Saturday, 22 July 2017

Time for Your Check-Up?

“Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves.” (2 Corinthians 13:5)

In many ways, this seems a strange verse of scripture, and I suspect that there is more than one way in which it could be understood.  A recent visit to a niece and her family revealed that her daughter had fallen out of bed.  It had made her a little anxious about how secure she was in bed.  This reminded me that the verse quoted above was a favourite text of the Rev. Edward Relf.  Mr Relf’s father had been the minister many years before me at Herstmonceux.  His three youngest children were also my friends at one time.  I remember his quoting this verse several times and telling a story about a child who had fallen out of bed.  She told her father, who had gone to her aid, that it was her own fault for not going further into bed, and remaining too near the edge.

His exhortation to us (then teenage Christians) was to ensure our salvation by getting as close to Jesus as possible.  It was well meant advice, and it was good advice (though some might question the theology), but I’m not sure that this was what Paul meant.  So, what might he have meant?

No doubt you will have heard the saying, “If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?”.  Interestingly, in the original text, the word translated her “Examine”, is commonly used in scripture to mean test and implies trial by fire.  But Paul also uses another word, translated here for “test”.  This might be used to speak about a trial of metal to prove its reliability.  Both words have similar meanings. Clearly, he is encouraging a rigorous self-examination or self-scrutiny of their faith.  But we still need to ask the question, “Why?”

It seems to me that the context of this verse gives the clue.  Paul is proposing a third visit to this church and intends to put some things in order.  The previous chapter refers to discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, slander, gossip, arrogance, immorality and debauchery.  Clearly, there is much to put right.  But some in the church are questioning Paul’s authority.  They want proof of his ministry.  It is in that context that Paul says, “Examine yourselves, whether you are in the faith”, for they were the proof.  Their faith in Christ was the fruit of his ministry.  If their faith was real, then so was his ministry.

However, the principle of periodically examining our faith is a good one. For example, we could ask ourselves how much our faith has grown over the past 12 months, or whether we cope better with trials and temptations, or feel closer to God, or are confident that we are living in God’s will for our lives.  Sadly, some Christians do not seem to change much over time.  God expects our faith to deepen, our lives to be godlier, and our dynamic relationship to his word to develop.  For that reason alone, a periodic check-up has value.  You could undertake your own today.

Ministry Check-Up
As part of a study course I was undertaking some years ago I was required to set up a small team that would help me reflect on my ministry. I had never done so before during my 25 years’ experience in pastoral leadership.  The team had to include both male and female, young and old.  They critiqued every aspect of my ministry in the church.  They did so honestly and lovingly.  But they knew that their role was both to encourage me in what I did well and point out where things could be better.  At times it was painful, but it was both for my good and the good of the church.  I thank God for that wonderful team.

In secular employment, it is now common for there to be an annual performance appraisal.  Done correctly, this is not an occasion to harshly criticise.  It is an opportunity to encourage and improve.  The person undergoing the appraisal should be able to express her or his concerns as well.  Since there will be few occupations as important as Christian ministry, should we not be encouraging annual appraisals for clergy and people in various ministries.  Since the early 1990s The Church of England has reviewed its appraisal processes.  If you are interested in reading initial report from the Working Party click here.  There are excellent recommendations in this.  A recent article in the Church Times raises some interesting points under the heading Redeeming the Priest’s Appraisal. No doubt, some other denominations will have similar processes.

Congregational and Baptist churches are non-hierarchical, so an appraisal by Bishop or other senior clergypersons is an alien concept.  But the idea that church leaders are somehow exempt from appraisals would be very unhealthy.  Peer reviews might be possible, but in a congregationally ordered church I see no reason why putting together a small team from within the church members should be something to be avoided.  No doubt, they should be carefully chosen, should understand their role, and be competent.  Training is available.  I suggest that letting the matter default to the diaconate is not the best idea.  The content of the appraisal should be confidential, though a written summary would be helpful, and would provide a helpful point of reference for the future.

I have found pastoral ministry a rewarding experience when I have truly been in tune with my congregations.  However, one less happy situation developed because of a conflict of expectations.  This was largely my fault.  When invited to the position I had an impression of what was expected but did not take time to double check this.  What the members of the church had expected was different, though defined by the same name. For the next 15 months, it was occasionally uncomfortable until the cause of the problem was discovered.  This was not a happy outcome.  Part of the relevance of an annual or biannual appraisal or review would be the opportunity to ensure that both the minister and congregation are living with the same expectations concerning the role of the minister, as well as performance.

The alternative to this kind of periodic check-up is the risk of growing disappointment and possibly discontent within the congregation. Typically, this leads to the kind of relationship where there is a happy “honeymoon” period but afterwards things go downhill.

This kind of review is not restricted to those with pastoral leadership responsibilities; it should apply to anyone entrusted with a role that has more than a short tenure.

If you are a minister of a church, or a member of a church with a minister, I encourage establishing a review.  I would be happy to provide some guidance as to who should take part and how it should be conducted, if necessary.  If you are a minister of a church in a hierarchical situation where your performance is appraised by someone senior to you, you might consider creating a congregational reflection to sit alongside this.  Of course, you can ignore this advice if you are confident that you have reached perfection already!

From the Diary
Please give thanks with me for God’s blessing on various aspects of ministry over the past few weeks.  It has been very fruitful and I have been blessed by the testimonies received.

I would be grateful for your prayers for my wife, Doreen, who has recently been diagnosed with a condition that is likely to lead to a decline in her abilities.  Your prayers for me will be appreciated as she may become more dependent upon me, as carer.  At present, she is still able to function fairly well.

Sunday 23rd July, I will be taking the service at Market Harborough Congregational Church, which is now our home church. 

Sunday 30th I will be taking the Sunday morning service at HMP Gartree.  We are still waiting for my security clearance to be updated.  This has been complicated by the failure of a computer system.  In the meanwhile, it means that another member of the chaplaincy team has to be present with me at some services and activities when previously I would have been on my own.  Please pray that the update comes through very soon.

Please pray for Gordon Banks and me as we prepare the webinar for 5th August.  This will focus on ideas and suggestions for missional activities through the autumn.  This is a period of the year when there are a number of significant opportunities and we want to encourage churches to grasp the opportunities.  Please encourage people in your church to sign up for this helpful online seminar they can attend at home.  See below for further details.

In addition to other regular ministry through August, I help to lead Holiday at Home, in Market Harborough. This is a programme through which the local churches seek to be a blessing to older people in the community as we try to show God’s love and share something of the gospel.

Please pray as we make a number of changes in the rural organisations which I serve.  This is potentially exciting.  Please pray for God to raise up younger women and men who have a heart for rural ministry and who love Jesus and want others to love him too.  We feel that this is a critical time for several aspects of our outreach ministry, and ask you to focus prayer.  Pray also for the financial challenges that this brings.


Fresh challenges are always exciting, though sometimes also daunting.  We are excited while we wait to see how God is going to answer prayer.

Barry

Saturday, 8 July 2017

No Argument!

An unsuccessful search for a hymn in Mission Praise has reminded me of an incident in my life when I was a teenage Christian.

Fred Bartlett was a Clerical Assistant and Union representative in the small Civil Service office where I had found employment after leaving school and as I trained as an evangelist.  He shared the General Office with three other people and, among his other duties, dealt with the steady flow of public enquiries.  Fred declared himself to be a Catholic, though I think this was more nominal than practising.  Among the remaining 18 members of staff there was one practising Catholic, one practising Methodist, one lapsed Methodist, the Worshipful Master of the Freemason Lodge, the Worthy Primo of the Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes, and a few nominal Anglicans.  We were a strange mix in such a small office spread over four floors.

My own role was as a Temporary Clerical Assistant in charge of some 85,000 property files relating to four Local Authorities.  The room in the basement was hot and airless, so I periodically found opportunity to go upstairs to the General Office.  On one such occasion, as I entered the room, Fred started to dance around the room, clapping his hands and la-la-ing a lively hymn tune that I just about recognised.  As he danced around the office room he broke off singing occasionally to say, “I saw you Barry Boy”.  An enquiry as to what he was talking about revealed that he had seen an open-air meeting where this hymn had been sung with enthusiasm, and where he was convinced I had taken part.  He now sought to humiliate me in front of others.

I offered up a quick prayer, informed Fred that whoever he had seen it wasn’t me.  I then had a sudden thought and asked Fred if he would like me to teach him the words.  I must have put him off guard because he immediately said he would.  Fred had given me an exceptional opportunity, so as all listened I proclaimed:

I need no other argument;
I need no other plea;
It is enough that Jesus died,
And that he died for me.

The hymn of which this is the chorus, in case you do not recognise the words, begins My faith has found a resting place, not in device nor creed.  I trust the ever-living one.  His wounds for me shall plead.

What an opportunity to testify had been given to me!  Fred sat down at his desk apparently embarrassed by his actions.  The other three remained silent.  I completed the task for which I had come up from the filing room, and quietly slipped away.  Later that day, Fred found an excuse to visit me.  On one wall in my room I had pinned up various hymn words that blessed or challenged me, and a few card text plaques, with biblical passages on them.  Fred pointed at the plaques and asked in a rather sarcastic tone why I put them on the wall.

I explained that in other parts of the offices there were other posters, some of which I would not want on display in my room, and that I preferred what I had chosen to display.  “How much does all this cost?”, he asked in a challenging tone.  When I explained that they had cost only a few pence, he asked if he could buy one of them from me.  I had no idea why he wanted to do so, or what he might do with the plaque to which he was pointing.  “You don’t need to buy it; I’m happy to give it to you”, I said.  I took it down and handed it over.  Fred left the room with it.

It was on my next visit to the General Office that I saw the plaque, boldly on display on the wall behind Fred’s desk.  The text on it proclaimed Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved. (Acts 16:31).  Some months later, Fred was promoted and moved to another floor in the offices.  He took the plaque with him where it remained on display.  A few months after that I left to enter full-time Christian work.

My reason for looking for this hymn is that it is very appropriate to the passage on which I plan to speak.  In Hebrews 10:19-25 the author of this New Testament letter summarises all he has been teaching in the previous chapters as he points out the sufficiency of what God has done for us.  Because Christ’s blood has been shed, a way made for us to have access to God opened for us, and a High Priest who intercedes for us, we can draw near to a holy God with confidence.  We need no other argument!

Of course, the word argument is used here, not in the sense of having a row, but as a set of reasons given to support an idea.  The same hymn includes the lines, “Enough for me that Jesus saves, this ends my fear and doubt.  A sinful soul, I come to him. He’ll never cast me out.”  As I pondered on the theme of the sufficiency of what God has done for us and our salvation, another hymn came to mind, which is also not in Mission Praise.  This hymn, written by Charles Wesley, goes well to the tune Weymouth (repeat the penultimate line of each verse).  Please take a few moments to read these words, and ponder for yourself on all that God has done for you so generously.  Perhaps, after you have read them through carefully, perhaps a few times, you could take a moment to express your gratitude to God in prayer.

Arise, my soul, arise! Shake off thy guilty fears;
The bleeding Sacrifice In my behalf appears.
Before the throne my Surety stands;
My name is written on His hands.

He ever lives above for me to intercede,
His all-redeeming love, his precious blood to plead.
His blood was shed for all our race,
and sprinkles now the throne of grace.

Five bleeding wounds He bears, received on Calvary;
They pour effectual prayers; they strongly speak for me.
Forgive him, O forgive, they cry,
nor let that ransomed sinner die!

The Father hears Him pray, his dear anointed One;
He cannot turn away the presence of His Son.
His Spirit answers to the blood,
and tells me I am born of God.

To God I’m reconciled, his pardoning voice I hear;
He owns me for His child, I can no longer fear.
With confidence I now draw nigh,
and Father, Abba, Father, cry.

From the Diary
Recent activities include participating in the Churches Group for Evangelization.  There was much to be encouraged by and some excellent new resources.  I plan to refer to some of these on the Rural Mission Solutions Facebook page.  I also served as Pastoral Care Board representative at a weekend for students training with the Congregational Federation.  It was an inspiring few days.  Last Sunday I took the service for Clarendon park Congregational Church, Leicester, where I had provided pastoral care for two years during a vacancy.

Sunday 9th July – Bunyan Christian fellowship, Elstow, Beds.
Monday 10th – School leaving-assembly.  Please pray for those I have taught who go on to secondary schools.
Tuesday 11th – Regular work at HMP Gartree.
Sunday 16th July – Welford Congregational Church

Our next free webinar is on Saturday 5th August 9.00 to 9.45 when Gordon Banks and I will be presenting ideas for missional activity during the autumn months.  Book the date now.  It is even possible to reserve your free place by clicking here.  I received many encouraging comments following the last webinar on “Mission Through Prayer”. The video recording will be appearing on www.ruralmissionsolutions.org.uk.

Thank you for your fellowship.


Barry

Saturday, 24 June 2017

The Power of Prayer

It is said that when Charles Haddon Spurgeon preached at the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London, a company of some 12 men met for prayer in a room below the pulpit.  Certainly, there was a prayer room in the basement of that church which Spurgeon referred to as the powerhouse of the church.  Inspired by this story, I will often give myself to prayer discreetly when others are faithfully preaching God’s word.

At times, prayer comes easily.  On other occasions, I sense a spiritual battle, and will therefore intensify my prayers. On some such occasions, I have sensed the breakthrough and release as the battle has been one, and the ministry has been fruitful.  Certainly, I can testify to the fact that the most fruitful evangelistic mission during the 25 years in which I was part of a team working with small churches, mostly in rural areas, have been because there was earnest prayer.  The fruitless occasions were when the church we were working with made little effort in prayer.

But this was much more than prayers being said.  These were occasions of spiritual wrestling, when the promises of God were claimed confidently and passionately, and when prayers were made against the spiritual forces that wanted nothing to come of our labours.  One of the most interesting insights into prayer in the New Testament can be found in Colossians 4: 12, where we read, “Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured. “.  The Greek word translated here in the NIV means to contend or fight for.  The English word “agony” is derived from the Greek word, and people used to talk about someone agonizing in prayer.  This clearly implies prayer that requires effort – but not necessarily shouting!

By the time you read this it is probably that our webinar on Mission Through Prayer will have taken place.  It is running from 9.00 to 9.45 on Saturday 24th June.  If it is not too late, you can find the link to join the webinar on the website at www.ruralmissionsolutions.org.uk.  In this webinar, I plan to share the stories of three exceptional situations where earnest prayer led to wonderful blessings as people came to faith in Christ.

I have a good number of favourite Bible verses on the subject of prayer and its effectiveness.  In Acts 12 we read of an impossible situation with Peter in prison.  He is chained between two guards and behind two guarded locked doors.  Yet, he is miraculously set free because the church was praying ceaselessly for him.  In the letter written by James (probably a brother of Jesus), he refers to an experience of Elijah.  He points out that basically, he was no different from you or me.  Several translations describe the prayer as earnest.  We know that despite the lack of evidence, Elijah kept praying and looking expectedly for the answer until it finally came.  It’s yet another valuable insight into prayer that works.  Before the Day of Pentecost, the mother and brothers of Jesus met with other disciples and “devoted themselves to prayer” (See Acts 1:4).

If we want to see God at work in our churches then we must take prayer seriously, making time for it as a priority, and labouring at it until the answer comes.  There is no alternative.
No one can be sure who was the first to quote that there are no atheists in foxholes (a battlefield term).  I believe that many more people pray than we might imagine.  I also think that many would love to know more about prayer.  Partly for that reason, we ran an eight-day outreach encouraging people to pray in three villages.  I have no means of determining how many people started to pray that week, or who have continued to pray, but I believe that this is potentially a powerful way of helping people come to know God.  It can be an evangelistic tool.  For this reason, I will be explaining during the webinar on 24th June, the strategy we used.  If the opportunity to attend the webinar has gone and you missed it, look up the Free Online Seminars section of www.ruralmissionsolutions.org.uk where you will find a video recording of the webinar.  It should appear there by 28th June.

I hope that I might have encouraged or even inspired you to put more effort into prayer and make it a priority.  I certainly need to hear that message myself.  Please pray for those who attend the webinar, and for others who will see it on the website or on YouTube.

Current Items for Praise & Prayer
Give thanks with me that the problem with my neck is much improved.

Last Sunday morning, 18th, I was called in to give support to another prison chaplain as we were expecting a visiting team with a ministry in song.  When I arrived at the prison I discovered that the singing group had cancelled because their lead singer had a vocal problem.  My colleague and I had only minutes to put together an alternative programme based on their Bible readings.  It was an exceptionally good service and well attended.  Give thanks that it caused a buzz in the prison and pray that the message we shared will have ongoing impact among the prison population.

The theme of the past week seems to have been ‘partnership’.  Please pray for the colleagues with whom I share ministry.

Pray for a fruitful outcome from Saturday’s webinar on Mission Through Prayer.

Sunday 25th June – Northampton Congregational Church in the morning and a civic service in Market Harborough in the afternoon.
Monday 26th – School Assembly, Lubenham, Leics.
Tuesday 27th – Regular ministry at Prison, Leics
Thursday 29th – participating in the Churches Group for Evangelization (London)
Friday to Sunday 30th – 2nd – providing vocational guidance and support on a students’ training weekend in Nottingham, in my capacity as a member of a Pastoral Care Board.
Sunday 2nd July – Clarendon Park Congregational Church, Leicester

Thank you for your prayers on my behalf.  I need them.

Barry



Monday, 19 June 2017

A Simple Thank You

No doubt you have heard, or possibly used, the expression, “A simple thank you would do”.  I was brought up to remember my please and thank you, and found it strange in my first experience of cross cultural evangelism to find that, although there was a word for ‘please’, it wasn’t used when normally asking for something.  It seemed wrong, somehow.  Similarly, some cultures seem to make more of saying ‘thank you’ than others.  But I suspect the need to feel appreciated is universal.

I recently stepped down from a position in which I have served for possibly seventeen years. I was given several very nice expressions of thanks from the platform and a very nice large box of chocolates.  While this was very much appreciated, I did feel that an occasional thank you through the years of service might have been more encouraging.  Some of my activities use immediate feedback forms.  These have the potential for being encouraging, such as one received following a Safeguarding Course on which I had taught.  High scores and comments such as “the best event I have ever been on” left me amazed and personally thankful to God for privilege of serving in this way.  Another encouragement was a simple thank you card from someone at a church where I had taken a service for the first time.

In many churches, though not all, it is normal for the minister to stand at the door to say goodbye to members of the congregation.  Happily, the opportunity for further fellowship over coffee often saves me from the embarrassment that comes from those who either genuinely wish to express appreciation or who simply feel it the right thing to do.  My funniest experience of this came after I had led a service and spoken on the topic of humility.  I knew that God had used it but, afterwards, people didn’t know whether to say it was a good service!

Of course, it is good to hear something such as “The Lord spoke to me through your ministry today”.  I sometimes jokingly suggest it would be good to hear an occasional “Ouch” as well as a “Hallelujah”.  I read somewhere of a situation where a lady leaving church said to the minister, “I always get something from your sermons.  Each one is better than the next one!”  I’m sure she just got her words mixed up!

On most occasions when I have served in any way, a simple “Thanks” is more than enough.  I try to remember this when I have had a prayer answered – especially when it is not a major matter, and it would be all too easy not to say thank you. For example, at the end of a safe journey, or where there has been a provision of a perfect parking space.

I have wondered whether the man who fell among thieves got to say thank you to the Samaritan who saved his life (Luke 10).  Out of ten men who were cured of leprosy only one came back to give thanks to Jesus – and he was a Samaritan (Luke 17:16).  Naaman wanted to give effusive thanks for his healing, but learned that it was inappropriate for Elisha to accept payment for what God gave through grace (2Kings 5:1-18).

In the Hebrew Scriptures, almost half of the references to giving thanks appear in Psalms.  But a provision was made for thanksgiving as part of an offering at the Temple.  There are more references to thanks in the New Testament than in the Hebrew Scriptures.  Apart from those that refer to food in the gospels, the references are spread throughout the letters, and often linked with prayer.  This includes one of my favourite verses on prayer in Philippians 4:6. Here we are told not to be anxious but to pray with thanksgiving.

As someone who is conscious of his need for help in so many ways, I found myself reflecting on two school teachers who would come to my aid as they saw me running to school, having missed the only bus.  Ted Selman taught French and a lift from him meant riding in his luxurious Triumph Mayflower car.  Arthur Escort taught metalwork and rode to school on a 650cc motorbike. Whether cosseted in luxury of deep leather seats in a car that whispered its way, or perched on the back of the throaty motorcycle, I was thankful they did not pass me by,

Of course, their acts of kindness responding to my tardiness would now seem inappropriate today.  But who has shown you some kindness, prayed for you, encouraged you recently?  Have you expressed thanks to them?  Or maybe, there is someone on a spiritual journey that could do with a ‘lift’ for which they might be very grateful.  Above all, why not make a list of just the last five blessings that have come your way, and take a few moments to say thank you to God.

As Psalm 107 repeatedly exhorts us, ”Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures for ever.”

Items for Praise & Prayer
Please give thanks to God for his gracious blessing on our ministry over the last few weeks.
Please give thanks for safe journeys, often in hazardous conditions.
Please give thanks for those who stand with us in prayer and have stood with us in practical ways.
Please pray as I have been struggling to work with a painful neck problem.
Saturday 17th June – Pray for a mission support group meeting.
Sunday 18th June – Please pray for ministry and for the Chaplaincy Team at HMP Gartree
Monday 19th June – Please pray for heads of rural mission organisations meeting.
Tuesday 20th June – Please pray for my regular ministry at HMP Gartree
Wednesday 21st June - Please pray for a meeting of the Churches Rural Group
Thursday 22nd June – Please pray for the preparation for Holiday at Home in Harborough
Friday 23rd June – Please pray for the family of a dear friend and colleague, John Arnold,who died suddenly recently.  He was a past partner in rural mission, recently serving as a hospital chaplain.
Saturday 24th June – Please pray for the webinar on prayer going out at 9.00 on the internet.
Sunday 25th June – Please pray as I lead the meeting at Northampton in the morning and share in a civic service in Market Harborough in the afternoon.

I give thanks – for you and for your prayers.

Barry

Saturday, 27 May 2017

Christians as Construction Sites

 Christian as Construction Sites
One of the aspects of the gospel is the transforming work of the Holy Spirit, as we respond to Jesus and what he has done for us through his sacrifice.  As I prepared to write this piece, this was what occupied my mind. Later, I thought that I would write about prayer, as we share in the “Thy Kingdom Come” initiative of ten days of prayer (see below).  However, I feel drawn back once more to the subject of transforming grace, so I hope these reflections will be a blessing to you.

Recently, I listened to a sermon which contained an emphasis on accepting Jesus as a personal Saviour then need to turn our lives around.  While I appreciated the intension of the speaker, it did seem that he was suggesting that such a turn-around could be accomplished simply through self-effort.  My experience has been that I found that impossible.  I first responded to the gospel as a child, indicating my desire to follow Jesus by signing a copy of John’s gospel.  Later, I chose to walk in ways that were ungodly, until I realised my life was out of control and heading for disaster.  But my own efforts to change my life were ineffective.

Through the faithful service of a good Christian, I discovered that Jesus said that whoever came to him, he would never turn away (John 6:37).  So, I asked Jesus to accept me as I was.  Looking back, I can see that some change began to take place but it was slow and little.  Then, one Easter, as I listened to an evangelist speaking about the crucifixion, the love of God took hold of me and I surrendered myself to God.  Changes in my life soon became more obvious, but still I struggled with sin. It seemed to require more effort to change than I possessed, and I did so want to be more like Jesus.

Then, one day as I sat and prayed on the promenade at St. Leonards-on Sea, I felt God was asking me to look at the waves breaking on the shore.  There are several stone breakwaters along the shore, at right-angles to the sea.  I noticed that as each wave came in, at first the water would wash completely over the breakwater.  But as it progressed up the beach the water was separated on either side.  What I believed then, and still believe, is that God was showing me that the secret of sanctification is that as we seek to come ever closer to Jesus, so things in our lives that ought not to be there will lose their power.  It is the progress of ever wanting to be close to our Saviour that enables the change to take place.

Over 50 years later, while much in my life has changed for the better, there is still an ongoing work to be done.  I am a construction site.  God has not finished with me yet!  I heard of a man who was commissioned to produce a large statue of a horse.  People watched him at work.  One spectator, amazed at the sculptor’s skill with the chisel, asked what was the secret as the shape of the horse emerged from the block of stone.  He replied, “I just keep removing anything that doesn’t look like a horse”

One of my favourite songs was written by Marilyn Baker.  It reflects how God does the transforming work in our lives by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.  You can listen to her singing this song at www.youtube.com/watch?v=64OBMT2mrKU.

The Greek word, Metamorphoo, appears four times in the New Testament.  Two of these refer to the occasion when Jesus and three of his disciples went up a mountain.  The disciples witnessed what we call the transfiguration.  As they watched, the face of Jesus radiated light like the sun and his clothes became intensely white.  John, one of the three wrote of Jesus, “We beheld his glory…”. Peter, another of the three wrote, “We were eye-witnesses of his majesty…”.

The Greek word that describes what happened, leads to the English word, metamorphosis.  This means an essential change in form or substance, such as a caterpillar changing into a butterfly.  The amazing this is that that Greek word used to describe the transfiguration of Jesus, is also used to describe that change God brings about in our lives.

Writing to the Christians at Corinth, Paul reminds them of the transformation Moses experienced when he saw the glory of the Lord.  (See Exodus 34:29-35)  After his encounter with God Moses face radiated brightness or glory and he had to cover his face with a veil.  Paul goes on to write, “Whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate [or reflecting] the Lord’s glory, are being transformed (Greek: metamorphoo) into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:16-18)

Paul is explaining that when we genuinely spend time in the presence of the Lord and his word, we are being transformed into his likeness.

The third occasion where the word metamorphoo is used is in Romans 12:2 where Paul exhorts the Christians in Rome, Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed [metamorphoo] by the renewing of your mind.”  The message is simple: if the focus of our lives is on the ungodly aspects of the world we will find ourselves being pressed into its mould (as JB Philips puts it), but if our minds are set on the things that are of God, we will experience the continuing transforming grace that only God can bring.

While it is reasonable to say, “Be patient; God has not finished with me yet”, those closest to us should be able to discern something of the nature of God being formed in us – in what we are, how we speak, and all that characterises our lives.  You can’t mistake a construction site when you come across it!  While some may believe themselves called to live a life of asceticism, most of us live out our Christianity in the context of a world that often has values that are not godly.  I’m not sure which is the more challenging.  But in the world, I pray that people will be able to see Jesus in us.  In his earthly ministry, many sinners found themselves attracted to him because of his distinctiveness. May we be so filled with the Holy Spirit, that our lives attract and draw others to know Jesus.

Thy Kingdom Come
This is a wave of prayer globally originally initiated by the Church of England but now supported across all the main denominations. The purpose of the ten days of prayer is to pray for others that we know to come to know Jesus Christ as their Saviour and Friend.  If you have not already done so, I would encourage you to sign up to share in this season of prayer.  You can do this and find out more at www.thykingdomcome.global.  You will also find some prayer suggestions on the Facebook page for Rural Mission Solutions at www.facebook.com/Rural-Mission-Solutions.

From the Diary
I would value your prayers on some personal matters please.  Doreen has two hospital appointments this coming Monday and Tuesday.  The first is a CT scan because she has shown signs of cognitive impairment.  The second, is the annual follow up after her breast cancer operation last year. I have a hospital appointment on Friday to explore what might have been causing my voice to become husky.  At times, it makes it very difficult to speak and sing.

Apart from hospital appointments this is a relatively quiet week, which will enable me to do more writing and to attend to administrative tasks that are piling up.  In the following week there are more engagements, but more about that another time.

Thank you for your fellowship.

Barry


Saturday, 20 May 2017

Better Business Meetings

You know what they say about business meetings: “They take minutes but waste hours”! You know what they say about a camel: “It was a horse designed by committee”!  Did you know that at some time in the past, often Africans named their children to honour visiting missionaries and their work.  One poor child was called “Committee”.  But enough already!  I have met more people stumbled in their faith because of badly managed Church Meetings and I would like to try to do something about that.

Here then are a few lessons that I have learned over the years.

Before you jump into the business meeting (PCC, Church meeting, Kirk Session, etc) take a few moments for some social interaction.  You might find it helps to start with refreshments.  You could have an open sharing time – perhaps asking someone to briefly share their holiday experience.  Ease into the meeting.  Five minutes spent in this way could save you a lot of time and tears later.

I’m a firm believer in the value of setting a context of worship.  This could be a short reading (perhaps a suitable Psalm – but not one about smiting enemies!), perhaps a hymn could be sung, and certainly a prayer should be said.  The prayer should major on worship and thanksgiving, before commending the meeting to God.  This will also provide an opportunity for someone other than the person in the Chair to give a lead.  It’s a way of expressing that everyone is valued.

Plan the agenda sensibly.  Usually, minutes need to be approved and apologies given.  Try to keep this really brief.  Never put a controversial or contentious item near the top of the agenda.  Enjoy some time of happy agreement if possible.

Know your colleagues and help them contribute to the discussions and decisions in a sensible way.  Watch out for those who become passionate in argument, those who seem to have difficulty stopping speaking, and who hog the time, and those who just sit silent (or even worse sullen and silent).  Try to make it an enjoyable experience for everyone.

Remind yourself that while there might be some enthusiasts in the meeting, raring to go on a new project, there will also be some who need time to think before they commit.  Silence is not always a sign of agreement.  If you are in the Chair try to encourage those more quiet to share their thoughts, but don’t pounce on them.  That would be the last thing they want.

A wonderful way of enabling everyone to fully share in decision making, and ensure that decisions are made in a healthy way, was explained to me when I was doing a management degree course.  It is an ideal way to deal with those awkward topics that can cause upset, or to which people come with loaded agendas.  Such preformed opinions are not always personal.  Sometimes Christians will take up a strong and stubborn position simply because of their concern for someone else. So, here’s the scheme I was taught and have put into practise when dealing with sticky topics.

First the ground rules.  No one is allowed to express their opinion until the process is complete.  Even then they only do it through a vote.  So, no one says, “In my opinion…” or similar.  Some might find this hard, so assure them that they will be able to express their opinion later.

Sometimes I have found that an innocent practice session helps, if you have the time.  This could be based on a light-hearted proposal, such as proposing to double the minister’s stipend!  The practice and the actual difficult topic will be handled in the same way.

First, the Chairperson announces that we are going to focus on what might be an unhelpful outcome if the proposal is passed.  Each person present is asked to take a moment to think about what might be an unhelpful comment.  Then, in turn, each person is asked to contribute one negative point.  They should do this in an objective and dispassionate way.  Remember, the idea is not that anyone is arguing to support their opinion.  Those in favour of the proposal must be prepared to help identify possible negative outcomes.  Once everyone has had an opportunity, repeat the process by growing to each person in turn until you are satisfied that all the negative points have been mentioned.  It really helps if these can be written down either on a flipchart or large piece of paper.  This should then be displayed.

The process is then repeated, but this time, exploring what would be good or positive if the proposal is passed. Again, comments should be captured and the results displayed.  Remember that those who might be against what is being proposed must help identify all the possible good outcomes.

When the two exercises have been completed and everyone can see displayed the possible positive and negative outcomes, a moment of quiet prayer should be held before a vote is taken.

There is no guarantee that this will result in harmony and agreement but it is a better way to decision making than heated argument.  Some prayer after the vote might be wise.

Marginal decisions are not good decisions.  There will be too many people disaffected.  If agreement cannot be reached, it might be better to defer the item to another day or drop it altogether.

Go for quality and gracious conversation.  No one should leave the meeting, offended and hurt.  Be careful of the “God has shown me what we should do” approach, even if he has done.  Everyone should be valued in the decision-making process or you might as well not hold church business meetings.  Wouldn’t it be great if these meetings which, far too often, are the most unattractive aspect of church life, became times of spiritual enrichment and blessing?  Better business meetings; not bitter business meetings.

From the Diary
Give thanks for the webinar held earlier today.  Pray for those who attended who will be considering how to implement some of the ideas.

Give thanks for the excellent trustees meeting.  Several interesting decisions were made, and a new trustee welcomed.

Give thanks for some new promised financial support.  We are still a long way short of what is needed, but God is good.

Please pray as we hold discussions with some denominational bodies about how we might invest resources into their children’s work to reach young people in villages more effectively.

Give thanks for the Salvation Army’s Safeguarding Course on which I taught this week.  Those present at Malvern, Worcs. Were very responsive.

Please pray as I face a busy week, with significant activities each day from Monday to Friday, and sometimes several on the same day.  Please pray that each day I will be spiritually refreshed, walk close to the Lord, and be a blessing to others.

Thank you.

Yours sincerely in Christ,


Barry

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Who Does it?

What do Elisha, Joshua, Mark and Timothy have in common?  The answer is that at various times in their lives, they undertook a secondary role – possibly even that of a servant to some other significant Bible character (Elijah, Moses, and Paul).  It looks like a kind of apprenticeship.  Even though the concept of internship (unpaid work experience) has become common in the secular world, the lack of free willing service, or volunteering in a Christian context hinders God’s work and the mission of our churches in the UK.

In my own case, when I first felt a call to evangelism I became involved in a mission organisation.  I was given menial tasks, though these had to be done by someone.  As time progressed I was given increasing responsibility.  I ran the reprographics for the organisation, learning new skills and gradually improving equipment.  I was given responsibility for communicating each month with a network of prayer groups that met around the country.  That grew into a significant ministry.  On outreaches, I might read scripture, or pray, or give a testimony, but no more than that for at least a whole year or two.  Taking responsibility for the book keeping eventually led to becoming General Secretary, and ultimately CEO of that organisation, in addition to exercising a preaching ministry.

It was a tough and often frustrating time for the first few years, as I also undertook some theological training.  But it was not a bad education.  Now, as an older man, I would love nothing more than to find someone whom I could mentor and train up to take on the work when I am no longer able, or who might grow into another ministry.  But where are the volunteers?

Of course, in some churches and organisations, such progression in ministry is hindered by the proprietorial attitude of older Christians who consider they have a life time tenure in the role they undertake.  No one gets a look in because someone insists “It’s my job to….”

As a result of both these situations, responsibilities increase on the shoulders of fewer people. 

Ther is a little story about four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, and Nobody.

There was an important job to be done and Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it.
Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it.
Somebody got angry about that because it was Everybody's job.
Everybody thought that Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn't do it.
It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have done.

The words of Isaiah 6:8, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’ inspired the hymn that starts, “I the Lord of sea and sky” I have heard this sung with much enthusiasm in many churches and gatherings.  But most who sing seem to only enjoy the moment, and fail to sign up for action.

The Isaiah passage is similar to the tragic words in Ezekiel 22:30, “I looked for someone among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so that I would not have to destroy it, but I found no one.”  I cannot read or hear that verse without thinking of the story of the little Dutch boy who came across a small leak in a dyke through which the sea was beginning to pour, threatening to flood Holland.  He managed to stem the flow with his finger until help came.  While this is a mythical story, its lesson is plain.  The lack of someone to “stand in the gap” in Ezekiel’s day is fact with tragic consequences.

God is not looking for experts; he is looking for those who are willing.   Some time ago, a young man, went to the leaders of a church with a large Sunday School and asked whether there was anything he could do.  His offer was rejected, but he was determined not to be idle when there was a work to be done.  In those days, seats in the Congregational church he attended had to be ‘rented’.  He rented five places and went out onto the streets where he found poor children without any association with a church.  This work expanded and he opened a mission Sunday School for the poorest in the neighbourhood.  Within a year, the average attendance was 650. His work among children led him to other ministries.

He inspired others to undertake godly, Holy Spirit empowered, ministry to children. He challenged teachers to holiness and to be inspiring characters.  The movement he inspired recorded over 10,000 brought to salvation in a single year.  As his ministry developed he established a partnership in ministry with a gospel singer.  This led to an incredibly fruitful ministry that led many thousands to Christ, not only in his home country of the USA, but also in the UK and elsewhere in the world.  His zeal for God still influences people and churches over 100 years later.  It goes to show what God can do with one volunteer who refuses to be suppressed. His name was Dwight L Moody. 

How can we hold back?  Starting with small things, and proving faithful is the way to go.  Of course, you might already be well occupied.  If you are, can you spare some time to find a few others who are not yet busy in God’s work, and inspire and encourage them into service?

God will never ask of us anything that is beyond our ability, though he may very well stretch that.  So, if your hands are not already full, please offer your services.  It is a good idea to first have an idea of what your gifts and abilities are.  If one door fails to open, try another.  If you are part of a church where ever increasing responsibilities rest on a few, ask what you can do to help.  If you cannot find enough to do, please feel free to contact me, and I will see whether there is something you could do to help advance the kingdom of God in the rural areas.

From the Diary
In the past week, I have seen my doctor regarding a problem that has made speaking and singing difficult.  This resulted in a chest xray within 24 hours.  I have a follow-up appointment booked and may be referred to the ENT dept at the hospital.  I do not feel unwell, just frustrated.

Please give thanks for the multitude of blessings from the Lord in so many ways, but especially when our ministry blesses others.  Your prayers are asked for the following upcoming events.

Monday 15th – Trustees for Sunrise Ministries meet in London.
Tuesday 16th – Regular work on the chaplaincy team at HMP Gartree
Wednesday 17th – Teaching on the Salvation Army Safeguarding programme, this time at Malvern, Worcs.
Saturday 20th – 9.00 to9.45 am.  Webinar on ideas and suggestions for mission activities through the summer.

Please pray as Gordon Banks and I put the final touches to the presentation on Saturday.  Please also pray for growth in the online audience for this webinar, so that the blessing will be multiplied.  If you have not already reserved your place, you will find information about how the webinars work on our website (Click Here).  Advance registration is essential.  If you are ready to book your place, click this link now.