champion

Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

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

light hearted

I am on a waiting list for surgery on my heart. It was something of a surprise when I was told that I needed an operation and, if I’m honest, being on a waiting list has been rather disruptive to my life and work as I have not been able to book things in my diary very far ahead having been told that the surgery would be “soon”: I have discovered that “soon” is a very flexible and indeterminate length of time! I would much rather have the surgery “soon” so that I can get on with getting better but I am having to be patient before I can be a patient.

During the waiting time I have had lots of different tests and conversations with medical staff to prepare me for the operation and have discovered lots of new terminology and seen images and video of bits of me that I never imagined I’d see. The most significant meeting was with the surgeon who will be carrying out the operation. He was really reassuring (I would characterise his attitude to the operation as seeing it as ‘routine but serious’) and was also very honest about what lies ahead of us in terms of the length of time of the operation, length of time in hospital and length of time convalescing and rehabilitating. He also mentioned that, as with all surgery, there are risks – albeit minor – and reassured us that every possible precaution is taken to minimise them.

As I have waited and pondered what lies ahead I have realised how much I take for granted in my life and the people around me. And I think there’s a truism to be found here: we take so much for granted and only notice its significance to us when it is threatened or taken away. Maybe it is only in shadows that we fully appreciate the light: illness sharpens our awareness of what it means to be healthy; sadness and grief poignantly make us hope for joy; poverty and debt heighten our appreciation of wealth; loneliness makes us yearn for companionship; incapacity inspires us to value freedom and mobility.

In one of my favourite films ‘Evan Almighty’ there is a moment when Evan’s wife, Joan, has an encounter with God. God (brilliantly played by Morgan Freeman) serves her in a diner and says: “Let me ask you something. If someone prays for patience, do you think God gives them patience? Or does he give them the opportunity to be patient? If he prayed for courage, does God give him courage, or does he give him opportunities to be courageous? If someone prayed for the family to be closer, do you think God zaps them with warm fuzzy feelings, or does he give them opportunities to love each other?”

This is left as an open question in the film but it does make a lot of sense to me. Taking that thought and applying it to what I said earlier, I believe that God uses our shadow experiences to help us appreciate the light. I don’t believe that God causes illness, sadness, grief, poverty, debt, loneliness or incapacity but I do believe that he can speak in and through them and perhaps at those times we are more attuned to listening.

In words that are often read at this time of year in Carol services from the beginning of John’s Gospel we read: “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5). For John ‘the light’ is Jesus. But the word we translate as “overcome” can also be translated as “understood”, “seize”, “grasp”, “comprehend”, “overtake”, or “suppress”. Because the irrepressible, inextinguishable light is beyond the experience and comprehension of darkness it stands in stark contrast to it. From an experience of darkness (an absence of light) the light becomes all the more attractive and we begin to appreciate it, realise what it means and move towards it.

If you are in shadow or darkness now, I hope and pray that you will experience light or at least catch a glimpse of it and find that the power and hold the darkness has on you is diminished as a result. If you are in light now, appreciate it and make the most of it – and share that light with those who need it.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

delivering: a verdict

One of the unanticipated side-effects of the expansion of the internet and the seemingly inexorable rise in online shopping is a corresponding rise in the number of delivery companies and vans. (If you want a tip for any spare cash you have hidden under the mattress (no, I am not a financial adviser so take this with a seriously large pinch of salt) invest it in delivery companies).

And as this becomes more and more commonplace, there are inevitable frustrations regarding deliveries that didn’t go well. Is it just me, or do other people think that sometimes the delivery people are trying their hardest to make it difficult for us to receive our parcels? On one occasion, when we were out, a well-meaning delivery man put the item in the green wheelie bin at the side of our house. There were two problems – it’s a long way down to the bottom of the bin so I couldn’t just reach in and get it, and also (retch) it’s the wheelie bin in which we put food waste and vegetation.

But something more annoying used to keep happening. I had installed a doorbell in our house shortly after we moved in and put the bell push on a wooden post to one side of the door to make it easier to attach. It’s not camouflaged, but you would think it was. There were so many occasions when deliveries were attempted and a card was pushed through the door saying that the item could not be delivered and was lobbed over the fence / with a neighbour / at the sorting office / other (*delete as appropriate). But on those occasions I was at home. And the doorbell is quite loud. They didn’t ring it. Instead the delivery people knocked on the door – presumably gently so as not to disturb me.

I know this is the case because on one occasion when I was at home a delivery person was just pushing the card through the door as I went past the door and I opened the door and spoke with them. They didn’t see the doorbell push.

So I decided that I would make it obvious for them.

20170214_095713

Now the delivery people press the doorbell.

Of course we know that the delivery people are not trying to make things difficult for us. They are doing their best to get the parcels to their destination. There are times when they have delivered it to a neighbour several doors along the road, so they must have tried several houses before they got an answer. There are other times when they have found somewhere safe to hide it and left a detailed instruction on the card through the door. My favourite delivery person story is one who told my wife a joke when making the delivery as he wanted to deliver some joy as well as the goods. (It’s a visual joke so I can’t tell it here.)

I suspect that sometimes we can feel as if God is being as elusive / awkward / unhelpful as as delivery person. We ask him something and the answer doesn’t come straight back, or it’s not as straightforward as we want, or it even comes through someone else. It’s not that he is trying to make things difficult, though. I think it’s sometimes because what we ask for is more difficult for him to deliver.

We want courage so he gives us opportunities to be courageous.

We want peace, and while he may give us a sense of peace within, he may also provide us with people who will be with us in the lack of peace that we feel.

We want joy and he asks us to look for it in the little things of life.

The answers are there. God loves to respond. But for the response to make a difference he usually involves us (and others) in it.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

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

radio control

IMGP0410My sailing boat is radio-controlled (It’s the one with the green hull). I have discovered that there are two types of radio control units. The radio signal from my controller tells the receiver unit in the boat what I want it to do and the boat responds. But the two types of controller are different:

One, the type I have, is analogue and the signals are broadcast over a particular frequency but in a way that any other boat that is tuned into the same frequency will also receive the same instructions. So I have to have a second set of crystals tuned to a different frequency to change over in that event.

The other type of control system is digital. The controller and receiver are linked together in a unique way and nothing else shares that unique ‘signature’. There is no interference, no fear that someone else might be affected by my transmitter.

In my mind it’s the difference between a loud hailer and a mobile phone. A loud hailer (megaphone) broadcasts loud and clear to anyone and everyone in the vicinity. Anyone can hear what is being said. A mobile phone has a unique number and only the person who has that phone can receive what is being said (unless they are on a train in which case everyone hears).

Sometimes God speaks in the same way as an analogue signal, or a loud hailer. His words and thoughts are for everyone to hear. An appreciation of his creativity is available to anyone who looks at the wonders of nature. An awareness of his love for us and how much he values us is available to anyone who cares to read a Bible (if you never have I suggest you start with one of the Gospels – Luke is my favourite). A sense of awe about who he is available to anyone who attends a service in church or who gets to look at the night sky without any light pollution. You get the idea.

But sometimes he speaks with a digital signal, through direct phone number. Those words are specifically for us. The amazing thing is that sometimes that comes even when I am listening to a wider ‘broadcast’ from him. Specific words and thoughts come through to me (perhaps in the same way that my boat receives and responds to the analogue signals intended for it). And sometimes the words come to me through a person who unwittingly says exactly what I needed to hear. And sometimes they come as I read the Bible and see words that were written thousands of years ago that are exactly relevant to me today (not surprising if the One who inspired them is also the One to whom I am trying to listen).

But, as I said in my earlier bloggage, the art is to be listening to him. He never stops broadcasting analogue and digital signals. My job is to tune in to him, to be receptive to him and to respond.

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.

 

attention!

paperworkEveryone wants our attention nowadays don’t they? Our mobile phones let us know when we have received a message and then flash a light at us incessantly until we have acknowledged that fact. It seems to me that junk mail is on the increase (particularly the sort that is pushed through everybody’s letterbox indiscriminately (pizza companies, gardeners, Indian takeaways, free newspapers… you know the sort of thing*). And all of the junk mail is trying to get our attention. Then there are the adverts on television. I know they’ve been there on commercial channels since they began but if you try to watch a sporting event with 2 halves on one of those channels the number of advert breaks before the match, during the interval, and after the match is incredible. (I know that’s how they fund the channels but it doesn’t stop it being annoying).

And don’t get me started on the pop-ups in apps and on websites!

And really don’t get me started on the spam emails!!

And really really don’t get me started on those constant unsolicited phone calls!!!

A Chicago company is one of the world’s largest subscription fulfilment companies. They have a computer database that records everyone’s subscriptions to various magazines and automatically sends out reminders and renewal notices when the subscription expires.

One day the computer malfunctioned. Soon afterwards, a rancher in Colorado received 9,734 separate mailings, informing him that his subscription to National Geographic Magazine had expired. This got his attention. He stopped what he was doing and travelled the 10 miles to the nearest post office, where he sent in his money for his renewal – along with a note, which said, “I give up! Send me your magazine!”

In the face of this impersonal onslaught don’t you find yourself sometimes almost screaming, “I don’t want any more junk mail, automated calls, spam emails, pop-ups… I just want to talk to a person!”

Do you ever get the sense that in the midst of all of this clamour for our attention God is gently and patiently coughing: “Ahem, I’d really like us to have a chat. That is if you’re not too busy for me.”

Too busy for God?! Now there’s an interesting concept. God’s approach to us is not to bully us into submission. He does not demand our attention but he does crave it. And the good news is that God so loved the world that he didn’t send spam emails, make unsolicited phone calls, send junk mail or bombard us with adverts – he sent his Son: a person to whom we can relate. Someone with whom we can talk.

If we’re not too busy dealing with everyone else who wants our attention.

Be blessed, be a blessing

*When the flow of junk mail gets particularly intense I am tempted to put a notice on the letterbox saying ‘thank you but no thank you’ and then I wonder what would happen if everyone did that. It would take away employment (albeit very low-paid and almost thankless) simply because I am feeling inconvenienced. I accept that if everybody stopped receiving such a large volume of paperwork we might save a few million trees, but that’s a different question.