Proof That God Is The Maker of Heaven and Earth (and of All things Visible and Invisible)

Nothing comes out of nothing; something comes out of something.  The energy and matter which sent the galaxies spinning with stars came from something.  Any attempt to retreat into the brute fact that the universe is “just there” is a cop-out.  The universe does not appear to be infinite in the face the Big Bang Theory and of entropy. Entropy is the second law of thermodynamics and tells us that the universe is winding down without hope of ever winding back up.  It is heading toward a state of maximum disorder and uniform energy distribution.  The sun will burn up and all fuels will eventually burn up as well.  But since a state of maximum entropy has not yet been reached, the universe has not been here forever. (1)

The universe is amazingly complex.  Time magazine devoted a cover story to the subject, “What Does Science Tell Us About God?”  The lead article was written by an unbeliever, Dr. Robert Wright, who called himself a fairly hard-core scientific materialist.  But in the course of the article, Dr. Wright admitted:

“One intriguing observation that it has bubbled up from physics is that the universe seems calibrated for life’s existence.  If the force of gravity were pushed upward a bit, stars would burn out faster, leaving little time for life to evolve on the planets circling them.  If the relative masses of protons and neutrons were changed by a hair, stars might never be born, since the hydrogen and they eat wouldn’t exist.  If, at the Big Bang some basic numbers — the initial conditions — had been jiggled, matter and energy would never have coagulated into galaxies, stars, planets or any other platform stable enough for life as we know it.  And so on.” (2)

Beings as complex as humans don’t just happen by accident. If you were walking along a mountain trail and saw a watch in the middle of the path, you wouldn’t think to yourself, “My, what amazing accident of atoms and energy occurred which formed this chronographic mechanism?”  You’d figure somebody designed and made it.  A human being is much more complex than a watch.  What are the chances that we are an accident of atoms and energy?

 

Darwin himself stated that discovery of a “complex organ which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications would absolutely break down” (3) his theory of evolution.  A good example of this complex organ is the cilium.  Cilia are hair-like structures on the surfaces of many animal and lower plant cells that can move fluid over the cell’s surface or row single cells through a fluid. … Just as a mousetrap does not work unless all of its constituent parts are present, ciliary motion simply does not exist in the absence of micro-tubules, connectors, and motors.  Therefore, we can conclude that the cilium is irreducibly complex — an enormous monkey wrench thrown into its presumed, Darwinian evolution. (4)

 

Even invisible concepts such as beauty are difficult to explain from a naturalistic worldview.  Is there any reason in natural selection why humans should view the Rocky Mountains, a midnight meteor shower, or waves crashing onto the shore as anything beautiful?  On the contrary, preoccupation with such things as these might actually decrease the rate of survival—especially if an enemy or predator were nearby!  Certain concepts of beauty (women and men’s fashions, for example) seem to change with each passing decade; but some things in creation have always been “inexplicably” beautiful.  Other invisible concepts such as honor, courage, sacrifice, fairness, forgiveness, and the like are also difficult to explain without appealing to an objective standard of thinking and behavior outside a strictly material universe. There is no reason to believe that a merely physical universe would explain these pervasive human notions. The existence of God certainly does.

To sum up: the reality of the universe, the complexity of living organisms, and humanity’s awareness of any kind of virtue all point to to the existence of God.

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(1) J.P. Morland, Scaling the Secular City  (Grand Rapids, Michigan:Baker, 1987), p. 35

(2) Robert Wright, “Science, God and Man,” Time Magazine  December 28th, 1992, p. 40

(3)  Charles Darwin, Origin of the Species, 6th ed. (New York: New York University Press, 1988), p. 154

(4)  Michael Behe, in Dembski and Kushiner, Signs of Intelligence (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Brazos Press, 2001), p. 96

Looking Good

Our Western Culture is obsessed with physical beauty. You probably already knew that. The Bible tells us, “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart..” (1Samuel 16:7) Obviously, the human race has been getting it wrong for thousands of years. This puts us all under a lot of stress to present well.

I wonder what things would have been like if we were still in the Garden of Eden. We would not prefer anyone based upon looks. We’d experience racial equality! Money would be saved and invested in much more worthy causes (since inner beauty would be valued over outer beauty.)

And then, I think about Heaven. Imagine a place where the beauty of men’s and women’s souls would shine through and be the most apparent thing about them. A person’s capacity for being loved by God and ability to love others would be visible.

Since Jesus came establishing the Kingdom of Heaven, those becoming citizens of that kingdom can expect to watch their views on beauty change. Outward appearances become less and less important. We cease judging people on the color of their skin, the shape of their eyes, the size of their noses, the largeness of their breasts, the tone of their bodies, their height, their width, their age, hair, or the whiteness of their teeth. We will instead relate to them based upon the quality of their hearts.

We begin to see why Leonard Sweet says, “For outer-beauty shopping, go to your mall. For inner-beauty development, go to your church.” He just echoes what Jesus’ friend Peter said:

Your beauty should not come from outward adornment … Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight .  (1Peter 3:3-4)

Reasons That The Bible Is True

Most people know that the Bible is indispensable to Christianity. They tend to see the Bible as a whole unit instead of 66 separate books written by 40 different people in a variety of circumstances over a span of millennia.
Very few people have read it much at all. I don’t find many atheists out there in the world. Instead, I meet a lot of people who believe in God but need proof that the Bible is a divinely inspired volume.

 

Old Testament:  

The question of the reliability of the Old Testament is a good place to begin.  While we do not currently have any external evidence to corroborate the accounts in the book of Genesis, all the customs described in it ring true to what we know about ancient cultures.  Until the recent discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls, the oldest complete extant Hebrew manuscript was around A.D. 900.  This made a time gap of 1,300 years (the Hebrew Old Testament was completed around 400 B.C.). …With the discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls, however, a number of Old Testament manuscripts have been found which scholars date before the time of Christ.(1)

Egyptian records from the time of the Exodus refer to a large group of foreigners who are slaves of Pharaoh and involved in construction projects, who suddenly leave when a new leader emerges.  Archaeology from the 1300 to 1000 B.C. era in Palestine confirms rapid settlements as depicted in the book of Joshua, in addition to the slow steady growth of villages in Israel as depicted in the book of Judges.  In 1993, the oldest known inscription into a Bible character — King David — was found in northern Israel.  Additionally, the writings of the Assyrians and the Babylonians boast about their conquests of the northern and southern kingdoms of Israel circa 700 to 586 B.C., verifying those Old Testament accounts.  Ancient Persian documents confirm the names of their rulers as also found in the Bible.  Even minor figures from the rebuilding of Jerusalem are confirmed, like Nehemiah’s opponent Sanballat.(2)

New Testament:   

The veracity of the New Testament is even more stunning when studied.  The extremely short span of time from when the events of the New Testament happened to when they were recorded is astounding.  External documentary evidence for the Gospels and several of the apostle Paul’s letters comes from the writings of the early church fathers.  Polycarp, Ignatius, and Clement (writing from 110 to 96 A. D.) refer to the Philippian epistle, all four Gospels, the book of Acts, and many other New Testament books.  By virtue of these three ancient documents, we can conclude that at least 25 of the 27 books of the New Testament were in circulation by about the year 100.  But they could very likely be dated considerably earlier … the Gospels depict Jesus as repeatedly predicting the fall of Jerusalem because of its rejection of the Messiah (Luke 13:22-35, etc.).  Would the author of the Gospel of Luke, if writing after 70 A.D., not mention this fulfillment of prophesy, especially when the Gospel of Luke itself records Jesus’ life as a fulfillment of various prophecies?(3)

As for the accounts of the life of Jesus, the earliest written was by Mark, traditionally as related to him by the apostle Peter. The short period of time between the actual events described (circa A.D. 27-30) and the time in which Mark wrote (circa A.D. 70-75 at the latest, and probably pre-70) distinguishes the Gospels from most other allegedly parallel processes of oral transmission in antiquity, which generally span several centuries.  Eyewitnesses of Jesus’ ministry, including hostile ones, could easily have refuted and discredited the Christian claims during this period if they were in any way mistaken. … Additionally, as with all the disciples of the ancient Jewish rabbis, Jesus’ followers may well have privately kept written notes while passing along the tradition orally in public.  There’s no reason why Jesus’ disciples could not have begun such note taking even while he was still alive, since Jesus sent them out on their own on at least two missions to preach the gospel.  After Jesus’ ascension into heaven this practice would have become even more likely.(4)

In defense of the faith,

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(1) Josh McDowell, A Ready Defense (San Bernardino, California: Here’s Life Publishers, 1992), p.48

(2) Craig Blomberg, sermon: “Can I Believe the Bible?”  (Denver, Colorado: Scum of the Earth Church, December 9, 2001)

(3) Douglas Groothuis, Jesus in an Age of Controversy, (Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 1996), pp. 42-43

(4) Craig Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter-Varsity Press, 1987), p. 24-25

One of the Most Misapplied Old Testament Bible Verses

… If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”  (2Chronicles 7:14)
 
So often I hear this verse used in reference to the U.S.A., quoted by well-meaning Christians who sense our society’s moral decline.  Well, perhaps it could apply—I mean, God can do whatever He wants.  Originally, though, the context was for the land of ancient Israel (the preceding verse is about droughts, locusts and plagues).

 

For Christians, I think this promise becomes metaphorical.  Christians were never given a piece of real estate by God as the Jews were given Israel.  We are God’s people, sure enough; but, what is “our land”?  Could it be the church—that piece of Jesus’ Kingdom which we inhabit right now?  If God’s people humble themselves, pray, seek God’s face, and turn from their wicked ways—then might God heal the drought of love in the church?  Might God destroy the “locusts of laziness” that are robbing us of fruitful labor in ministry?  Might He heal us of the plague of self-centeredness?  It’s tempting to point fingers at the society around us and urge it to repent (for, indeed, it needs to), but this verse actually asks us to do the repenting.  In return, God (who has forgiven our sins through the cross of Jesus Christ) will heal the churches we currently call home.

old southern presbyterian chapel

Suppose someone said to you, “Life has no meaning; but we can find meaning through our values and goals.”

lead_960If the universe has no meaning, then there is no reason to have values or goals apart from furthering your own agenda. In that case, those who torture innocent children are just as “right” as those who feed and clothe the starving and homeless. There is no reason to get upset when someone steals your car or murders your friend because there is nothing intrinsically “wrong” with those acts, given the meaninglessness of the universe.

Of course, there are societal laws that make some actions illegal. The question becomes, “Why are those things wrong and other things right?” Could there be a society that calls what we call “evil” as good, and “good” as evil—and would that be okay? In a meaningless universe, why should a person have any values or goals at all? If we should, who says we should? Anyone who says we “should” do anything is implying that there is an objective standard of thinking and behavior somewhere.
If the universe has no meaning, why would people exist who are looking for it? For example, if we had no stomachs, why would we look for food? But if we seek meaning for our lives, is it possible that there is, indeed, a meaning in the universe at large. That is a reasonable assumption.
The basis of the Christian view concerning the meaning of the universe is this: God loves us and has our highest good in mind. It is from this meaning that each of us is created with certain values (Romans 1:20-32). It is because of this meaning that God has revealed the values which provide for the best possible life meaningoflifefor all people (such as the Ten Commandments). And it is because the universe has meaning that God has taken the form of the man Jesus Christ to suffer the consequence of us not living up to those values and falling short of our goals—so that we might enjoy Him forever (John 3:16-21).

Apologetically yours,

Mike-Signature

 

 

 

My Perplexing Relationship with Christmas

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There’s nothing like sitting by a fireplace on a cold wintry night, sipping hot chocolate, and listening to Christmas music while gazing at a brightly-lit Christmas tree.

I love Christmastime, but the truth is that a lot of what I enjoy has nothing to do with the birth of Jesus. That can bother me. Actually, there is far greater reason, theologically, for Easter to be my favorite holiday. After all, the Nativity is the warm-up for the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ. But I don’t have those warm fuzzy feelings at Easter, and that bothers me, too. The Gospel writers spend thousands of words retelling the events of the last week of Jesus’ life and shortly thereafter. They spend hundreds of words writing about Jesus birth. It seems that Jesus himself wants me to concentrate more upon his mission than on his being born. He instructed the disciples to take communion by saying, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me,” and, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” (1Corinthians 11) We are to proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes—not his birth in Bethlehem.

The world around us seems to like the baby Jesus better than the grown-up Jesus, however. I can understand that … after all, the Baby Jesus didn’t overturn the tables of merchants or talk about Hell. Christmas is also about giving and receiving presents, and maybe that’s part of the reason that the world makes such a huge deal about Christmas. And, um … it’s also probably another reason why I like the Yuletide Season so much. I’ve written nostalgic songs about Christmas; but even if I am singing about all the trappings of the holiday, the lyrics always end up with the hope that springs from the birth of Jesus.

The hope of Christmas is that a Savior has been born. Verily, verily I say unto you – if Jesus hadn’t risen from the dead, nobody would be celebrating His birthday over 2000 years later. Nobody. Not even Christians. (Because there wouldn’t be any!)

So, I celebrate this holiday with one eye on the manger and another on the cross. img00397Truly, there are no warm, fuzzy feelings of peace, joy and goodwill at Christmas without the rest of the story.

Scum Scotland News

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Above are illustrations from the Book of Kells, an illuminated manuscript of the Gospels in Latin. The Book of Kells was likely prepared by the monks of Iona, Scotland about A.D. 800. Left: The Virgin Mary and Jesus Center: The Four Gospels —Clockwise from top left: a man (Matthew), a lion (Mark), an eagle (John) and an ox (Luke) Right: Jesus Enthroned as King

Setting into motion an outreach to the left-out in the Land of the Scots

We’ve just got a few more days left in Scotland before we leave to come home. It’s been a remarkable trip – made so especially by the hospitality we have received from God’s people here in the UK. This trip would not be possible without free places to live. It’s been a stretch financially just coming over here, traveling from place to place, and buying what we need from day to day; but it’s all been great. Mary and I will return next week feeling that we have been used of the Lord and inspired. I’ll cut to the chase and bring you all up to speed on what’s happening with Scum of the Earth Church in Scotland.

 
I think I’d not remembered what hard soil Scotland is spiritually when it comes to reaping a harvest for the Kingdom of God. It’s not like the USA. Even though I would say that our home country is approaching a post-Christian era, we are not quite there yet. The southern states are particularly slow getting there; and that’s good. There’s still enough Christian memory in America to make the planting of new churches easier than it is here. Most people in the United States have family members who still attend church. There are plenty of Christian programs on the radio and television. There are even Christian films that seem to be gaining in popularity. It’s simply not that way over here. Scotland is so post-Christian, I’d say it’s pre-Christian when it comes to most of the population. Many people don’t even have Christian friends, and the perception they do have of Christianity is negative.

Thus, people who plant churches here have work to do before they start sowing Gospel seed – they have to plow the hard ground. That means getting people ready to hear the words of Jesus and to take them seriously. It means building relationships with people who have no faith at all and loving them until they trust you. It means being there for them when stuff happens and things go awry. It means waiting for the Holy Spirit to move in their hearts. Thank God that he is there to lead us and to help us.
Stuart and Lynsey Gilmour have their work cut out for them. What we have done here is to help train them for that task. They cannot be too encouraged or overly prepared to do the work God has called them to do.

In ascreen-shot-2016-12-10-at-2-53-30-pmddition to meeting with Wes & Cindy White and Mike & Carol Kurtyka from Communitas International (the missionary organization that will act as a legal covering for Scum Scotland in the UK), we have met with other people this week who are friends of Stuart’s & Lynsey’s and will act as accountability here. Mary and I have also forged relationships within at least one church in the area that will hopefully come alongside Scum Scotland in the near future and provide additional prayer support for the Gilmours.

Just so you know, when people actually do come to Christ here, they end up becoming very strong believers who gather in dynamic, faithful churches. It’s what the Scripture teaches us, “But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more,” (Romans 5:20). We have every confidence that this will be the case with Scum in Scotland; but first, there are pubs in which to meet its future members. There are concerts to attend where those whom God has chosen to eventually live in this scummy little corner of his kingdom are now listening to bands sing about anything but Jesus. These are the people that the Gilmours and their friends will invite into their lives. screen-shot-2016-12-10-at-2-52-51-pm

CONCERNING THIS TIME OF YEAR…

christmas-ribbon-png-imageIt is extremely difficult to get away from the busyness and commerce of the holiday season.  We’d have to live like monks or like the Amish.  The best we can do is to focus on the important stuff the church celebrates so that, in at least one community, we are not bowing to the culture.  The church has got to be the place where Jesus is the heart of the holidays.  We can’t expect that from anywhere else.

Folks at Scum have reminded me what the holidays really mean because they lack the ecclesiastical baggage I carry.  For example, over the years they have wanted to do a liturgical Christmas Eve service.  I never would have thought of that for us, but to them it marked a reverence that was genuine.  The services are beautiful and powerful, and we’ve added a twist with original poetry from the people at Scum of the Earth along with hymns, responsive readings, and various Scripture readings.  This year will be no different, as it’s now become a seasonal tradition for us; but that’s okay because whatever happens will be from hearts that seek to glorify God.

DF-09134 Nativity , May 18, 2006 Photo by Jaimie Trueblood/newline.wireimage.com To license this image (9139053), contact NewLine: U.S. +1-212-686-8900 / U.K. +44-207 659 2815 / Australia +61-2-8262-9222 / Japan: +81-3-5464-7020 +1 212-686-8901 (fax) info@wireimage.com (e-mail) NewLine.wireimage.com (web site)
A scene from the film, The Nativity Story

If someone says, “Don’t forget the meaning of the holidays,” (or, “Keep Christ in Christmas!) my initial reaction is to take the opposite side and argue for the spirit of the holidays to be an everyday thing.  (Keep Jesus in each mundane, non-holiday date on the calendar.)  But people find purpose and grace in the holidays.  Christmas and Thanksgiving are about taking time out to celebrate God’s goodness to us.  In one sense, we shouldn’t have to set aside special times during the year—we should always be grateful and mindful of everything that God has done for us by sending Christ—but that’s simply not the case, so we mark our calendars to remember.

The Nativity Stained Glass, Brivezac France

One person considers one day more sacred than another; another person considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.  The one who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord…

(Romans 14:5 -6)

My advice for celebrating the holidays is to do so in the context of community.  Celebrate with your family of origin, with your church family, with your group of friends, and with other families who may invite you into their spheres.  But the holidays should be a time of service and ministry as well.  Married folks are tempted to provide only for themselves and their children, but they have the ability to open their families to others (and thus be an example to their children that it’s not all about them).  Singles are free in this instance to serve the Lord without restriction (St. Paul was right when he wrote about this in 1Corinthians 7).  Singles can visit a forgotten person in a nursing home on Christmas morning or serve a meal to homeless folks at Thanksgiving without fear of neglecting someone else.  Jesus would be doing all these kinds of things.  Seems that at every Jewish holiday we read about Him doing something for somebody.  The community of Christ should be no different during our holidays.

Glory to God in the Highest,

Mike-Signature

M&M / U.K. 2016, Week 4

plastic-scumI’ve been thinking a lot about what exactly my job description might look like after I step down from Scum of the Earth’s staff within a couple of years. At any rate, I am sure that I have heard from the Lord that Scum does not need a 65-year-old senior pastor. That will be my birthday in February, 2019. Until then, I am more than happy to serve this local body of believers that I’ve been a part of since its inception in the year 2000 – and I am excited to stay part of the congregation after that. One reason I know I’ve heard from the Lord is that I never would’ve come up with this idea on my own. I had planned to “die in the pulpit,” as I believe that young people need older people (obviously, I’ve always thought that way). Now, as I look at the wisdom of me stepping down, it becomes apparent that this unique church requires a passing the torch because God is calling me to broader ministry and because the next season of Scum Denver’s mission needs a leader with different gifts. To that end, Jesse Hellmann became the governing elder of the church in September.

I met with my friend, the Rev. Dave Male, while in Cambridge, England. Dave Male is the Church of England’s National Adviser for Pioneer Development, working to facilitate the development of a comprehensive and integrated vision, strategy and practice for pioneer ministry across the country. imgp0113Dave has been the founder and Director of the Centre for Pioneer Learning in Cambridge, which aims to equip, resource and send out both lay and ordained pioneers (nationally and internationally). He was Tutor in Pioneer Mission Training at Westcott House and Ridley Hall, Cambridge University. (It was during this time that I met him.) Previously David spent seven years as the Vicar of The Net Church in Huddersfield which was one of the first fresh expressions of church in the U.K. He has written a number of books around pioneering issues. He is also a member of the Archbishops College of Evangelists.

My meeting with Dave was encouraging. He said, “Mike, we’ve got to explore: What is it that you offer the body of Christ in a broader sense than being pastor of Scum of the Earth Church?” That’s a rather humbling question, and the answer may not be only what I think. There’s an old proverb that says, “A person plans his course, but the Lord directs his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9, New English Translation). So, I’ve got to figure out what I can in my own heart … but be open to the Lord changing my course. Here’s what came of our hours together that day:

  • Consult with congregations of older Christians about attracting more young people to their churches (perhaps a 1-2 year consult length). Maybe do a “pilot project” with a church for a reduced fee.
  • Help begin other Scum of the Earth church plants around the country….via other churches, not necessarily individuals.
  • Work with individual, young pastors as a mentor.
  • Provide training for pastors who have never been to seminary. (Perhaps online only?)
  • Social media is important. I need to blog, write for publication, be on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. in order to get the message out.

Dave’s main concern for me was that I’d be too soft about keeping a realistic financial sense about this kind of ministry—that I would have to be more hard-nosed than I usually am (and then stay focused on what ends up working financially for me). I think he is spot-on about that. I have never been motivated by money (which was one of my downfalls as a salesman all those years ago). Baby steps – that’s what I need to do – and it makes me think about that Bill Murray character from the film, What About Bob? Now, all I’ve gotta do is start!

While in the Cambridge area, we went to see some pioneering ministers who had been former students of Dave’s at Ridley Hall. We met with Elis and Sheila Matthews, Edd and Katie Stock, Izzy Turner, and then drove to Liverpool to meet with Dave and Lizzie Lowrie – all young and zealous for the Kingdom of God, stretching the borders of the church to meet those who are lost and without hope and introduce them to Jesus. We also got to reconnect with our expatriate Scum worship leaders Nat and Genevieve Nelson who are living in Manchester, England —which was wonderful. We had introduced them to the Lowries earlier, and the Nelsons have helped them a bit with their StoryHouse Cafe, an outreach to the Liverpool community. Mary and I also met a friend of the Nelsons’, Shara, who will most likely be visiting Scum sometime early next year. (She is currently reading my book, Pure Scum.)

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Elis & Sheila Matthews visited us in Cambridge. Elis is a Curate in London’s south side. Sheila helped found a ministry for those struggling with infertility and childless issues. Check out the “Saltwater and Honey” blog at http://saltwaterandhoney.org
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Izzy Turner lived with us for a month when she was an intern from Ridley Hall at Scum
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Katie Stock is an amazing young woman. She has an award-winning blog (https://www.theologybee.com) and writes for the UK’s Christianity magazine.
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Edd Stock is a Curate with the Church of England whom we met at Ridley Hall while on sabbatical in 2014. He’s an amazing guy, loads of energy and ideas for ministry. He and Katie have two young daughters.
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This was a cold, windy day at the seaside in Liverpool. Nat and Genevieve are in the foreground. Lizzie and Dave and Mary in the background.
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Dave & Lizzie in front of their pioneering ministry to the community of Crosby (Liverpool). Dave is a curate at nearby St. Luke’s.

We are now back in Scotland. Stuart and Lynsey Gilmour—plus building a core church-plant team—are again our focus before we fly home on the 6th of December.

M&M / U.K. 2016, Weeks 2-3

Got the highest scoring word I ever played on the flight to France — "QUITTERS" for 110 points.
Got the highest scoring word I ever played on the flight to France — “QUITTERS” for 110 points.

After a really full week and a half, things slowed down tremendously for Mary and me. We flew down to Cambridge, had supper with our friends, Sue and Paul Butler, and then all four of us got up very early the next morning to board a plane for Limoges, France. The Butlers own a small cottage near the village of Beaulieu and the four of us were going on a retreat there. Both Paul and Sue are ordained ministers in the Church of England having come from charismatic church backgrounds. You could say they’ve got both the theology and the spirituality to be dynamos for the Kingdom of God. We spent time praying together each day and even reading Scripture from the Church of England’s daily office (these are Scripture readings and meditations for each day).

In front of the Butlers’ cottage near Beaulieu

The French countryside was beautiful – rolling hills, deciduous forests, farmland, and villages that date back hundreds of years – in addition, we were just a couple of hundred yards away from the Dordogne River. Very different than our surroundings in Colorado! In a span of four days, we also got to tour churches, have a couple dinners out, and sample French pastry each day at teatime.

Beaulieu, France / The Dordogne River
Beaulieu, France / The Dordogne River
The Triumph of Christ above the door of the church in Beaulieu
The Triumph of Christ above the door of the church in Beaulieu
Mary and Sue outside a delicious bakery

We have known the Butlers for years and they were our primary tour guides when we were on sabbatical back at the beginning of 2014. They hosted our Scum of the Earth mission team last year for a full week and ministered to each member in significant ways. It’s especially good to be prayed for – and have your future prayed for – by people who know you over a length of time. It is especially significant when those people know the highs and lows, the heartaches and joys, of ministry on a daily basis just like you do. All I can say is that Mary and I are very grateful for their care.

We flew back to Cambridge, England a few days ago and were dropped off on the doorstep of Heather and Dave Male’s home. We have known them even longer. It was Dave Male, on sabbatical in the USA during 2007, who just happened to be visiting a friend in Denver one weekend. While looking for an out-of-the-box kind of church to attend on Sunday he spotted Scum of the Earth on the Internet and thought to himself, Well, with a name like that, I have to check it out. He contacted me and we agreed to spend time after the service. It was then, over a couple of beers at Bennigan’s, that he asked me if it was okay for him to bring students from his theological classes at Ridley Hall in Cambridge to visit every couple of years. I assented, figuring it probably would never happen; but that’s not David Male. He never says something unless he means it. The next year he showed up with about five students. Two years later he showed up with a larger group and he brought his wife, Heather, along. A couple years later, more came. Then in 2012, Dave asked me if I would go on a small speaking tour with him to six cities in England; and of course, I agreed. I had never been to the UK before. We spoke to people in London at the headquarters of the Methodist Church, to students at St. John’s College in Nottingham, to a group of pastors in Tunbridge Wells, to Fresh Expressions folks in Hereford and then in Oxford, plus students and pastors in Cambridge. While we were in the UK, Dave and Heather invited us to live in their home come 2014 while they were on sabbatical in Australia for four months – and that is how Mary and I ended up in their home in Cambridge for four months. In between, we’ve had three different interns come to Scum of the Earth from here in Cambridge, one of them being Dave and Heather’s son, Callum Male.

Mary and Heather
Mary and Heather
Dave, cooking us a Thai chicken curry for supper
Dave, cooking us a Thai chicken curry for supper

Jesus works through his people, and sometimes the most seemingly “random” meetings turn out to be major events in our lives. I have been contemplating the impact of the relationship with Dave upon my ministry while here. It really is remarkable. Not only has everything I’ve already mentioned transpired, but I’ve taught classes at Ridley Hall in Cambridge. Never saw myself doing that in my wildest dreams.  And so, yesterday, Dave and I met together to talk about my future after I step down from Scum of the Earth staff in a couple of years. (Mary and I will not be leaving the church we helped start, but I do feel it’s time to pass the torch of leadership completely to the next generation.) I have no intention of retiring, and we couldn’t afford it anyway. I look at it as a job description change – and my conversation with Dave was about what that may look like. I’ve got about a page of notes and a lot of work ahead of me. I think I will leave writing about that for another time.