Saturday, October 19, 2019

Christian joy

The next three weeks, while our pastor is away, I am preaching in my home church.  3 weeks is long enough to take a theme into a little more depth. And in praying and preparation the theme of JOY surfaced strongly.  Perhaps, because many of us have found recent months of national uncertainty fairly joyless!  Mostly because Christian joy is sometimes overlooked as an extraordinary gift of God.  Understanding joy needs care because some equate it with jollity and extrovert enthusiasm   Of course, there is extrovert joy in Scripture - look at the intoxication of Pentecost Sunday.  But there is also introvert joy, a contemplate experience even in the face of suffering (Jas. 1:2).  It's a big and serious subject.

As the sermons are being written I realize that classifications borrowed from the film industry can be applied.  The first sermon on the source and causes of joy (Luke 15:1-10) is U certificate.  No-one can tease out the stories of the lost sheep and lost coin without getting Jesus' point.  Joy in belonging to God. Just underline the words joy and rejoicing!  The second has much more demanding content (Gal. 5: 13-26   ) and deserves at least a 15 certificate.  It places joy among the fruit (rightly connecting it with the other Spirit qualities) and contrasts it with usual human behaviour.  Two ways open up - the natural way of the flesh which is our daily default pattern or the Spirit way - walking and keeping pace with the Spirit.  And these two ways of behaving open up every day.

The third sermon really needs an 18 certificate because it looks at joy in suffering (Jas 1:2-8;Rom. 5: 1-5). To link joy with suffering takes us to deep places and I know that both preparing this sermon and listening to it will be demanding.  I shall keep in touch as this little series develops.  Perhaps you might like to look up the different passages and anticipate the messages?! 

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Rembering Ron

Yesterday I was at the funeral and thanksgiving service for Ron Messenger (1923-2019).  Someone said to me: 'I hope there will be a good crowd.  When you are old not many will know all the good things you did.'  Well, the church was packed and the service inspiring. For me, he was the Baptist Mr. Counsellor.  From the beginning of my ministry I knew Ron as a pioneer of a therapeutic healing community of Greenwoods. Everyone in the denomination knew of him. With gentle authority he demonstrated such love and skill with some of the neediest, most troubled people.
You learn so much at a funeral. I didn't know of his service during World War Two as a navigator flying for the Fleet Air Arm. Nor how large his family was with five sons whose families now add up to nearly 40. Nor of his early enthusiasm with the Boys Brigade and his charismatic leadership of the community. Several words kept being repeated. We learned that the war changed him and forged the word FORGIVENESS as key to Christian living - which led him into ministry.  LOVE best described his life and ministry ever since.  Nobody seemed unimportant. And LISTENING marked his phenomenal ability to focus on you.  He used to say: 'Look how Jesus spent time with the one!'Oh, one-on-one....there was so much good to remember.

Personally, I shall never forget the wonder when in retirement he was willing to share his gifts as counsellor in my Cambridge church in 1989.  At first hand, I marvelled at his work in our Stoneyard Centre caring for people that I (and most of us) felt utterly inadequate to help.  He touched countless lives.  He led courses on pastoral counselling for the church (I still have the notes).  His marriage counselling was legendary including advising one couple they weren't ready to marry - and they agreed! To the leadership team he brought depth, experience and maturity...always with grace and a twinkle. So many stories of love and listening with forgiveness at their heart.

The last three years he was bed-ridden, totally blind and very deaf.  Yet he remained a shining witness with such faith in God's love.  We learned that one of his visitors asked him how he was, to which he replied 'Oh, it's good.  I'm learning to listen!  

Isn't it wonderful to have known and been influenced by people like Ron?

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Feels like Home

Recently I was given a book written by a pastor friend, Lee Eclov, with that title: Feels like Home.  He writes so well, packing the book with stories from his long ministry. What hit me between my eyes is his overriding conviction  - that the best way of viewing the local church is to see it as family.

He claims: You can’t feel at home in an organization. Summing up his ministry he says: 'I am not project manager, goal setter, strategist, but homemaker'. The church as God's household looms large (1 Tim 3:15 Eph 2:19).  Yet it contrasts with viewing church as organization.  It develops in a different way.  Vision statements don't work because it's about people who often don't fit in with vision. Outliers. In fact 'watching out for prodigals' is a top priority of God's household.  And growing family takes time - pastors need patience within God's family

As he teases out implications of belonging to Christian brothers and sisters he underlines the tension between nuclear family life and our first family in Christ and invites us to find a role within two families because a healthy church life is God's gift to any family.  Through all these he keeps illustrating by stories drawn through his long ministry.

His commitment to church as homemaker resonates with my own experience of him and his warm supportive ministry.  And his introduction continues to challenge me:
When Christians look for a church they are looking for a home.  They don't just need a place where they like the music or preaching, or where their kids are happy. They need a home because Christian discovery and growth can't happen without one.  The Bible knows nothing of Christians disconnected from other believers. Jesus' people are a family, "the household of God' (Eph. 2:19).  You might think a church that feels like home would be easy, but actually it is a miracle. Christian love and Christ-like service don't come naturally at fact life with our Christian family is counter-intuitive at every turn.  Everything that makes a church feel like home depends on the Holy Spirit working wonders within and among us. 
Do you sense a challenge too?

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Fresh ambitions

This last weekend I made a couple of commitments.  By now, readers will know of the somewhat random nature of my postings...flitting from one subject to another.  And actually this is about trying to reduce flitting!

The first commitment was renewing my gym membership for a year.  I have belonged to a gym for several years beginning in the US under orders from a fierce doctor whose dire warnings about my health really motivated me.   In following years, motivation has become erratic and occasionally absent all together.  But, with a fresh year's renewal I really want to develop more regular exercise.  So, that's one ambition.

The other concerns reactivating my keyboard which has lived in the attic for much of the past year.  I pushed it up there when we needed the spare room for accommodation.  It's not full size and I only bought it because my minor stroke left me needing to exercise my left hand. However, like the gym, enthusiasm for doing exercises waxes and wanes.  In my teens playing the piano was one of my main hobbies but all that is in the far distance. I have a CD which re-introduces me to basics of scales etc.  It backs single finger exercises with extravagant orchestration so that Old MacDonald had a farm sounds positively symphonic.

How long will these fresh ambitions last?  I know the peril of going public but that's part of the pressure I need to put on myself.  Maybe I'll let you know.

Friday, September 20, 2019

An Akenfield Baptist

A couple of weeks ago a friend gave me a copy of 'Akenfield - Portrait of an English Village' (1969) by Ronald Blythe.  He said that I would be intrigued by its many village characters who tell their stories on its pages. Featuring a small Suffolk village in the 1960's it comprises direct speech monologues from forty-nine residents linked togther by the author's insights.

In the section 'God', we hear a deacon of the village Strict Baptist Chapel describe how he became a Christian (at a village tent mission) and his life in the church ever since. Warmly and positively he details how the chapel works and how making an open confession of Christ in baptism is essential.  He explains that the church chooses its pastor and needs to pay him as well as maintaining the church and manse.  At that time it had no pastor (because of the 'money problem').  However he reflects that twenty-five years before they had a full-time pastor and ran the church for just 3 shillings a week.

We could do this because the pastor was, well, a saint you might say. He was Akenfield. Ask anybody. Nobody ever did so much good or was so kind. A rich friend from Ipswich, a rare big businessman who wasn't one of us, gave him a car -this was when cars were rare in the village - and he never used it for his pleasure.  Only for others.  It was known as the 'hospital motor' because he used it to take patients and family to Ipswich and Melton hospitals.  It never mattered what time of day or night it was.  We don't quite know where this man came from.  Anyway, he stayed and cared for us, and none better.  He stayed thirty years and was one of us. 

What a tribute to an 'under-shepherd' of the Good Shepherd! I have been privileged to know a few saints like this - I hope you have too.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Visiting family

Over the last few days Carol and I have been on the road visiting ailing family on both Carol's and my sides. This accounts for nil postings recently. Such visits are rarely easy (many of you will readily recognize why!)  Fitting in with family who are much older or, in my brother's case, younger but dogged by ill health, requires sensitivity....which I hope we showed.

We return home glad to have completed the trip.  Though it involved less than 500 miles the 'being on the road' aspect proved to be exhausting....particularly the hours spent on the M 3 onto the M 25 and up the A 1M on the way home.  Often at walking speed (it seemed) the sheer volume of traffic, complicated by road improvement schemes fueled exasperation.  Really - what a surprise?!

Returning home late we planned a major shop the next morning to replenish stores.  Travelling towards the store we found that the entry to the main approach road was closed.  No warning anywhere!  Joining a lengthy diversion we arrived much later, rewarded ourselves with a coffee, shopped for provisions and then set off for home.  Except, that as we joined the line of cars leaving the car park we found ourselves stationary.  Normally, it takes about 12 minutes to reach home.  But we were in a monster queue that took 50 minutes to clear the store with a further 10 minutes of journey.  Another hour in the car again!  I commented to Carol about the Christian gift of patience....but I am not so sure it was helpful.

Anyway, I have had a little moan....forgive me.  We've all been there!

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Gen Z values

It is obvious that this latest generation is highly tech savvy and obviously this was vital in explaining the wildfire way that Jordan's vision (see last post) spread across the US and into Europe.  As I listened to him describe what he sees as some of the distinctive features of Gen Z I noted some contrasts.

   -  They want to see change.  I suppose Greta Thunberg is the poster girl for this characteristic but this new generation is reckoned to be more highly charged about wanting to make a difference.  They desire to get involved in big issues.
 -    They want community.  Belonging to small groups is deemed valuable especially when they are involved in change. Collaboration matters.
 -    Story and conversation are valued strongly and are key to enthusing others of their own age.
 -    They can be wide-eyed with wonder when confronted by the new.

However, alongside these characteristics Jordan mentioned:
   - They are troubled by mental ill-health in larger numbers.  Anxiety is common - a recent survey found that 23% of this group was in depression.  Some of this is likely provoked by comparisons and trolling on social media.
  -  They are much less likely than previous generations to have a Christian world view.  He mentioned a Barna survey in the US found that less than 4% of this group had a Christian world view. For most Gen Z the Bible is a closed book and church is alien.

I am left with real concern for this latest generation - it seems with so many positives yet serious negatives. How we oldies need to keep praying for them, especially when they are in our families and churches!