champion

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I was at a Church Meeting last night (and was immensely blessed by the experience). As a frequent ‘outside observer’ of Church Meetings I have a few ‘hunches’ (not caused by uncomfortable seating):

The way a room is set out may have a correlation with the mood of the meeting. If those leading the meeting are sat behind tables at the front it may suggest that there is likely to be confrontation. If everyone is in rows facing the front it may inhibit discussion. If the room is set out with people in a circle (or a version of a circle depending on numbers and space) it might encourage people to listen to one another more because they are facing each other.

Church Meetings that describe themselves as ‘Church Business Meetings’ have a different atmosphere to those that don’t. If it’s a formal business-style meeting then the approach (with proposers and seconders and lots of voting) may lend itself to more business-style topics. I have not done any research on this but my hunch is that those that are described as ‘Church Business Meetings’ may lead with things like finance and the running of the church rather than what church is really there for. And those meetings can feel more like democratic meetings where strident majority views carry the day rather than discernment meetings where we listen to the small uncertain voice as well as the loud.

Another hunch is that where a Church Meeting is explicitly a discernment process, seeking to listen for what God is saying to the church through one another, the focus of the meeting is likely to be more about mission and serving the community. Those meetings are often characterised by the number of times the meeting prays together about issues and different ways of listening to the gathered community other than just be plenary discussion. And everyone’s comments are listened to and respected because they could be the one God is speaking through.

Last night’s meeting included an epiphany for me. Quite often in the meeting there was a request for people to ‘pray about this’. That’s brilliant. That’s how churches should operate. And we did pray during the meeting. However I wonder how many of those ‘pray about this’ issues remained with people at the end of the meeting, and how many still remember them this morning?

I was given the opportunity at the end of the meeting to feed back to the church what I had experienced (this is something I often do – with permisssion – as a visitor). I remarked on how often we had been encouraged to ‘pray about this’ and wondered whether it might be worth having someone in the meeting designated to record the points for prayer. At the end of the meeting they could remind the meeting about these things (things to thank God for as well as requests) so that the meeting could do what it had been asked to do, and then perhaps those prayer items could be circulated to the church membership for them to continue to be in prayer about them. Of the cuff I suggested that they could perhaps be the ‘Prayer Champion’ and I am not convinced about the name, but I am warming up to the concept.

If you’re in a church that holds meetings, what are they like?

Be blessed, be a blessing

the write stuff

Image result for fountain pen writing

I have a confession to make. I love fountain pens. I don’t know why but I love the combination of the concept, the feel of them,  and particularly the sense of the flow of ink when writing that make up a fountain pen. I even like the sense of ancient history behind them (there are references to something that resembles a fountain pen in the 10th century, and of course quills were used many centuries before). I realise that in an electronic age (and I LOVE technology) it may seem rather archaic to enjoy fountain pens but there you go… it’s what I like.

Many years ago my wife gave me a lovely ink pen and it lasted quite a long time until it gave up and literally fell apart. I loved it so much that I tracked down another one online that looked identical and I bought it as a replacement. Then, tragically, earlier this year I dropped the replacement fountain pen while writing with it and it landed nib-down on a hard floor. The nib bent.

What had been a joy to write with became a scratchy implement that was difficult to write with and left an inconsistent and sometimes indecipherable mark on the paper. I tried to unbend the nib with as much gentleness and skill as I have seen on the BBC TV Show ‘The Repair Shop’ but I am not a skilled craftsman and the nib remained scratchy and inconsistent. I even checked to see if the old nib would fit from the previous pen, but there was a minor but important difference that meant it wouldn’t fit and in any event it was full of dry ink that would not budge. I then looked at whether it was possible to buy a new nib for the pen and was alarmed to see how expensive this would be. The problem was that these pens had gone out of production many years back. The replacement I had bought was remaining stock, not new stock, and to buy a replacement nib required a specialist shop and for specialist shop read ‘expensive shop’. I was quite upset.

However my birthday was coming up and I thought about asking for a replacement nib for my birthday. But it felt wrong to ask someone to spend as much on a new nib as the pen had cost in the first place. I decided to ask for a new fountain pen and settled on a different one that I liked the look of. I went into a pen shop and ‘tried it on’ and it felt really good in my hand. So that’s what I asked for, and that’s what my wife gave me for my birthday. I am delighted with it, it writes beautifully (even if my handwriting is a bit ropey because of how much I type now) and my love of fountain pens continues.

Why this tale of ink pens? Well, I was looking at my new pen on my desk a little earlier and was reminded of Psalm 45:1 “My heart is stirred by a noble theme as I recite my verses for the king; my tongue is the pen of a skilful writer.” It’s part of a love song composed for a wedding that praises the bride and groom, but confirms that God’s hand has been on the couple. It’s a lovely image – that our spoken words are written by a dextrous wordsmith – God’s Spirit inspiring our thoughts and speech. This is true for us when we preach and teach, when we seek to speak God’s words to people, and should be true of us all day long. The problem is that while the writer always remains skilled, sometimes the pen is scratchy and almost illegible. It can happen to any of us.

It happens when we don’t take care of our souls, perhaps when we have been dropped on the hard floor of self-reliance instead of relying on God’s Spirit. Or it can happen when we become spiritually dried up rather than allowing the Spirit of Jesus to flow within us and through us. And we can even make the mistake of failing to ask the Master Craftsman to restore us when that happens. Miraculously the beautiful message can still get through even when we are scratchy or the reservoir has run dry, but that is more down to the skill of the author than the pen.

If you’re aware that you are a bit scratchy why not put yourself in for a service? Take a retreat, find a Spiritual Director, be accountable to someone else and allow these people to help you. Open yourself afresh to God’s Spirit in whatever way you find it easiest to be restored and renewed so that once again the author’s wonderful words flow well.

Be blessed, be a blessing

say what you see

The TV show Catchphrase is based on cryptic visual clues to well known words and phrases. It has its own catchphrase – “Say what you see.” But outside of TV shows politeness and manners seem to prevent us from being quite so forward. Unless you are a child.

I was visiting a couple in the evening recently to discuss their call to Baptist Ministry. When I arrived Dad was upstairs settling the two children into bed. I was shown into the lounge by Mum. While we waited for Dad to finish we heard small footsteps on the stairs and their seven-year-old son appeared in the doorway, informing us that his Dad had given him permission to come downstairs to see who had arrived. He took one look at me and said:

“I didn’t know you were bald!”

I was rather surprised – not as his observational skills but at his forwardness. I struggled to think of a good reply. The best I came up with was:

“I didn’t know you had hair.”

The instant reply came:

“I didn’t know you had ears!”

If I am honest I didn’t quite hear him so I just laughed. (If I had heard I would probably have explained that if I didn’t have ears my glasses would fall off.) After this Mum shooed him off to bed, presumably before he could make any other statements.

I found it hilarious that the young boy was so unafraid to say what was on his mind. He had none of the grown-up filters that we often apply (and which internet trolls seem unable to access) and simply said what he was thinking.

It reminded me this week of the moment when Jesus rode into Jerusalem. There was a mahoosive celebration going on that annoyed the religious leaders who were busy trying to plot Jesus’ downfall. Matthew tells us that when Jesus got to the Temple (the centre of Jewish worship in his day) he cleared out the courtyard that had been turned into a marketplace and healed people. There were some children there and they were shouting what they had heard the crowd chanting earlier: “Hosanna to the Son of David.”*

“Do you hear what these children are saying?” they asked him.

“Yes,” replied Jesus, “Have you never read: ‘From the lips of children and infants you, Lord, have called forth praise’?” (Matthew 21:16)

The children were unafraid, perhaps unaware of hoiw inflammatory they were being. They were simply joining in. One of the things that I regret deeply is how in churches (and society) we still seem to want to shush children’s voices and don’t encourage them to speak their mind. Because when they do, sometimes we hear God speaking to us.

And I reckon God would much rather we spoke our mind than pretended with him. Say what you see.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

*This was not only a statement of praise, it was a revolutionary statement suggesting that Jesus was the one who was going to sort things out for God’s people.

time for Remembering

clocksFor those leading services on Remembrance Sunday it can be one of the most fraught days of the year. It is not necessarily because of the content but because most services start before or at 11am on the Sunday and we have to incorporate the 2 minutes’ silence at the right time. This requires a level of timing, anticipation, clock-watching and ‘seat of the pants’ ministering that can raise the blood pressure of even the most relaxed of Revs.

This year I was ministering at one of the churches I serve as a Regional Minister. Their service starts at 10am. The first part of the service was led by church members (really thoughtfully and sensitively) and then I stood up to preach. Normally it’s only those listening to me who have an eye on the clock, but this time I was keeping an eye on the time too. I was amused that during the sermon, just as I was reading Psalm 23, the town parade went past the outside of the church with a band playing at the head of the procession. The band stopped playing just as I finished reading the Psalm. I told the church that it was appropriate as the psalms were originally sung to music!

The sermon finished at about 10.45.

That would not normally be a problem with a view to having 2 minutes of silence at 11.00.

But the church also also wanted to share Communion* after the sermon and I wasn’t sure whether we would have time. We also had a song to sing before Communion. I invited people to sing and afterwards I led the church into sharing the bread and wine.  The sermon had been on Jesus saying, “I am the resurrection and the life” and I made a link with that and that he invited his followers to share bread and wine “In remembrance of me”. I broke the bread and shared it with those who were serving and they took it out to the congregation at about 10.50. It’s a large congregation which meant that serving the bread took a while and we finished that at 10.57.

Are you feeling the pressure too?

I knew that we would not be able to serve the wine in 3 minutes so I took the decision to have the 2 minutes’ silence in the middle of Communion. So I introduced what we were going to do and at 11.00 we stood in silence for 2 minutes, after which I read the familiar ‘they shall not grow old’ words and prayed. We then sat and continued with Communion as the wine was served in small cups to each person and we drank together and once again reflected on Jesus who died for us.

After the service lots of people said how much they had appreciated that we did things that way, and few seem to have realised that it was not by my design. And I was blessed by the experience too – I reflected on the act of Remembrance in the light of Communion and Jesus saying, “Greater love has no-one than this, that they lay down their life for their friends.” I reflected on Communion in the light of the act of Remembrance and what it means – more than just keeping a memory alive. The unplanned order of things was very poignant and significant to me.

Reflecting on it all now, a couple of days afterwards, I realise that God often does that… he takes our plans and if they don’t turn out the way we intended he finds a way of speaking in and through the ensuing disruption. So for some of Jesus’ friends who went on a fishing expedition that proved fruitless he turned it into an encounter with him that they would remember for the rest of their lives (John 21). And, if I am honest, that’s so often what inspires me to write bloggages – unexpected moments turn into moments when God speaks to me. Maybe it’s because in those moments I realise that I am not in control and need to reconnect with the One who simply is.

I suppose the question is whether, in the disruption, we try to listen to what God might be saying or whether we are too busy trying to resolve things ourselves.

Be blessed, be a blessing

*Eucharist, Lord’s Supper, Bread and Wine – depending on your tradition

three rings

old phone 2It used to be ‘three rings’. ‘Ring ring, ring ring, ring ring’.

In the dim and distant past, before mobile phones were a commonplace part of our experience, when people were travelling somewhere and needed to let someone else know that they had arrived safely they would give ‘three rings’. They would dial (probably actually on a rotary dial, young people) the number, let it ring three times and then ring off.

It meant that the call didn’t cost anything, no lengthy phone conversation was needed, and the person at the other end would know that their friend / loved one had arrived safely at their destination.

There were a few problems. One was that sometimes, when you listened at the other end, it would start with a ‘half ring’ – ‘ring’ before going into full ‘ring ring’ rings. Did that first half ring count as a proper ring? If it did, then you should hang up after another two rings, but would the person at the other end know that it counted? If you went for another ‘ring ring’ so there were three of them, the person at the other end might think it was four rings so it wasn’t you and pick up the phone, negating the reason for doing three rings.

And, when you think about it, it was technically six rings (or five), not three.

And of course there were also the times when the person you were ringing forgot to wait for three rings and picked up the phone anyway.

A seemingly simple process was fraught with complexity!

Today all we have to do is send a text message to another mobile phone, or an instant message on social media.

But we still have to remember to send a message. The technology may be better but, a bit like with my satnav (see Monday) the weakest part is the human part.

Prayer is an instantaneous and low-cost way of communicating with God. You don’t need special words, you don’t need to be in a special place, you don’t even need to dial. All you have to do is remember to pray. God’s there, listening and waiting. However the weakest part is still the human part isn’t it?

Be blessed, be a blessing.

satnav software problem

My satnav is an invaluable resource. Because it gives me live traffic updates it can navigate me around jams and queues. It has saved me hours of frustrated sitting in the car going nowhere.

But in the last few days it has irritated me. The first occasion was when it alerted me to a lengthy queue ahead and offered me a route that would be longer in distance but shorter in time. You may be wondering what’s wrong with that.

Timing.

It offered me the new route just as I went past the exit it was recommending and the queue started just around the corner. Why didn’t it tell me earlier?

The second was this morning when as I was happily going along a route I use regularly I turned off onto an exit only to find myself joining a lengthy queue on the slip road and beyond. Why didn’t it warn me? Was it sulking because I was unhappy with it at the weekend?

As I reflect on both situations I think there’s a common problem. A software problem.

image

Me.

You see I think, on reflection, that in the first case the satnav probably did offer me an alternative route sooner than I realised but because I was wearing sunglasses I couldn’t see it clearly. In the second situation I did hear the satnav say something but assumed it was telling me to turn off rather than keep going. I wasn’t listening properly because I was confident in my own ability.

I make the same mistakes with God. Sometimes I ignore him or I am distracted by other things or I am overconfident in my own ability. And then I wonder why he didn’t say anything.

Hmm.  Note to self: pay more attention to God and my satnav.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

can you hear him?

This next few days are very busy and my opportunities to inflict bloggages on you will be limited, so this will have to do for a while. Let me explain why…

Today I am planning to enjoy a day off. I am planning to go sailing with Sally (model yacht sailing) and this evening I will be with my friends at Mid Essex Magical Society.

Tomorrow I am spending the day in Newport Pagnell in a meeting that will be making recommendations about the level of support that can be given to churches that cannot afford a Minister on their own. And in the evening I will be at a leaders’ meeting for one of the 60 churches I serve.

On Thursday I will be at Spurgeon’s College Conference. It’s the annual get together for students (former and current) who have trained at the College and this year the incoming President is Juliet Kilpin who I believe is one of the prophets of our day – speaking out for those whom society (and churches) often ignore.

Friday will be spent catching up on emails that will have flooded in over the next 3 days and in preparation for our EBA Annual Assembly which will be taking place in Felixstowe over the weekend. I hope too to spend some time reading and reflecting before travelling to Felixstowe.

Saturday is the main day of the Assembly and there will be lots of opportunities for conversations with people, seminars to attend where I can learn, meetings to enable through the medium of PowerPoint, magic to perform in the afternoon free space, all age worship to enjoy, and an England football match to enjoy or endure.

Sunday will conclude the Assembly in the morning with a service, and then it’s a drive across the country to collect our daughter from University.

Then on Monday it’s some more meetings and in the evening I have my interview at the Magic Circle – part of the application process for me joining the prestigious organisation.

But just because I am not expecting many opportunities to write bloggages, it does not mean that I won’t be looking out for what God is saying to me. I fully expect to encounter him in all of the scheduled activities I have mentioned, and also in the gaps in between. In fact it’s often in the gaps that I find God speaks more obviously.

For example, he’s speaking through the dawn chorus at the moment as I type – reminding me that Jesus said that if God cares for a sparrow, how much more does he care for me? He speaks through the calmness and gentleness of quiet moments, encouraging me to relax in him. He speaks through a song on the radio as I am driving. He speaks through an unexpected encounter with someone while I am out in the street. He’s always speaking: the question is whether I am listening.

soundI am going to post a second bloggage today that reflects on sailing my boat, which I hope will expand on this thought. In the meantime be blessed and be a blessing.