Monday, May 20, 2024

A church formula

Keeping commitments (to follow a recent theme) involves me preaching a couple of times in the next few weeks. Back at Bluntisham, still in awaiting a new minister, I am hooked into their current preaching series -‘Overlooked books of the Bible.’ My two dates coincide with John 2 and Jude. My records (not necessarily hyper-accurate you understand) suggest that I have never preached on John 2 though I have intensively focused on John 1.  Jude has only one outing.  That's in over 60 plus years of preaching. So, overlooked they certainly are!

I was reminded of the old green Baptist Hymn Book, published in 1954. My father as Baptist minister set his heart on making sure that none of the nearly 800 hymns were overlooked. As a teenager I got to know the hymn book – some golden oldies and new ones. Not new as in Kendricks, Gettys, Redmon, Hillsong etc...but new for the 50's.. In the tune book on the piano he began to write the dates against the days he chose particular hymns.  If he felt the tune was a barrier he’d find a another tune with the same metre. And some had to be introduced tune and all. He said he wanted to make sure we didn’t stay with the popular ones but sang ones we didn’t know. I guess some people might have been fed up. 'Look at the words carefully' he would say. ' We shouldn’t miss this one out.  It’s chosen because it says something that matters'.  

Now, with Scripture it’s different because big choices were taken as to which books were important for telling out God's story, but a similar principle applies. Look at the words carefully. We shouldn't miss this one out.  It's here because it says something important. So, what matters in John 2?   

Certainly something mattered to the apostle John when he wrote this.  He’s the elder and as he addresses this young church two issues really matter.  Which of course means they matter for any church, like ours. I think that together these two themes almost amount to a formula for a spiritually strong church.. X plus Y equals....

Thursday, May 16, 2024

Keeping Commitments 3)

Our group meeting always ends in group prayer but I wanted every member to be able to share from the beginning. So I split our study session into two parts.  Part 1 asked members to name a commitment they have to keep and, as I mentioned two posts ago, I began with my foot exercises. Certainly no one else named that issue (though two group members have suffered in the past).  As we went round the room people particularly identified commitments to family, especially grandchildren. One highlighted their belonging to a church choir, another referred to their list of friends with whom to keep in contact. Someone spoke about their commitment to a weekly church outreach programme involving young families in the village. And yes, there was honest disclosure. Someone described how their desire to move from couch to 5K run was a failed commitment!

|We reflected on these and many other kinds of commitments and placed them in four categories.        

First - our vows to God  

Second - vows in marriage, to family, to friends 

Third - required practical commitments like paying bills, maintaining contracts, getting to work on time, projects keeping appointments.

Fourth - voluntary commitments - involvement with others offering help, showing compassion, mercy, which are extra to duties of daily life.

Part 2 reviewed some set questions about Hosea's marriage modelling God's broken relationship with Israel yet his enduring love, and with this in mind focused on the list above.  Because God's love for us calls for our commitment to him to be so serious that it affects every level of commitment.  As one group member said: 'It really challenges me to think that everything that we do matters to God - all commitments at every level! '.

As we prepared to pray together one person shared how they were particularly burdened with a decision about further leadership involvement in the church.  About how difficult it is to discern at the fourth level how much more we should do in busy lives. 

We always value time together. I know this challenge about keeping commitments has a sharper edge as I plan my diary ahead. 

Monday, May 13, 2024

Keep Commitments 2)

My home group date is tomorrow and I admit I have been exercised about how best to approach the evening. Truthfully, the choice of Hosea as the set Scripture was a great surprise.  It's not the obvious choice when thinking about biblical help on keeping commitments! 

The prophets were an extraordinary group of people, inspired by God to challenge the people by word and sometimes in action. These actions were like action symbols where prophets vividly lived out the message. And Hosea ranks as one of providing the most unusual symbol - his marriage and children!  His message is a judgment on Israel which is in the throes of the last tragic years before Assyria overthrows the kingdom.  It's hard to believe how far the leaders and people have drifted from God's love and authority. All six kings in succession are disasters with 4 murdered, 1 captured in battle and only one succeeded by his son. The whole Northern kingdom has failed God in the great sin of  unfaithfulness. 

To demonstrate the message of their unfaithfulness, Hosea is told to marry Gomer. We have many questions about her because it's clear that whether she began as a good wife or not she became adulterous.  Some even suggest, a prostitute. The story of love, and one commentator calls this 'a love story that went wrong,' shows Hosea naming three children (perhaps two of them not his own) with symbolic names - all dire pronouncements on the future of Israel.  Incredible to think of naming children 'No Longer Love' and 'You are not my people'!  As you read on you see how his marriage and his words illustrate the rejection God feels as his people reject his love for them. 

The study guide sets questions about Hosea's marriage and how it demonstrated God's unfailing love in spite of hurtful rejection and asks  us how we might begin to imitate God in one of our commitments.  I shall report on how the group responds!

Monday, May 6, 2024

Keep Commitments

A brief follow-up to the last post.  It's not much to boast about but I can report that, so far, I have been disciplined in following my foot exercises. Are they making much difference to the pain? Well, not as much as I hoped but I have a long way to complete 12 weeks.  And the exercise plan emphasizes that I must not give up even when I feel better.

Yesterday, I saw the lady at church who first uttered the words Plantar fasciitis.  I told her that I too was suffering and had been given this action plan of exercises.  'Oh', she pulled a face. 'They're awful!'  'Like the one where you have to stand on tiptoe on a step and then lower your heel to the floor,' I replied, grateful for a fellow pilgrim along the way. ' Oh, I'm afraid I haven't done much of that stuff!' she said. 'I am just hoping that it will get better eventually.  I think it is!' 

So not a fellow pilgrim!  Part of me is not surprised she's given up because I have known several people who found the sheer slog of following physio exercises is not much fun.  And it really isn't!  It's also true that maintaining a pattern of discipline when there's little evidence of improvement demands real effort of will.

I was amused by a connection this makes with the next home group Bible study I am leading.  It's called 'Keep Commitments'.  In the study booklet leaders are told to begin the session by asking group members to name different commitments in their lives. Like: marriage vows, projects, appointment, bill-paying, due dates, getting to work on time, promises to children.  Encouraging a wide range of commitments, with some of them light-hearted, is intended to prod the group's thinking about the wide array of commitments in normal life and the way we handle these. In fact, group members should name commitments that are not named by anyone else in the group.

I shall name my plantar fasciitis exercises!  I think I shall be the only person with that commitment.  But I guess it will be a surprise to discover that the Scripture chosen for this study is Hosea 1:1-2:1,3.  Really? Next time.

Tuesday, April 30, 2024

A foot problem

Sunday mornings after worship we meet for coffee and chat. Three weeks ago I saw a lady who had been ill and out of action. I asked her about her illness in that general way that avoids too much prying yet expresses some compassion. If you know what I mean!  She explained that she had been hit by severe plantar fasciitis in her feet. I asked her to repeat the diagnosis.  It was the first time I'd heard it. She explained that the pain was so acute it made walking excruciating, though she has a dog so that forced her to take some steps daily however badly she felt. I sympathized and hoped it would improve.

Strangely, even as I was talking to her I was also suffering pain in my left foot.   Somehow I had bruised my heel and sole. Seeing a pharmacist (as recommended by our under pressure NHS) I was recommended a tube of lotion which, after a week, had made no difference. Consulting another pharmacist I received exactly the same advice. After a further week it seemed to be getting worse.  

So, on the Monday after I had my coffee conversation I emailed my surgery, explaining the problem. The doctor phoned me back and said the symptoms clearly led to one diagnosis: Plantar Fasciitis. He sent me details of exercises for the next 12 weeks. The model who poses these exercises is lithe and slim. For her it's effortless, rising upon a step before touching her heels to the ground. The rigor increases with a haversack full of heavy weights necessary after two weeks which is further increased in weights after six weeks.

I know my blog is odd. Spiritual thoughts jostle alongside unpleasantness. Which of course they always do. I am still seeking to be an Easter person as I grind out the exercises.  It's too early to detect much relief but my sympathy for that poor lady at church is heartfelt.

Saturday, April 20, 2024

Claim it



When the inside belief is married to the outside claim then the apostle Paul asserts you can be sure YOU WILL BE SAVED.  The language of being saved is not so often heard today. It’s easy to mock.  Unsophisticated. It’s a strong rescue word and most people laugh at the idea that they need rescuing from anything.  Someone who does 100 press-ups a day, plays squash 3 times a week, and walks 15,000 steps and whose fit life is as fulfilling as the next persons, scoffs at the notion they need saving:  'That's a guilt trip put on me by Christians...I'm as good as anyone else. I don't need rescuing, redeeming...any of that stuff.'

But when you grow closer to God, you begin to realize that there are possibilities you are missing out on. Again, its about SW spiritual wisdom – when you open up to spiritual reality of how different your life could be.  How there are messed up areas inside us and between us but, more radically, how our relationship with God is dead.  He remains totally beyond our world and our experience because for us there is no other reality but what we see.  We put our trust in human wisdom.  

Being saved is about bringing the messed up lives and relationships to God. The negative areas of our lives.  I love what someone said: I rather attend church with messed up people who love God than religious people who dislike messed up people.  We who belong together in church are fellow messed-up disciples.  That's why the words forgiven, cleansed, reconciled are vital and why confession is so necessary.

Being saved is also gloriously positive. It's about living large with God and his people and its progressive. 1 Cor. 1:18 stresses being saved - the process by which God's Spirit is helping us work out Jesus Christ character in our lives and communities. It's a profound ongoing journey. As Jesus put it: Life, life abundant.  

In our tough times especially, this spiritual wisdom reality of God's biggest purpose holds us together with everything else. My mother died in Addenbrookes Hospital, aged 57.  In good health she suffered a freak accident falling down the stairs and the hospital declared her brain dead.  On a life support machine we sat with her, read and prayed. She was a strong believer and a great influence on me. When I went in to be with her as they switched the life support off,  I read Scripture and prayed asking God to keep her safe. It was unbearably sad.  Looking out of the window, high up, I saw traffic on the main road and, in the distance, a train going to London. And in the bleakness of the parting came this conviction that Jesus is Lord. He is Lord over death, Lord over the world I could see, over my life as I returned to home and work.  The totality of his love, his claims are overwhelming.  We live in a larger world. Once and for all, at Easter, God has revealed himself in Jesus dying and rising, to bring us together to himself.

As C.S. Lewis wrote: Christianity if false is of no importance, and if true it's of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important. 


Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Say it!


It’s vital that this faith commitment is not just some inside thing, but we say it out loud.  At believers' baptism, where we stand is made clearly and boldly. And whenever we are together it matters to say it out loud, because you never know how much someone needs to hear you.  One of the earliest ways that Christians spoke about Jesus was wonderfully simple but so big: JESUS IS LORD.  They said it to each other as their basic affirmation truth, and for them it was dangerous. Because, contemporary with Paul’s writing, Nero was Roman emperor and his people were meant to say 'Lord Nero'.  Much archaeological evidence has come to light of inscriptions: 'Nero is Lord'. One even reads: 'Nero, Lord of the entire world'.  To say this was overreach is a massive understatement but when Jesus is risen it's no overreach.  His kingdom embraces everything - Alpha and Omega. 

The thing about lords is that everyone has lords of one kind or another.  Your particular Lord is what you concentrate on, what matters more than anything else in your life. Some people make Money, Pleasure, Success, Fitness and Health all important motivations in their lives. But there are many other lords which sometimes sound eminently reasonable - Friendship, Family, even Local Church – where we can put all our effort. So often it's what we have chosen.  The humbling revolution involved in confessing the risen Jesus requires voluntary submission to his lordship. What he chooses! So that seeking and obeying his will and purpose overarches everything else about our lives.  

In an earlier post I mentioned how I had contributed a quote for our recent church Easter installation. It was from a missionary hero of mine, E. Stanley Jones whose encounter with Jesus overwhelmed him with gratitude. He often wrote quotable quotes!   About the words Jesus is Lord he wrote: The most narrow, divisive, all claiming words that ever fell upon human ears. To say these words truly focuses attention like nothing else, and the moment you let him be Lord, everything changes for the better.  Life begins to add up as making spiritual sense. For then we have found who holds life together and gives it meaning and purpose. Life find’s its Lord,