James’s Blog: It’s Finished when it’s Finished.

James’s Blog:  It’s Finished when it’s Finished.

I’ve been working on a short story recently. It’s a story based on a scene from a screenplay that I wrote, which in turn was based on a short story  that appeared in The Listening Book. It’s all very confusing.

One of the problems that I have when writing is knowing when something is finished. I imagine that other creators feel the same way. I can keep playing with a story indefinitely, like a cat with a dead mouse. I’ll cross out the word ‘stalked’ and replace it with ‘walked’, and then I’ll swap the order of two sentences. Two weeks later I’ll come back to the story and cross out the word ‘walked’ and replace it with ‘ambled’, and then I’ll put the sentences back in their original order.

I wonder if God went through a similar process when He created the world.  Was there a first draft where the sun was red and the grass was blue? A second draft where men didn’t have nipples? A third draft where He put the nipples back? But it’s finished when God declares that “…it is good.”

I know people who reject good things on the basis that they aren’t perfect. I think that the Church gets unfairly hammered with this a lot. Because someone somewhere did something bad in Jesus’ name, it justifies throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Perhaps it’s just an excuse really; it’s a way of being able to dismiss something that you’d prefer to dismiss, while at the same time making it look like you have the moral high ground. But doing something imperfectly is often better than doing nothing. No-one who moans about people doing something while they do nothing ever has the moral high ground.  When it comes to writing, and creating and the Church, ‘good’ can be good enough.

News from Elsa in Publishing: Second Listening Book out this Autumn

News from Elsa in Publishing: Second Listening Book out this Autumn

Following Rev Giblet’s illuminating musings on preaching, I thought another Summertime guest post on James’s Blog might work – sure he won’t mind.

The Second Listening Book will be released in October and continues James’s storytelling mission. There will be a whole load more fab tales with gorgeous line drawings from Carys Jenkins, Alice Journeaux and Josh Gauton, as well as lovely photos from Mark Lewis. As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, these are rather good coffee table books. This time you notice it’s dark blue, so beverages of all description don’t show up on it. You can even put it on top of the first TLB to cover up any stains. But enough of my house tidying tips – the back blurb sums up what’s inside better than I can:

I enjoy reading James Webb, not just because he is a gifted and imaginative storyteller, but because he provides nourishing soul food for the journeys we all make through the deserts of life.  With his creative imagination he provokes a range of emotions in the reader and I invite you to step inside and be prepared to find something for which your soul has cried out.

David Coffey OBE – Global Ambassador for BMS World Mission

There are very few books I read that can make me laugh and think profoundly at the same time. This book however is one of them. As a child I used to watch Tales of the Unexpected and loved the twists at the end – James’ book easily surpasses them. It is very easy to read and yet worthwhile at the same time as each story contains spiritual truths (which aren’t at all preachy and sometimes not obvious!). ‎This is a book you have to try – you won’t regret it.

Eric Harmer – Pastor of Barton Church, Canterbury and Author of Build-Your-Own Bible Study

If you would like to pass on a foretaste of the joy to a friend, why not send them the free Little Book of Listening eBook or point them to James’s Blog – the regular one, that is, but not necessarily the guest postings.

Happy Reading!

Much love from

Elsa Lewis

PS. Get in touch if you’d like a batch of books for your church and I’ll get them dropped off in time for the launch – especially if you’re in Aus or the US – I’d just love to pop over 🙂

lionesswritingltd@gmail.com

James’s Blog: A Guest Blog from Rev. Ulysses Giblet.

James’s Blog:  A Guest Blog from Rev. Ulysses Giblet.

I’ve been told that every good blog needs a guest blogger now and then. Fortunately, I’ve been able to convince a long time friend, the Reverend Ulysses Giblet, to contribute to my page. Here’s some of his thoughts on preaching.

When James asked me if I’d write something for his blog, I was happy to help. I decided I should write a short article on a topic that James knows nothing about – preaching.

Why Church Leaders Need to Be Good Preachers:

There are many qualities that are desirable in church leaders, such as punctuality, good personal hygiene and great hair & teeth, but the most important quality for a church leader is the ability to crank out top quality sermons on demand. Here are three reasons why this is the case:

  1. A good Sunday will make people forget about what you did on Monday to Saturday.

We’ve all had a bad week at some time. Perhaps we chose our words poorly during a difficult church meeting. Maybe we punched someone in the face during a complicated pastoral situation. What if people are asking tricky questions about why that money from the building fund is resting in your personal bank account? We’ve all been there – I know that I have. Thankfully, when you’re a good preacher, Sunday morning becomes an opportunity to remind people why they employed you. If you can milk a few tears out of the congregation when preaching then they’ll be more than happy to overlook your minor failings, such as being unapproachable, pastorally insensitive and morally bankrupt.

  1. Ca Ching!

If you’re anything like me, then you went into the ministry because it involves no heavy lifting and presents fantastic money making opportunities for the right people. If you want to make the big bucks you need to find your way into one of the top tier churches – you know, those mega churches where the congregation is big enough to comfortably employ fifteen full-time members of staff. Some churches also have such distinguished historic reputations that they’re full of rich people (who love all that stuff). All the best (i.e. richest) churches have one thing in common – they love excellent preachers. That’s what they’re looking for in their ministers, so put a bit of effort into improving your preaching and wait for the lucrative job offers to come rolling in. It’s even better in America, where an English accent can be worth as much as an extra $10,000 a year. Money for old rope!

  1. You only have to be visible one day a week.

If you’re an excellent preacher, in a church with a reputation for excellent preaching, then people are happy for you to ‘delegate’ most of the work of the church to others while you focus on the truly important job of preparing for Sunday’s sermon. In fact, they’ll probably insist on it. Here’s a line that you might want to memorise – “I’m sorry, I can’t come and help you with that difficult situation, because Mondays through to Thursdays are my sermon preparation days”. Fantastic. As added good news, the more experience you have, the quicker you can prepare sermons. After a while, you’ll be done by Monday afternoon and have the rest of your ‘sermon preparation’ days for important spiritual tasks, like sleeping in, eating chocolate and binge watching TV.

Hopefully you can now see why, if you’re in church leadership, developing your preaching ability should be your number one priority.

Rev. Ulysses Giblet.

James’s Blog: Walking with God Again.

James’s Blog:  Walking with God Again.

I was out on one of my walks one evening, and I saw something unusual. Down below me, in her front garden, was an elderly woman, wrapped up against the cold, standing behind a lawn mower. It was a strange sight, seeing this tiny old lady about to start mowing her front lawn in the autumn twilight.

I almost kept walking, but I knew what I had to do.

“Do you need some help?” I yelled down to her.

She didn’t hear me. In for a penny, in for a pound. I walked down her steps, got her attention and walked across her lawn until I was standing next to her.

“Do you want me to mow your lawn?” I asked.

It wasn’t a big lawn. It wouldn’t have taken me long. I explained that I lived just down the road, and that I was often out and about for a walk this time of evening.

At first the lady responded warmly, and made comments about how kind it was of me to offer, but as the conversation went on, something changed. I recognised it. From somewhere, an element of fear had snuck into her mind. In a way I don’t blame her. It was probably intimidating, to have this ugly stranger appear out of the darkness and offer to mow her lawn for her. I mean, who does that? Perhaps she thought that I would want to be paid? I don’t know. The conversation went politely, but she said that she didn’t need my help. Never mind. I had done what was expected of me, and that’s all.

I walked on, a mix of conflicting emotions inside. There was the mild embarrassment that comes from having a gift rejected, coupled with the instant self-criticism that told me that it was all my fault. Those were quite easily banished, and then I was just left with sadness as I reflected on how easily we reject the outstretched hand of God because we’ve allowed the Enemy to whisper lies of fear into our hearts.

On my way back, in the darkness, I saw that the lawn had been freshly mowed and the old lady was nowhere to be seen. This is the kind of thing that happens when you go walking with God.

James’s Blog: Tell the Galatians that School’s Out.

James’s Blog:  Tell the Galatians that School’s Out.

I wrote this little verse a while ago. It’s inspired by Galatians 3:23 to 4:7. Read the passage first.

The law is done?

The pedagogue is agog.

The school uniform doesn’t fit any more,

Lay it aside.

Put on the clothes of a son; a daughter,

The attire of a child about your Father’s business,

You have come of age.

Get out from behind the nanny’s skirt.

Don’t go back to the playground,

The classroom.

School’s out.

You’ve been given a fantastic inheritance,

Get out there and claim it.

James’s Blog: Thin Places.

James’s Blog:  Thin Places.

I believe in Thin Places. I have two favourites. One is old and one is new. One is inside and one is outside. One is here and one is there.

Canterbury Cathedral is old, at least in terms of this country and its identity. It’s been rebuilt several times over the years, but for nearly one and half millennia it has been a site set apart for the service and worship of God. As you wander around it, you can be thinking about the excesses of the established church, the corruption and insipidity of the Anglican faith at its worst, but why should you not be awed by this building? By the size and the beauty. By the devotion that its construction required. (The idea that God cannot be glorified by good old fashioned ingenuity and hard work is nonsense by the way). Even in this enlightened day and age, hundreds of visitors are daily looking at stained glass windows and reading Renaissance graffiti. There is something special here. Fifteen hundred years of prayer and song and liturgy? That has to leave a mark.

I will stroll down into the crypt and amble to the Chapel of St. John. I may pause to look at the prayers that people have written to be placed on the altar. I will sit and look at the window that shows the harlot drying Jesus’ feet with her hair. Even though there may be tourists, I can be silent and listen. I can meet with God. Fifteen hundred years of prayer and song and liturgy, and I add mine to become part of something greater than myself. A blink of the eye for God, but an eternity of praise.

The second place is on the other side of the world. On a small farm on the Belubula, in a place called Canowindra. Many of you won’t have heard of it, or of a missionary couple named Ian and Irene, who gave part of their farmland over to Cornerstone. Over forty years ago they planted a grove of poplar trees on that farm. I believe that the plan was for the trees to be sold for matchsticks. That was the plan, but those trees are still there, dead and dangerous, and still very flammable. But that grove has seen more than twenty years of prayer and worship and weddings. I have been involved in all three. Australia is a beautiful country, yet so alien compared to England’s green and pleasant fields, and I have sat in the silence of that grove on many a summer morning. I have shed tears and sang songs. I have sat with kangaroos and sheep and birds. I have heard God in some very specific ways, and He and I have wrestled in that place many times. He usually won, but not always.

Thin Places, the Celts called them. Places where the boundary between this life and the next is worn and frail and the freshness of the Kingdom bleeds obviously into the mundane beauty of this world. These places are real, and so is the God who can be found in them.

James’s Blog: Chicken and Egg.

James’s Blog:  Chicken and Egg.

Evangelical Christians don’t have a Pope, nor believe in papal infallibility, but sometimes you wouldn’t know it from the way that some of us talk about Martin Luther, or John Calvin or our favourite authors or a particular leader or church. It’s par for the course for us human beings. We struggle to hold conflicting things in tension, we seek order and patterns in everything, even when there are none. We are happiest when something is clearly 100% good or 100% bad, black or white, right or wrong; when our heroes and villains are undiluted.  When we’re young, and we lack experience, wisdom and courage it’s easiest for us if we can attach ourselves to someone and let them do our thinking for us. We all have this subconscious desire to be discipled by something. For some of us, we buy wholeheartedly into a church and adopt uncritically its interpretation of the Bible on faith, love, sex, prayer and God.

I remember once I was doing some teaching to some visitors at Cornerstone. One of the people listening found something I had said difficult to accept in light of what he had been taught by his church and, to his credit, he came to talk to me about it. I took him through one of the New Testament letters which had been influential in shaping my thinking about the topic. I could see, as we went through the letter together, that he wasn’t convinced. His knew and respected his church leaders, and who was this nobody trying to tell him that they were wrong? At one point in the letter we came across a verse that, to be honest, may as well have said, “That thing that James is telling you? Yeah, it’s right, and that means that what your church has taught you is wrong.” He looked at me and said, without a single drop of irony in his voice, “So I just need to find a way to interpret that verse”. That was when I knew that I’d lost.

I’d seen it before, in victims of cults. You present an alternative interpretation. It shakes their worldview a little and makes them uncomfortable, so instead of unravelling the thought, exploring it and seeing where it takes them, they run to a church leader who performs some complicated exegetical gymnastics in order to be able to say, “That verse that says that thing – it actually means the complete opposite”. And all is right with the world again.

I see it in myself and in others, where instead of letting what the Bible says shape our theology, we let our theology shape what the Bible says. A sad day, when truth knocks on our door, and we just hang out a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign.

James’s Blog: Alternative Beatitudes

James’s Blog:  Alternative Beatitudes

“Blessed are those who have realised that getting bigger and better stuff doesn’t lead to happiness,

for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who, when they see what’s on Facebook or listen to the lyrics of the latest chart hit, get depressed,

for they will be comforted.

Blessed are those who do more than take Selfies and worry about how many subscribers they have,

for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who walk down the high street, find themselves surrounded by materialism and soft porn, and feel empty inside,

for they will be filled.

Blessed are those who use technology to build something good, rather than to just make life more convenient,

for they will be shown mercy.

Blessed are those who aren’t subscribed to Netflix, Amazon Prime or Now TV,

for they will see God.

Blessed are those who don’t get drawn into petty squabbles on Internet forums or YouTube comments,

for they will be called children of God.

Blessed are those who are mocked and ridiculed and labelled intolerant because they believe in something bigger than what can be seen,

for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

James’s Blog: “Hello?”

James’s Blog: “Hello?”

Once upon a time a well-known author and speaker came and spoke at a Christian Union event. The speaker would say something profound, and then end his sentence with something like “Amen?” or “Hello?”. It was obvious that he wanted some kind of response, something like “Preach it brother!” or “Hallelujah!”. Unfortunately we were the wrong audience. We were a mostly white, mostly middle-to-upper class group of mostly students, some of whom came from fairly conservative church backgrounds. All the speaker got from us was silence. Not one to take defeat lying down, he persevered in an attempt to mould us into his own image. Eventually we got the message that we weren’t fulfilling our end of the social contract, so some of us played along a little bit, but you could tell that our hearts weren’t in it. It was serious business to him though, and after one of his little pearls of wisdom was met with unsatisfactory enthusiasm he said, “Not many believers here tonight, are there?”. What did he mean? That you weren’t a Christian if you didn’t vocally agree with him? I was not impressed with this encounter. The whole experience just left me cold. I wonder if he knows how arrogant he came across that evening?

I’m not sure that he would care. He didn’t strike me as someone who was particularly approachable or open to what anyone else thought. He just struck me as arrogant. Arrogant and humourless.

I have a saying: Never trust a Christian who can’t laugh at himself.

Amen?

James’s Blog: The Politics of Fear.

James’s Blog:  The Politics of Fear.

I’ve been thinking a little bit about fear recently. I don’t really want to write about Britain’s decision to leave the EU, but I feel like I should at least say something. It’s too big to ignore; too massive to just carry on and pretend it hasn’t happened. I’d rather write something else, some spiritual reflection or humourous observation, (like the fact that my spell-checker lets me write ‘humour’ but wants me to write ‘humorous’). But, as I said, I’ve been thinking about fear recently.

The referendum debate revolved around fear. Fear of economic uncertainty, fear of immigration, fear of eroded sovereignty, fear of the future. Fear seems to be the only tool that our politicians have, and if that’s the case – regardless of the referendum result – we’re in trouble.

There’s no doubt. Fear is a powerful motivator. You can make people do outrageous things, things totally against their character, if you can just make them afraid enough. Yet when I read through the gospels, I can’t help but notice that Jesus never seemed to act out of fear. I never get the impression that fear was a factor in his motivation. He did some pretty crazy stuff and upset some powerful people, but he never seemed to be afraid, and if he was then he never let it control his choices.

There was a time when fear came out to play, and that was in the garden of Gethsemane, where he pleads for a different route. He doesn’t want to die, especially not like this, and he asks God to spare him. And yet…”Not my will, Father, but yours”. Even in his darkest hour, his greatest fear is not death or suffering, but rather the fear of not being obedient.

Imagine living a life where that’s really the only thing that you are truly afraid of.

I find it hard to feel optimistic about the immediate future right now. There’s all kinds of ugliness and uncertainty surfacing in the Island of the Mighty, but I have decided to not be afraid. Whatever the future brings and whatever actions I take, I will try to not let fear be the thing that drives me. Not my will, Father, but yours.