Thursday, August 28, 2008

A Healthy Church?

Back once again to the Purpose-Driven Church movement. They give out awards for having a healthy church, which seem to be assessed entirely on their standard criteria - does the church have an explicit and deliberate emphasis on worship, discipleship, fellowship, evangelism and service? Problem is, plenty of churches can have that and be chronically unhealthy.

Here are some extra questions...

  • Is the preaching normally preaching systematically through the Bible rather than just whatever the preacher wants to say that week?
  • Are Christians there excited about Jesus?
  • Do visitors actually feel welcome?
  • What is the drop-out rate through the youth work, right up until they are fully integrated into the main body of the church? Ideally, it should be negative.
  • How well are different social groups integrated? Do people primarily love and mix with other people like them or do all members of the church genuinely learn from people from different social, economic, age backgrounds?
  • If the church stopped being all about God, how long would people take to notice?
  • Does the worship reflect well on the worship band or on God?
  • Does the preaching reflect well on the preacher or on God?

Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Good Shepherd

I was visiting an old Catholic church in Olinda, Brazil with a Brazillian pastor friend of mine. On the roof of one of the rooms was a painting of a bloke with a beard (presumably meant to be Jesus) and the words "EGO SUM PASTOR BONUS". My initial reaction was surprise that I could understand it so easily, before realising that was because it was Latin, not Portuguese. I was then slightly surprised at how similar it is to the Portuguese "Eu sou o bom pastor", whereas it translates into English as "I am the good shepherd", from John 10:11 (and 10:14). And yes, I know, Latin-derived languages and all.

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
John 10:11, TNIV

And that got me thinking. We're so familiar with those words and the ideas behind them we think "yeah, yeah". Bad shepherds - run away when wolves come or whatever (as in v12-13). Only in it for themselves (as in v13 and v8). Jesus isn't like the bad shepherds in Ezekiel 34 or whatever, because they didn't look after the flock, but Jesus will. But we miss the huge force of what Jesus is saying.

The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
No he doesn't. Sure, a good shepherd will try to protect the flock from wolves or whatever, and he will care about the sheep rather than just his wage packet, but a good shepherd wouldn't seriously endanger his own life for a bunch of stupid wooly grass-eating dimwit quasi-suicidal animals. That would be utterly stupid. The shepherd should know that at the end of the day, he is still far more important than his stupid sheep. Yes, a good shepherd cares for his sheep but what sort of shepherd lays down his life for the sheep? A crazy one. One who has his sense of value all mixed up. What would the funeral be like? "What a great guy, he died so these sheep we're going to eat for lunch could last another couple of days." Mad.

But I think that's closer to the point. The point isn't so much that Jesus is being a good shepherd and looking after his flock well in comparison to the other shepherds, who didn't look after the sheep and were in it for themselves, though that of course is in there. But Jesus is going crazily overboard in the other direction - he is the shepherd who of course is worth far far more than the sheep (us) but who loves us so much he dies for us anyway.

Jesus is such a good shepherd that he goes beyond our notion of what good means into what seems to us to be totally crazy love for us. That is how much he cares for us, that shows us how he leads us. What a contrast to the way even the world's idea of what a good leader is and does!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Luther on Apologetics and God's Love

Rather than ask why God permits men to be hardened and fall into everlasting perdition, ask why God did not spare his only Son, but gave him for us all, to die the ignominious death of the cross, a more certain sign of His love towards us poor people than of his wrath against us. Such questions cannot be better solved and answered than by converse questions...

It seems best not to inquire why God sometimes, our of his divine counsels, wonderfully wise and unsearchable to human reason and understanding, has mercy on this man. We should know without doubt that he does nothing without certain cause and counsel. Truly, if God were to give an account to every one of his works and actions, he would be but a poor, simple God.

Martin Luther, Table Talk

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Brazil 18 - Some of What I've Learnt

An old friend asked me if I'd learnt anything in Brazil. This was my reply...

I suppose the biggest thing has been something of what it means to trust God without holding onto any material things. But also a lot about people - about how women are still house-proud when all they have is a one-room shack, how ugly society can get when material advancement is prioritised at the expense of everything else, the way that corruption can lead to so much suffering and yet the people who own virtually nothing and live in an illegally-erected shack which is semi-permanently a foot deep in dirty water are often happier than those who are working 70 or 80 hour weeks with the luxury beachside appartments. Except when they've watched one or both of their parents be murdered - that seems to upset people quite a lot, but I've even seen hope for them.

I've seen the difference that one woman can make to individual lives and to an area by planting a church on a rubbish dump where the human life expectancy is 26 and where people thought of themselves as little more than cockroaches. I've seen the way that witchcraft always seems to take hold in the lowest places, and something of the way that Jesus can break that hold.

So yes, I've learnt quite a bit. ;o)

Returning and Blog Networks

I'm leaving Brazil tomorrow (hopefully), and should be back in the UK soon. Still lots to say, about all sorts of things.

I've also started using the Facebook blog network application. If you're on facebook, and you read this blog, feel free to add it on the blog network thing. Or not.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Brazil 17 - Andressa Duarte

I've been in Brazil for 5 and a half weeks now, and I think I've been shown this video 5 times. It's well worth watching, and it's only 5 minutes or so.

For those who don't speak Portuguese (like me!), here's a translation:

Life is a countdown...

Hope, framed in the smile

the mission, engraved in the heart


Sunday - Public Evangelism

And on Sundays, the radio, I start with the devotional.

there's some time for the children, where I tell them some stories,

then later, there are prizes,

and this is the schedule for every Sunday.

Monday - Witnessing

[Andressa Duarte Barragana - 14 years old] Monday, I study in the morning...

and in the afternoon we do a lot of missionary work.

Tuesday - Humanitarian Help and Bible Class

Tuesday, I visit the nursing home.

There we sing, pray, we play...

There are some people, that are so lonely, you know?

they really open their hearts to us.

Wednesday - Social Work

Wednesday we get together at my house,

to work with the community co-op.

We do decoupage, roofing tile decoration,

We do... glass work, picture-framing, we decorate refrigerator magnets,

lots of arts and crafts

'cause the families that work at the co-op are very poor families.

Friday - Intercessory Prayer

Friday, I started a group for intercessory prayer.

So each kid gets these prayer requests, that comes from several churches,

and pray for the name they get on that little piece of paper.

The intercessory prayer, it's very interesting, because

many requests were already answered through our prayers, you know?

Because there is power in prayer.

Sabbath - Personal Evangelism

On Sabbath I wake up a little earlier and invite some kids to go to church

So, that's what my week is like.


On that Sabbath, the same week, I was baptized, then next Thursday I started the small group.

The first person that I went to was Robert. I told him,

Robert, you're going to be very important for this small Group, Robert.

One would take the roll call, the other was a deacon, the other a receptionist, the other a deaconess,

the other would distribute the handouts,

but, every one that had a position there,

they had to bring 2 friends.

So, the number of children was increasing.

From 10 to 20, then 25... today there are about 45 kids there.

The interesting thing is that through my small group it was possible to do all these missionary work.

I'm a normal kid, because

I study, I play, when I have time. I enjoy my parents,

Hang out with my sisters...

Jesus give us 24 hours.

If we take 1 hour to do missionary work,

distribute a pamphlet, a bible study course,

...because... Jesus is coming,

He is showing the signs, the prophecies.

All that is being fulfilled

If we don't do our part now,

If we want to do it tomorrow, maybe there will be no time.

and there was no more time

March 22th, 2008. 7:15 am, Sabbath - Pelotas/RS/Brazil. Last day of Easter Week.

While Andressa was on her way to preach at her church, her car crashed into a truck.

At that automobile tragedy, 4 women passed away.

Including Andressa, 14 years old.

In the little time she lived, she did much.

More than 100 people were baptized, and innumerable others were influenced by her example.

She did all she could, while she could.

How about you?

"If we don't do our part now, If we want to do it tomorrow, maybe there will be no time."

"If we don't do our part now, If we want to do it tomorrow, maybe there will be no time." Andressa Barragana (1994 - 2008)

I live for Jesus

Transcription from here, which seems to use a Creative Commons license.

Brazil 16 - Weddings

I had the privilege of attending a Brazillian wedding the other day (and even some of the reception). I hardly knew the bride or groom, so it all felt a bit odd, but thank you very much to them and the others who made that possible. Here are a few quick reflections on major differences from English weddings. Well, the ones I've been to anyway...

  • Timing - Brazillian weddings are normally in the evenings. This meant that the starters at the reception (buffet) were at about 11:30pm. I left shortly before midnight, so I don't know what time the main course was.
  • Dress - men were in suits and ties (which are as smart as Brazillians get - apparently it's what they wear for university graduations, but not for work). As a result, many of the suits probably fit the wearers better a few years before... Women were mostly in evening wear / ballgowns, which created a bit of an odd mix. The groom was in a smart jacket, white shirt and silver tie. Close friends of the groom were also in suits, with a matching buttonhole.
  • Children - it is normal in Brazil to have a young boy dressed as the groom and a young girl dressed as the bride. They come down the aisle together and feature in some of the traditional Brazillian wedding photos. And no, they weren't the couple's kids.
  • Parents - the groom enters the church with his mother before the bride enters with her father. Both sets of parents had throne-type seats on the stage, facing sideways and just behind where the bride and groom were standing. At one point all four parents gathered round the couple to pray for them.
  • Photographers - I think I counted 4 official-looking photographers, and three video recordists, one of whom had a very bright light he shone at people when recording them. They were swarming all over the place, often being almost in the faces of people taking part in the service. It was not unusual to have a very restricted view of the bride and groom because of photographers.
  • Official photographs - there were quite a few (including groups) taken in the church immediately after the service, but before the bride and groom processed out. The congregation sat quietly and watched.
  • At one point, the bridesmaid processed up the aisle with a single rose with a ribbon tied round it. But she seemed to keep the flower and ribbon afterwards - I don't know what the point of that was.

Brazil 15 - Politics 2 - The Force of Madness

Well, it seems as if good old Nilton has pretty much stopped with the noisy vans and the flag wavers and so on, which leaves the main person doing the campaigning as being Andre Campos. In the interests of equal-opportunity blogging, I thought I'd give you some reasons not to vote for Andre "The Force of Madness" Campos...

  • He is incapable of smiling (see above picture), and yet his face seems to be better than any of his policies, which aren't mentioned.
  • He can't count either. There are clearly two people named on the election poster (his proposed vice-prefeito is in the small print at the bottom), but three faces. Or maybe him or his vice-prefeito is just very two-faced.
  • He has the biggest and the loudest loudspeaker vans. If an Andre Campos van is driving past your block, and you have the misfortune to be on the ground floor, you can't hear loud rock music. He is therefore the least considerate of all the candidates.
  • He appears to be some kind of communist (see above picture).
  • As well as the forms of campaigning which never should have been legal, he still uses some of the forms of campaigning which are no longer legal, like painting on walls, which is apparently Officially Naughty now. All the people I've seen actually painting political stuff on walls (rather than political stuff that was already painted) have been painting Campos.
  • In common with the other candidates, he is reported to have offered assistance to several church groups, but only if they agree to endorse him.
  • The poorest area I have been to in this city had all the walls plastered with Campos slogans, which suggested he is the buyer-in-chief of the votes of the poor.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Purpose-Driven Movement - A Reassessment

My initial reaction to much of the Purpose-Driven movement was that there is a fair bit of wisdom there, but little that is distinctively Christian. There is little emphasis on doctrine, and actually the book Purpose-Driven Church would work pretty much just as well for a mosque, synagogue or health club. And quite a few of the organisations that subscribe to the Purpose-Driven philosophy seem somewhat batty.

Over the last few weeks, I've seen some more of the movement. I've read bits of Doug Fields' book Purpose Driven Youth Ministry, and I've met and heard talks by some of the Purpose Driven Worship team from Highlands Fellowship, whose website includes this rather strong recommendation of Rick Warren's work:

God had given Pastor Rick Warren his plan for our generation, and now Jimmie knew that God had the same in mind for the church in Abingdon. [That's Abingdon, Virginia, USA, not the original one.]

And I have to say (despite the above quote) that I have been generally very impressed by what I have seen. Both groups - both Doug Fields and the folk from Highlands have stressed the importance and priority of the youth worker / music group member's relationship with and dependence upon God even above their skill as a youth leader or musician. Both of them seem to be using the "purpose-driven" approach simply to mean the importance of thinking through what you are doing and the way you are doing it beforehand, and aiming it all to God's glory.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Brazil 14 - You Might be Brazillian If...

All anecdotal...

  • The "sweet biscuits" section in your local supermarket is larger than the tinned / processed vegetable section and the pasta section put together, and you think this is normal.
  • If you are trying to get to sleep, and there is a loud and not-especially efficient fan in the room, you would turn it on.
  • You think that an acceptable way of reserving your parking space on the pavement is surrounding it with ankle-high black chains, ready for some unsuspecting numpty (me, for example) to trip over them while walking at night.
  • You think that a postal service which might deliver to your house / flat every 10 days or so is normal.
  • You are surprised if anyone maintains the building they live in.
  • Most people you know have both black and white recent ancestry (Brazil has almost total mixing, in large part because it was founded on mixed marriages).
  • Given that, you do not remark on the fact that most people on Brazillian TV programs are whiter than average, and most people in the slums are blacker than average.
  • You see lots of skyscrapers every day, but have never seen a crane that builds them. (The Brazillians seem to do without, and don't seem to have the big girders in theirs. My guess is that makes them much harder to maintain, and it's much harder to tell how safe they are.)
  • Faced with a choice between doing something the labour intensive way and using a machine to do it, you employ people to do it the labour-intensive way. Labour here is very cheap.
  • You think that cheap plastic garden furniture is completely normal for use indoors.
  • You think that the main function of canals is to dump "used water" into.
  • You think that the Falklands War is really interesting, and you aren't British. (My guess - it's because Argentina lost, and the Brazillians like that).
  • On entering a shared dormitory where people are already asleep, you carry on talking in a loud voice.
  • Regardless of physical and financial conditions, you stay cheerful.
  • You think the main purpose of fire escapes is storage.


Ah, the Olympics. Which raises my question about swimming...

I can understand why swimming is an Olympic sport. But a simple analogy with running demonstrates the injustice. If swimming in different styles is considered a separate discipline, why not running in different styles? If someone can get medals at swimming in backstroke, breaststroke, freestyle, etc, why isn't there a medal for 100m running backwards or 100m running with hands in pockets? Given that, it's hardly surprising that there's always some swimming bloke up for winning a ridiculous number of medals.

And, for that matter, if there are different weight classes in weighlifting, so you can have a medal for the weedy guy who can lift the most, why aren't there weight classes in the shot-put or height classes in the long-jump?

It just seems unfair. It looks as if the athletics, which after all is the really headline-grabbing Olympic stuff, is being deliberately discriminated against when it comes to awarding medals.

My preference? Scrap weight classes and swimming styles and everything. Have medals for mens and womens swimming, at 100m, 200m, etc. And they can swim however they want to, same as with the running. Or with the weightlifting or fighting or whatever, they can be whatever weight they want.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Sermon on Matthew 14:22-33

Yesterday I found myself preaching twice, with translation into Portuguese. This is roughly what I said... The passage was Jesus walking on water from Matthew 14:22-33 because I don't think it's right for the preacher to choose the passage, and that was what the C of E lectionary said...

Today is Fathers' Day. I wonder what your memories of your fathers are like. Maybe they are bad and painful, maybe they are good. Maybe you don't remember your father. Maybe today is happy for you or maybe it is sad. But wherever we are, I think today's passage has something important to tell us about what it means for God to be our perfect Father.

I want to tell you about one memory I have of my father. I was only a boy then, and I was learning to ride a bicycle, but I was very scared of falling off. So we went to somewhere where there were not many cars, and my dad made me practice. I would try to ride the bicycle, and he would run along behind, holding it. After we had been going for a while, he told me that he often let go – that I had been riding the bicycle on my own, without him holding it.

That is one of the most important things that fathers do – they teach us how to do things and then help us feel that we can do them.

In some ways, that is very like what God does for his people in this passage, and in some ways it is very different.

To help us understand this passage more clearly, we will think about it as four events – four moments in the life of Jesus.

The first moment is that Jesus prayed. Jesus prayed. I want you to picture the scene. It is evening, the sun is setting, Jesus has sent the disciples and the crowds away, and he goes up a mountain to pray. It would be easy for me to talk here about how important prayer is – that even Jesus, God himself in human flesh, saw the need to pray to God for a long time, even until three or four o'clock in the morning. That means he was praying for about 9 hours. Jesus saw that praying was so important that he was willing to spend 9 hours praying when he could have been with his friends or sleeping. And it is critically important that we understand that, but that isn't where I would like to focus our attention this afternoon.

You see, Jesus had climbed a mountain, and was praying, while his disciples were in a storm on the lake. The Sea of Galilee, where they were, is a big lake, maybe 30 kilometers across, with a ring of mountains all around it. When Jesus was up the mountain, he would have known what the weather was like on the lake. He would have known that the disciples were in a storm, and he was praying. Quite possibly, there was a storm up on the mountain too – mountains tend to get very stormy, and yet he kept praying.

Jesus sent his disciples into a storm, and they did not know where he was. And yet he knew where they were, and he remained where he was, praying.

Is this what we feel like sometimes? Do we sometimes feel as if Jesus has sent us into a situation, and things have turned difficult, and we do not know where he is. Because that is what we see here.

It is like me as a boy riding the bike, if the first time I had been riding the bike, I turned round and suddenly could not see my father, I would have been terrified. But my father did not let go to start with, and when he did let go he kept running behind the bike so that if I looked round he would be there. He only let me ride off on my own once I felt more confident doing it.

And this is not the first time the disciples had been in a storm on the lake. In chapter 8, Jesus was with the disciples in a storm like this, but he was asleep in the boat. They woke Jesus up, he told the storm to calm down, and it was calm. They already knew that Jesus could defeat storms on the lake. But this time Jesus pushes them a bit further – it is a storm when they cannot see Jesus with them. And that is often how Jesus deals with us. He teaches us to trust him through difficult situations, then when we learn to trust him there, he teaches us to trust him in situations that are a bit more difficult. He is gentle with us – he does not give us more than we can bear.

But there is a big difference between Jesus and my father as well. When I was learning to ride a bike, the aim was that eventually I would be able to ride my bike without my father around – good earthly fathers teach us to be more and more independent from them.

But that is not what God is like, because God is not an earthly father. With earthly fathers, eventually we need to learn to be totally independent of them, and though we might still love them and respect them, we do not rely on them for everything. But with God, it is the opposite. As we grow up as Christians, we need to learn more and more to trust him in everything. We need to learn to become like little children in the way we rely on God.

So what the disciples need to learn here is that even when they cannot see Jesus with them, even when they cannot feel him with them, he is still in control and they can still trust him.

And the same is true for us. Even when it feels as if Jesus is not there, he is still in control, he still loves us, he does not abandon us, he is still praying for us – yes, Jesus, the one who made the universe by his powerful word is now praying for us with his words. He has promised always to be with us by his Spirit.

The second moment in this passage is when Jesus walks on the water. Jesus walks on the water. In the Bible, seas and lakes always represent chaos and uncertainty, especially when there is a storm. And this time, Jesus shows his complete control over the sea by just walking over it. It's far better than what the Israelites did when they came out of Egypt, when God sent a wind to make a path through the sea. Here, the wind is making the sea worse, and Jesus just walks on over it. He shows that he is totally in control. Whatever the situation is, however chaotic it is, Jesus is Lord over it.

But the disciples' first reaction is fear. They don't know what's going on, they don't understand it. And so they are afraid. And Jesus speaks to them immediately. He tells them not to be afraid, but the reason that they shouldn't be afraid isn't anything to do with his power. Jesus isn't safe. He is terrifyingly powerful, but the reason that the disciples should not be afraid is that “It is I”. The reason we should not be afraid of God is that we know what he is like. We know that he loves us. But more than that, the words Jesus uses to say “It is I” are the same words God used when he appeared to Moses in the burning bush. Jesus is saying that the disciples should not be afraid because he is the God of Israel – he is the God who has shown for centuries his love for his people and the way that he keeps his promises. We can trust God because we know what he is like, and we know that he loves us, and that he always sticks with his people.

The third moment is when Peter walks on the water. Peter walks on the water. And this is wonderful.

verse 28 “Lord, if it is you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.” Peter sees Jesus' power. Peter knows that God is the sort of God who wants us to rely on him, who wants to get us out of places where we are comfortable so that we rely on him only. But at the same time, he is not mad. He does not just think that all that matters is trusting that God will help us – he knows that what matters is trusting that God will help us when we obey him. He does not just step out of the boat – he asks Jesus to tell him to step out of the boat, because when God commands us to do something, God's word is powerful and he enables us to do what he has commanded.

When I see pictures of this, or imagine it, it is almost always a lovely calm day, with still water. But this is in the middle of a storm. Peter trusts Jesus, he trusts the power of his words, that if Jesus tells him to walk on water in a storm, he can do it. What wonderful faith! What wonderful longing to be with Jesus, to lose everything that makes him comfortable!

Where are we comfortable? What is it that makes us feel that we are safe, that everything is ok? Because Jesus wants us to learn to trust him without any of that. We have to be willing to let go of it and step out on the water, trusting only Jesus.

Of course, it may well be that God sends us back to where we are comfortable, but the key is learning to trust him.

I do not know you. I don't know what you trust apart from Jesus. But I can tell you about what God has done for me over these last few weeks in Brazil.

In England, I used to be a science teacher in high school. I gave that up to go to seminary, and moved from a house to one room. But I was still comfortable there, with a lot of books and a car and a wonderful girlfriend. When I came here, I had to leave all of that behind. Normally, I love speaking in English and listening to people speak. I like to sit down and talk for a long time. But now I am in Brazil, where not many people speak much English. Almost all the things I brought with me from England have either broken or been lost for a while while I am in Brazil. There have been times when I have not been able to speak to my girlfriend, or have not been able to eat food. I am here in Brazil for 40 days, which is the length of time that Jesus spent in the desert before his ministry, and I have been learning, like Israel learnt in their 40 years in the desert, that man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God, and that that word is Jesus – that the bread I need to eat and the water I need to drink, that is Jesus. Jesus is what I need to survive, and nothing else.

Jesus calls us to step out, like Peter did, from where we are comfortable, and to rely on him only. But more than that, Jesus wants us to ask to step out of the boat.

Peter asks Jesus to tell him to come out of the boat. Jesus says “come”, and Peter comes out. He leaves where he felt safe, where he felt secure, where he felt comfortable, and goes to Jesus on the water. That is what the Christian faith is. That is what it means to follow Jesus.

For Peter, it is impossible. But Jesus calls him to do it and he does it, because Jesus gives us power to do the impossible.

For many of you, it will be much easier than it is for me. One of the many dangers of living somewhere like England, where people have so much, is that we have so much that we must leave and let go of before turning to Jesus.

What might we have to leave? Maybe it will be how we are comfortable in our friendships – that people think we are just like everyone else, and we need to talk about our relationship with Jesus. Maybe it will be the language we use, or the way we think about other people, or the way we treat others. Maybe what we must leave behind will be the way we think about Jesus – the way that we imagine him to be, or that we think he only loves people like us, or that he does not love people like us. I cannot tell you which area of life it is where Jesus is telling you to leave where you are comfortable and come to him – to him as he really is, as we see him in the Bible.

But the story does not end there. Peter is looking to Jesus, he is trusting Jesus, and he walks on the sea. But then he looks at the waves and the wind and he gets afraid, and he begins to sink. And in the same way, it is so easy sometimes to be distracted by how difficult it is to follow Jesus, that we stop looking at him, and we start failing. Maybe that is where some of us are today. We have been trying to follow Jesus, but we have taken our eyes off him and are sinking.

If that is us, then do as Peter did. Cry out to Jesus “save me”, and fix our eyes on Jesus, as it says in Hebrews 12:1-2
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Fourth moment – the disciples worship Jesus. The disciples worship Jesus. This is the first time in Matthew that they call Jesus the “Son of God”. Jesus has led them out of where they were comfortable, by the storm and for Peter, by walking on the water. And as a result, they see Jesus better, they know him better, they see his power more clearly, they understand more about who he is. And when it is all over, when he is in the boat, the storm dies down, they know that Jesus is with them, when it is all over, they worship Jesus.

My father let go of the bike because he knew that even though it would be difficult for me, I would need to be able to ride the bike in the future, that I would enjoy life more and could travel around more easily if I could ride a bike.

In the same way, Jesus does not just call us out of where we are comfortable and to trust him because he can. He calls us to trust him more because that way we can see him better and worship him more, and that is what we were made for. That is where we can find true joy, that is where we can live life as it was meant to be lived. knowing and worshipping the one true God through his son Jesus Christ.

So what are we going to have to let go of? What areas of comfort is God going to lead us out of? How are we going to have to ask Jesus to lead us away from where we feel comfortable, away from where we feel like we know how to live and what to do, and how to trust in him and him only?

Sunday, August 10, 2008

English Pronounciation

Here is a wonderful poem. It's out of copyright by now. It's designed, I think, for non-native English speakers...

Dearest creature in creation
Studying English pronunciation,
I will teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse and worse
I will keep you, Susy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy.
Tear in eye your dress you'll tear,
So shall I! Oh, hear my prayer,
Pray, console your loving poet,
Make my coat look new, dear, sew it!
Just compare heart, beard and heard,
Dies and diet, lord and word,
Sword and sward, retain and Britain.
(Mind the latter, how it's written).
Made has not the sound of bade,
Say said, pay-paid, laid, but plaid.
Now I surely will not plague you
With such words as vague and ague,
But be careful how you speak,
Say break, steak, but bleak and streak.
Previous, precious, fuchsia, via,
Pipe, snipe, recipe and choir,
Cloven, oven, how and low,
Script, receipt, shoe, poem, toe.
Hear me say, devoid of trickery:
Daughter, laughter and Terpsichore,
Typhoid, measles, topsails, aisles.
Exiles, similes, reviles.
Wholly, holly, signal, signing.
Thames, examining, combining
Scholar, vicar, and cigar,
Solar, mica, war, and far.
From "desire": desirable--admirable from "admire."
Lumber, plumber, bier, but brier.
Chatham, brougham, renown, but known.
Knowledge, done, but gone and tone,
One, anemone. Balmoral.
Kitchen, lichen, laundry, laurel,
Gertrude, German, wind, and mind.
Scene, Melpomene, mankind,
Tortoise, turquoise, chamois-leather,
Reading, reading, heathen, heather.
This phonetic labyrinth
Gives moss, gross, brook, brooch, ninth, plinth.
Billet does not end like ballet;
Bouquet, wallet, mallet, chalet;
Blood and flood are not like food,
Nor is mould like should and would.
Banquet is not nearly parquet,
Which is said to rime with "darky."
Viscous, Viscount, load, and broad.
Toward, to forward, to reward.
And your pronunciation's O.K.,
When you say correctly: croquet.
Rounded, wounded, grieve, and sieve,
Friend and fiend, alive, and live,
Liberty, library, heave, and heaven,
Rachel, ache, moustache, eleven,
We say hallowed, but allowed,
People, leopard, towed, but vowed.
Mark the difference, moreover,
Between mover, plover, Dover,
Leeches, breeches, wise, precise,
Chalice, but police, and lice.
Camel, constable, unstable,
Principle, disciple, label,
Petal, penal, and canal,
Wait, surmise, plait, promise, pal.
Suit, suite, ruin, circuit, conduit,
Rime with "shirk it" and "beyond it."
But it is not hard to tell,
Why it's pall, mall, but Pall Mall.
Muscle, muscular, gaol, iron,
Timber, climber, bullion, lion,
Worm and storm, chaise, chaos, and chair,
Senator, spectator, mayor,
Ivy, privy, famous, clamour
And enamour rime with hammer.
Pussy, hussy, and possess,
Desert, but dessert, address.
Golf, wolf, countenance, lieutenants.
Hoist, in lieu of flags, left pennants.
River, rival, tomb, bomb, comb,
Doll and roll and some and home.
Stranger does not rime with anger.
Neither does devour with clangour.
Soul, but foul and gaunt but aunt.
Font, front, won't, want, grand, and grant.
Shoes, goes, does. Now first say: finger.
And then: singer, ginger, linger,
Real, zeal, mauve, gauze, and gauge,
Marriage, foliage, mirage, age.
Query does not rime with very,
Nor does fury sound like bury.
Dost, lost, post; and doth, cloth, loth;
Job, Job; blossom, bosom, oath.
Though the difference seems little,
We say actual, but victual.
Seat, sweat; chaste, caste.; Leigh, eight, height;
Put, nut; granite, and unite.
Reefer does not rime with deafer,
Feoffer does, and zephyr, heifer.
Dull, bull, Geoffrey, George, ate, late,
Hint, pint, Senate, but sedate.
Scenic, Arabic, Pacific,
Science, conscience, scientific,
Tour, but our and succour, four,
Gas, alas, and Arkansas.
Sea, idea, guinea, area,
Psalm, Maria, but malaria,
Youth, south, southern, cleanse and clean,
Doctrine, turpentine, marine.
Compare alien with Italian,
Dandelion with battalion.
Sally with ally, yea, ye,
Eye, I, ay, aye, whey, key, quay.
Say aver, but ever, fever.
Neither, leisure, skein, receiver.
Never guess--it is not safe:
We say calves, valves, half, but Ralph.
Heron, granary, canary,
Crevice and device, and eyrie,
Face but preface, but efface,
Phlegm, phlegmatic, ass, glass, bass.
Large, but target, gin, give, verging,
Ought, out, joust, and scour, but scourging,
Ear but earn, and wear and bear
Do not rime with here, but ere.
Seven is right, but so is even,
Hyphen, roughen, nephew, Stephen,
Monkey, donkey, clerk, and jerk,
Asp, grasp, wasp, and cork and work.
Pronunciation--think of psyche--!
Is a paling, stout and spikey,
Won't it make you lose your wits,
Writing "groats" and saying "grits"?
It's a dark abyss or tunnel,
Strewn with stones, like rowlock, gunwale,
Islington and Isle of Wight,
Housewife, verdict, and indict!
Don't you think so, reader, rather,
Saying lather, bather, father?
Finally: which rimes with "enough"
Though, through, plough, cough, hough, or tough?
Hiccough has the sound of "cup."
My advice is--give it up!

The Chaos,
by G. Nolst Trenite' a.k.a. "Charivarius" 1870 - 1946


Friday, August 08, 2008

Aquinas - Things We Can't Understand

Some there are who presume so far on their wits that they think themselves capable of measuring the whole nature of things by their intellect, in that they esteem all things true which they see, and false which they see not. Accordingly, in order that man's mind might be freed from this presumption, and seek the truth humbly, it was necessary that certain things far surpassing his intellect should be proposed to man by God.
Thomas Aquinas

Hat tip to CQOD.

Brazil 13 - Days of the Week

A really really random one this, but something I like about Brazil.

Many years ago, I had a brief qualm of conscience about the days of the week, because in English they are mostly named after pagan gods (e.g. Thor's Day = Thursday). I much prefer the Brazillian way - the days are as follows:

  • Sunday = Domingo - the Lord's Day
  • Monday = segunda-feira
  • Tuesday = terca-feira
  • ...
  • Saturday = Sabado - Sabbath

On the other hand, "feira" is also apparently Portuguese for holiday, and it's with reference to week-long Catholic feasts.

Brazillian work patterns seem to be split into two basic types - the lazy and the complete workaholic. Among the middle classes, it isn't at all uncommon to find people who only sleep 4 or 5 hours a night and who work over 70 hours a week. Days off are almost unheard-of among the workaholics. I really wasn't expecting that, but I find it sad all the same - it seems to be tied into the whole cultural all-out capitalism thing.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Public Thanks

As regular readers of this blog will know, I sat some rather horrible exams recently. As some people will know, I ended up doing rather well in them, graca de Deus. Given how difficult I found some of the papers, and given the fact I'd been working for two years aiming to learn stuff for ministry not stuff for exams, it came as a huge surprise to me to end up winning one of the University prizes.

In fact, the Wycliffe contingent in the exams did rather well overall. We ended up having three people in the top 5 in the university at Theology. I'd therefore like to take the opportunity to publicly thank some of the people who helped a lot.

Foremost among these is Peter Southwell, legendary (and now sadly retired) Senior Tutor at Wycliffe, and in charge of the course, as well as tutoring large chunks of it. Another special mention should go to David Wenham for helping us to see what a godly, humble and profoundly evangelical approach to Scripture looks like. Also to my other great tutors - Nick King, Michael Steenberg, Charlotte Methuen, Benno van den Torren, John Muddiman and Peter Harrison - many thanks.

To God alone be the glory!

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Brazil 12 - Random Facts

  1. In Brazil, it is almost impossible to buy gummed envelopes. This includes the kind with the peel-off strip.
  2. The normal title for ministers of Protestant churches in Brazil, including the Anglican ones is "Pastor", short form "Pr". I vastly prefer that to any of the forms used in England. I don't want to be revered, I am not a father, my role as a pastor is not vicarious and it is Jesus who cures people's souls. Maybe I'll try to persuade people to use the Brazillian form...
  3. Most cars in Brazil have tinted windows, which among other things means that the law on seatbelts in the back is almost totally unenforced, to the point where many car manufacturers only install fixed-length seatbelts in the back.
  4. Brazillians tend to think of the beach as the main attraction in any destination. Well, most cities in Brazil were built along the beach, and many of the beaches are amazing. The national sport is, of course, football. One of the biggest Protestant denominations here allegedly bans both visiting the beach and playing football.
  5. It is quite normal to see bikes with huge loudspeakers on the front and back, adding to the noise pollution.
  6. Many of the oldest buildings in this area of Brazil were built originally by the Dutch

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Brazil 11 - All the Way Down

Brazil is a country with virtually no social security and where politicians are famous for being corrupt. As a result, society genuinely seems to go all the way down. If human existence is possible at a given level, there will be people there, it seems, from the luxury beachside flats to scavenging with the vultures on a rubbish dump.

I used to wonder why there was no household recycling here. Now I realise that it is a mercy that there is not - recyclable material is a major source of income for those at the rubbish dump.

Here there is capitalism in a way that doesn't seem to exist in either the UK or the US. Politicians are widely viewed as corrupt, and voting is compulsory. That means that votes in the poorest areas can be essentially bought for as little as a T-shirt or $1 a day to stand by the side of a road in the hot sun waving a flag. And the politicians have very little incentive to do anything about it. Free schools in the poorest areas are apparently next to useless, and free hospitals are described by Brazillians as abattoirs. And even if the poorest children did go to school, they would still need money to survive and so have to work.

The poverty here is shocking. And without the poorest children having access to good schools, there seems to be little to keep them from following in the same poverty as their parents. Brazil is the country with the biggest financial difference between rich and poor in the world, and it doesn't seem to be going away any time soon. Keeping the poor poor keeps their votes cheap.

Now I think I understand something of the oppression of the poor, and a tiny bit of God's anger against it.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Brazil 10 - How to Preach to Internationals

I'm currently a foreigner, or as we tend to say in England (for no apparent reason except that it takes the word away from the Communists) an international. And I've been listening to a lot of sermons. With that in mind, I thought I'd give some tips for how to preach to people who don't speak the language very well.

  1. Give important Bible references (like the main passage being preached on) slowly and clearly, and repeat it.
  2. Don't mumble.
  3. Make your main points clear, and in simple language.
  4. Ideally, have something written with points on, whether a handout or a powerpoint or something. This means that in language with either bizarre accents and complex rules (like Brazillian Portuguese) or with only limited correlation between spelling and pronunciation (like English) people can look the words up in a dictionary. I tend to carry one everywhere here.
  5. If you get into a phase of shouting very fast, don't expect people to follow you.
  6. Slow down in important bits.
  7. Use language similar to the Bible passage.
  8. Have clear sentences of application or main teaching points, and preach so that a good proportion of people there could tell you what the sentence was 5 minutes after the talk.