Monday, May 21, 2012


PinterestSo. I decided to check out Pinterest, the latest big thing in social media, a kind of Twitter for pictures.

Having got myself 'invited', I set up a 'board' called 'Inspirational', searched Pinterest for pictures tagged 'Jesus', and found a picture graphically declaring a suitably (to my mind at any rate) inspirational motto: 'Church is who we are not where we go.'

So I 'repinned' it to my 'Inspirational' board (get me!)

Flushed with success, I thought I'd go for broke and add a comment, too. 'Yes!' I wrote, as a heartfelt amen to the sentiments expressed in the worthy little pic.

Unfortunately, I reckoned without that tendency of computers to treat rookies as prey. My comment somehow appended itself to a different image: one of a little purple flower in a field of grass.

I'll go on record as liking flowers. Yet, I confess, I was a little piqued that my first comment on Pinterest was a 'yes' (complete with exclamation mark no less) for an image that, frankly, made me appear a wee bit - shall we say - schmultzy.

But worse was to follow. Looking closer at the flower pic, I discovered that it was accompanied by a text, also prettily purple. It said, 'Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish him with the rod he shall not die. (Proverbs 23:13 (NIV)'.

There are, I doubt not, some deep and wise principles underlying this Solomonic text. Nevertheless, it wouldn't be my choice for a text to accompany a flower. Furthermore, and more importantly to me personally, it wouldn't be a text likely to draw my unqualified, nay enthusiastic, agreement - my 'yes' (complete with exclamation mark).

So far, my Pinterest profile appears to be emerging as a sentimental religious weirdo.

Hey ho. If the pin sticks, I may have to wear it.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Talk talk

Picture by guitargoa of sxc.huA friend asked me how I plan a talk. 'Do you aim for three points or intro, middle, end, or what?' he asked. 'Or both?'

Of course, I responded that for it to be an evangelical sermon worth its salt, it categorically must have three points all beginning with the same letter. That was a joke. I didn't really say that (no offence to those wedded to the alliterative approach).

Actually, in all seriousness, I do think the 'three points beginning with p' approach is based on a fairly fundamental mistake preachers and speakers can make: namely that people are going to remember what we say. It's a bubble burster this, but they almost never will.

What people remember is how you made them feel.

That is worth thinking about. ('It's not what you say it's the way that you say it'..)

So I didn't say 'three points beginning with p'. I did quote another friend who once said about planning a talk: 'Say what you're going to say, then say it, then say what you just said!' In other words, one main point, reinforced three times.

I like this, though I confess I'm rarely so disciplined in my talks. I tend to think 'intro' (warm your listeners up with an apt story or joke - and if you can't think of an apt one go for one self-evidently and self-deprecatingly inapt), 'main bit' (usually based on scripture, directly or indirectly, and I try to put the scripture up on the screen), and 'summary' (reinforce the main point).

Also I almost always project pictures to go with my talk, even if they seem non-essential, because they engage a different part of people's brain and keep them with me.

In some settings, and for longer talks, it can be good to break for a few minutes and get people talking to each other in pairs about some related question. This refreshes concentration and helps people actively engage with the topic.

Lastly, there's nothing better than genuine passion and nothing worse then hype (and I've done both over the years!)

Tuesday, May 08, 2012


Extracts from a gospel message I brought at Coventry Jesus Centre recently.

We all have heroes. Some are our heroes for deep and profound reasons; others less so (my wife for instance has a great liking for Daniel Craig which I suspect has something to do with turquoise eyes and chiselled features).

Then there are those characters in stories (page and screen) that appeal to our hunger for heroes. Nobility, self-sacrifice, strength.

What do the following four heroes have in common? Aslan from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe; Neo from The Matrix; Anakin Skywalker from Star Wars; Gandalf from The Lord of the Rings?

Answer: they all have aspects of their heroism that – in some cases deliberately – echo that of Jesus. Aslan, the kingly lion, whom CS Lewis created as an explicitly Messianic figure, was killed and rose again; Neo was ‘The One’ who was prophesied; similarly, Anakin Skywalker’s coming was prophesied; and Gandalf, created by CS Lewis’s great friend JRR Tolkien, while not allegorical like Aslan, reflected Christ in his own death, defending his friends from the dreadful, demonic ‘Balrog’, later returning as from death ‘at the turning of the tide’.

Watch a rather well-spliced together selection of Gandalf clips from the Lord of the Rings films here:

I love this moment in the film. “You shall not pass!” bellows Gandalf, smiting the bridge with his staff. He defends the Fellowship from the Balrog, but at the cost of his own life.

It reminded me of a scene from Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, which I recently finished reading. The Italian soldiers, including Corelli and his men, are being rounded up and massacred by the Nazis. As they face the firing squad, Corelli is grabbed by Carlo, a giant among his men who is devoted to him. Gripping Corelli, Carlo takes all the bullets for him, counting to 30 before dropping back onto his beloved Captain. Against all odds, Corelli survives.

And it reminds me of Jesus.

All the powers of evil – violent evil, political evil, religious evil, spiritual evil, the evil of betrayal, the evil of desolation, every kind of evil – drew themselves to their full height and flung themselves at Jesus on the cross. And He opened His arms wide and declared, in effect, ‘You shall not pass’.

He took our bullets.

He stopped evil in its tracks, refusing to keep it in circulation by the everlasting pattern of revenge, ‘an eye for an eye (and take an ear while you’re at it)’. ‘Father forgive’ He prayed – and evil lost its power, exhausted itself, spent itself utterly.

Now Jesus comes to us ‘at the turning of the tide’ and He says to us: come and join Me beyond the reach of evil and death. Come and join My way of forgiveness and new life.

A new creation is dawning and Jesus invites you to come and play your part with Him.