Friday, 23 September 2016

Diotrephes Could Harm Your Church

Beware of Diotrephes
There are some characters in scripture with whom it is a privilege to likened.  To be called a Timothy, or a Mary or a Martha could be flattering.  What you would not want to be called, is a Diotrephes.  I first heard someone called a Diotrephes when I was a teenager bursting with enthusiasm and frustrated because my church at the time seemed generally lifeless (at least to a critical teenager).  I cannot be sure exactly who the person I was speaking with was referring, but I know the kind of person she was describing.

Diotrephes gets just one brief mention in the New Testament, in 3 John verses 9 and 10.  Since he gets this mention, and his character and conduct also get described in detail, I presume that the Holy Spirit wants us to know about him, understand him, and avoid becoming like him.

His name is interesting as it means ‘nurtured by Zeus’.  We can conclude that he was a gentile Christian.  Zeus, the god of thunder, was the king of the gods of Mount Olympus, ruling with a rod of iron.  I find myself wondering whether Diotrephes had admired, or even worshipped Zeus before becoming a Christian.  His own behaviour is rather Zeus like. It certainly seems to me that he might well have brought something from his pre-conversion culture into his Christian life.  He likes to be seen to be important, and loves that important status, while exercising his leadership role in an autocratic – even dictatorial – manner.

We note first that this is contrast to the character and behaviour of Jesus.  He is the king who is gentle and comes riding on a donkey.  This is the one who entered the world in a stable, and who sought no glory for himself.  This is the one who humbled himself, divesting himself of the majestic splendour that was his by right.  This is the Master who washes feet.

We also note that this was contrary to the teaching of both Jesus and the apostles.  Jesus was clear that among his disciples there was no room for anyone who might seek to lord it over another.  On one occasion he spoke about the seating at a feast and the folly of claiming superiority.  Paul emphasises humility in Philippians 2:1-4.  In Romans 12:3 Paul encourages the Christians not to think of themselves more highly than they ought. The very principle of fellowship (Greek: Koinonia) is based upon essential equality.

Diotrephes’ longing to have the pre-eminence is not his only weakness.  He has also made himself the gatekeeper for the church of which he is a part.  He controls who or what may gain admittance.  The apostle John finds himself excluded.  In this respect he is not prepared to have his authority challenged, so anyone who does not fall in line with his decisions, he expels from the church.  No room for dissent.  He is an extreme example of what we usually call a control freak.

To these two bad characteristics is added a third.  He spreads around malicious nonsense.  No doubt to reinforce his own position and opinions and defend himself from any criticism he employs slander and gossip. Here then is a man who has an inflated opinion of his own worth, is dictatorial, controlling, and instead of speaking words of love, tells lies to deliberately hurt the innocent.  No wonder that John feels that it is important to call attention to his misdemeanours and urges his readers not to imitate what is evil but what is good.

I was once taught that in any social group there will be one or some who will take the lead.  When I asked how these could be identified, I was told look for the ones who others listen to.  These comments were made to me regarding small rural churches where it is often claimed there are no leaders.  We are currently living in days when authority is regularly challenged, and assertiveness is often praised.  Trying to provide leadership in churches is not a science but an art.  Diotrephes stands in scripture as a stark example about how not to do it.  In character and conduct he is a contrast to the character and conduct of our wonderful Saviour, whose model we are called to follow.  Unfortunately, that might also lead to some kind of crucifixion.

It seems to me that the spirit of this age is rebellion against authority.  For those of us who are Christians, dissent should always be tempered with love, and those in leadership must not stifle the opinions of others.  In God’s economy, all are valued.  If we can get our relationships right, seeking to prefer one another, considering others better than ourselves, we will be a light in the darkness. Beware Diotrephes, for he can emerge from anywhere within our churches.

From the Diary
Give thanks to God for an excellent time at the Rural Likewise event in North Nibley, Gloucestershire last Tuesday.  Thirty people registered mostly from small rural churches.  I heard much that was encouraging and even exciting.

This Saturday, 24th September I shall be taking part in the Congregational Federation’s Mission and Society Committee in Nottingham.  This is an important committee so please pray.

Much of my time is currently being spent preparing for various upcoming events.  On Thursday and Friday, 29th and 30th September I shall be taking part in the Enabling Group for Churches Together in England.  On the Thursday evening I have the privilege to talk about the Congregational Federation and chose to share this with my friend and colleague from the United Reformed Church as both traditions share a common history marked by courage and conviction and which has led to the blessing of many.  Please pray that what is said and how it is said may glorify Jesus and bless all.

On Saturday 1st October (where has this year gone!) I will be leading an online seminar on the theme of the powerful influence of image.  Tragically, the failure of many churches to recognise the importance of image means that the message they long to share with others is drowned out by the many unspoken messages we give out daily.  There is still time to book your place for this event if you have not done so.  It is free.  It starts at 9.00 and runs for 45 minutes, with a lot to think about.  All that is needed is an internet connection with sound.  This is really an important topic so in addition to praying for it, please encourage others as well as registering yourself at https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/7965285920768011533

Sunday 2nd October starts a very busy week which includes, among other activities, a trustees meeting for Sunrise Ministries, the charity title for Rural Mission Solutions.  In the midst of this busy period I am reminded of the words of Martin Luther who suggested that at times like this one should spend more time in prayer.

Thank you for your prayers on my behalf.  It means so much to me
.
Barry



Saturday, 10 September 2016

Children and Church - Are they Disadvantaged?

Over the last day or so in the UK there has been concern expressed politically about how we educate children, about their potential, and about what they should be entitled to receive as they grow towards maturity.  Strangely, for the latter part of the week I had already decided to focus on children and church as the theme for this week’s Praise and Prayer News.

I have various thoughts running around my head, which I hope I will be able to express meaningfully within the limits of this e-letter.  But the bottom line is that we seem to get it seriously wrong in so many of our churches.

We might pay lip service to the value that God seems to place on children.  We might refer to the words of Jesus, Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”  We might tell with wonder of the little child prophet, Samuel, or of the way that Timothy grew up knowing the scriptures from childhood and, while still relatively young, became a Christian leader.  One of our favourite stories is certain to be David and Goliath.  Though we do not know David’s exact age when he felled the giant, we tend to present him as no older than a young teenager.  Then there was little Miriam and her role in the life of her baby brother, Moses, and the little servant girl who brought about the healing of Naaman.  God clearly works in and through the lives of children as well he does with adults.

But in the life of our churches, children are usually marginalised, poorly taught, excluded from Christian service, and frequently barely tolerated.  One reason for this is the discontinuity between the kingdom of God and our churches, which we have institutionalised.  Instead of modelling our churches on the principles of the kingdom of God, we have modelled them to reflect our preferences as to how we like to worship, who can minister, and the style in which this is done. Adults today are still often doing what those early disciples did to the children (see Luke 18: 15-17) and denying them full access.

In a special service for welcoming a new minister to a Methodist Circuit recently we were informed that he had chosen the hymns except for the second hymn which his toddler daughter had chosen.  It turned out to be an action song, “Sing a song, sing a joyful song”.  When we got to the verse, “Clap your hands, clap your hands like this….” Several in the congregation clapped to the rhythm.  But when we got to the verse, “Jump up and down, up and down and around…” there was only one adult who seemed to be prepared to make a fool of himself, and sing this worship song to Jesus the way it was intended.  The rest remained dignified!  I wondered what the new minister’s family, which clearly valued the place of their little girl, might have thought if the whole congregation (or at least as many as possible) had jumped up and down, up and down and around!  What would it have signalled?  If we want to take children seriously, sometimes we need to be prepared to have a bit of fun with them, unapologetically.
In Rural Mission Solutions we try to put high value on our ministry to and with children.  My former colleague, Monica Cook, and I wrote a paper entitled Releasing the Potential (availableon the website)I am delighted that our current Children and Families Work Adviser has the same view. Our vision is to help churches developed programmes for both adults and children, that help people come to faith, grow in faith and go in faith.  Part of doing this effectively will be having some measures in place to test progress (but I’m not advocating church stats!).  But unless children are able to articulate their faith (in their own words and ways) how will we know if we have effectively communicated the gospel to them. How can we determine whether they are growing in discipleship if they are held back from opportunities to exercise the gifts and ministries that God gives to them?

At the service at Fleckney Baptist Church last Sunday I was specifically informed that one of the children would bring the offertory prayer.  He did so brilliantly. In one of my churches I occasionally had the bread and wine served by children to adults.  In an Essex church I attended once I found over 50 children running a prayer meeting before Sunday School.  In a Primary School in Sussex, Christian children asked teaching staff if they could start a Christian meeting during the lunch break.  When they were told that there would not be a teacher available they told the head teacher that was OK as they were capable of running it themselves.  And they did so!

So I appeal that we make more space in our churches for children, and that we run well designed programmes that have those three aims built in.  Let’s help children come to faith, to grow in faith and to go in faith.  Let’s make church more like the kingdom of God.  But be warned:  if we get it right, the adults might have difficulty keeping up!

From the Diary
We give God thanks and praise for the blessings on our ministry on Sunday and through the week.  We also give God thanks for some progress made at the recent Court hearing to resolve a difficult Trust management issue relating to a Will.  The trustees (of which I am one) are seeking a more manageable situation that ensures a better and safer future for a beneficiary.  But it means change – and that is resisted.  Prayers for grace and wisdom are appreciated.

This Sunday, 11th September I will be taking the morning meeting for Newark Congregational Church.

On Tuesday 13th I have a school assembly to take and my regular work in HMP Gartree.

On Thursday 15th I am taking part in a visit to a small rural church in Northamptonshire which looks likely to close.  We need to assess this situation carefully.

On SATURDAY 17th Katrina Thomas and I are holding a meeting at Herstmonceux, East Sussex in the morning, in order to introduce Katrina to friends and supporters in the area and to share the vision for her part in our ministry.  We have had a lot of apologies sent so I am hoping that there will still be a reasonable attendance.  We intend to follow up this event with some gatherings for those responsible for children’s work in rural churches.  This is part of re-launching this aspect of ministry.  This is a key activity for your prayers please.

On Sunday 18th I will be speaking at St. Leonards Baptist Church where I grew up, came to faith and was effectively sent out in ministry.  It will be great to spend time there and I hope that I bless them.

Thank you for your prayers and gifts for the work.  Please do not leave the issue I have raised about the place of children in your church (or their absence) to others.  We all need to examine our attitudes and get a serious discussion going.  Katrina and I will be happy to help you with that if needed.

May the Lord abundantly bless you.

Barry





Saturday, 3 September 2016

Feeling Out of Your Depth

When my grandfather was asked if he could swim, he assured me that he swam like a brick and could dive like a shovel.  Now that I’m my grandfather’s age at that time I guess it describes my swimming ability pretty well.  As a child I was afraid of water and dreaded school trips to swimming baths.  Later, with several friends I went to a series of adult swimming lessons.  It was quite a big group with two instructors.  Unfortunately, I was average and the instructors divided their time helping the worst and best of the class.  By the end of the course if I tried to swim freestyle I almost immediately went upright.  But I could float happily on my back, swam the width of the pool doing breaststroke and the length of the pool doing backstroke as long as the instructor walked alongside with a pole handy in case I got into trouble.  They declared me a swimmer but I have rarely been in a pool since.

Like many non-swimmers I am worried about getting out of my depth, and never developed the skill of treading water.  Strangely, so far, when life circumstances have resulted in my finding myself out of my depth, I haven’t panicked. And there are times when I do feel that circumstances have developed to cause me to be out of my depth.

We know that the apostle Peter could swim.  In John chapter 21 we read of Peter jumping out of a boat and swimming to the shore to meet the risen Jesus (see John 21: 7-14).  But on another occasion (see Matthew 14: 22-33) , when Peter had a go at walking on the water, he cried out to be saved as he began to sink beneath the waves.  When he swam he was not far from shore; when he tried to walk on water he was in the middle of the Lake of Galilee.  Perhaps Peter had a thing about not wanting to be out of his depth.

Even though Peter seems to be an impetuous character, at times he seems very cautious.  He was somewhat tentative about going to the home of Cornelius, and took others to support him.  On another occasion, he got into trouble by compromising on the issue of law and grace.  Sometimes we find ourselves in situations where our faith seems to be stretched thin and we lose our peace as the waves of the circumstances overwhelm us.  I have several friends who are currently doing battle with cancer.  Indeed, my own wife recently had surgery to remove a tumour.  Most seem to cope incredibly well.  The same cannot always be said of those who are closely related to them, who often feel suddenly out of their depth.

Sickness, financial difficulties, bad things that other members of our families do or are done to them, the sudden loss of employment, the breakdown of what had previously been a loving relationship, are just some of the things that can cause us to feel out of our depth.  Disobedience to God’s clear guidance got Jonah out of his depth in a violent life-threatening storm (See Jonah 1).  We don’t know whether he could swim but he knew the only hope for all concerned was to abandon himself to the waves.  Once I allowed myself to be talked out of what God had clearly shown me was his will for me.  Instead of acting immediately as I should have done, I agreed to delay the action by 24 hours.  In that time the opportunity was lost.  I felt suddenly out of my depth as far as my purpose in God’s plan was concerned.  Fortunately, God seems to have a ‘shoal of large fish’ for such occasions that get us back on course.

I love the story of Jesus walking on the water because everything that Peter feared was about to be over his head, was already under the Master’s feet!

One of these days, courage and opportunity will combine and I will get into a swimming pool again.  Fear must not deny me the enjoyment of swimming.  If fear is holding you back from pursuing something God has laid out before you, I hope you will trust the Lord and ‘dive in’.  Sometimes the pathway of discipleship takes us out of our depth.  If we find the courage to trust God at such a time we usually find the experience is nowhere as daunting as we feared it would be.

From the Diary

Praise God:  Following a successful webinar on 27th August we produced it as a video, which can be seen at https://youtu.be/IX0yZNXqrP8On the day I had a bit of a cough and lack of experience means there is a hiatus for a few seconds when I tried to launch a poll.  But we are getting better.  Super to work with Gordon Banks on this.  Lots of good ideas for the autumn.  Do take a look.

Praise God:  This Saturday (3rd September) I ran a forum as a follow up to the webinar.  This is a new development but adds value to the webinar for anyone who wants to discuss anything in depth.

Sunday 4th Sept. – I will be taking the service at Fleckney Baptist Church, Leics in the morning, then in the afternoon attending a welcoming service for a new Methodist Minister.  In the evening I will be speaking at Narborough Congregational Church, near Leicester.

Tuesday 6th Sept – after my regular work at the prison Doreen and I set off for Kent and Sussex.  Doreen will spend a few days with her sister in Rainham, while I travel on to Herstmonceux ready for an important Court hearing on Wednesday morning.  I am a trustee under a will for a good friend and colleague who died in 1979.  My co-trustee and I are seeking to change how we are managing this trust as it has become very difficult and one beneficiary is vulnerable.  Change is often resisted, but resisting our proposed change will impose great difficulties.  Please pray for a wise judge!

Sunday 11the Sept – Newark Congregational Church.

Please pray for Sue Newnham, her husband Tony and the rest of their family.  Sue has just been admitted to hospital with ovarian cancer diagnosed.  Both Tony and Sue are good friends of ours, and former colleagues in mission. They face a challenging time as Sue undergoes treatment.  The situation is still only at an early stage.  Anyone reading this who remembers Tony and Sue but has lost touch, please let me know and I will gladly connect you again.

Other former colleagues needing prayer:  Heather Stainer and Sylvia Lavender both now in care.  Please uphold them and Philip and Alfred (respective husbands) at this time.

Doreen (my wife) is making a good recovery from her cancer operation.  I have several other colleagues and friends battling serious illness.  I am trying to keep in touch and value your prayers as I try to offer encouragement to them.

The routine work of research, writing and training goes on.  A big thank you for your prayers and also for the practical support that keeps our ministry going.

May the Lord abundantly bless you.

Barry

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Opportunities

Last November the title of one of my Praise & Prayer News was “It’s about time” which contained some reflections on opportunities.  This week, I find myself reflecting on much the same theme.  I apologise for repeating myself, but as Paul writes to the Philippians sometimes this is helpful.

In two of his letters, the apostle Paul writes about making the most of every opportunity.  On both occasions (Ephesians and Colossians) it is about how believers relate to the world around them, and the witness through our lives.  Life is made up of opportunities taken but also opportunities missed.  I have a few regrets as I look back but the bitterness of one lost opportunity seems to linger and recalling it immediately fills me with sadness.

For reasons I don’t need to go into here, moments of bonding with my father seem to have been few during childhood.  He struggled with ill health and other problems that clearly got in his way.  I have some very precious memories of times together, but also of this one opportunity lost.  I regret that I cannot remember telling him about it years later, when we had developed a wonderful working relationship in Christian ministry.  I wish I had done so.

It was a Saturday afternoon when my father came into my bedroom and asked if I would like to go with him to watch a football match with our home team, Hastings United.  We had done this once before and I remembered how cold and bored I was.  The play was uninspiring and the only excitement was caused by a goal keeper hitting his head on a goal post as he dived to save the ball.  He knocked himself out and was carted off to hospital, while the match laboured on.  The thought of once more taking the long walk to and from the Pilot Field and time standing on the terrace did not attract me.  I declined the invitation.

It was only a few minutes after he had left the house that I knew that I had lost something special.  I ran after him, assuming he would walk through the park and then up Elphinstone Road.  All the way I searched for him, but in vain.  When I reached the Pilot Field I could not get in as I had no money.  I felt deeply wretched.  What is worse now, is not knowing what was in my father’s heart when he invited me to go with him, or how I made him feel when I disdained the invitation. Writing about it now makes me deeply sad.  I wept as I walked home that day.

Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote, “The bitterest tears shed over graves are for words left unsaid and deeds left undone.”.  T.S. Elliot wrote, “Footfalls echo in the memory, down the passage we did not take, towards the door we never opened, into the rose garden.”.  One of the saddest passages in the Bible is about a woman who spurned her lover because he came calling at an inconvenient time (See Song of Songs chapter 5 verses 2 to 8).

The apostle Paul’s comments on these two occasions, imply that in our lives will come moments of opportunity.  They are to be grasped, to be made the most of.  Not to be wasted or lost.  They are there for a moment, and only a moment.  We need to act quickly or live with the regret.  Sometimes, in order to make the most of them will be costly.  The King James Version of the Bible uses the expression, “Redeeming the time”, which seems to emphasis a cost involved.  For me it was giving up nothing more than a lazy afternoon, hanging around the house.  A small price to pay for the opportunity of that “walk into the rose garden”. ‘Redeeming’ is not a bad translation of the original Greek word used.  Grasping opportunities will be costly.

During the past week, Gordon Banks (a good friend, colleague, and trustee of Rural Mission Solutions) and I have been preparing a webinar on ideas for Rural Mission in the Autumn.  We ran that seminar this morning and have had great feedback.  As we prepared we started by identifying the key activities for the autumn months: the start of the academic year, harvest thanksgiving, Halloween, bonfire night and Remembrance Day.  We then started exploring how these occasions present opportunities for mission and evangelism.  As we explored resources available I wrote a handout listing these.  It covers three sides of A4 paper.

Were you among those who attended the webinar?  If not, could you have attended?  Did you miss an opportunity?  We actually had an excellent attendance.  I am excited by the comments afterwards, like this one from an Anglican Archdeacon, “Thanks for an excellent Webinar this morning.  I have just posted a blog about the Webinar.   https://archdeaconrichmondandcraven.wordpress.com/ Not only have you resourced us with mission ideas but you’ve taken me into the place of webinars - which I shall be exploring with our new Director of Comms.  Huge thanks and every blessing.” And so the blessing will be multiplied because of a grasped opportunity.  Hallelujah!

It is two years since we in Rural Mission Solutions first saw the opportunity that a financial investment in technology could bring.  The Mission Webinars are the first step, and I’m still hoping to add the opportunity for training, for Bible teaching, and Christian ministry to isolated children.  To achieve that we need additional team members who are good at communications, and willing to invest a little time to develop the skills.  Please put your prayers behind this.

Finally, if you were unable to attend this morning but want to see what opportunities there are for mission this autumn, the good news is that the webinar is now in video form and can be viewed at https://youtu.be/IX0yZNXqrP8

From the Diary

Most weeks I spend time researching, writing and recording material for rural evangelism in the UK.  I value your prayers for these activities.  Once a week I also serve as a voluntary prison chaplain with men on life sentences.

Give thanks for the recent webinar.  Katrina Thomas, Children and Families Adviser for Rural Mission Solutions is preparing a presentation which we hope to run soon. Several other webinars are scheduled for the autumn.  We are also offering opportunities for online discussion groups after the webinars.  This is a new experiment.

Please pray as we send out invitations in the south east of England for people to come and meet Katrina and me at Herstmonceux on Saturday 17th September.  Email me for details if you are within travelling distance.  It would be great to meet up with you.

Wednesday 7th September I am attending an important Court hearing in Sussex as a trustee under a Will.  My co-trustee and I are trying to make changes to the management of the trust that will enable us to operate better and to support one of the beneficiaries.  Because of the current arrangement the trustees have had to lend a considerable amount of personal money in order to cover urgent expenses.  We ask for your prayers that we will be wise and gracious and that the other party will not obstruct these plans.

Sunday 4th September: morning at Fleckney Baptist Church, afternoon sharing in a welcome service for a new Methodist minister; evening at Narborough Congregational Church, all in Leicestershire.

Sunday 11th September – Newark Congregational Church, Nottinghamshire

Sunday 18th September – St Leonards-on-Sea Baptist Church, East Sussex

Toward the end of the month I will be running some rural evangelism consultations for the Rural Evangelism Network.  I will also be sharing in a special day for rural churches and participating in various other meetings.  More about this next month.
Please pray for health and strength, safety in travelling and that I will walk close to God and be sensitive to his leading.

Thank you.

Barry

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Mizpah! Who’s watching you?

As I was pondering prayerfully what to write I had two ideas floating around in my mind.  Now that I start writing I am unsure how they might relate, but I am determined to explore this further.  The first idea relates to the word Mizpah, which you can find in Genesis 31. The second idea relates to pretentiousness and affectation.

Mizpah is an oft-misunderstood word.  I have seen it in ornate plaques or carved in wood in the homes of Christians and in churches, usually accompanied with the words that immediately follow in the text: “May the Lord keep watch between you and me when we are away from each other.” (Gen 31:49) It sounds like a wonderful blessing, but it was actually a solemn warning.

Jacob had fled to save himself from the wrath of his brother, Esau, from whom he had first purchased his birthright for a pot of stew, and then, by claiming to be Esau, Jacob had tricked his father Isaac into giving the blessing that would have been given to Esau. I’m not sure who was the more devious and manipulative, was it Jacob or his colluding mother?  But in seeking refuge with his uncle Laban, Jacob found himself at the mercy of a man who seems more devious than himself!

Twenty years later, having been tricked into marrying Leah, and then marrying Rachel, all the time working for his uncle who had been disingenuous regarding wages, Jacob leads his household and livestock out secretly, and headed back home.  Laban was not best pleased and made a pretence of wanting to give them a party, and claimed to have had a revelation from God. The ensuing argument between Jacob and Laban ends with a memorial heap being built and an uneasy peace agreement being made.  It is then that Laban names the place of this truce, ‘Mizpah’. 

It means ‘watchtower’.  When he declares, “May the Lord keep watch between you and me when we are away from each other.” He is not giving a blessing.  He is giving a warning.  Remember, God is watching you so you had better behave yourself!

There is no doubting that Jacob’s encounter with God at Bethel, and the experiences he had been through, had resulted in a changed man.  But both Laban and Jacob had history of deceit, manipulation, self-seeking and deviousness.  It is therefore ironic that the parting of the ways should be marked with the reminder that God sees them as they are and will judge them on the basis of what he sees and knows.

Some thirty years ago I found myself deeply moved to pray, “From affectation and sermonising, dear Lord, deliver me”.  I cannot remember why I was so moved at the time, but it has remained a continuing prayer over the years, and as chastening a motto for me as the words of Laban would have been for Jacob.

Might it have been that I had fallen into the folly of being more concerned with my image and what other people thought of me, rather than what God knew about me?  Had I been crafting sermons for persuasive effect, rather than telling the truth plainly and allowing the Holy Spirit to do what God intended?  Whatever might have prompted the prayer, I have done my best to be comfortable with being the real me in the pulpit, and telling the story as simply as possible.

I have long suspected that Nicodemus was rather pretentious at the start of his meeting with Jesus one night.  He certainly wanted to give the impression of being more spiritual than he was.   The same charge could have been made against King David as he dispensed justice for a poor man whose only lamb had been taken by a rich man to feed a guest.  How chilling must have been hearing the words, “You are the man!” (Click to read the story).

During my management studied I was introduced to the concept of ‘power dressing’, and I might have practised it for a while.  My own Christian tradition has an aversion towards clerical clothes. However, there are more ways of being pretentious in the pulpit than putting on a robe.  I have also worshipped and worked alongside many robed colleagues who have not been the least bit pretentious.  Sadly, far too many of those of us who stand at the front in church are guilty of various degrees of affectation.  We need to remember that the God who sees us in the pulpit also sees us in the bath!

I knew a man who was a marvellous pastor and preacher, as a licensed Lay Reader in the Church of England.  He was subsequently one of the first to become a Locally Ordained Priest.  The wonderful man and godly servant I had come to know was immediately subsumed by a new persona he seemed to put on with his clerical collar.  Intriguingly, several of the most unpretentious clerics I have met have been Roman Catholic Priests, while the most seemingly pretentious was a Minister in a Free Church denomination.

But it isn’t only the clergy who are at risk of becoming pretentious and wanting to impress people with our oratory.  Any of us are capable of being deceived by our own ego, and projecting a persona that is not entirely honest when we go to church. What we choose to wear, how we speak and act can be far too easily about the impression we wish to create.  We prefer to be thought of as better than we are and, sometimes, better than others.  For those of us who preach, a little less time polishing and a little more time praying might be helpful.  Will you join me in prayer, please?

“From affectation and sermonising dear Lord, deliver us” Amen? Mizpah.

 From the Diary

Wonderful to welcome a new Anglican chaplain to the team at HMP Gartree.  The Revd Eric Rew had his licensing service last Thursday.

It was a joy to officiate at the wedding of Catherine and Mark today.  I had the joy of baptising Catherine a few years ago.
I have had several video meetings for Rural Mission Solutions during the week, and also been busy writing a paper for a forthcoming Pastoral Care Board Meeting for the Congregational Federation.

On Monday 22nd I have a meeting with a colleague in the URC in London as we plan a talk we shall share towards the end of September. We have a lovely opportunity but need wisdom as to what we include in the talk.

Tuesday 23rd – regular meeting at HMP Gartree.

Wednesday 24th – administration and possibly some work with the Mission and Society Board of the Congregational Federation.

Thursday 25th – afternoon Chaplaincy Team Meeting.

Friday 26th – Provisional rehearsal for Saturday.

Saturday 27th – 9.00 The Rural Mission Webinar (online seminar) on suggestions for mission during the autumn.  Gordon Banks and I have prepared an interesting programme that, among other things, reflects on missional responses to the start of the academic year, harvest thanksgivings, Halloween, bonfire night and Remembrance.  We are encouraged by the numbers already booked but we still have space for a few more.  If you can spare 45 minutes from 9.00 next Saturday morning I encourage you to attend.  You can do this from home or anywhere with internet connection.  You can use a computer, tablet or smart phone.  It is free but highly valuable.  If you have never attended a Rural Mission Solutions Webinar before why not give it a try?  You might discover something of value.  Registration in advance is essential.  To register CLICK HERE.

We are glad to serve you and grateful for your support.


Barry

Monday, 15 August 2016

Motivated?

There is no doubt that the vast majority of Christians in the UK have little or no motivation for sharing the good news about Jesus with their friends or with strangers.  Whatever else might be required for our churches to be truly missional, nothing will be effective if we are not personally motivated.

Not many months after a profound spiritual awakening at an evangelistic meeting on Hastings Pier, I attended a similar meeting in the same location with some Christian friends.  We were all teenagers. A reasonable number of people had already turned up and we were standing near the back when we were approached by the guest evangelist.  “Are you all Christians?” he asked.  We proudly assured him that we were.  “Well, why are you standing here?” he said,  “Go outside and fish more people in!”  With that he thrust a number of flyers into our hands.

I had never done anything like that before.  The idea was to approach some of the many sauntering onto the pier and ask them if they would like to come and hear an interesting talk. Any momentary hesitation soon gave way and I found it not a threatening activity.  It gave rise to questions about faith which I answered as confidently as I was able.  Several people attended that evening because of the invitations we gave out.  Since that day his words, “What are you doing here?” have lingered with me.

My first opportunity to preach publicly in a church came about a year later when, as a teenage member of a mission team, I was invited to preach at the Sunday morning Holiness Meeting of the Salvation Army Corps we were serving.  The director of the Mission organisation felt it was inappropriate, but the Corps Commanding Officer, Captain Peak, insisted.  My text that Sunday was “Shall your brethren go to war and shall ye sit here?” (Numbers 32:6) (AV).  You can read the story behind this text from the first verse of the chapter.  Some of the tribes of Israel chose not to enter the Promised Land as they approached the borders after 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. 

I suggested that the reason behind their request was partly that they had lost the vision for what God called them to be and do, that they had become complacent in the light of the blessings they had received from God, and that they had become self-interested, losing their understanding of being one nation.  The biblical account records Moses response to their request.  He claimed they would spread discouragement to others, that they would make God angry, and that it would result in more years of wilderness experience instead of entering into the blessing of the purposes of God.

The outcome was that they rallied, even to going at the spearhead of the invasion.  I have repeated that sermon from time to time as it continues to be generally apposite when it comes to motivation to mission in the UK. Many have lost the vision for God’s purposes for his Church and our common calling.  Sunday after Sunday we celebrate God’s goodness and the blessings without being motivated by the needs of others who have yet to hear the gospel.  This has a negative impact on others, displeases God, and probably accounts for the limited impact that most churches have upon the communities in which we are set.

The apostle, Paul, was clearly a highly motivated person.  In his letters he refers to two motivators in his life, both of which appear in 2 Corinthians 5. These are, “Knowing what it is to fear the Lord” and “Christ’s love compels us”.  To understand the first of these, we need to read the preceding verses where Paul writes about living to please God and knowing that we will all have to give an account of our lives.  A desire to please God and an awareness of our ultimate accountability should both motivate us out of concern for ourselves AND out of concern for others.

Verse 14 which speaks about Christ’s love, is not well served by the NIV translation which speaks of it compelling us.  Other translations of the Greek word, synecho, render it constrains or controls. Literally it means to hold something fast. It is as if Paul sees himself as captivated by Christ’s love so that who he is and what he does is no longer in his own control.  He can do no other, so he says, “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!”  What is not clear to me is whether it is the love Christ has for us, or the love we have for Christ that puts us under such obligation and holds us fast so we can do no other.

Some years ago a friend from the Netherlands and I were asked to represent European Churches within the Council for Mission at a conference on evangelism in Kuala Lumpur. Almost all the other Churches were from South Asia, Africa and the Pacific.  Many of the Churches represented were located in situations where Christianity was a minority religion and where there was oppression.  But the missional stories from their various churches were of courage and faithfulness.  We from Europe felt ashamed.  We tried to explain the difficulty of working in a post-Christian context, but the reality was that our limited engagement in evangelism was probably down to a lack of love for Jesus.

In the passage of scripture about the Children of Reuben and the Children of Gad, Moses spoke about the influence a lack of motivation would have.  Conversely, I have seen how enthusiasm can be spread and grow where people are highly motivated.  This was seen in the sporting world over recent years where success in tennis and cycling has led many more to play and ride.

My friends, we are not motivated to share the gospel as we ought to be.  I fear that the root of this is that many have not been grasped by the love of Christ and that consequently do not really love him.  So we do not serve him as we should.  Have we lost sight of the fact that our lives are not our own, that we are bought with a price, and called to be part of the Church God has for his mission on earth. I fear that many will stand before God at the final judgement and discover that God is not impressed by the fact that we went to Church most Sundays but never told anyone of the God who loves them so much that he is willing to give his life for them.

Within the last few days I have been motivated to rent a storage unit.  I work from home but my office has spilled over into our living space.  Worse still I have brought into our home the remainder of two other offices that have been closed down.  Our home was looking more like a warehouse with boxes occupying our lounge, dining room and two bedrooms!  To resolve this I am gradually removing those things that are inappropriate and taking them into rented space where they can be sorted and where some will be removed permanently.  This motivation happened because I woke up to just how dreadful the situation was, and realised it would only get worse unless I addressed the problem. 

Our world is in a mess.  It will only get worse unless we are motivated to do something about it.  Perhaps one thing we could do is to sign up for the webinars designed to help rural and small urban churches become effective in mission.  The next one on Saturday 27th August at 9.00 to 9.45 will have suggestions for things we can easily do to share the gospel this autumn.  See below for details.

From the Diary
The past week began with a farewell service at Yelvertoft where Doreen and I have served in ministry for the past ten years.  We are grateful for the kind comments shared on that occasion.

We then spent the next five days on Harborough Holiday at Home. This is a programme for older people in the community. On four days we had meetings containing a choice of activities, a helpful or entertaining presentation, a short gospel talk and a two course lunch (plus plenty of tea and coffee). On one day we went on an outing to Lichfield Cathedral, stopping at a garden Centre on the way.  It is a way of sharing the gospel through a social action and is very effective.  It was hard work and meant that over those days I worked probably 90 hours.  Pray that the love and message shared will bear fruit.

Last week the presence of three new men at the choir practise at HMP Gartree caused problems and I value prayer as I seek to resolve this.  In addition to my regular work at the prison on Tuesday afternoon I will be taking part in the licencing of a new Anglican Chaplain on Thursday.  Please pray for him as he settles into this new role.

Gordon Banks and I have started working on the webinar scheduled for 27th August at 9.00 and running until 9.45.  This contains suggestions for missional activity during autumn months and relating to the season and the key events it brings. This is the Saturday of the Bank Holiday but numbers registering to attend are increasing.  I strongly encourage you to attend this online seminar, which you can do from your home or a hotel room.  All you need is an internet connection with sound.  You can use a computer, laptop, tablet or smart phone.  It is absolutely free but you do need to register in advance in order to obtain the link you will need.  This online seminar is appropriate for any Christians but especially those in leadership roles or who are keen to encourage their church in mission.  Please pass on the details to others.  You can find more on the Rural Mission Solutions website.  To register to attend go to


Please pray for Gordon and me as we fine-tune the presentation and for all who will be attending.

On Sunday 21st I was due to speak at a church in Narborough, Leicestershire but they have just written asking to change the date for my visit.  So this will give me an opportunity to be still and listen – no bad thing!

Thank you for your love and prayers.

Barry

Saturday, 6 August 2016

Honour & Humility

It has been an interesting week in the UK as we begin to feel the impact of our recent referendum, and as the Bank of England and government begin to manage the changes while also managing the country.  Obviously the last few days before the start of the Olympics dominated the news until David Cameron’s resignation’s honours list was leaked.  For the benefit of non-UK readers, this is a list of people who are given special honours including knighthoods or being made peers of the realm.  It was a relatively long list and some have questioned the entitlement of all on the list.

This announcement seemed timely as last Sunday, at HMP Gartree, I had preached on a verse from scripture that speaks about acting justly, loving mercy and walking humbly with God (Micah 6:8).  Many years ago, when helping out the ministry at a church in Sussex, I preached on the topic of humility.  It felt as if it had been well received and had been a good service.  But as I said goodbye to the congregation afterwards, clearly people were bursting to say something but saying “Good sermon” seemed inappropriate to the topic!

There is, of course, a world of difference between being humbled and being humble.  I was amused by Hilary Clinton’s acceptance speech in which she said she was humbled by the decision of the American Democratic Party to appoint her as their candidate for President.  She didn’t look humbled – quite the contrary (and deservedly).  I think she was really feeling proud.  Being humbled is the consequence of another person’s acts or words that cause someone to feel less important than they had previously felt about themselves. It is usually meant kindly.

A story is told of a young man who had recently become a Christian and had been hearing about the need for humility.  Each week in the prayer meeting he would pray, “Lord make me nothing, make me nothing.” Eventually a more mature Christian man could stand it no more and interjected, Brother you are nothing; accept it by faith!”. Jesus told a story about a person who took a place of honour at a wedding feast which had to be yielded to someone more important (Luke 14:7-11).  Being humbled publicly is actually a humiliating experience.  He concluded his story by stating that those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

At the time when Jesus walked this earth, humility was not a trait that characterised the culture.  It’s not that different today.  To be humble is counter-cultural in many situations.  Books abound on the subject of assertiveness.  Learning what it means to walk humbly with God is not easy.  Being humble does not mean making ourselves into a doormat for others to wipe their feet on.  Sadly, even among Christians I have seen and heard people being humiliated.  I have also met Christians (usually women) who have a poor self-image or feeling of self-worth.

Frankly, I am encouraged when people say that a sermon was helpful – or even good.  I have several good friends who have been awarded OBEs and have worked occasionally with a knight and a baroness.  While I am sure that I will never be nominated for any such honour, I suspect that I would not decline. One of the greatest joys in my life was to play a part in nominating a man who for years in retirement voluntarily kept our area of a village clear of rubbish and dogs mess, and the grass kept tidy.  He got an OBE. 

But the greatest honour must be to get the WDGFS (Well done good and faithful servant).  We do well to remember that Jesus gave honour and praise where it was deserved.  But we should seek the service rather than any reward.  We should also remember that the One who is our pattern humbled himself (Philippians 2:5-9) and we should embrace Paul’s exhortation: “in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” (Phil 2: 3,4)

I like what CS Lewis said on the subject.  “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking about yourself less.”

From the Diary
I set aside time this past week in order to attend to several tasks that had been neglected and to prepare for coming events.  It was a good idea but there is still a lot of time needed to catch up with various tasks.  Included in this is writing some thank you emails and letters.  If you should have received one from me, please be patient.

Last Saturday I attended a service of thanks for Brian and Clare Kennard as Brian “sits down” after being the Minister of Market Harborough Methodist Circuit for the past 9 years.  Brian and Clare were former associate evangelists of Mission for Christ when I was its General Secretary. It was a personal thrill when they moved to the town where we live.  Please pray as they explore avenues for future service.  Both have a heart for rural evangelism and I am keen to retain the link.

Last Sunday I took the morning service at the prison. Brian also serves as a sessional chaplain there.  On Tuesday at the prison I had three new choir members.  Incorporating new members into a small choir is never easy – especially if they have no experience of choral singing.  This Wednesday the choir is expecting to sing to some visitors on a special visit to the prison.

The ‘legal’ situation I have referred to in earlier letters continues to cause concern.  I am a co-trustee under a Will of a friend and former colleague in Mission for Christ, who died some 36 years ago.  In order to fulfil our responsibilities, we feel we have no alternative than to sell a property in which my friend’s daughter (now elderly) has been living.  While we are sure that this is in her best interests and is unavoidable, she does not want to cooperate and the matter has come to the County Court.  There is clearly tension between immediate pastoral concern and what is right in the long term. Please pray for wisdom and grace as we seek to manage this.

Sunday 7th August we have our farewell service at Yelvertoft, and Doreen and I are looking forward to meeting up with friends there once again.

Monday 8th to Friday 12th August we hold Holiday at Home in Market Harborough.  This is a programme for older people which we put on to bless them in Jesus’ name.  Each day there are all kinds of activities, talks and entertainment.  A small team is drawn from local churches and I help to administer this event.  Please pray for our chairman, Keith and the team through this week. Pray for opportunities to share something of our personal faith.

Saturday 13th August I will share as a team member in the group seeking to encourage and support some 30 churches in their mission programmes.

Please encourage people in your church to register for the online seminar with missional ideas for the autumn months.  Gordon Banks and I have a host of suggestions for activities that are manageable by small churches.  Some you may have heard before, but there may be some new ideas you can put into practise in your church this autumn.  It is free to attend the seminar.  All that is needed is an internet connection with sound.  You could use a PC, tablet or smart phone.  Please do not miss this opportunity.  It is on Saturday 27th August (Bank Holiday weekend) and will run from 9.00 to 9.45am.  Registering in advance is essential to obtain the link you will need.  Go to https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/738463171413200899

Thank you for your prayers and for the practical support received over the past few weeks.

Barry