Monday, February 28, 2011

Encouragement - Barnabas

Acts 4:36-37 introduces us to a character called Barnabas:

Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.

Barnabas is a relatively unheralded figure in the New Testament, you don't hear too many sermons about the life of Barnabas, yet it is quite possible that without his gift of encouragement the apostle Paul would never have got tied in with the apostles in Jerusalem, and Mark may never have written his gospel. The gift of encouragement can be that powerful. It isn't just about saying a few nice words which are quickly forgotten, but can change the trajectory of another persons life.

There are some people, like Barnabas, who have the gift of encouragement. Everyone they meet ends up being taken up in their lift. They're the people everyone wants to be around, not because they've got a great sense of humour or have incredible stories to tell, but because when you're with them you feel stronger, more able to face what life throws at you and closer to God. If you've got that gift then use it everywhere you go. But just as all of us should look to prophesy, even if we haven't got the gift of prophesy, all of us should look to be encouragers, even if we haven't got the gift.

There are four aspects of the life of Barnabas we're going to look at:
  • Practical acts of encouragement
  • Giving people a first chance
  • Giving people a second chance
  • Stepping aside for others to develop
Have fun being an encourager!


Sunday, February 27, 2011

Kerith at the Oscars

Next Sunday evening (6th March), we're going to be doing our own version of the Oscars, spending an evening celebrating all the amazing volunteers in our community. We will have all the normal elements of the Oscars with red carpets, awards and tear filled acceptance speeches (well maybe not any tears). We'll also have refreshments, some worship and generally have a really fun evening together.

I have to admit that we haven't done as good a job of advertising this evening as we should  have. I'm sorry about that, but if you are a Kerith volunteer the please come along, and please let others in our community who serve know as well. Even if you're not currently a volunteer, please come along and join in the fun! In the morning we'll be continuing our Old Testament series, so if you're normally a morning attender then please plan to come out both morning and evening.

Hope to see you there, you might even be a winner!


Friday, February 25, 2011

C.H. Spurgeon - Lectures to My Students Volume 1

For anyone thinking of leading a church, preaching on a regular basis, leading worship or leading a ministry this would be one of the books I would make mandatory reading (for church leaders the other two if I could choose only three would be "The Purpose Driven Church" by Rick Warren and "Courageous Leadership" by Bill Hybels).

The book is a series of talks given by Charles Spurgeon to his students on public speaking, church leadership, self leadership, leading meetings and so much more. Although written well over 100 years ago it comes with such clarity and relevance for today, as well as being incredibly humorous and easy to read. There a topics covered here I've never heard covered by anyone else, either in written or spoken form. Just to give you a flavour, the chapters include:

  • How to know if God has called you to lead a church
  • How to pray in private
  • How to pray in a public setting
  • Which books to buy if you can't afford to buy lots
  • The causes of depression in church leadership, and how to deal with depression (so relevant after the Cloudy Days in Summer conference)
  • How to tell stories
  • How to work out what passage to preach on any given Sunday
  • How to use and develop your voice
  • How to relate to people outside of a Sunday church meeting setting
That's only a flavour of what's in volume one, there are three more volumes which I can't wait to read (although I've got some other things to read first).

If you're a speaker or leader I challenge you to get hold of a copy and read it - you won't regret it. You can get it on Kindle and other eBook formats for only 70p - outrageous value!


Thursday, February 24, 2011


This Sunday we're going to look at the story of the prophet Amos. The astute amongst you will realise that this doesn't really follow on from Abraham last week (unless of course we were preaching through the Old Testament characters alphabetically), in fact Amos comes much later in the story of Israel. However, we do like to mix things up at Kerith, so along our journey through the Old Testament story we will be taking some detours to look at some specific characters and subject - Amos is the first of those detours.

The prophet Amos wrote this book around 760-750BC, to warn Israel (the Northern Kingdom - by this time the nation had split in two - the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Southern Kingdom of Judah) of God's coming judgement on them, and to call them to repent from their idolatory and self righteouness. Sadly they failed to repent, and history tells us that in 722BC Israel was defeated by Assyria. However, the book finishes with hope, pointing to a day when the nation will be restored again. You can find a brief overview of the book here.

In advance of Sunday please have a go at reading Amos. It's only 9 chapters long, so will take you less time to read than you'll spend watching the evening news! If you're not a great reader then you can find an audio version here. Ask God to speak to you as you listen to / read it. Perhaps pick out one verse which particularly speaks to you, encourages you or challenges you. I have to admit that I love it in chapter 9 verse 13 where it talks about new wine coming in abundance - it reminds me of someone else who talked about new wine coming :-)

Hope to catch you Sunday.


Monday, February 21, 2011

Encouragement - How Many Floors?

Following on from my blog on my lift theory, Steve Lyes emailed me about a Christian author called David Seamands who writes about the theory of strokes. The idea is that positive strokes enhance us and build us up, negative strokes hurt and diminish us. To fit in with my lift theory I'm going to rename strokes as floors (hopefully I won't get into any trouble for doing that).

Here's the interesting thing about the theory. Not all encouragements or discouragements are created equal. Everything we do has a number of floors (strokes) associated with it. Here's how it works.

If you point out something positive about a specific thing a person has done, that takes them up one floor. So for instance "thanks for that cup of tea you made me" is a one floor up encouragement. But pointing out something positive about who somebody is, that is worth ten floors. So saying to somebody "I love the sense of joy you bring into my life" will take them up the equivalent of ten comments on specific things they have done.

It gets more scary on the negative side. Criticising somebody for something specific they have or haven't done will take them down ten floors. So "why didn't you buy beans when you went to the shop" is a ten floor criticism. But criticising somebody for who they are will take them down one hundred floors - "why are you always so unthoughtful" has ten times the negative impact of "where are the beans"!

I thought that all sounded a bit extreme, until I began to review things that people have said and written to me in the past. I often barely remember the encouragements and the positive things people have said, but could repeat in forensic detail some of the negatives that have come my way. I'd be very surprised if you are very different. I remember in particular a respected Christian leader in another church who once told me that I had "let myself down, had failed the elders and was an embarrassment to our church" over something I had done. Even though it was several years ago, I can still remember the conversation as if it was yesterday. If I'm honest that was a several thousand floor experience, and still in my darkest moments gets replayed in my mind  with a fear that it might be true (fortunately when I sat down and talked to the elders about it Ben Davies just laughed and told me to totally ignore it - one of the many reasons I love Ben so dearly).

So let's be very careful about our words, and recognise the power of what we say. There will be times when we need to say discouraging things to people and face them up with truth (more about that in a future blog), but let's make sure that on balance we take people up rather than down. Why not have a go at analysing you conversations over the next few days and see overall whether you have taken the people in your world up or down in your lift.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on floor theory!


Saturday, February 19, 2011

Update on Howard & Elizabeth

For those of you not able to follow the tweets from Howard and Elizabeth Reece-Smith on their epic bike ride from Nairobi to Serenje to raise money for the operating theatre in Serenje, I've included their last few tweets below (I've taken the liberty of trying to turn some of Howard's text language into English - apologies if I got any of the translations wrong!).

If you want to sponsor them then take a look here, and if none of this makes any sense have a look at my previous blog about what they're up to!



12th Feb - In Nairobi. Bikes all prepared and none the worse for the journey. Bags packed. Off we go at first light tomorrow.

13th Feb - In Kajaido. Hard ride with 20 miles of potholes and 15miles of headwind. Accomodation in Anglican guesthouse - supper included. Bikes going well.

14th Feb - At Longido, 30 kms south of Tanzanian border. Very good road, damp cool morning, pleasant guest house.

15th Feb - Arusha. Hard day, little sleep and no breakfast. Lots of hills and a headwind. Two sore bums, 4 tired legs. Now in hotel with hot water and good food!

16th Feb - Makuyuni 75kms west of Arusha. Muslim festival all night. Road variable, cool morning dilapidated accommodation in 4th room with cold water

17th Feb - Babati dodoma road impassable to bikes says civil engineer. Building new road. Booked on bus. God's provision as engineer only here as it is a chinese public holiday

Friday, February 18, 2011

Thoughts on Covenants

This Sunday we're going to be looking at the covenant God made with Abraham. Covenant isn't a word or a concept we deal with too much today, but one of the most powerful modern day expressions of a covenant would be the wedding vows. At a Kerith wedding we read words similar to these:

A covenant is the most solemn binding relationship into which two parties can enter. As a holy covenant made in the name of God, Christian marriage is a freely chosen, lifelong, exclusive relationship between the husband and wife under the authority of God. Marriage is not contract but a covenant. It is important to note the difference between a covenant and a contract. A covenant is based on trust and selflessness between parties; a contract is based on distrust and self-interest. A covenant is based on unlimited responsibility; a contract is based on limited liability. A covenant cannot be broken if new circumstances occur. A contract can be voided by mutual consent.

It's so important that we realise that God is not a contract making God, He's a covenant making God, and  there's a world of difference between the two. For a practical expression of this I can't do better than direct you to Andy Jackson's latest blog. Andy illustrates the difference between the two quite magnificently.

Incidentally, if anyone can tell me what writing course I need to go on to be able to write like Andy (and his daughter Ellie), then I'll gladly pay! I could spend my whole life blogging and never come up with anything to match Andy's closing sentence - "We may take vows in magnificent and beautiful sonnets but our love is proved in the mundane essays of our lives together".


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Old Testament Follow Up

On Sunday we looked at Genesis 3, and the consequences of sin entering the world. Next Sunday we are going to pick up the story in Genesis 12, where God makes a covenant with Abraham and begins to define the relationship between God and man.

In the meantime you might want to take a look at three parts of the story which we are going to skip over, but which demonstrate the spiralling descent into sin which results from the fall in Genesis 3.

These are:
- Genesis 4 where Cain murders Abel
- Genesis 6 and the story of Noah
- Genesis 11 and the tower of Babel

Whatever you do, please be engaging with the Bible this week, not just reading it but being encouraged, strengthened and changed by what you read. My reading this morning were the Passover in Exodus and the resurrection in Luke 24 - uber inspiring!

Hope you have a great day.


Monday, February 14, 2011

Encouragement - My Lift Theory

I have a theory about our everyday interactions with other people. It's this, that every time you speak to, email, text or phone another human being it's as though you get into a lift with them. The primary characteristic of lifts is that they can only go one of two ways, up or down (except of course the lift in Roald Dahl's masterpiece "Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator", but we won't worry about that). It's the same with our human interactions. Once you get into that lift with another person you are either going to take them up or down in their lift. You're going to leave them either encouraged or discouraged. The one thing you can't do is leave them exactly the same as you find them.

And it's up to you which way you take that other person. You can choose whether to take people up or down in their lift, by the words that you say and the way that you say them. That's why words are so important. The children's rhyme "stick's and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me" is such utter nonsense as to be dangerous. Words are so important, whether spoken or written. And not just words. Even making eye contact with another person across a room can be enough to take them up or down.

So two questions. First do you agree with my analysis of our human interactions? And if you do which way are you going to take people in their lift today?


Friday, February 11, 2011

Encouragement - Some Musings

I've been thinking quite a bit about encouragement recently. Personally I think encouragement is one of the most needed and under valued spiritual gifts in the church today. We talk lots about the gifts of healing and prophecy, and even get quite excited about gifts of giving, leadership and mercy, but encouragement never seems to make it onto our radar. Yet Paul lists it as one of the spiritual gifts in Rom 12:

We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

So over the next few weeks I'm going to put out a few blogs with some thoughts on encouragement, and taking a look at Barnabas who seems to be our ultimate example. Some of you will have heard me preach some of this stuff before, but I think it bears repeating.

So can I leave you with a thought. What is your encouragement ratio? What is the ratio of positive or encouraging things you say to others, versus the number of negative or discouraging things you say? And what would be the incoming ratio be - how much encouragement are you receiving right now? Why not monitor both of these over the next few days and see how you're doing, and let's see if we can get both those ratios up over the next few weeks.


Thursday, February 10, 2011

Sunday Reading

Ahead of Sunday you might want to read Genesis 3, and think about the tactics the devil used to tempt Adam and Eve to sin, and then the consequences of sin in their lives. Nothing much has changed since the days of Adam and Eve - what was true for them is true for us too, and there is much we can learn from their experience.

If you have time you might also want to head over into Genesis 4, and consider the question God asks Cain   - “Where is your brother Abel?”. Take a moment to ponder why God might ask a question He already knows the answer to!

It's going to be really good on Sunday. We've got a great drama to support the preach - come expecting God to speak to you and challenge you.


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Howard & Elizabeth - On Tour

On the 13th February Howard & Elizabeth Reece-Smith will begin a 1,500 mile cycle ride from Nairobi in Kenya to Serenje in Zambia, to raise the money to equip an operating theatre in Serenje hospital. You can watch a short video of them talking about the motivation behind the trip here.

At the outset of our partnership in Serenje our heart was always not just to link our church with churches in Serenje, but to link our community with their community. That has happened in a very real way with schools links. What Howard and Elizabeth are doing is just another expression of that desire, and I personally am very excited about it, and the change it will make in the lives of people out there. They are looking to raise about £25,000, with any money over and above what is needed to set up the operating theatre going to Project 125, the Girl's Dormitory project.

You can sponsor Howard and Elizabeth here. You can follow their progress on their twitter feed, although for those not on twitter I'll post their key updates to my blog and Facebook as well.

It makes me feel very unfit! Must get on with the half marathon training.


Tuesday, February 8, 2011

God's Undertaker by John Lennox

I've already had some good feedback on the Old Testament series we started on Sunday, and in particular on the short clip I showed of John Lennox, a Maths professor from Oxford University, speaking on the limitations of science.

I thought you might be interested to know that John Lennox has written a book, "God's Undertaker: Has Science Buried God", which examines this in much more detail. It's mostly very readable - he has a real ability to tell stories and explain things using simple analogies, as in the story of the cake he tells in the clip. If this sort of things interests you then you might also want to consider hanging out with my good friends John Mitchell and Jonathan Davis. They spend a lot of time in this world of apologetics, travelling to hear people like John Lennox speak on this and other subjects. If you don't know who they are grab me on a Sunday and I'll introduce you to them!

Please remember to read your Bible this week. It takes about 40 days for us to establish a habit, so it may take a while for you to get into a routine, but please persevere as there are such riches to be found as we dig into God's word. Why not look again at Genesis 1 and 2 from Sunday, and then look ahead to Genesis 3 which we'll be digging in to next Sunday.


Thursday, February 3, 2011

Three Reminders

First of all it's the Cloudy Days in Summer conference this Saturday. There are around 200 people already booked in, but if you haven't yet registered you can still turn up and register on the day (still at a cost of £10). Don't forget that The Kerith Centre car park will be reserved for the elderly and disabled, so you'll need to park in town centre car parks if you don't fit into one of those categories. Hope to see you there.

Secondly this Sunday we start our Old Testament series. As preparation please read Genesis chapters 1 and 2. I'm really looking forward to it.

Finally next Tuesday is our once a term All Leaders Meeting. If you're a Kerith leader, and haven't had an invite, then please consider yourself invited! It will be in K2, starting at 7.45 with refreshments. There is quite a lot of news to share (some of it very exciting), so please plan to be there if you are a leader in any context within Kerith.

You are a wonderful bunch!


Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Sunday Evening Changes

Those of you who are Sunday evening regulars may have noticed that we've started to change things around a bit. I thought I'd write a blog to explain some of the changes and the thinking behind them, both for you Sunday evening regulars and others who may be interested in what we're up to.

Since we went to doing three meetings on a Sunday the plan has been that Sunday evening would generally have the same preach as the morning (unless we've got a guest speaker, or for some other reason such as Mother's Day it makes sense to make the morning and evening different), but with a different "feel" to the meeting (I used to describe it as "louder and darker", although I'm not sure that's the best way to describe it!). Our 'target' audience has always been 15-30's, although I've been delighted to see people of all ages really enjoying and feeling a part of what goes on.

Now we've been doing three meetings for two years we felt it was a good time to change things around a bit. Some of these changes are in response to suggestions people have made, others are things we feel will help make the evening more effective. Changes we have / will be making include:

  • Having a shorter time of worship at the beginning of the meeting so that there's time to worship again after the preach. This should also mean more opportunity for ministry time where we can pray for people who want to respond to what they've heard.
  • We will have an interview every week with someone from our community. We want to hear the stories of what God is doing amongst us, so will be interviewing people of all ages and backgrounds, people who are new to Kerith and people who have been here for years, basically anyone with a story to tell. If you'd like to be considered please speak to Lee Layton-Matthews.
  • In the evening we will have a shorter version of the morning preach. It will be down to each preacher to work out how to do that, but in essence we will aim to cover the same material but in less time. rather than leaving anything out (the preach will probably be about 30 minutes, as opposed to 40 minutes in the morning).
  • We will do a Q&A after the preach (unless the preach doesn't really lend itself to Q&A). Initially we'll do this roving microphones in the balcony and downstairs, although we might experiment with questions via text or twitter. If you're a morning regular and have questions from what you heard in the morning you might want to come back in the evening and ask them there.
  • Having a detach team who work with the young people who hang around on the sofas in the Kerith Centre lounge rather than coming into the meeting. We're looking into growing this team, so please let me know if you'd be interested in getting involved with this.
Generally the three meetings have worked very well, with growing numbers at all three and good feedback from people coming. I'd love to hear your feedback though, both on these changes and anything else you'd like to see done at our gatherings.


Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Tony Blair - A Journey

You may know that I'm on a drive to read mostly old books this year. However, before Christmas I started reading Tony Blair's autobiography, A Journey, which I have just finished and which I have to admit I really enjoyed. I'm not sure I was expecting to find it such an interesting read, but whatever you think of Tony Blair he is a fascinating character. As I read it I was particularly challenged as I reflected on my own leadership. Things that really struck me were:

  • The reality that leaders have to make decisions. Actually in his time as Prime Minister he made some very good decisions (over issues such as Northern Ireland, Kosovo and Sierra Leone) as well as some which many would now question (Iraq or Afghanistan for instance). However, as a leader you can't escape the fact that after having heard the facts, you have to make a choice and then stand or fall on the choices you make.
  • Not being able to "do God" when he was in charge. I'm so grateful to be in a leadership position where I can "do God", and in fact couldn't begin to imagine doing what I do without "doing God" in a very public way.
  • The dysfunctional relationship with Gordon Brown at the heart of his team. Made me feel so grateful for the fabulous team I have around me, and the way we can be open, disagree, laugh and cry together, but at the end of the day all be pulling in the same direction to achieve the same goal.
  • The seriousness of leadership. For Tony Blair the decisions he made meant life or death for some of our armed forces - that's an incredible responsibility. But the decisions I make can have eternal consequences - in many ways that's an even bigger responsibility.
  • The wisdom which has come from his years in government. I found the last chapter of the book particularly compelling as he reflects on the problems we face in the world today, and the steps we need to take to resolve them. We must never stop learning from the wisdom of those who have already been there and done it - which leads me back into reading more old books!
Definitely worth reading, although given it's size I wish I'd had the Kindle version!