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The Lord is Like My Probation Officer May 16, 2017

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It’s now over 50 years since Carl F. Burke, pulled together a collection of retold bible GodisforRealstories under the title “God is for Real, Man”. It’s over 25 years since I found a copy in a second hand book shop in the UK.

Working with some pretty troubled inner city kids, in New York, Burke told Bible stories and got the youths to tell them back in their own words.

This definitely wasn’t translation that would pass the rigorous checks of Wycliffe or the United Bible Societies, but this was transformation.

The kids changed the stories, but the stories also changed the kids.

50 years later and some people are saying that there may be as may as 800 languages spoken in New York. Other major global cities may have similar numbers.

Everyone should be able to hear the real stories of the Bible clearly in their own language. Many can if they know where to look for Bibles and resources.

If you want to find a copy of “God is for Real, Man” you might need to look on Amazon, Ebay, or even in the back of your church book shelves.

Here’s a sample…

The Lord is Like My Probation Officer… Psalm 23

The Lord is like my Probation Officer,

He will help me,

He tries to help me make it every day.

He makes me play it cool

And feel good inside of me.

He shows me the right path

So I’ll have a good record,

And he’ll have one too.

Because I trust him,

And that ain’t easy,

I don’t worry too much about

What’s going to happen.

Just knowing he cares about

Me helps me.

He makes sure I have my food

And that Mom fixes it.

He helps her stay sober

And that makes me feel good

All over.

He’s a good man, I think,

And he is kind;

And these things will stay

With me.

And when I’m kind and good

Then I know the Lord

Is with me like the Probation Officer.

God is for Real, Man, by Carl F. Burke, Chaplain of Erie County Jail, Buffalo, New York; Association Press, New York; 1966 by National Board of Young Men’s Christian Association.


Is our President insane? May 4, 2017

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I should start by pointing out that as a Brit I don’t have a president and this is a question that was asked by the real Donald Trump.

He wasn’t in office at the time but at least it clarifies that he thinks it’s a question that can be asked of the president of the USA by the people he serves.

In many nations, citizens do not have such a privilege.

I can think of a few nations where it would be unwise to even talk about the leader. I won’t list them here.

I’ll also stop short of questioning the sanity of President Trump.

I disagree with so much of what he tweets, but I don’t think he’s insane, just wrong on many, many things.


197,000 US born immigrants are in Great Britain. I don’t know who they are. Most are sane and not dangerous (however they last voted). Few fled the US in fear of their lives.

Here is the UK we’re gearing up for an election, ready to choose our own leader. We didn’t choose the one we have now, because in our system we vote for members of parliament and the majority party forms a government. But a lot of the time we vote based on who is likely to be leader.

I’m not wild about the choices. But I’m glad I get to vote.

Democracy doesn’t always lead to the best people being in charge, but it still offers reasonable hope of removing them without violent conflict.

As for all those “dangerous” refugees “pouring” into countries, it’s good to know that ordinary people can make a difference and help change the story about that too. In the UK Christian aid is running a campaign to encourage people to send positive stories to their local and national press.

In today’s connected world, those stories and yours can be shared around the globe.

Check out: http://www.christianaidcollective.org/do/change-the-story-campaign

What Trump means to Brits and other false friends February 27, 2017

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Warning: this post is about linguistics, miscommunication, and things that some Christians prefer not to talk about.


There are many words which we assume we understand but which turn out to mean something quite different.

I’m currently relearning long forgotten French duolingo_logo_with_owl-svgwith the aid of the excellent Duolingo and have come across a lot of words that look the same in English and French and some that aren’t.

Linguistically the confusion between familiar words and alternate facts about their meaning is often referred to as “False friends”.

According to the wikipedia entry on false friends the toddler in the advert above is simply saying “that, that, that” in Dutch. Wikipedia can occasionally be inaccurate so you can also read about false friends on a BBC language page and on http://inktank.fi/10-english-words-mean-something-else-languages/ , where I first learned that the word ‘gift’ means poison in German. Apparently it means married in Icelandic, and either “married” or “poison” in Norwegian.


False friends can occur not only between different languages but also between different forms of the same language.

One example is of course the word “trump” which has a range of meanings to  Americans and other speakers of the English language.

I suspect the entry in the urban dictionary may demonstrate the challenge of crowd sourcing dictionaries…


…but the entry at https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/trump  does include a commonly understood meaning of the word in the UK.  trump-verb

I don’t know in how many other languages ‘trump’ already meant something unpleasant, prior to ‘President Trump’.

Although only retweeted once this tweet was apparently seen over 4,700 times –  to many the connection will have been a mystery.

It’s not the post I would have preferred to get so many views, but I don’t think it lost me too many real friends.

Here’s a few more items I found on twitter under #falsefriends

Meanwhile,  half recognised words and misunderstanding is not just a source of mild amusement, it can lead to genuine confusion.

An example I heard of nearly 20 years ago was of a pastor who assumed everyone in his church understood the Swahili Bible he used, until he was encouraged to do a little research.

When asked to explain the meaning of the Swahili verse saying that Jesus told his disciple to get into a boat, a few people thought he was asking his teachers to plant milk.

This and other evidence that people were only getting part of the message inspired the pastor to get involved in translating the Bible into the language people knew best.

So to summarize: languages are complicated, things aren’t always as they seem, and knowing a language ‘quite well’, sometimes just isn’t good enough.

Too Good Looking to be Missionaries? February 12, 2017

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In the 1990’s a female colleague in Wycliffe explained how she was often treated as an honorary man by people from a culture where people didn’t know quite how to deal with her being in a traditionally male role and acting ‘as if’ she was equal.

She was referring to her work on a different continent, but sadly at times she could have easily been referring to how the church in her home culture treats women.


Wycliffe USA has a whole section aimed at women https://www.wycliffe.org/women

The rest of the site is aimed at everyone regardless of gender and there is no section labeled https://www.wycliffe.org/men


Unlikely Heroes in Bible Translation

Recently I read that when Florence Hansen and Eunice Pike declared they wanted to work as Bible translators in Mexico in the 1930’s some were hesitant. Objections centered on the danger of sending single women into a potentially dangerous situation and even the suggestion that they were “too good looking to be [missionaries]”.

It’s not clear how their looks would have been a disadvantage – perhaps increased fear of attack, or simply that they’d either distract some of the men, or themselves get distracted by getting married before they’d translated the New Testament.

It’s not an objection to women in ministry that seems to be raised as much today, but even among those whose theology doesn’t bar women from certain roles there is still often a sense in which women can participate as long as they can do so as if they were ‘honorary men’.

Back in the 1930’s Florence and Eunice lead the way for other women to enter the field of Bible translation.

By 1940, there was no mention of gender in any publicity material and by 1944 two thirds of Wycliffe members were women.

Elsewhere in mission circles and in the wider culture of many countries  things were also changing but greater prominence also resulted in greater opposition in some circles.

I’m currently undertaking an MA in Contemporary Missiology and for an essay looking at missiological documents from the Lausanne Movement I chose to explore the development of the role of women.

The first Lausanne Congress took place in 1974, organized by Billy Graham and Britain’s John Stott. It was foundational for many agreements and initiatives and the start of greater collaboration between mission agencies.

The Cape Town Commitment of 2010 affirms that men and women are “equal in creation, in sin, in salvation, and in the Spirit,” but also concedes that there are still “different views sincerely held”, with respect to roles in the church. (Capetown Comitment section IIF.3)

Often those views are polarized into egalitarian and complementarian, the former stressing equality, the second stressing difference including difference in roles. Debate includes the level to which gender differences are post fall or part of God’s original design. Both sides agree sin compounds injustice, power, oppression, violence and abuse.

Some fear that this is a battle between traditional interpretation of the Bible and a changing culture without always recognizing that their ‘traditional interpretation’ was influenced by their culture.

My own essay is available on request (and I’ll put it online when I’ve made a few more edits) but I’m pleased to see that Redcliffe is now offering an entire module in Gender and Mission this Summer. I’d like to think that would be an equal mix of men and women taking the course but somehow I doubt it.

We are not enemies, we are all Americans January 29, 2017

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I am an American (in a wider sense),


a European (even post Brexit),


and a human.



BBC Jan 28th 2017

Trump has united a lot of people against him, and against those in his country that support him.

I’m grateful to @antoniospadaro for retweeting @schwazenegger where Arnie (the former Governator) quotes Abe (the former President)

I’m not a US citizen. I’m not a fan of Trump. I’m not a fan of the UK PM’s initial failure to speak out against Trump’s ban.

…but I’m not an enemy.

The world is a complex place and there are few simple answers.

…even in scripture.

33When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. 34The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.
Leviticus 19:33-34 (NIV)

Within a few verses of Leviticus 19:34. is Leviticus 19:20-22 suggesting the sacrifice needed to atone for a man sleeping with a slave promised to someone else

and Leviticus 19:27 warning against trimming the sides of your beard. Perhaps this is why we’re mostly happy to quote quote v35-36 but sometime a little cautious of pointing to the whole passage.

35Do not use dishonest standards when measuring length, weight or quantity. 36Use honest scales and honest weights, an honest ephah and an honest hin. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt.

37Keep all my decrees and all my laws and follow them. I am the Lord.

Levititicus 19:35-37

Christians, like many others, can be guilty of choosing the facts and quotes that support what we already believe, and surrounding ourselves with people who think the same. (see Ladder of Inference)

We often need to read deeper and  wider and listen longer to those with different perspectives.

(The need to help and love refugees and other neighbours is not confined to a few verses)

Sometimes we agree to differ.

Sometimes we need to air our differences in order to find where we can agree


I started this blog on Jan 28th and was pleased to wakes to new headlines  on Jan 29th

and to understand where we have misunderstood, or where we need to rethink our position.

That there are lots of countries in the world (and we don’t all agree how many), and about 7000 languages (and they are very hard to count) is testimony to the fact that we don’t all agree. But, also that we can come together in a variety of uneasy alliances.

The United States, the United Kingdom, and the United Nations are all pretty diverse and full of people disagreeing while trying to live together.

Given  all our different languages, different locations, different cultures, histories, hurts, hopes, experiences, expectations,personalities, and personal problems, it is amazing we ever agree on anything.

Amongst the many things said in the Bible are statements that say

“all have sinned, and fallen short of the glory of God”

Romans 3:23 (click for wider context) (NIV)

and that say,

For God so loved all the world…

that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

John 3:16 (and more) (NIV)

We are not all friends, but we are called to be family.

There are evils to be conquered

Battle Against Evil

10 Finally, draw your strength from the Lord and from his mighty power. 11Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil. 12For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens. 13Therefore, put on the armor of God, that you may be able to resist on the evil day and, having done everything, to hold your ground.
Ephesians 6:10-13 (NIV)

…but the real evil is not refugees, not those that fear them.

and the real hope is not in barriers and walls, but in Christ.



Zuckerberg – not the only atheist story January 9, 2017

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Mark Zuckerberg’s declaration that he is no longer an atheist had me wondering what other ex-athiest stories might be breaking at the start of 2017.

I was interested to spot the Hindustan times running an article on the growth of Christianity, predicting “Atheist China could have largest number of Christians in the world by 2030“.

Meanwhile the Big Think suggested Norwich as the most Godless city in Britain and pointed to biopsychologist Nigel Barber’s belief that most countries will pass the “Atheist threshold” by 2038 stating “cities tend to be more prosperous, and as such their inhabitants will feel less need for religion”.

Personally I suspect that there will continue to be a significant number of urban poor feeling a need for supernatural intervention, and that there will also continue to be those with higher levels of wealth and access to education and resources who feel that material prosperity is still not enough to satisfy all life’s longings.

Mark Zuckerberg isn’t the first to discover that wealth offers some pleasant distractions, but that answers need to be looked for in something more. Here are some words from the book of Ecclesiasties:

Riches are meaningless

If you see the poor oppressed in a district, and justice and rights denied, do not be surprised at such things; for one official is eyed by a higher one, and over them both are others higher still. The increase from the land is taken by all; the king himself profits from the fields.

10 Whoever loves money never has enough;
    whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income.
    This too is meaningless.

11 As goods increase,
    so do those who consume them.
And what benefit are they to the owners
    except to feast their eyes on them?

Ecclesiastes 5:8-11New International Version – UK (NIVUK)

Ecclesiastes was a book I found helpful during my first read through of the Bible (now many years ago). It is a book full of questions and searching from a rich ruler who constantly declares his human attempts at meaning as meaningless.

Atheism has often been the response of people who reject overly simplistic ‘religious’ answers, or heavy handed religious indoctrination, but as it has gained popularity it has often been adopted unthinkingly by people who assume religion has been debunked and replaced by science, economics or something more fun.

Atheism is not over yet but neither is Christianity or the other world’s religions. Rich and poor will continue to search for help and meaning.

Zuckerberg – No longer an Atheist January 4, 2017

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In a reply to his Christmas message Mark Zuckerberg declared that he is no longer an atheist and that “religion is very important”.


I sometimes describe myself as a “lapsed atheist” and recently unpacked an old school book in which at the age of 13 I declared that I didn’t see much point in RE (Religious Education) unless I was going to become an RE teacher or a vicar.

I was surprised that the first page in my RE book had something on Bible translation and I’d written about how the Tolai people of Papua New Guinea had been waiting 100 years for a Bible in their own language. I would have been given an English New Testament by the Gideon’s at about that point but I didn’t try very hard at reading it.

Like Zuckerberg I “went through a period when I questioned things” but at 13 I just assumed most of the good questions about religion had been answered and that it was just a bunch of stories told by old people to children to get them to behave. I didn’t question my atheism until later. I still think questioning things is important. In fact if religion is very important it’s even very important to keep asking questions about what you believe and why – it’s one way you continue to grow.

athiest-who-p2e-really-smallThese days you can still get books to help explore questions about Christianity but there are also a few to help raise questions about the stranger idea that there is no God. (Here’s a link to read the opening chapter of The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist)

thedaydeathdiedWhen I was finally ready to explore Christianity properly at the age of 20 a friend gave me a copy of Michael Green’s “The Day Death Died” exploring the interesting question of whether Jesus actually came back from the dead and what that might mean. I believe it’s out of print now but there are still copies on ebay or lurking in church libraries.

Many newspapers are asking questions about Zuckerberg’s change of heart. Such as which religion he’s actually following or whether it’s a political move with plans to run for office at some point following his planned tour of every US state in 2017.

Journalist Sarah Graham-Cooke of the Independent used the story to explore her own rethink of atheism.

I’m sure there will be a few more new stories on Mr Zuckerberg and a few more people rejecting atheism in the coming coming year. Religion is very important – know which one you believe in and why. They are definitely not all the same.

The Virtue of Reality December 31, 2016

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I bought my first virtual reality headset in 2016. It was second hand and only £3 which already says something about the technology.


Jesus VR reviewed in the Guardian 2016

I decided that by the end of the year they’d be on sale in the Pound shops and Dollar stores of the world, and they are. The first VR Jesus movie also made it to a number of headsets in time for Christmas with mixed reviews following the release of a preview at the Venice Film Festival. I’ve not seen it but I’m sure it will have an impact.

2016 was also the year I ‘attended’ a friend’s wedding in India via facebook live and sat in on a couple of church services in Africa and the USA via Periscope. Not quite as good as really being there but better than not being there.

2016 was the year both YouVersion and Faith Comes By Hearing made scripture available online in over 1000 languages. I’m wondering whether 2017 or 2018 will be the year that church services are live streamed in over 1000 languages (I’m not aware of anyone collecting data on that yet).

Such technology offer tremendous opportunity for people who cannot  easily attend services in their own language in other ways.

As the year closes we’ve just spent a couple of weeks bridging two of our own realities – leaving our home in England to visit, pack up and sell our home in Canada.


VR is good but sometimes reality is better

Our last Christmas in Canada was 2010 but it really did feel like we’d stepped back into that life. Reconnecting with friends, shoveling snow and enjoying the pleasures of A&W Burgers, Tim Horton’s, and of course the home cooking of our friends.

There’s a lot to appreciate in Canada and it’s easier to appreciate by being there. As well as some sledging and ice skating our son also got to reconnect live with some friends he last saw briefly in 2013. Having arrived back he’s already connected again with two of them via skype, google hangouts and a couple of online games.

We’re hoping the technology helps them stay in touch and looking forward to how future tech improves that connection until they  can meet face to face again.

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