plunging

istock_000011793147large4.jpgLast week I mentioned that I was going to a conference for larger Ministers (see here)… Here are some reflections on that conference that are written as a sort of review:

I have often wondered what the collective noun should be for Baptist Ministers. If there isn’t one I would like to suggest ‘plunge’. Last week I was privileged to be at a plunge of Baptist Ministers of larger churches organised by the Faith and Society Team. While there are many joys, blessings, issues and difficulties that are common to all Ministers, there are also some that are different because of the size of our churches. Not better or worse, just different.

The plunge with fellow Ministers of Larger Churches (must resist the temptation to call us ‘Larger Ministers’) was for 48 hours at High Leigh. It was characterised by honesty and vulnerability from both the leaders and participants. It was a safe place in which God’s Spirit was able to bless, encourage and inspire.

The whole time was a blessing as we explored how larger churches can be navigated through a confusing world covering some deep and difficult topics, but I want to pick out a few highlights:

In three wonderful Bible Studies Steve Holmes led us deep into God’s Word, exploring John 1 in a creative and engaging way that revealed even more of the profound significance of that chapter. I was blessed and encouraged, and I think all of us came away with new illustrations for our sermons too!

There was plenty of praying. It was open, honest, genuine praying for one another, for our churches and for those who are not yet part of God’s family. If I am honest sometimes at Christian conferences the prayer times can feel as if they are interruptions to the conference but here they were the fuel for the conference.

It was brilliant to share some of the conference time with our General Secretary, Lynn Green. As well as one inspiring session in which she shared a vision for our Baptist Union and helped us all to feel even more engaged with it, I know that she blessed and encouraged lots of us in the conversations that happened over meals and in the times when nothing was scheduled.

And that brings me to the final highlight. The informal time was as significant as the sessions. Conversations sometimes led to ‘can I pray for you?’ moments. There were humble ‘what do you think we could do about …?’ conversations. Friendships were established and enhanced.

I came home from the conference to an incredibly busy week. In fact from a diary-management point of view I could have done without it. But I know that from my personal and ministry point of view it was time with Jesus and fellow-followers that was extremely well-spent. It was a prodigious plunge!

Be blessed, be a blessing

essentials

So… the Baptist Union of Great Britain has a new logo. That’s bad news for Baptist Churches that have the old one embedded into their architecture! The old logo contained a cross, water and a fish. The new logo is explained in this diagram:

NewLogoElements

(You have to recognise that the fish is swimming downwards).

Oh yes. A cross, water and a fish (plus a ‘b’ for ‘baptists’). In some ways nothing has changed, but in others plenty has changed. On Sunday evening I am preaching on Acts 15, where the early Christians had to work out what was unchangeable about being a Christian, and what God wanted them to hold lightly and be ready to change.

Questions were raised about whether being circumcised was essential for being a Christian – thankfully they discerned that this was not essential.

They discussed what sort of food could be eaten (including that which had been sacrificed to idols and was now being re-sold (probably discounted) – they felt that it was best that they avoided that (along with  a few other items of food and sexual immorality – interesting how it is last in the list!). In essence I think the advice was for them not to get mixed up in the cult worship of the surrounding culture: if it was about worship they should focus only on worshipping God as revealed in Jesus and not be distracted.

It does make me wonder what is still essential to being a Christian and whether there are things God wants to hold more lightly and be ready to change. At the risk of being hauled before a religious court or stoned by a mob I am going to try a few ‘essentials’:

Is it essential to accept that Jesus, God incarnate, died on the cross for you and receive the forgiveness God offers us, following him for the rest of our life?

Yup.

Is anything else essential?

Nope.

[cue sounds of rocks being gathered and ecclesiastical gavels being banged].

Let’s go back to the changing / unchanging logo of the Baptist Union of Great Britain:

The cross is essential and was probably the earliest Christian symbol.

The fish was an early Christian symbol too. In Greek the word for fish is ‘ichthus’ and in Greek this is also an acronym that means ‘Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Saviour’. That is pretty essential.

The water represents believer’s baptism, one of the things that made our foreparents (forefathers and foremothers) distinctive when they started forming Baptist churches just over 400 years ago. Believer’s baptism is an early Christian event too (Jesus told us to get wet) that expresses faith in Jesus and affirms our commitment to him as his followers. (Yes there’s a lot more here, but I will save that for another day).

Did the early Christians get thrown to the lions for believing more than that? Would you be willing to die for anything more than that? Is anything else essential?

Answers on a postcard (preferably not wrapped around a brick) – or you can give some feedback on the blog page by clicking the link at the top of this bloggage.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

Bless their little cotton socks

I have spent most of today at Baptist House in Didcot at a meeting. More about that one day but what was lovely was meeting up with old friends and former colleagues from the time when I worked there.

At the moment the BUGB staff team is undergoing significant change and I feel for all of them, especially those who are uncertain about the future.

There have been times when I have heard people speak disparagingly about the team at Baptist House as if echoing the words of Nathaniel about Jesus’ home town Nazareth: ‘Can anything good come from there?’ That saddens me immensely because I know that those people serve God and his people so faithfully and diligently. The same is true of the vast majority of people in church leadership.

A while ago I tried to launch ‘Bless a bureaucrat day’. It has not really caught on. Today I am not launching a new day, but I invite you to thank someone who serves you as a leader. Do it in person, by phone or text, by email… you don’t have to give any gift other than the gift of encouragement. And that’s a spiritual gift you’ll be exercising!

So thank you to all who work at Baptist House.

Be blessed, be a blessing

the real thing?

eating cereal 4In an effort to start the day with a healthy and filling breakfast I have been eating wheat-based, biscuit-shaped cereal. Not the branded ones that have a name that blends the content with the shape, but supermarket own-brand ones.

And I can tell the difference. These fall apart rather easily, are not as densely packed and don’t have quite the same taste. They were considerably cheaper, but I can tell that they are not the branded ones.

I can remember the first time I saw an advert for the product whose name proclaims disbelief that it is not butter. My Mum duly bought some and after tasting it I decided that they had put an inaccurate ‘not’ in the name of their product. I have been tempted to suggest that “I can’t believe it’s not better.”

A while ago I was having a conversation with someone who did not know much about our church. Without embarrassment or hesitation they asked me, “Are Baptist churches proper churches?”

I was at a bit of a loss to know how to respond. Should I explain the Baptist Union Declaration of Principle? Should I point out that we are fully involved in the national and international ecumenical movements such as the World Council of Churches and thus accepted by all of the other Christian denominations as ‘proper churches’? Should I point out that the Baptist World Alliance includes churches from 120 countries that have 42 million members worldwide – the largest non-conformist denomination in the world? Should I explain the roots of Baptist churches: dissenting against the Established Church and standing for what they believe (see the Declaration of Principle again, even though that is a later document)?

Or should I ask what they thought a proper church was? In my mind I was deciding what ‘proper’ meant and defining it in ways that probably would not mean much to the person who had asked me. In fact what they wanted to be reassured about was not so much that we were not a cult, but more whether we were part of the Church of England. When I explained that we weren’t I got the feeling that she saw us as being like a supermarket version of The Brand, or ‘I can’t believe it’s not Anglican’.

But actually what makes a church ‘proper’ is not primarily doctrine, statements of faith, ecumenical credentials, size or history. It’s not even whether or not they are Anglican. It’s whether Jesus is at the centre of what we do. Is our worship focused on him? Is our activity motivated by a desire to represent and share him? Is our mission his mission? Are we a collection of free samples of Jesus? Can people encounter him through us? And can people see it in the way that we relate to each other – sacrificial, unconditional, Jesus-given love?

Be blessed, be a blessing.

Allegedly, these come from church notices. There is a link to breakfasts and (possibly) sabbatical leave:

Scouts are saving aluminum cans, bottles, and other items to be recycled. Proceeds will be used to cripple children.
The outreach committee has enlisted 25 visitors to make calls on people who are not afflicted with any church.
Evening massage – 6 p.m.
The Pastor would appreciate it if the ladies of the congregation would lend him their electric girdles for the pancake breakfast next Sunday morning.
The congregation is asked to remain seated until the end of the recession.
The third verse of Blessed Assurance will be sung without musical accomplishment.
For those of you who have children and don’t know it, we have a nursery downstairs.
The Rev. Merriwether spoke briefly, much to the delight of the congregation.
During the absence of our pastor, we enjoyed the rare privilege of hearing a good sermon when J.F. Stubbs supplied our pulpit.
Due to the Rector’s illness, Wednesday’s healing services will be discontinued until further notice.

amaaaazing!

Sunday morning promises to be amazing. Five people will be witnessing to their faith in Jesus Christ in Believer’s Baptism. I LOVE baptising people: it is one of the privileges and highlights of being a Minister (there are a lot!). It’s not so much the physical act of baptising someone, although the child in me likes the idea of dunking someone, but what it represents.

Believer’s Baptism is a public statement of what we believe: you can’t really do it in private.

It is an affirmation of faith in Jesus who died, was buried and rose again, enacted with water.

It is an act of obedience – Jesus told us to baptise those who have become disciples of his.

It is a spiritual landmark that we can look back on and remember with joy.

And it is so much more.

On Sunday two of the candidates have asked if we can sing ‘Amazing Grace’. Abso-woohoo-luteley!

That hymn encapsulates so much of what is special about Baptism, what is unique about Jesus and what it means to be a follower of his:

AMAZING GRACE! how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me;
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.
 
’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear,
The hour I first believed!
 
Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come;
’Tis grace that brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.
 
The Lord has promised good to me,
His word my hope secures;
He will my shield and portion be
As long as life endures.
 
Yes, when this heart and flesh shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess within the veil
A life of joy and peace.
 
When we’ve been there a thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we first begun.

John Newton, who wrote the hymn, had been involved in the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade when he had a powerful experience of God. He became aware of his own guilt, sin and shame, and yet God’s amazing grace broke through that to transform him, to give him a hope and a future.

I am acutely aware of my own regular need of God’s amazing grace and know that what our five friends will share on Sunday will demonstrate how they have received and experienced it too. It’s free, it’s freely available and it’s for you.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

And if you’re in Colchester on Sunday morning you’re welcome to join us at 1030 to see for yourself!

Lessons best not learnt the hard way:

You can’t baptise cats.

Sucking lemons makes your face turn inside out.

The fridge light does go out when the door’s closed.

If a tree falls on you in the forest when there’s no-one else around, you will make a sound.

insurance

I had a leaflet arrive along with an order that I received yesterday. It was for ‘Specialist Golf Insurance’. For just £29.99 per year my golf could be insured. I was intrigued by the concept of ‘Specialist Golf Insurance’ so did not bin the leaflet immediately. I wanted to see what would be covered…

There is a ‘new for old’ policy for golf equipment that is stolen, lost or damaged.

It covers personal liability for up to £5million (in case I get sued for a wayward shot?)

It covers personal accidents (presumably from all the scratches I get rummaging around in the bushes looking for wayward balls that are not stopped by hitting people).

There is cover for accidental damage to Third Party Property (presumably windows damaged by wayward shots that miss the people and the bushes).

There is cover for dental treatment. Yes, you did read that right: dental treatment. I assume that’s for when you hit a wayward shot against a tree and it pings back and breaks your teeth, Tom and Jerry style.

There is an amount to cover hiring golf equipment if you have suffered loss or theft.

And there’s an amount to cover repaying some of your Club Subscription, presumably if you are recovering from the dental treatment mentioned above.

There is one more aspect to the cover, which I love.

There is £150 available for if you score a hole in one, to cover the bar bill. (It is traditional to buy everyone a drink in the bar after you have scored a hole in one).

I love the idea of insuring against such a brilliant thing happening. Personally I can’t imagine ever hitting a green in one, never mind getting the ball in the hole with just one shot, but it does happen and if you take out this insurance you will be protected from a hefty bar bill.

I wonder if the Baptist Insurance Company should offer the following extras on their policies for churches.

Insuring against someone coming to faith: provides a sum of money to have a party in the church when someone becomes a Christian.

Insuring against baptisms: provides money for towels, increased water useage and mopping up afterwards.

Insuring against new members: buys membership cards, additional printing of minutes and agendas for meetings and any additional printing, pays for an extra cushion for the hard pews.

Insuring against God moving in the church: pays for tissues (tears of joy or sadness), sedation for Ministers (when someone says that the sermon spoke to them), replacing burnt dinners because the service went on longer, therapy for children’s group leaders who have longer with the little darlings than expected.

I hope you realise my tongue is firmly in my cheek as I wrote the above, but the idea of insuring against good news got me thinking silly thoughts.

How about we think of all the good things that God is doing at the moment and instead of insuring against them we thank God for them, encourage one another with them and tell people beyond the church about them?

Be blessed, be a blessing.

(I have not currently taken out the insurance)