Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Reflection on Asbury

Looking back on last week (and how important it is to make time to reflect) gives me much joy. I have visited many seminaries over the years but this rates as one of the most welcoming communities ever!  An administrator commented how the faculty was responsible for engendering the warm supportive ethos which Carol and I experienced at every turn. I know this should be true in any seminary, but the friendship offered on several different occasions when we were hosted by faculty members was of a very high order.  As you can tell, we enjoyed every minute.

The full chapel services (attendance is voluntary) demonstrated a spiritual liveliness with much responsiveness in the main preaching events.  For me, the highpoint was the final morning when I spoke about the restoring love of Jesus Christ who asks us about our love for him (not about our thinking, our achievements, our theology).  This 'heart question' held us still and in the final hymn the chapel leader interrupted after two verses with an invitation for hearers to come to the front and kneel at the altar rail. As people came forward I knew that God was at work for real.  That's a deeply humbling experience for any preacher.

Afterwards the chapel leader told me that he felt constrained by the Spirit to make the appeal. 'Actually, you should have felt the liberty to conclude with an appeal yourself,' he challenged.  It left me wondering how often I have missed opportunities like this because I was a visitor in a pulpit and I felt constrained in cowardly ways.  I am so thankful he responded promptly this time.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Troubling issues for Christian leaders.

Next week I am presenting the Beeson Preaching Series at Asbury Seminary in Kentucky.  It's my first visit and I look forward to this new opportunity.  This series takes the form of three successive seminary chapel services as well as seminar sessions.  It's a special privilege to have three teaching times clustered like this, addressing future Christian leaders.

Given a blank sheet,  I have been thinking of some of the issues that trouble me about Christian ministry - things that we can sometimes overlook or trivialize.  Where are the greatest dangers for Christian leaders?  My preparation has focused on three issues, each of which will be unpacked in narrative texts (all found in John's gospel). 

First, SELF-IMPORTANCE. In the light of John 3: 22-36 I shall develop the ministry perspective which sees the totality of my gifts, vocation, faith and even boldness as utterly dependent on Jesus Christ.  Second, SELF-SERVICE with the radical perspective that Jesus Christ gives in the upper room in John 13: 1-17 by washing feet and asking disciples:'Do you understand what I have done for you?'   Third, SELF-LOVE as that epic story of Peter's restoration, John 21: 15-19 takes us to the fundamental role of intentional love for Christ and others.

The overall theme is: Disturbing Perspectives on Ministry.  My prayer is that I may be used by God to challenge all of us about fresh possibilities to be lived by his grace. There's nothing more damaging to Christian leadership than self-importance, self-service and self-love, and nothing more radical than the contrasting kingdom way Jesus makes possible by his Spirit.  I will let you know how preparation comes to fruition!  And, special thanks to those who will be praying for the event, February 19-21st.

One year on - and thankful!

Just over one year ago I went through prostate cancer surgery and in my journal I recorded the process step-by-step (including enough gruesome details).  On February 2nd. my surgeon came into the consulting room where Carol and I anxiously awaited the outcome. All kinds of black thoughts crowded in.  Many of you will know how bleak such a situation can be.

'Good news', he beamed, 'we believe we have removed all the cancer.'  Carol recorded the surge of gratitude we felt in one of her memorable posts, and the way that the surgeon agreed with her that prayer is powerful.  The black thoughts dispersed,  the bleakness lifted with a glorious burst of sunshine warmth.

Now, 12 months on I have had two further encouraging tests (though the surgeon warns me I need five years' of similar test results).  Today, I need to post something about the profound sense of gratitude that we both continue to experience.  Continuing thankfulness is the secret to positive Christian living.  It is the obvious launch pad for praising God and his big picture.  It was a rotten time, but one year on we are more aware of the gift of life, and thankful for the miracle of healing and for being alive.   We really thank the Lord and all of you who shared in the journey.  Really!