave our parochial mindset at the door and work for something far bigger than us. When we do that, we can be far more effective at serving and reaching our local community for Christ.

I believe that’s why some of the most exciting and fruitful projects I’ve ever been part of have been those run by churches working together, not just one church.

It’s good for the gospel

This is the biggest one for me. The night He was betrayed, Jesus prayed to His Father. A chunk of that prayer was for the unity of His Church. This is what He prayed:

I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (John 17:22-23)

Jesus prayed that we would have unity so that the world will know Jesus was sent by God and loves us. Our unity is itself a proclamation of the gospel!

Today, the church is known for squabbling and bickering amongst ourselves, and it is not good for the gospel. Why would people take us seriously when we can’t even get on? If a group so disparate, so diverse, so different from one another can really know unity, someone somewhere is going to wonder what (who?) is holding us together.

I’m not expecting global church unity to happen overnight, but I will pray for it, and take any and every opportunity to work with other Christians, churches and denominations, to increase the peace, harmony and unity of the Church. Jesus prayed that I would.

And He prayed that you would too.

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I’m in the news!

Jun 032014

I’ve been a little quiet on here in the last few weeks. It’s nothing personal. I’ve been on holiday with my wife, and haven’t blogged while away. Normal service will resume shortly, I promise!

In the meantime, here’s a fun thing – that post I wrote about Ricky Gervais back in January has made local news! Here’s the clipping from the newspaper:

news clipping

You can also read the article online by clicking here.

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