my tenuous link to Leicester City

shocked
Photo by permission from http://www.sxc.hu/profile/bigevil600

So the impossible has happened. Leicester City won the Premier League this season after almost being relegated last season, and being most pundits’ favourite for relegation this time around. At the start of the season the bookmakers were giving odds of 5000-1 for them winning the Premier League. This is being proclaimed as the most astonishing sporting story of all time. They might be right.

I don’t support Leicester City, but as a supported of Ipswich Town I can relate to the surprise that they have been so successful. My only link to Leicester is that about 10 years ago a friend, who was a season-ticket holder at Leicester City, lent his tickets to me so I could take my son to watch a football match (my friend was unable to go). He did warn us that his ticket was in the rowdy section of the Leicester fans, but it was too generous an offer to turn down so we went.

Two things in particular come to mind when I remember that football match. The first was about the Leicester City tradition of a huntsman in full regalia playing a rallying cry on a hunting horn as the players ran onto the pitch. That still happens, and it still strikes me as somewhat incongruous. It is a rousing sound, but Leicester City’s nickname is ‘The Foxes’ so to have a huntsman playing a hunting horn seems to me to be more likely to rouse the opposition who are there to hunt the foxes.

The second thing was that although we were in the rowdy section of the crowd we were on the edge of it. Most of the chants and songs were generated (in the mystical way in which they happen at a football ground) from in the middle of the section and the rest of the ground joined in. But just in front of us was a young man who obviously fancied himself as a chant-generator. When it was a bit quiet he made us jump by standing up and shouting, “Who are you? Who are you? Who are you?”

Nobody joined in.

It was quite embarrassing.

But it didn’t deter him. A little later on he stood up again and sang a chant at the top of his voice (I can’t remember it) and kept repeating it in the hope that others would join in.

But nobody did.

It was cringe-worthy.

And yet through the whole match he kept on at it. He did not give up. Perhaps he thought that eventually he would wear down the resistance of the crowd and that they would join in with him. Or maybe he thought that if he was good enough he’d get invited into the middle of the rowdy section and be allowed to join in with them. Or it’s possible (and this is what I think is the truth) that he didn’t care whether anyone joined in with him – he just wanted to express his support for Leicester City at the top of his voice.

When I have heard football crowds chanting and singing I sometimes remember that young man.And I have stopped being embarrassed for him. Now I admire his persistence. I admire his loyalty. I admire his desire to express himself without worrying what other people are thinking. And I wish Christians would worship God more like that.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

eclectic ecclesiastical extolation*

I’m a bit eclectic when it comes to my preferences for ecclesiastical music. I like a lot of the modern songs and hymns. I like choral music (Handel’s Messiah anyone – in full, not just the Hallelujah Chorus). I like some older hymns. I like simple chants. I like harmonies. I like singing along to a single instrument (or even a capella) and to a multi-instrument group.

There are two criteria against which I tend to evaluate my preferences: the first (and most important) is whether it helps me in my following Jesus – if it doesn’t then it doesn’t tend to last long in my ‘playlist’. It could be inspiring, challenging, thought-provoking, worship-enabling, encouraging, comforting and even prompting me to remember past moments in my faith-journey (‘And can it be’ was sung when I was baptised). However I relate to it a song or hymn will be one to which I will gladly return if it points me to Jesus.

The second criterion is more difficult to nail down, and varies for many of them according to my mood. It’s the ‘ear worm factor’. At different times songs or hymns will get into my head and remain there. No matter what I do the tune and words will be playing gently in the background as the sound track to my day. This is even more subjective than the first criterion so I need to be careful that this is not a major factor when I am choosing songs or hymns for a service. I tend to choose those that resonate with the theme of the service.

worshippersBut there are some (a few) that seem to transcend the second criterion and resonate with me regardless of how I am feeling. One is the hymn we sang at the end of the service in which I was preaching yesterday:

LOVE DIVINE, all loves excelling,
Joy of heaven to earth come down!
Fix in us Thy humble dwelling,
All Thy faithful mercies crown.
Jesus, Thou art all compassion,
Pure unbounded love Thou art;
Visit us with Thy salvation,
Enter every trembling heart.

Breathe, O breathe Thy loving Spirit
Into every troubled breast!
Let us all in Thee inherit,
Let us find Thy promised rest.
Take away the love of sinning;
Alpha and Omega be;
End of faith, as its beginning,
Set our hearts at liberty.

Come, Almighty to deliver,
Let us all Thy grace receive;
Suddenly return, and never,
Never more Thy temples leave.
Thee we would be always blessing,
Serve Thee as Thy hosts above,
Pray, and praise Thee without ceasing,
Glory in Thy perfect love.

Finish then Thy new creation,
Pure and spotless let us be;
Let us see Thy great salvation
Perfectly restored in Thee!
Changed from glory into glory,
Till in heaven we take our place;
Till we cast our crowns before Thee,
Lost in wonder, love and praise.

Charles Wesley

The words of this hymn are so rich, and the tune to which we usually sing it (Blaenwern) is so powerful that I can return to it again and again and find it enriching and blessing my relationship with Jesus. If you have skimmed over reading the words please go back and read it slowly.

Have you done that?

No? Go on.

Please. It’s worth it.

Isn’t it astonishing? There is so much in it. Yesterday I was speaking about how Jesus offers us fresh starts and realised that this is incorporated in this hymn too – we are being changed, restored, improved, enhanced as the Spirit of Jesus fills us. And that’s there in the text of the second and fourth verses.

The heart-felt prayer of the tormented soul that is wrestling with the human tendency to let God down – “Take away the love of sinning” – finds its answer in divine love: the closer we are as followers of Jesus the more we are drawn to him and the less attractive other options seem. There’s no point in God taking away the love of sinning if it is not replaced by something else – the love of goodness, godliness, holiness – because otherwise we will fill the void with something else and find ourselves back in the same place.

It’s a welcome sound track to my day – what’s yours?

Be blessed, be a bles-sing (see what I did there?)

*another new word from the Nick Lear dictionary – meaning worshipping God ‘to the max’

what did you think of church today?

Dearest bloggists

I apologise for the recent silence – I was enjoying a week away and felt that it would be better for me to take a holiday from writing bloggages as well. But now, da da daaaah, I am back. And I have been doing a lot of reflecting.

This morning I was visiting one of the churches in my section of the Eastern Baptist Association (and preaching there). After the service there was a shared lunch and the thought occurred to me that it would be interesting if the same conversations took place over the shared lunch as might normally take place in our homes after the service*…

sheep chat“What did you think of this morning’s service?”

“It was quite good, but I didn’t like the second song.”

“Oh. That’s one of my favourites. But the music group did play it too slowly.”

“And weren’t they loud? I couldn’t hear myself sing when they hit the high notes.”

“You’d have thought the sound desk would have turned them down a bit.”

“They were probably too busy trying to get the Minister’s attention to tell her to turn her radio mike on.”

“It was good that she realised. I really enjoyed her sermon.”

“Me too. But it did go on a bit long. She could have cut her fifteenth point and still had the same impact.”

“You’re right. It did get a bit repetitive. But I didn’t mind as it was my favourite parable.”

“The parable of the wise and foolish virgins! Really – that’s your favourite parable?”

“Oh yes. It reminds me of the scout motto: ‘Be prepared’.”

“But you were never in the scouts.”

“That’s true. But I like to be prepared. That’s why I always check out the songs from the hymn number board before the service.”

“Oh. I use it to choose my lottery numbers!”

“If you won, would you give anything to the church?”

“Perhaps, I could stuff a wad of notes in the offering bag. That would surprise the stewards if the bag was full.”

“It might make them smile.”

“It would certainly make the treasurer smile.”

“I’d pay to see that…”

[conversation continues]

When you look at or participate in conversations about church services how much of the dissection is based on your preferences; what you got from the service; what you enjoyed; what distracted you… in short, how much of it is about you?:

If it’s more about you than it is about God can I gently suggest that you ought to revisit your approach? We call services an ‘act of worship’, which reminds us that the focus of the service is not us, but Jesus Christ. Surely any post-service analysis that relates to us should be much more about what we were able to offer by way of worship than what we got?

Just a thought.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

*All of these are fictitious comments and any similarity with over-lunch comments (past or present) is purely intentional but coincidental. None relate to any of the services where I have been present.

go to

Choir
We were just like this choir – without the robes, white hair and a bit younger…

When I was in my late teens I was part of a youth choir at my church. We were called ‘The Light Company’ and had lovely bright yellow* sweatshirts with our logo on it. We were led by the wonderful David Peacock and as well as singing in our church we also visited other churches to bless them with our singing. (Anyone from Light Company got any photos I can share here?)

I really enjoyed being part of the choir. There is something so uplifting about singing in harmony with others. My favourite song was ‘He will not let you fall’ (youtube video here) and I recently rediscovered it and bought the MP3. It is one of the songs I have on as many of my electronic devices as possible and will crank it up loud from time to time to be blessed by the words, the music, the memories and the opportunity to sing along at full volume without (usually) being overheard (I must remember when I have headphones on that they don’t mute me for the rest of the world). It is a ‘go to’ song.

The song is a setting of Psalm 121, which is a promise from God. He does not promise that we won’t go through tough times. He does not promise that we won’t experience pain. He doesn’t even promise that we will always be able to smile our way through life. But he does promise that if we trust him he will not let us fall. The ‘harm’ from which God promises to protect us in the psalm is the counterpart promise to the prayer we pray: ‘Deliver us from evil’. It is a ‘go to’ psalm.

These ‘go to’ songs and psalms (and other passages in the Bible) are places of safety, refuges, and reminders of who God is and what he thinks of me. They are good to have close to hand so that he can speak through them when I need to hear from him.

What are your ‘go to’ pieces of music or passages from the Bible? Why not go there now?

Be blessed, be a blessing.

 

*My bright yellow sweatshirt suffered a mishap at the hands of someone who washed it with a load of jeans that were not quite colourfast. It came out a sort of mucus-green! It was not so bad on its own, but when I was with the rest of the choir it rather stood out…

SYLOFTRK*

empty tombOn Easter Sunday evening we going to hold a service that we’re calling “Songs of Resurrection”. It is a sort of Easter Carol Service, where we will sing some of the great hymns and songs of Resurrection and retell the Easter Resurrection narratives to celebrate the fact of Jesus’ resurrection.

*I did toy with the idea of calling the service “Sing Your Lungs out for the Risen King” but decided that ‘Songs of Resurrection’ was a slightly less in your face name.

There are 2 main reasons to do this: one is that inevitably at Easter we will not be able to sing all of the amazing Easter songs and hymns in one service and this will give us an opportunity to sing and celebrate some more. The second is that there is something significant and powerful about retelling the narrative as a whole. Just as at Christmas we are familiar with the story and yet retell it each year to refresh and remind ourselves about it so it will be good to take a similar opportunity at Easter.

I wish I’d come up with this idea a lot sooner so that I could have given our musicians and singers more time to prepare. But I’m sure we will still make a joyful noise and it will lift our spirits.

At Easter I find it very difficult sometimes not to rush to the resurrection because it is such a spectacular event. In my first church I was asked to lead the service at the end of the Good Friday March of Witness. It was a big event with several hundred people gathered in the Market Square and I had arranged for young people from different churches to participate. Because it was such a public event I felt that I could not leave Jesus buried in the grave but we had to finish on a resurrection hymn so that the general public could hear that Good Friday was not the end.

I was fascinated by how many people complained about this. ‘This was Good Friday, Easter Sunday has no business being mentioned’ seems to be the general thrust of the complaints. Every single complaint was from a regular church goer.

Without Good Friday Easter Sunday makes no sense. Without Good Friday God’s gracious act of reconciliation is impossible. It is important that we pause and reflect on that and on the astonishing sacrifice Jesus made on our behalf. But, a little like re-watching a favourite film that I have seen many times before, I know the ending and cannot help viewing Good Friday through the lens of the Resurrection. We know how it ends, or rather how it really begins.

Without Easter Sunday we follow a dead martyr. Without Easter Sunday death is not defeated. Without Easter Sunday Jesus was a liar and a fraud.

But Jesus is alive and that makes all the difference.

if you are in the vicinity of our church at six thirty on Easter Sunday evening you would be very welcome to join us for the ‘Songs of Resurrection’. Whether or not you are able to be with us, however, don’t neglect to reflect on the one that resurrects!

Be blessed, be a blessing

sneaky shopping

you never know who’s watching you

I have been undercover today. I have been a ‘mystery shopper’. I can’t say where or for what, but it was quite a strange experience. I had to pretend that I was interested in a particular purchase and then ask the assistant to help me with it. (On the whole the assistant did well, but was let down by a lack of stock).

You may be aware of the Ship Of Fools Mystery Worshippers. They visit different churches and write a review, which is then posted online. I am fascinated by them and at the same time worry about what might happen if one visited our church. Would we be as welcoming as usual? Would the service be up to its usual standard? Would they like the sermon? And so on. It is a very subjective process and I suspect that if someone came to our church who preferred a church that is much further up or down the candle than we are they may not enjoy the experience as much as if their preference was for our style of church. And there have been some Mystery Worshipper reports on churches I know that have been somewhat devastating in their analysis. How would that feel? A one-off visit and your church is slammed?

I have decided not to worry about it though. The reason is that our services are not put together to please mystery worshippers, or even to please the regulars. First and foremost they are prepared and delivered for an audience of one: God (okay, perhaps three if you are being theologically pedantic!) What we do is an act of worship to God, not an exercise in consumer satisfaction. Yes, we hope and pray that people will feel welcome, comfortable, be blessed and be enabled to worship God, but that should not be the way in which we evaluate our services. Was it an act of worship to God where we gave our best?

And the same question can be asked of the rest of our lives, all of which can be an act of worship as we seek to be the best ‘us’ we can be.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

 

proverbial tension

“The Lord will provide.” How many times have you heard that or said that? Let me say that I do not doubt the truth of it.

But there have been times when I have heard it said and it has been (in my opinion) a little bit of a cop out. It has been said in a context where it lets the person who said it off the hook from being involved, from contributing, from budgeting or planning. Because God is so good and so gracious and so generous we can sometimes use him as a safety net to catch us and our plans when we have not done all we could or should.

“The Lord helps those who help themselves.” That’s another little gem that I have heard and it seems to be the antithesis of the first one. And I am not doubting that God wants us to get involved, but some people have used it (in my opinion) to suggest that he only helps those who are able to be active and involved and leave little room for the miraculous.

My experience is that one of them must be wrong. Or we have to hold the two in creative tension. Or both are wrong. Or we need to merge them: “God provides for us and through us.”

I had an amazing phone conversation with someone today who felt that God was telling her to contribute generously with food donations to Colchester charities. I was able to point her towards Open Door and Colchester Foodbank as two local charities that give out food parcels. What a blessing! To me that illustrates the merger of the two ‘proverbs’: God is providing for others through her.

I often talk and think about living life as an act of worship. It’s not just about doing our best. That is the Scout ‘Dyb dyb dyb, dob, dob, dob’* approach. We strive to be good.

I am talking about an attitude, or an intention, to do things well in order to praise God. If you sing, offer it to God before you sing. If you administrate, offer it to God before you administer. If you give, offer it to God before you donate. Whatever you do, do it all as to the Lord and because he is worthy of our best, give your best as an act of worship. And as you do, you will find that God uses you to bless others, and you will have an attitude of gratitude to him and to others for the ways he provides for you.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

*Dyb is an injunction from the leader: “Do your best” and dob is the response: “Do our best.”

 

Another classic oldie:

A man fell over a cliff and on his way to his certain death he held onto a tree root that was sticking out.

The devout man started praying that God would help him.

Soon a helicopter appeared and a man was winched down to him. The man sent the helicopter away: “God will save me.”

Then a rope was lowered down from above and a man came down the rope. Again the victim sent his rescuer away: “God will save me.”

Eventually he could hold on no longer and let go. By now the tide had come in and he plunged into the sea. A lifeboat came to him and he sent it away: “God will save me.”

Finally, exhausted, he drowned and appeared before God in heaven. He was most upset with God: “Why didn’t you save me?”

“I sent you a helicopter, a rope and a lifeboat, what more did you want?”