Sunday, 12 April 2015

Easter Comings and Goings

I spent Holy Week and Easter in and around Bath, the home city of Laura and I. I had always hoped that having a sabbatical over the Easter period would enable me to experience the journey of Holy Week and Easter as a disciple again as having led Holy Week and Easter services for the last 11 years has left me often feeling as if I had 'gone through the motions' somewhat. So I spent time in a variety of church settings, morning prayer at Bath Abbey, time with All Saints, Weston, - a church we used to attend in our younger days - and the long walk of witness from Oldfield Park to Twerton Roundhill (see picture below), with all of them being opportunities to receive.

Perhaps though the most significant moment for me was during the Easter service at All Saints where a non-stipendary minister was sharing feedback from his own sabbatical. He shared that prior to his sabbatical he felt like he '...didn't know whether he was "coming or going"...' due to the combined pressures of his employment and his ministry. He went on to share that what he had realised was that ministry, indeed discipleship, is all about 'coming and going'. The contrast of coming to God for refreshment and renewal and being sent to 'go' to serve, witness and minister.

Im still pondering the significance of this idea for me and my own discipleship and ministry, but I do have a sense that it was a word from God for me to mull over. As I was reflecting and sharing a bit of this with someone this week they shared the observation that the Easter narratives are full of this contrast of coming and going. Jesus comes to Jerusalem, heads into the temple and then goes again. The disciples come to Jesus for the last meal, they go in fear at his arrest. Jesus' followers and friends come to the cross and go away in sadness in mourning. The same followers come to the tomb in sadness and grief and go sharing news of great joy. The same person I was speaking with went on to suggest that the tension of coming and going was also present within me - and I think they are right. I have the desire to come to God to find refreshment for my body and soul, to drink from the fountain  but equally it seems that often I would do anything to find a way of avoiding this, as though Im running away from the source of healing and strength that I need.

In the next few days Im going to try and balance these two aspects of discipleship which are complimentary. I hope to spend time drawing near to God, but conscious that any drawing near is about me being changed, filled, resourced for the going into the world that God calls each of us to.

Monday, 30 March 2015

An Irish Blessing

Last week I was due to take a tour of the Methodist Church in Ireland with a group called Inspire. (Inspire are about encouraging a missional discipleship based primarily around small group accountability groups that spur people on to enjoying a greater sense of the life of God. You can find out more about them here.) The tour was cancelled but due to a number of arrangements already in place I still went to spend some time in Ireland with the Methodist Church there.

For me it was a great privilege and a real joy to be with them. I was hosted by Methodist Ministers and their families who kindly transported, fed and watered someone they hadn't  met before, who essentially was on a glorified holiday. The welcome and warmth of the people was remarkable - this is something that, in my experience, seems to transcend the whole of the island of Ireland and is embedded in the culture, but was especially focussed in the life of the church. 

Hospitality & welcome is something thats been high on my agenda for a while. It was a large feature of a piece of academic work a couple of years ago, and more recently at my church in Derby where I serve, we have focussed on welcome and hospitality for the last few weeks and talked about its power in evangelism and mission. To be treated so well by people to whom I was a random stranger was a powerful statement of the life of God flowing through these people. 

St Paul in wrapping up His first letter to the Corinthians speaks of a visit of some fellow believers to the church in Corinth. He talks of what they might add to the Corinthians but goes on to say that 

 "...they refreshed my spirit and yours also." 1 Cor 16:18

Although I spent much of last week being a tourist, seeing Derry/Londonderry (including a tour of the infamous Bogside and 'Free Derry') the spectacular Causeway Coastline, Belfast City Centre and a bit of Dublin, what really left an impression with me were the Irish Methodists themselves. I was left with the conviction that the British church has so much to learn from the Irish! There was, across virtually all the Irish Methodists I met a quite trust in God that pervaded everything they were. They very much refreshed my spirit! I was left reflecting on my own ministry and lifestyle and those of others around me. So often we communicate action, busyness, even dynamism and/or charisma, things that are attractive and appealing and, most often, good. But I wonder whether I communicate, a sense of deep resting in God and a humility that realises that I am nothing but for His gracious choice to use me for some reason in His work? I rarely see these attributes in myself and rarely see them in others who are in 'professional ministry'. It pulled me up short and reminded me of the simplicity of ministry - the call to walk humbly before God and see some of His transforming life flow out through me. 

For this week, Im in Bath staying with family, but also trying to make space to humbly walk with the Servant King through this week of all weeks in the hope that once again my spirit might be refreshed and renewed as I gaze in awe and wonder at the Saviour on a cross who is risen again. 


Monday, 23 March 2015

Drinking from the Fountain

Last week saw the beginning of my long awaited sabbatical. Im in my ninth year of full-time paid ministry in the Methodist Church and as a gift the church grants us 3months paid leave for rest, reflection and recuperation. After a particularly intense 18months I have been counting down the days until this began, planning, dreaming and longing for a prolonged rest and space to draw breath and reflect on who I am and who God is calling me to be. 

Ive been asking God for a few weeks for 'word' for my sabbatical - an image, a phrase, a scripture verse that I can keep coming back to for renewed focus and purpose in a time where much of the normal structure and rhythm has gone. At our church prayer meeting a few weeks ago, I was humbled as the group of 30 or so faithful saints gathered around me and prayed for me and my family as I embarked on this sabbatical. Two things came to mind during this time - firstly someone shared a picture of a waterfall (I imagine it to be similar to the one pictured) and she prayed that the sabbatical would be a time of standing under the waterfall of God's refreshing and renewing love. Secondly, I was reminded (probably connected in my subconscious) of the verse from the Psalms

'For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.' (Ps 36:9).

 I think these two images are a reminder for me and others that the source of all things good, the source of joy, the source of hope, the source of peace, indeed the source of anything that gives life is God Himself. He is the One from whom life and goodness emanate. Ironically, this is something I so often forget as I plod the path of daily discipleship let alone seek to exercise ministry in His Name. It leads me to ponder what life and ministry might really look like if I was better at drawing deep from the one who is called the 'fountain of life' and allow His love and grace to flow through me rather than trying to do do do in my own strength.

So my hope and prayer for the next few months is that I will learn to draw close and to drink deep from the fountain of life. The One who is the source of anything and everything good so that my soul and indeed every part of my being, is refreshed and restored in the bounty of His love. 

For me, one place where I am able to sense God close, a thin place some may call it, is by the sea. Im so grateful to a generous church member who gifted me his beachside apartment for a week contemplating the view below. 

So I pray that whether you are experiencing a time of rest, or whether you are in the midst of an incredibly hectic season, you too will know the closeness of the One who is called the Fountain of Life - the One who is the source of refreshment and renewal, the One who gives life to all who thirst for it. 

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Slowing down for silence

I love coffee! I wouldn't consider myself an expert or even a connoisseur, but there is little I love as much as popping into the local Starbucks for a daily or hourly refill. In fact, in reviewing the budget at our church in Derby, we noted that in the first twelve months of my appointment there, the church coffee spend had doubled! (although Im not solely responsible for this!!). 

Now far be it from me to lecture people on their lifestyle habits - no more than ten minutes in my presence would tell any new acquaintances that there were many areas of my life that need correcting and straightening out - but after a short time off sick with flu, I've inadvertently cut down on my caffeine intake quite severely. The results of this are quite interesting. 

On the positive side I feel much more calmer. Ive noticed that Im more attentive to other people, I'm more patient with my two young children, I have less of a compulsion to fiddle with my phone or other device when I'm less active. 

However, I notice that Im also less effective in some ways. The last 18 months of life have been a something of a whirlwind. Im in a demanding job, with a young family, and I've prided myself on my abilities to be on the ball, on top of a mountain of varying issues and now I can sense that my intensity is waning somewhat, my frantic (even manic) space has slowed and it seems I'm less productive.  

I'm wondering whether the reality is that now I've virtually withdrawn a drug from my diet and routine, I'm just learning to function at a normal, more healthy level. Im wondering whether not being on top of everything, not being such a perfectionist is actually closer to real authentic humanity, and closer to the person Im meant to be.  Im wondering too, whether even though I'm less productive, I may just be that more effective. Taking time to think and reflect and make good decisions, make timely pastoral interventions, sensitive to the needs of those around me, increasing the depth of that which I offer to others are all by products of a life less frantic and more calm. 

As a Church Leader, I'm really concerned by the frantic pace of life for so many people. Im concerned that the Church colludes with this subtly (or not so subtly at times) and as an institution becomes even more demanding of people's time and energy. Someone once said to me that any institution is  by its very nature psychopathic - in that it consumes all that it needs to survive. As I continue to serve in an increasingly dysfunctional institution known as the Methodist Church - I see this analysis coming true before my very eyes, and true within my own life too. 

 Of course, when you remove something from a life, people ask what is to replace it. For me, I've tried to replace caffeine fuelled manic activity with a greater appreciation for the discipline of silence. Ive committed myself in this new year to making time to be still and silent for 15 minutes a day, as much as I can to try and drink in the wonder, the love, the majesty of who God is and what He wants for me and those around me. There's something about silence and stillness that centres oneself and brings us to an awareness of the presence of the Other like nothing else. My spiritual 'home' is in the charismatic tradition, where lots of loud activity is so often the order of the day, but just as the charismatic tradition seeks to hear the revelatory voice of God for todays church and world, so to does the more contemplative modes also. 

Maybe for someone reading this, the time may have come to set aside things which we think are propping us up, but actually are just perpetuating the problem (like an over-reliance on caffeine) and maybe you too, want to join me in the discipline (and it can often be a hard discipline) of slowing down to be still and know who God is, and therefore, see more clearly who we are. 

Thursday, 3 April 2014

I'm reading through Judges at the minute for my daily (or occasional - depending on mood, discipline, distractions, business etc) devotions. I'm reading without commentary or explanatory notes, just pausing when something strikes me.

Today I read Judges Chapter 17 and paused on v.6 'in those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.' 

Now Chapter 17 of Judges is a curious chapter. After the narratives about the exploits of Samson and before him various characters, there is a stand alone story about a man called Micah. He appears to hold no leadership function in Israel, he's not a judge or King, just some random bloke who thinks that by paying for some ministry he will live in health and happiness. (v.10-13) 

I'm struck by the sense that all too often in my experience God's people continue to operate in a worryingly similar way. A faith that, on the surface at least, can often be expressed in a quasi-superstitious way where quid pro quo trumps the concept of faith believing in extravagant grace. All too often I've heard people justify their 'faith' in terms of how much money they have given to the church, or those who see the favour of God present, or future hope, as a reward for church attendance, faithful service or other good works. Surely such an outlook is at best faith mixed with superstition (I.e unless I do 'x' why will happen etc) or at worst heresy. 

For me, the clue to Micah's curious outlook on faith/life is found in the afore-mentioned verse 6. 
'In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.'
Without godly leadership to gently guide or steer God's people it is so easy to miss the mark and wander astray. Good leadership is never oppressive, manipulative or domineering, but it does set a path for people to follow and calls them to maintain on a straightish road of discipleship in the midst of distractions and challenges. In my own UK Methodist tradition, we are increasingly re-discovering that one of the roles of the ordained person is to lead. There are many ways of expressing godly leadership, but it's vital to understand that the absence of leadership only leads to calamity, however naively it was pursued, or innocently it was embarked upon. 

'Good leadership is never oppressive, manipulative or domineering...'
To lead well, then may not be all about 'success' as the modern church all to often views, with pass/fail criteria largely based upon the building of bigger churches, but the test of leading well is surely to assess, what is passed on to others, an authentic Gospel secure in faith/grace partnership or a deviation from the wonderful story of God's grace which is always to sell people short of all that is on offer

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

A Covenant for 2013...

Today, Tuesday January 1st, 2013 I covenant myself again to the God who created me, forms me and to whom I owe my life. As I reflect on another year passed, I'm struck by the comfort I've eased into. I'm very much aware that my commitment to God sounds great from my mouth, but looks all so different in the choices I make and the energies that I exert. This is no guilt trip but a chance to commit myself to live as best as I know how for the pleasure and glory of King Jesus in 2013.

In the tradition that I've come from the place to do this liturgically would be at the end of a celebration where prayer and encouragement are offered once one has stood, or 'come forward' as a sign of movement in the soul.

I have no celebration here tonight, I have no prayer team or band playing Christian mood music, but in some small way, this is my public response to the altar call in my heart, which beckons me again, to live the dream of a life after God.

A few updates may follow at some stage, but I'm already excited to be following a bit more deliberately tonight and for the year ahead after Jesus. Anyone want to join me at the front?

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Successful evangelism?

Reading today about the wealth and wisdom of Solomon in 2 Chronicles 9 and the visit of the Queen of Sheba. A few things began to bubble away in my head...

1) Solomon is successful. He is wealthy and impressive, the repeated phrase that never had such things been seen in Judah, shows that he was remarkably successful. Because of his success, he is sought out by the Queen of Sheba.

I've been wondering a fair bit lately about whether 'successful' large, slick, modern, churches are what God wants. Is this a representation of the Kingdom that is seen in mustard seed and yeast? But equally am aware that in a culture that is so aware of 'image' that to be impressive and successful and be seen to be full of life and making a real difference and impact can draw people to you to pick your brains or seek your input. This is what is happening here. Solomon's reputation goes before him and is therefore attractive to the seeker - in this case the Queen of Sheba. So maybe being impressive isn't so bad after all.

Except that...

2) Nothing changes in the life of the Queen of Sheba. She is impressed, she receives help it seems. She goes on her merry way, but there is nothing to suggest a challenge to transforming life and becoming a follower of the Lord, in contrast to other 'foreign' monarchs who acknowledge the power and goodness of God in thew OT. Is there not a danger in 'impressive churches' of being caught up in the 'impressive' and missing the real Kingdom moment of transformation? Isn't it so easy to consume and consume the great 'product' of a modern, slick church, and pass away without anyone noticing that nothing in you has been challenged or changed? Is the potential pitfall that people are impressed and even attracted but the presentation softens the hard Gospel call?

These are just questions which i have no answers to and am just posing really, but are worth considering. As a minister in a medium sized but growing church I am well aware of my ambitious streak which is very keen to impress and be noticed, but sense, for me anyway, the nagging voice of the Spirit challenging me to help shape communities that represent God's Kingdom and not human empires.