recycling

RecycleI think we mostly agree that recycling is a good thing. It saves resources and reduces wastage. We may find it a hassle when we have to sort out our cardboard and paper from our plastics from our tins from our bottles from our garden waste from our food waste from our non-recyclables but on the whole it’s worth the effort. I have been surprised at how empty our non-recyclable bin bags are now that we recycle all of the above.

With my magic shows I like to vary the content and perform different illusions, but (unless I learn a new trick) I am choosing from the same illusions each time although I may adjust the way in which I present them.

But when it comes to recycling sermons and resources that I have previously used I am much more reticent. And I am wondering why that is. I think it is because I feel that each time I preach it should be prepared fresh for each group of people who are listening (and those who are sleeping too). That way God can say what he wants to those people without being limited to what I have used before.

Yet at the same time I wonder whether that is necessarily fair on him. After all we don’t re-write the songs and hymns we sing each time. We don’t re-write the Bible (heaven forbid!). Resources like the Alpha Course are used and re-used effectively without change. Now I am not claiming at my sermons have the same timeless quality as the best hymns and songs, nor that they have the same authority and authenticity as the Bible, or the universal appeal of Alpha. No, no, no. Anyone who has heard one of them will confirm that! However, perhaps I am also limiting God. Am I suggesting in my ‘bespoke’ approach that God can only speak through a sermon or resource once and that after that he is incapable of speaking further and that the sermon or resource is now an empty shell – like a bullet cartridge after it has been fired? That seems wrong too.

You may detect that I am in a bit of a quandary here. It is not something that I had to consider much in a local church as each week required a new sermon. The one time I was pushed for time and re-preached an old sermon someone came up and told me that I had, because they kept written notes! (They were not criticising, just observing). But in my trans-local role where I am not often in the same churches there is the possibility of recycling old sermons and resources. If it is laziness that is my motivation then I must resist it. But it could also be that the message God wanted me to deliver in one church is the same message he wants for other churches.

The ‘compromise’ I have reached is that if I am going to preach on a passage or theme that I have preached on before I will seek to use existing material in the same way that I use books and other resources. I won’t re-preach verbatim but will prayerfully see if some of what has been prepared before is of help this time. That is a form of recycling with which I am comfortable.

What messages from God might he be asking you to recycle?

Be blessed, be a blessing

who do you want to see?

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

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

Responses to yesterday (if you don’t know it, it may help you to read yesterday’s bloggage before you carry on) were a bit interesting. After telling our church that I have been called to a new role there was a stunned silence. I could see on people’s faces that they were a bit surprised / shocked / upset / stunned [delete as appropriate].

I told the church at the end of the service, just before we sang ‘To God be the glory’, which gave us all a chance to refocus on him.

Afterwards, once they had recovered, the wonderful people at our church were very warm, encouraging, kind and uplifting. I had hoped that they wouldn’t string the bunting out straight away (‘Hooray he’s going’) or wear black armbands (‘It’s terrible news’) and bless them, they blessed me so much.

Later in the day the news was announced by the EBA and I then posted it on here. Subsequently I have had lots of very kind messages on Facebook, emails and text messages. They are very encouraging and blessed me no end, especially as I was so down about telling the church. Thank you all.

But the thing that blessed me most was when, after the service, someone came up to me and (while briefly mentioning my news) wanted to say that God had spoken to me through the sermon. That meant more to me than anything kind or thoughtful that anyone has said to me or written to me about the move. Don’t get me wrong, don’t get in a huff if you sent me a message or said something kind, but I was blessed because for that person the most important thing in the service was not me, but Jesus and what he had said to him.

“YES!” That’s my prayer each time I stand in a pulpit and it was so encouraging that it had happened yesterday in the midst of everything else.

I remember a small Baptist chapel in rural Devon that I visited before I trained at Bible college. I was cutting my preaching teeth (and the congregations probably bore the teethmarks afterwards) and trying to discern whether God was calling me to be a Minister. As I entered the pulpit (and you had to climb up into it) there was a small piece of paper sellotaped to the lectern top. On it were these words:

“Sir, we would see Jesus.”

It was a message from the congregation to the preacher. I am not sure if they changed it when a lady preacher came. But it has lodged in my memory and is my prayer for all who are sitting in congregations when I stand up to preach – look at Jesus.

I rejoice that this happened yesterday.

But it can happen to us each day if we are living sermons (or free samples of Jesus).

Or, flipping the context around, when you go to church is it to meet your friends, hear the preacher or to see Jesus?

Be blessed, be a blessing.

panning for gold

panning for goldA long time ago in a theme park far far away (relatively speaking: it fits best with the Star Wars-esque intro) our children took part in an activity to pan for gold. Little ‘gold’ nuggets were mixed in with sand and gravel and (for a fee) children could dig up some sand and put it in a pan with some water and then swirl it around to find the ‘gold’ which was then exchanged for a cheap and tacky souvenir.

That image came back to me recently and felt like a useful metaphor for life. Sometimes what life seems to throw at us looks like dirt. It may feel like dirt. It may be difficult events. It may be things that are said. It could be things that we have done. In those circumstances I have found that it is helpful to pan for gold in the dirt of life.

What I mean is that it is quite possible that God has some gold nuggets hidden in the dirt. He may have words of encouragement, reminders of his faithfulness, words of guidance or correction, even just a reminder that he is with us – gold nuggets hidden in the dirt. One of the tasks we have is prayerfully to pan for the gold. Ask God what he may be saying or reminding us of in what may appear to be mud. When we have found the gold we need to ask for his grace and wisdom to receive it and act on it. We also need his grace and wisdom to set aside what is not gold – what is not of him – and not allow it to lead to lead to hurt or bitterness.

Sometimes there’s only a tiny nugget (but it’s still a nugget!). Sometimes there may not be anything. Sometimes it is as if we have hit a rich seam of gold. What might ‘panning for gold’ look like?

Try to ask God to speak to you through the events: ask him, “What are you saying to me in this, God?”

Be honest, be open, be humble, be ready to look for the glint of gold even in the grottiest of dirt.

Perhaps ask a close friend if they can see any gold nuggets if you can’t.

When you find something that feels like gold make sure you weigh it and evaluate it so you know it is from God – check it against God’s nature and character, check it against the Bible.

Whatever is not gold, ask God to give you the grace to set it aside.

Whatever is gold, ask God to give you the grace to act on it.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

epiphany

light bulbI had an epiphany this morning but it’s okay, I’ve got some tablets for it.

No, seriously (and yes I can be), I had an epiphany – a sudden message from God that stopped me in my tracks. The passage of the Bible I read this morning* was one that I have read many times and it didn’t jump off the page at me like it did this morning. It seems to summarise brilliantly so much of what we are considering at the moment in our church under the banner of a 2020 vision and what God is saying to me personally.

It comes from a letter Paul wrote to a church in Colossae and it’s worth remembering that it is written in the plural – ‘you’ means the church not an individual on their own and ‘pray’ means ‘pray together’. The extract of Paul’s letter is Colossians 4:2-6

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. 3And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. 4Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. 5Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. 6Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

This encourages me immensely. It encourages me because it confirms (if we needed confirmation) that the direction in which we feel God is leading us is entirely in harmony with the Bible. If it wasn’t I would be worried!

It encourages me because it reminds me of something I said on Sunday morning in church – that church is God’s Plan A for the world and he’s not working on a Plan B. The task to which he has called us as followers of Jesus is the same today as it was for the earliest Christians – to grow deeper in our relationship with Jesus so we can be better free samples (individually and collectively) to those who aren’t yet followers.

It encourages me because it reminds me that everyone in the church is involved in the same task that God has called me to, and I have the privilege of being paid so I can devote myself to encouraging, teaching, supporting, resourcing and blessing everyone else as you fulfil your calling in your daily lives.

It has been a ‘shiver down the spine’ moment – literally – and those moments are usually when I sense God has spoken to me loud and clear.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

*I use Scripture Union’s WordLive

shiver down the spine songs

I was a student, studying for a Law Degree. I had heard from a friend that U2 had a new album out and he was raving about it so I went to a local record shop (there were a lot more of them around then) and bought ‘The Joshua Tree’. I took it back to my room, took it out of the gatefold sleeve (look it up on t’internet younguns) and put it on my turntable. I plugged in my headphones and turned up the volume, lay back and started to listen.

I was not prepared for what happened next. My ears were treated to an amazing blend of harmonies, guitar sounds, rhythms and vocals that sent shivers down my spine (the album still does that to me). The lyrics were completely absorbing and challenging. I found myself melting into the music and wallowing decadently in what became an immersive experience. I appreciate that it won’t be to everyone’s taste but listening to that album still remains a vivid memory for me (as you may be able to tell from the anecdote above). In fact I may well revisit that experience when I have finished this bloggage as I am spending the morning praying, reflecting and reading.

The moment when I was almost moved to tears was when the guitars started gently, the drums and bass came in smoothly and then Bono started singing:

I have climbed highest mountains
I have run through the fields
Only to be with you
Only to be with you
I have run
I have crawled
I have scaled these city walls
These city walls
Only to be with you

But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for
But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for

I have kissed honey lips
Felt the healing in her fingertips
I burn like fire
This burning desire

I have spoke with the eternal angels
I have held the hand of the devil
It was warm in the night
I was cold as a stone

But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for
But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for

I believe in the Kingdom come
Then all the colours will bleed into one
Bleed into one
But yes I’m still running

You broke the bonds
And you loosed the chains
Carried the cross
Of my shame
Oh my shame
You know I believe it

But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for
But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for
But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for

To me these lyrics represent a journey of faith. I don’t know what the ‘what I’m looking for’ was for Bono, and to be honest I don’t want to know. For me it’s about spiritual dissatisfaction and longing – we haven’t made it yet, we don’t have all the answers, we want more of God. We can look for God in all sorts of places and while we can know the certainty of ‘the Kingdom come’ and of our relationship with him made possible in Jesus: ‘you carried the cross… you know I believe it’, there is always much more for us to discover of God and about ourselves.

The moment we think we have all the answers is the moment when God laughs loudest.

The lyrics could also be reflective of the Lord’s Prayer – praying that God’s Kingdom will come and his will be done on earth now as it is in the heavenly realms. That is not yet a reality: we have not yet seen it completely. There are so many places, people and events in this world that don’t acknowledge God as King (so his Kingdom hasn’t been fulfilled there yet) and we long to see his justice, love, peace and wholeness.

To me this album and that song were eye-openers. God spoke powerfully to me through a song that was unlikely to be sung in church. He spoke gently to me that is all right to be searching – in fact he rather likes it – and that a relationship with him is a lifetime’s work not an exam to be passed. And it is fine to be dissatisfied with the world how it is because he’s not satisfied with it either and he’s inviting us to work with him to help his Kingdom come in the places we live and work and play.

What's the link between this and a pencil? There's a generation growing up who have no idea!

What’s the link between this and a pencil? There’s a generation growing up who have no idea!

Be blessed, be a blessing

where there is a misquote the sermons flourish

glasses“Without a vision the people perish.”

How many times have you heard that quoted (from the Bible – Proverbs 29:18) in order to support the introduction of or need for a vision / mission statement? I have heard so many sermons on that theme that I am almost willing to submit to them since that many people surely can’t be wrong.

But only almost.

The problem is that it is a misquote. The King James Version (from which it is misquoted) states, “Where there is no vision, the people perish…” It is not ‘a vision’, it is ‘vision’. ‘Vision’ here does not mean a modern vision statement. It refers to God’s revelation. And ‘perish’ is not the best translation either.

The New International Version offers us: “Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint.” In other words, where people don’t listen to God they do their own thing.

What I find interesting about many of the sermons I have heard on the KJV approach is that few of them have gone on to the second half of the verse: “but blessed is the one who keeps the law.” (NIV) That is the corollary of the first half.

If you ignore God you are heading for a fall. But if you live in the way he intends you will find blessing. ‘Blessing’ does not mean an easy life, or that you won’t have any problems. It means that you will experience God’s approval, enjoy his ‘well done’, cause him to smile on you…

Be blessed, be a blessing.

Children seldom misquote their parents. In fact, they usually repeat word for word what you shouldn’t have said.

speech training

I am not sure what provoked this memory, but over the last couple of days I have been reminded of the ‘speech training’ sessions we had when I was training to be a Minister. A lovely, patient, humour-laden, expert lady called Liz used to take us for sessions once a week to help us to be better public speakers.

The view from the floor when you are lying on your back in a lecture room.

The view from the floor when you are lying on your back in a lecture room.

I am not sure if they still do this but if you came into Spurgeon’s College when I was there you might well come across a group of students lying on the lecture room floor, breathing in and out at the ceiling. You might hear strange sounds emanating from the lecture room as we tried to enunciate our words. The sessions were always good fun, and were always practical, and helped me immensely. Simple things like standing on your feet rather than on your toes (yes, some do that) helps with being more relaxed. Projecting your voice from your diaphragm rather than amplifying in your throat means that your voice is less tired and also makes your voice louder without you shouting. It means that you don’t have to rely on a microphone to

I think that the point of the speech training sessions was two-fold:  to equip us so that we could speak in public without straining our voices (which are, after all, rather important for Ministers); and to make the listening experience better for those who were listening to us (by getting us to consider tone, volume, inflexion and so on in the way that we spoke). There’s no point in having the most important message in the world if nobody can understand it, or if people are bored by the delivery.

One of the things that I remembered recently was the value of dropping your voice. That is not speaking inaudibly, or so quietly that people can’t catch what you are saying, but dropping the tone and intensity so that it is much softer. That change of tone and intensity can be more effective in emphasising than shouting is. And that has reminded me why I have been thinking about this all.

On Sunday morning I spoke about the Transfiguration in Luke 9, where Jesus was transformed on the top of a mountain and God spoke to Peter, James and John who witnessed it all. I have often thought of God’s voice as big and booming, but it struck me as I looked at the passage that I have read that into the text. All we know is that a voice spoke from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I have chosen. Listen to him.”

Perhaps this came in a gentle tone. Perhaps the inflexion emphasised the Father’s affection for Jesus and the importance of listening to him. Re-read those words imagining them being shouted, and then re-read them imagining them being spoken softly. Which is more effective in communicating to you?

Sometimes when we are seeking to hear from Jesus we want a loud booming voice. But if that was the case, why would we need to focus on listening to him? We’d hear it easily. Listening involves our concentration, attention, calmness, and, if the voice is speaking softly, for us to be quiet. For when God speaks softly we can not only hear the words by we can hear his inflexion and gain so much more from him.

How do we listen like that? It is explained in Psalm 46v10: “Be still and know that I am God. : stop your frantic activity and give God your attention. It is modelled in 1 Kings 19 when Elijah experienced God’s presence in the sound of sheer silence. Come out from where you are hiding and meet God.

Where is that space in your day, your week, your life?

Be blessed, be a blessing

One of my best friends at Spurgeon’s, Steve, wrote a very funny song about the speech training classes – a blues number – which the two of us sang at the College Christmas Concert. We both had guitars but I can’t play any chords so Steve played during the verses and chorus. But we got to the ‘instrumental break’ and Steve introduced my guitar solo. This involved me playing on one open string as fast as I could while pretending to move my fingers on the fret board and in the background Steve was playing all sorts of clever stuff. It was intended as a joke but I was delighted to hear afterwards that one person in the audience genuinely thought I was amazingly gifted! There’s a parable there I think…

I never knew there was so much in it

bible genesisThere is a publication that tells us the times of TV programmes that had the title of this bloggage as its advertising strap-line.

I regularly find myself saying something similar about the Bible. Yes, statistics tell us that there are 66 books, containing over 770,000 words (depending on translation) divided into just over 31,000 verses (to help us navigate around). The shortest verse in the Bible is John 11:35, the longest is Esther 8:9. The middle chapter (and also the shortest) is Psalm 117. The longest chapter is Psalm 119. There are hundreds of other statistics that I could quote to you about the Bible.

But that’s not my point. It’s not the number of words, verses, chapters or books that impress me. It’s how God can reveal new things through the Bible each time I come to it. He reveals new things through familiar passages. I had that experience on Sunday morning when my colleague Lynsey was preaching. I had that experience last night when I was preaching. There is so much more in the Bible than the 770,000 words. I had that experience this morning when I read a passage for my own reflection.

It doesn’t always happen. Sometimes the words are just words. The silence is deafening and the pages become flat and one-dimensional. Those are sometimes the occasions when I am in a hurry, when reading the Bible has been reduced to a habit (not a bad one). They can be moments when I feel that God is distant from me (usually because I have tuned him out). They are often when my reading or listening are not accompanied by praying.

But there are other times when the words assume a life of their own and truth leaps out at me from every syllable. Those are moments to stop, to ponder, to listen, to reflect, to take note, to respond and to pray.

This morning I read the passage in John 5:1-15 where Jesus healed a man who had been paralysed for 38 years. He asked him a seemingly obvious question: “Do you want to get well?”

But the man’s response was not, “Yes please!” He concentrated on his problems and blamed others (there was nobody to help him) rather than focusing on the One who would be the answer.

Later, after he had been healed and was carrying his mat back home, the religious people told him off for carrying it on the Sabbath. He blamed Jesus for telling him to pick up the mat rather than getting them to focus on the miracle that had happened.

What’s God saying to you today?

Be blessed, be a blessing.

I used to think that the smallest person in the Bible was Bildad the Shuhite. But apparently it is the man who fell asleep on his watch!