Friday, April 19, 2013

Too busy?

If you are a Christian, you might be interested in:

Tim Chester's The Busy Christian's Guide to Busyness

If you are a clergy-person, you might be interested in:

Stephen Cherry's Beyond Busyness: Time Wisdom for Ministry

Getting Things Done - a quick off the top of my head summary of what I remember as useful

My copy of David Allen's Getting Things Done: How To Achieve Stress Free Productivity is on loan but I plan to run through some of the principles with a friend, so here are some jottings to remind me.

There are different ways of doing this but you need a really reliable consistent system. Keep it as simple as works for you.

If you apply this system it should make you more reliable and productive. Likely it will also make you much less stressed and free up your head space. You won't have to remember stuff: you can trust your system.

You need a really relaible non-leeky set of buckets to collect tasks. This probably means a notebook or filofax with section dividers or an electronic device. A physical bucket (like a storage box) might also help: then you can put in it the letter you mean to answer, the mug you want to fix and the book you need to read.

Then you've got to process your bucket. You have a number of options:

DO - if it takes less than 2 minutes to do it you should do it immediately if at all possible. This is because it probably takes longer to DELAY it

DELAY - either enter it on a to-do list for later or make a note in your diary or on your calendar or phone. You may even want a filling system for each day of the year or each month that in effect allows you to post something to yourself to arrive say in June (when you expect to deal with it). Obviously all this only works if you then check your diary, phone, calendar, to do list or file.


DROP / DON'T DO IT (you could have a SOMEDAY MAYBE category too)

(In deciding what to do when Steven Covey's Important and Urgent matrix thing might be of use)

When it comes to your to-do list it might be divided up something like this:

PROJECTS - any jobs that take more than one step - e.g. visit Mrs Smith, start Youth Group

The important thing then is to think about NEXT STEPS. These might be phone Mrs Smith or invite all the potential stake-holders in a youthgroup to a meeting. Single step projects that are on-off things to do

It might be helpful to divide up your next steps into where you can do them. So some jobs can only be done at CHURCH, like putting up the posters and correcting the coffee rota. Errands to be done next time you're in TOWN like buy new printer ink and pay in those cheques go on one list. Many of your jobs you'll do in your STUDY where you have your books and filling cabinet etc. Obviously these days many PHONE or EMAIL jobs can be done almost anywhere. You might have a section for key people like your MANAGER or the people who report to you. Things you need to discuss in your weekly meetig go there.

To stop the whole system leaking you probably need a WAITING FOR list too. If you have to leave a message for Mrs Smith and a list of people need to confirm whether or not they are coming to the meeting.

REVIEW your lists maybe a quick scan once a day but a proper thorough goiung over once a week.

Getting  Things Done Wikipedia article

David Allen's website

43 Folders website - Getting Started With Getting Things Done

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Hospitality & ministry

I have been writing (I hope) a series of practical common sense posts which basically say "well, it all depends" so here's another.

The New Testament requires presbyters to practice hospitality. In Bible times this may have had more to do with welcoming travelling preachers than with throwing dinner parties for the congregation, but hospitality can still be a valuable and / or difficult part of ministry.

This relates to previous posts on work/life balance, expenses and the use of your home.

Is it work everytime you have someone from the church round? And does the whole thing go on expenses?

Only hospitality that is necessary and an expected part of your work is a legitimate expense. If the Bishop asks to be put up after a Confirmation service, that sounds like an expense to me. Fillet steak for you buddies on the Standing Committee every Friday, less so. Again, a sensible conversation with the treasurer early on is probably wise.

Cultural and "class" issues might apply to your hospitality. Ham might not be the best offering for your Jewish and Muslim neighbours. Some of your guests might feel uncomfortable if offered a value meal or if presented with a bewildering array of cutlery. Friendly and informal is probably the best approach.  For students or youths, a DVD and popcorn might prove tempting. Some fellas might like to come over and watch the game - or the latest Prom.

A six-course dinner party isn't the only option. Breakfast, morning coffee, lunch, tea, family supper, drinks & nibbles and pudding could all work.

What's the aim of the hospitality? If you're hoping for a deep conversation, couples on their own might be best. If you're aiming to get to know people socially 4 guests might be better than 8. But then there are economies of scale. If you're going to feed 4 its not twice the work to feed 8.

 Are you going to have any kind of system for whom you invite? Newcomers to the church or village? People with whom you would like to share the gospel? Leaders or potential leaders? Will you have Christmas drinks for the PCCs at your house? Or maybe Christmas is too busy anyway, another time of year might be better, perhaps?

Apparently, the late John Wenham struggled to continue to offer lunch to Oxford theology students after his wife had died. He soon worked out that he could offer just as good, if not better, hospitality with a well-stocked biscuit barrel and a kettle on the boil. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Your home and your ministry

Almost certainly as a clergyman you work mainly from home and you are expected to use your home for some extent for your ministry.

Ideally you have your study and a loo next to the front door and you may be able to shut this part of the house off from the family-space, but perhaps not. It might even be helpful to lock the work part of your house for your day off - and maybe get your spouse to hide the key!
Probably you will regularly see church members, parishoners and others in your study. You have a study, not an office, by the way. How many of you can meet there in comfort? Is it reasonably clean and tidy? Is it easy to serve tea there? And can you hear the kids if they wake up in the night and you are meeting a wedding couple and your spouse is out? Do you need one of those child monitor thingies?

How much will you use the rest of the house for ministry? How many can you fit in your sitting room and dinning room? Will using this part of the house necessitate extra setting up, tidying and cleaning and putting back? What are the options if you want to show a DVD? How many people can see the telly? How much will using the rest of your house inconvenience your spouse, children, cat and dog? Whither will they be exiled? Do you operate a booking system for rooms in the house?!

If you are going to host a meeting regularly in your house, say, the monthly prayer meeting, will it still be there if you can't make it? Is your spouse happy to host? What happens if you are both busy or away?

Will you have a work phoneline and a home phoneline or just one? Where will they ring? And where will the answerphones be? Whoes going to answer and when? Do you answer the phone and or check messages on your day off? Durring meal times?

Is your house marked as "The Vicarage"? Is it next door to the church? What are the pros and cons of that?

Is it easy to find the Vicarage? Can one park? Will your visitors block you and your spouse in?

Does your doorbell work? Will people walk in without knocking?!

Will you meet with children or vulnerable adults or people of the opposite sex at home and if so whom will you have with you?

Will some parts of your house be private? Are they easily shut off from the rest of the house?

How will all this affect your Heating, Lighting and Cleaning and your expenses? If you regularly use the sitting room for meetings will the PCC be making a contribution towards your next carpet?

Are people expected to take their shoes off on entering the house? Can they cope with the cat and the dog?

Will you be hosting regular garden parties, barbecues and football matches in your garden as part of your ministry?

Is your garden a disgrace to the gospel?!

What other places might you use for meetings? The church? The hall? The pub? The coffee shop?

Where else might you work? The local library?

What home security do you have? Will the Diocese or the PCC help out with the cost of that?

 Are the Diocese good at responding to problems with the house? Do you know who to call if there's an issue? What about in an emergency?

 Do the PCC fulfill their responsibility to decorate the house? How is that done and negotiated? A room a year might be reccomended but do you want the upheaval and the hassle? Are you happy with church members trooping in to paint the downstairs loo?

Do people call at the door asking for money? Or for access to the church?

Do you have sufficient privacy? Is the churchwarden recording the movements of your curtains?

Will you spend some of your holidays at home and how will that work?

Clergy Expenses

Clergy expenses can be a source of stress, worry and disagreement - maybe even of arrest. It's in everyone's interests that genuine working expenses are paid happily, fully and promptly, but sometimes there can be differences of view, or maybe the PCC really can't manage to pay what the Vicar thinks he's entitled to or needs for his ministry.

In short, one needs to know the Inland Revenue rules, to understand them as clearly as you can and stick to them scrupulously. It's also worth knowing any guidance issued by the C of E and by your Diocese. The approach is not always totally intuative so make sure you get into the detail. A good clergy tax advisor may also help. I'm no expert and you don't want to rely on this blog in a court of law!

Clergy tax people include:

Tax Management for Clergy

Peter Chalke & RPP Taxation Services

In this Diocese you need to read, mark and learn and inwardly digest Finanical Aspects of Ministry: A Guide for Clergy and Parishes (2012) - the blue book.

Further information on income tax is contained in a booklet published by the Churches Main Committee The Taxation of Ministers of Religion and in a leaflet Tax on Service Benefit written by the Church Commissioners in the form of questions and answers.

The C of E booklet is The Parochial Expenses of the Clergy: A guide to their reimbursement (2006, with minor changes last made on 21st Nov 2011)

For example, did you know that it is considered reasonable for you to claim for one theological journal and one church newspaper?

Best practice would be to claim your actual expenses monthly. In our diocese a standard form is available. An Excel spreadsheet might help you.

If your parish pays a flat monthly rate, this might be taxable.

I imagine you will want to make use of your Heating, Lighting, Cleaning (& Gardening) tax allowance. This might be influenced by how you use your house and garden for ministry. (this might get a blogpost of its own sometime)

Although it might sound like something out of the MPs expenses scandal, I believe you can also pay a family member for any work that they do connected to your ministry which is more than a family member could reasonably be expected to do, and claim the tax back.

However you manage things, you need to find a reliable, reasonably accurate and efficient way of working out expenses and HLC and so on. There are all sorts of differnt ways you might do that. For example, will you keep a notebook in the car to record work related or personal milage and calculate the difference from the milometer? Or you could write all your business trips in your diary and use Google Maps. Many of your journies will be repeated. Will you have a special hospitality cupboard? How will you work out which phonecalls or paper or ink are church-related? For some things you may have to make do with a guestimate or a reasonable proportion of overall household expenses. It's worth keeping detailed receipts and notes.

Your expenses might depend on the way you minister and the best way forward there is probably a full and frank honest discussion with the treasurers / wardens or PCCs beforehand. You don't want to get into a situation where you present someone with a bill they refuse to pay. There is always going to be a degree of discretion and wisdom needed and it works best when there is a sense of trust.

Your post will also influence your expenses to a very considerable degree. For example, do you live next door to your church? Or do you drive miles between several different churches each day for morning and evening prayer? If you live in the centre of Oxford and enjoy cycling, your only milage might be your trips to the crem.

If you are the only staff member, your expenses will necessarily be much higher than if your administrator makes all the phonecalls, does all the photocopying and orders anything that is ever needed. Sometimes it is possible to be invoiced for an item and to pass the bill directly to the treasurer rather than bung it on your expenses.

Average clergy expenses in 2006/7 were £1,845.

Some clergy have a weakness for buying books. Remember that all Christian books are not a legitimate expense. Only those which are essential for your work. I'm told the Revenue tend to take a narrow view of this. I believe it is accepted that you need a Bible and a copy of Common Worship. It might be harder to argue that you need 4 commentaries on each book of the Bible and volumes on every topic that might one day come up.

Hospitality is another vexed area. Perhaps that merits a post of its own.

It is very kind of you not to claim all your real expenses, but remember that this might queer the pitch for your other colleages or successors. It is no bad thing for the PCC to know how much things really cost. And, of course, once you have claimed your expenses it is entirely up to you how much you give to the parish as a charitable donation on which Gift Aid can be reclaimed.

If the PCC can't afford to pay your expenses and refuses to do so, you can still get the tax back on expenses which you involuntarly pay yourself.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Some Bible verses on friends and frienship

Select list of
Some Bible verses on Friends & Friendship

NIV: friend 70x; friendly 3x; friends 91x; friendship 8x

(The other reference would be easily look-up-able on Bible Gateway or similar)

Exodus 33:11 The LORD would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend.

Deuteronomy 13:6 If your very own brother, or your son or daughter, or the wife you love, or your closest friend secretly entices you, saying, "Let us go and worship other gods" (gods that neither you nor your fathers have known,

2 Chronicles 20:7 O our God, did you not drive out the inhabitants of this land before your people Israel and give it for ever to the descendants of Abraham your friend?

See also Isaiah 41:8; James 2:23

Psalm 41:9 Even my close friend, whom I trusted, he who shared my bread, has lifted up his heel against me.

See also Ps 55:13

Psalm 119:63 I am a friend to all who fear you, to all who follow your precepts.

Proverbs 17:17 A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.

Proverbs 18:24 A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.

Proverbs 19:4 Wealth brings many friends, but a poor man's friend deserts him.

Proverbs 19:6 Many curry favour with a ruler, and everyone is the friend of a man who gives gifts.

Proverbs 22:11 He who loves a pure heart and whose speech is gracious will have the king for his friend.

Proverbs 27:6 Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.

Proverbs 27:9 Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart, and the pleasantness of one's friend springs from his earnest counsel.

Proverbs 27:10 Do not forsake your friend and the friend of your father, and do not go to your brother's house when disaster strikes you--better a neighbour nearby than a brother far away.

Ecclesiastes 4:10 If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no-one to help him up!

Song of Solomon 5:16 His mouth is sweetness itself; he is altogether lovely. This is my lover, this my friend, O daughters of Jerusalem.

Jeremiah 3:4 Have you not just called to me:`My Father, my friend from my youth,

Jeremiah 9:4f "Beware of your friends; do not trust your brothers. For every brother is a deceiver, and every friend a slanderer. Friend deceives friend, and no-one speaks the truth. They have taught their tongues to lie; they weary themselves with sinning.

Micah 7:5 Do not trust a neighbour; put no confidence in a friend. Even with her who lies in your embrace be careful of your words.

Matthew 11:19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say,`Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and "sinners".' But wisdom is proved right by her actions."

Matthew 26:50 Jesus replied, "Friend, do what you came for." Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested him.

Luke 11:5ff Then he said to them, "Suppose one of you has a friend, and he goes to him at midnight and says,`Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, because a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have nothing to set before him.'… I tell you, though he will not get up and give him the bread because he is his friend, yet because of the man's boldness he will get up and give him as much as he needs.

James 4:4 You adulterous people, don't you know that friendship with the world is hatred towards God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.

1 Samuel 20:42 Jonathan said to David, "Go in peace, for we have sworn friendship with each other in the name of the LORD, saying,`The LORD is witness between you and me, and between your descendants and my descendants for ever.'" Then David left, and Jonathan went back to the town.

Job 29:4 Oh, for the days when I was in my prime, when God's intimate friendship blessed my house,

Psalm 109:4f In return for my friendship they accuse me, but I am a man of prayer. They repay me evil for good, and hatred for my friendship.

Proverbs 12:26 A righteous man is cautious in friendship, but the way of the wicked leads them astray.

How many hours a week should I work as a Vicar?

Like, "how long should I spend preparing my sermon" this is a tough question and it all depends.

I bet most clergy have no real idea how many hours a week they work or what exactly they count as work. Doing a timesheet might help, but of course it takes time!

Again, we must know our own temptations. I have heard that some people think there are lazy clergy in the world. I am yet to meet someone who admits it exactly. Even if they are not doing what I think they should be doing (like preparing their sermon and praying!) I think most clergy are busy: they might be on several governing bodies or chair the local NHS trust, for example! I think the days are probably gone when there were cooshy parishes where 30 people expected you to take the service for them at 10am on a Sunday and that was more or less it.

In my experience, most evangelical clergy are probably prone to overwork.

There is much misunderstanding about what a clergyman does and should do. Many people will say to you, "I know you're very busy..." but they don't really know what on earth you do! You will also hear the joke about you only working one day a week many times. Some people are only half joking! Remember that to some people if you don't get a sweat on it is not work! And yet you feel very much on show. Some of what you do and don't do will be noticed. You should assume that your churchwardens are recording when the Vicarage curtains are drawn or not - or maybe not!

You are not paid a salary. You get a meagre stipend to allow you to live. You are not paid to do anything very much. Canon law requires you to say Morning and Evening Prayer each day and to celebrate the Eucharist on Sundays and principal holy days. Various other duties were set out at your ordination (e.g. visit the sick, prepare people for baptism). The Diocese, parish, church and family have all sorts of expectations. And so do you. And so does God. But there's no agreed job description. Likely the Diocese got you to write your own role description, agree it with the Wardens and send it to the Archdeacon but heaven knows what that said or what difference it makes. It is open to debate what the impact of the Continually Assisted Review of Ministry process is.

Under God, your aim is to bring the gospel to all nations and disciple them. This is an impossible unending task. Unlike some professionals, you can never say that your work is finished and there is nothing more you could do.

If you worked 5 days a week, 9-5 with an hour for lunch that would be 7 hours a day x 5 days = 35 hours. It seems to me that if you work any less you have stolen your stipend.

But I think it is reasonable for your congregation to expect rather more.

You are available for work 6 days a week - and probably any time of any day or night if someone is dying. That does not mean you always have to work 12 hours a day, 6 days a week or every hour God sends. In fact, if you worked 8am to 10pm for 3 days you would have more than "earned" your stipend and could take the rest of the week off - as long as you said morning and evening prayer!

 It seems to me that you should take your holidays. You will probably need a week off after Christmas and Easter as is customary, but this is a mixed bag as they are the quietest weeks of the year anyway!

If you have children who are at school, you will still need to work some Saturdays to take weddings and attend parish events, but you need not fill up the whole day. See your kids!

You encourage your congregation to take Sunday as the Lord's Day, a Christian Sabbath, but that feels rather different for you. You may have 3 or 4 services to take and there is pressure to accept meetings with wedding couples who work at the other end of the country in the week or with church members who are weekenders. Again, if you have any time or energy left on a Sunday, you need not fill it up. Sunday afternoon might feel like a good time to work out your expenses or fees but again it might be best to read a non-work related book or sit in the garden with your wife.

You generally work from home. Your commute to study takes less than 3 minutes even from the furthest corner of your modest new Rectory. Some of your congregation would commute for 1 - 2 hours each way on top of long days in the office. Is all your travel counted as work time?

And sometimes you go to things that you expect your people to go to after a full days work. If you start work at 8am you may resent being on the go constantly till the end of the PCC meeting at 10pm, but several round the table may have done just the same.

It is your job to pray and read the Bible, but you expect your congregation to do that on their own time.

 Every time you read a Christian book, is that work?

Every time you see a parishoner is that work? Are they your friends too?!

Is it work to go to the pub in your dog-colar on a work day?

I think we can set a minimum number of hours, but not a maximum. We can say that it is probably unwise to work more hours regularly than you can! You should take reasonable care of your physical and mental health and of your family and friends. You need a social life and a life outside of your work. You don't want to be so exhausted on your one day off that all you can do is lay in bed. You will be more effective in your work if you are a flourishing human being and this means a good work-life balance. 

I think you should also do something genuinely recreational each day. Don't have all your meals at your desk or in meetings. Spend half an hour each day reading a novel or walking the dog or playing a video game or listening to Vivaldi or whatever does it for you. If you are working in the evening it is okay to take some time off in the day.

There will be busier weeks and quieter weeks. If it can be afforded, you could probably take a couple of quiet away days for planning etc. and a couple of days a year for a retreat. You could probably go to one conference and one camp and maybe have a week for study. All this depends on the goodwill of your parishes and diocese and it not costing the earth.

You need to consider what it is important and urgent for you to do and when you need to do it. And indeed what could be done by someone else.

Your job or better vocation has its pros and cons. You are largely the master of your own time. You need to decide how many hours you are going to do and what you are going to do with them and there is little than anyone else can really do about it. However, you can also expect little help or guidance in this area. It is hard to get right and maybe few of us do.

You might feel hard done by, but remember that few men can have lunch with their wife most days. If you worked in the city and left the house at 6:50am and returned at 7:10pm you would only ever see the kids at the weekend.

It may also be worth reflecting on the possibke "spiritual" causes of under or over work. Tim Chester's The Busy Christian's Guide to Busyness suggests a number of possible underlying issues of busyness and how God might provide an antidote. 

Stephen Cherry's Beyond Busyness: Time Wisdom for Ministry and its exercises may be of interest.

I believe Justin Lewis-Anthony's If You Meet George Herbert on the Road Kill Him: Radically Re-thinking Priestly Ministry suggests adopting a Rule of Life which covers how many mornings, afternoons or evenings a week you are going to work and so on. I'm not sure I could get away with or stick to quite as much time off as I seem to recall he reccomends, but I could be misremembering the details.

It may also be possible to work more efficiently. Getting Things Done may help.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Things we love

D V today I am going to talk to the children about our risen Lord's question to Peter, "do you love me more than these?". I am going to start off with a discussion of things we love. I've thrown in a few for the adults too! Here are some jottings (some of which are personal to our family and may not make a lot of sense):

people - family, friends etc. - husband & wife, boyfriend & girlfriend, mum, we all love baby Matt Matt
places - home, favourite holiday destination
food - pizza, chips, bacon, ketchup, icecream, sweets, chocolate(s)
toys - favourite teddy / doll - Baby Ru / Baby
sports - rugby, football
pets / animals - your dog, pony, cat, goldfish, hamster etc. the lambs on the farm
telly - Thomas the tank engine, Tree Fu Tom, Wooly and Tig
computer games
favourite clothes / shoes
gadgets - i phone
a good bottle of wine
peace and quiet
a good book
our own comfort / ease / peace / reputation / security

I may even feel the need to quote Maria from The Sound of Music:

Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittensv 
Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens
Brown paper packages tied up with strings
These are a few of my favourite things
Cream coloured ponnies and crisp apple streudles
Doorbells and slaybells and schnitzel with noodles
Wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings
These are a few of my favourite things
Girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes
Snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes
Silver white winter that melts into spring
These are a few of my favourite things

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Do you love me (more than these)?

3 blog posts on the Risen Lord Jesus' question to Peter in John 21:15 etc in one handy place.


Do you love me?

The risen Lord Jesus Christ asked Peter.

Now, our society is very mixed up about love, just as it is confused about most things.

Of course, Jesus is not talking about romantic or sexual love. Neither is he being sentimental. This is not Jesus as my boyfriend or girlfriend. Neither does it necessarily involve a gooey feeling in the heart or a far-away look in the eye.

This is love that will lead to obedience, to dedicated service and even to a gruesome martyr's death.

But it is real love nevertheless. It's a passionate business. Love that involves heart, mind and strength. It is connected to the intellect, the emotions and the will. It is to do with thinking, feeling and acting in certain ways towards Jesus.

And it involves all heart, mind and strength. It is a controlling, consuming, dominating, motivating, energising, enabling love. It is not a love that excludes other loves, but it puts them in their place, reorders, and reorients and redefines them. It makes them possible.

Perhaps it's a bit like love for a brother or father. Perhaps the kind of love some footballers might have for the manager who has been like a father to them. Or a boxer for his trainer who helped him to climb out of the gutter. Or the loyalty of a medieval knight to his lord. Or of a soldier to his comrades, or to an officer who loved his men and was willing to lay down his life for them.

But perhaps this is about a love affair after all. It is the love of pauper bride for her prince-bridegroom. He makes her free and clean and beautiful. Their relationship ennobles her.

How could we not love him?

Do you love me more than these?

What is the risen Lord Jesus asking Peter here?

Who or what are the these?

Is it "do you love me more than [you love] these?"

Or, "do you love me more than these [love me]?"

The "these" might be the other disciples, the fishing kit and boats or the fish.

It seems to me that Jesus is unlikely to be asking Peter if Peter loves him more than the other disciples love him.

It seems to me that Jesus does require Peter to love him more than Peter loves the other disciples, or his old way of life which is represented by the fishing gear and than the fish, which stand for what Jesus can do for him and for "success".

Let us consider these temptations:

We are to love Christ more than we love anything else

We are to love Christ more than we love anyone else

We are to love Christ more than we love life without him / our old pre-Christian way of life

We are to love Christ more than we love success or what Christ offers

Do you love me? 3x

Obviously Jesus' three-fold question to Peter, "do you love me?", recalls Peter's earlier three-fold denial of Jesus.
Here Jesus confronts Peter with his sin, but gently and kindly.
Peter is offered forgiveness and restored.

Our love for Christ will always be weak and imperfect.
Sometimes it will fail utterly, maybe repeatedly, dramatically and publicly.

Jesus' love for us comes first.
His love for us is far more important than our love for him.
His love is stronger than our failure and sin.
It is a love that forgives and restores.

"Do you love me?" x3

Obviously Jesus' three-fold question to Peter, "do you love me?", recalls Peter's earlier three-fold denial of Jesus.
Here Jesus confronts Peter with his sin, but gently and kindly.
Peter is offered forgiveness and restored.

Our love for Christ will always be weak and imperfect.
Sometimes it will fail utterly, maybe repeatedly, dramatically and publicly.

Jesus' love for us comes first.
His love for us is far more important than our love for him.
His love is stronger than our failure and sin.
It is a love that forgives and restores.

Why the materialst neo-darwinian conception of nature is almost certainly false

in the sense of being very significantly incomplete. Because it cannot explain human consciousness, which is one of the most familiar and amazing things there is. Darwinian materialism therefore cannot aspire to even an outline of completeness.

Thus, it would seem, argues Prof Thomas Nagel in Mind & Cosmos (OUP, 2012)

How long should I spend preparing my sermons?

It's a tough question both for the new preacher and the experienced pastor.

Obviously it all depends.

It depends on what you are preaching to whom. It depends on your abilities and character and experience. It depends on the subject or book you are preaching and how well you know them. It depends on how well you know the people and what the occasion is. It depends what the other claims on your time are.  

Some of us will be tempted to cut preparation corners; others will be tempted to retreat to the study.

Some of my Anglo-Catholic friends tell me its good to look at the passages on a Saturday night. Getting up early before the 8am on Sunday can be leaving it a little too late! I'm told there are sermons in The Church Times you can read out. And Mrs Williams and Tom Wright have written books of sermonettes for each Sunday.

Of course, we Evangelicals have other sources of plagiarism: Ryle, Spurgeon or our favourite internet preacher, Dr Keller, Dr Piper, Mr Stott or Mr Lucas. The Doctor even.

I'm told that at a certain theological college, at one time it was taught that a sermon requires a minimum of 16 hours preparation. I've no idea how this was proved.

One rule of thumb that is sometimes given is an hour per minute. This doesn't really work. Of course you can't work for an hour on the first minute and then move on to minute 2 in hour 2. But say you were preaching for 20 minutes, that's 20 hours preparation. Maths was always one of my strong points! If you were going to preach for 40 minutes, that'd be a full time job done right there before you'd seen a single person or preached a single sermon. People sometimes say it takes longer to prepare a good short sermon than a bad long one. There's something in that. It may well be that after you've got a lot of notes, they need some editing rather than merely reading out.

They used to say never be out of your study in the morning and never be in it in the afternoon. So how long does that give you?! 9am - 1pm Mon - Fri = 4x5=20.I don't know if you're meant to do all your admin in that time too? And if you're a free church pastor, you probably have to preach at the midweek meeting and twice on a Sunday. So he might manage maybe 7 hours per sermon? Or he might concentrate on the main Sunday sermon, perhaps reuse some material for the others. Then he might manage 3 hours on the 2 sermons he has preached before and 7 hours on the new one, with 7 hours for admin etc.

I reckon the experienced pastor can probably manage to do a decent job on the sermon in 2 sessions - say 2 mornings of 4 hours each. He may also want a final cram. It depends. If you're preaching at 11am on Sunday, get up at 6am and you can easily manage another 3 hours and still be in church, suitably dressed, fed and watered 30 mins before the service starts. For some, a deadline like that will focus the mind. Preparation can expand to fill the time you give it.

For me, I think the best answer to give is that I should take as long as I think I need - plus a bit extra. It is tempting to think I am sufficiently ready without really tackling that exegetical problem I might just skate over or, perhaps the stronger temptation, to skimp on an extra hour on presentation and how to say it in the most affective, gripping way.


Friday, April 12, 2013

A funeral sermon for a builder who became a farmer

N was a builder who became a farmer.
I won’t detain you more than a few days, but the Bible has quite a lot to say about both farming and building.

Let’s take building first.

It says that unless the Lord builds the house, the labourers labour in vain.
In the end, it is God alone who establishes the works of men’s hands.
Everything else will crumble, fall and fail.
In fact, if you set yourself up against God, he might even come and tear your tower down.
God is building his kingdom, his church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.
God himself is like a mighty building, he is a stronghold, a fortress to which we can run.
God is our mighty citadel in whom we are safe and secure.
Jesus is the stone the builders rejected which has become the chief cornerstone.
He is the rock on which the wise man builds his life.
If we build on sand, our house will come crashing down when the storms of life come.

There is much more we could say, but let’s consider farming.
Again, God himself is a farmer.
The world is his field.
God planted a garden in Eden and he made men and women to cultivate it.
We are all to be under-farmers, tenant farmers, stewards, if you like.
God looks for a return from us but we all tend to want our independence and seek to keep the crop for ourselves.
One man sows, someone waters, another man reaps, but God alone gives the growth.
The kingdom of God is like a seed that grows quietly but that bears a great crop, 30, 60 or a hundred times what was sown.
Jesus is like a seed that dies and goes into the ground only to rise again with glorious transformed new life, which brings life to others.
Like the plants, we are not to worry:
God the farmer knows our needs and will make expert provision for us.
There is a great harvest coming when God will gather in his crop and separate the wheat from the chaff.

But God’s farm is a mixed one.
He’s not just into arable.
(I don’t think he has a farm shop exactly but…)
He has many creatures.
The cattle on a thousand hills are his.
God is a shepherd who knows and guides and provides for and protects his sheep.
In fact, Jesus Christ is the good shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep to save them from the satanic wolf, only to take it up again.

N was a builder and a farmer.
So is God.
May God enable us to build our lives on Jesus Christ, the rock, the chief cornerstone and to put our trust in him, the Good Shepherd, that we might grow and flourish and be fruitful and at last be brought safely in in God’s great harvest.