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.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

The crucial 'if'...

Continuing our travels through Scripture brings us into 2 Chronicles with a couple of things worth noting today.

1) the frequent refrain ' He is good and His love endures forever' appears a few times in the back end of 1 Chronicles and now in the early chapters of 2 Chronicles as well. Seems to be a regular liturgical refrain used by the people to acknowledge the goodness and faithfulness of God.

2) More famously perhaps is the verse from 2 Chronicles 7:14 "...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 I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land."

Struck me afresh as i read this morning the power of the word 'if'. With all the means of grace we have , scripture, prayer, communion, fellowship - the onus is on us to take hold of that which is freely offered. It seems as I read this vesrse again that there is a longing in the voice of God, so desperate for His people to take up the opportunity that He gives.

This verse appears in the midst of Solomon dedicating the Temple and God warning Solomon and the people about the consequences of abandoning Him. Just because there is a temple doesnt mean the people will always be under God's favour - a lesson for us building-worshipping Methodists out there. In the midst of warnings of judgement comes a powerful 'get out clause' allowing God's people to draw on His grace and mercy rather than His judgement. But the key thing is it's up to us. If only we would appreciate all that is on offer for us. If only we would rediscover the power of prayer, if only our eyes would be opened again to the Might of our God, if, if, if,. If only, God's people would seek Him out for renewal and restoration, if only....

Thursday, 17 November 2011

1 Chronicles...

After eventually catching up on my reading plan and finding myself where i should be on the set day, here are some thoughts of mine from 1 Chronicles mid way through.

1 Chr 13:4 - David is discussing with the people whether to bring the ark of the covenant, the precious symbol of God's presence back to Jerusalem. Instead of ploughing ahead regardless, the community discuss and ponder and because "it seemed right to all the people" they press ahead. Surely this is one of the many forerunners of the Wesleyan tradition that we discern God's will in the community of God's people. If God is leading us such a way, we trust that the spirits of the saints, witness with what we are suggesting, or have a sense of a similar direction. The key of course is people, listening to the Lord when engaging in such a process.

1 Chr 13:10 - the anger of the Lord burning against Uzzah for seeking to steady the ark. On one hand it re-enforces the sacredness and pure holiness of God and the one thing that symbolises His presence that a mere mortal cannot just touch His holy ark, but on the other, Uzzah is only wanting to stop the ark from crashing to the ground - surely far more shameful??

1 Chr 15:13 perhaps sheds some more light on the above - David and the people did not enquire of the Lord for directions for how to move the ark. A sobering warning to churches and Christian people everywhere, what harm is there in enquiring of the Lord in even the most mundane of decisions or processes?

1 Chr 15:29 - Michal doesn't take to David's celebrating and dancing. So often the case that those who are hard hearted are unable to embrace the joy of others so much so that it turns to resentment. This is seen in local churches up and down the land every week! Does a heart really given over to the Lord have the ability to embrace joyous celebration of God's goodness even if it isn't their style? I think so! Any Michal's in my church, watch out!

1 Chr 16 - great prayer of praise and celebration. Inspired me to preach a series - 'great prayers of the Bible'. Should tie in next summer nicely with our District's year of prayer.