Thursday, 28 February 2013
What the church needs is to be fearless and daring, filled with the youthful dynamic of the Holy Spirit. Here is John Capon writing some years ago about John Wesley in the British Weekly published by Lutterworth:
"John Wesley had a strangely warmed heart allied to a strangely cool head. The latter, on its own, will always find deeply convincing reasons for playing it safe, remaining open-ended, instituting a dialogue, exploring in depth, setting up a commission, running a pilot-scheme, circulating a paper, doing some research - in fact anything rather than go out on to the streets of Jerusalem drunk with the Spirit, and showing others how."
Drunk with the Spirit. Now there's a thought. When the disciples obeyed Jesus and went and waited in Jerusalem, little did they know that they were throwing caution to the wind, the Wind of the Spirit. But they did and the church is the result. As the Spirit gave birth to the church so He can give new birth to the church. So let's throw caution to the Wind and ask God to set the Spirit loose on us and the world again.
Whether it was sudden or gradual, leading up to that one point where darkness turned into light makes no difference. The point was something happened and I was changed. the Holy Spirit gave me the essential illumination I needed and I, who once was blind, now could see.
I love the story of a nineteenth century Vicar called William Haslam who was converted by his own sermon while preaching in the pulpit. Here is his story in his own words:
“So I went up into the pulpit and gave out my text. I took it from the gospel of the day—’What think ye of Christ?’ As I went on to explain the passage, I saw that the Pharisees and scribes did not know that Christ was the Son of God, or that He was come to save them. They were looking for a king, the son of David, to reign over them as they were. Something was telling me, all the time, ‘You are no better than the Pharisees yourself—you do not believe that He is the Son of God, and that He is come to save you, any more than they did.’
I do not remember all I said, but I felt a wonderful light and joy coming into my soul, and I was beginning to see what the Pharisees did not. Whether it was something in my words, or my manner, or my look, I know not; but all of a sudden a local preacher, who happened to be in the congregation, stood up, and putting up his arms, shouted in a Cornish manner, ‘The parson is converted! The parson is converted! Hallelujah!’ and in another moment his voice was lost in the shouts and praises of three or four hundred of the congregation. Instead of rebuking this extraordinary ‘brawling,’ as I should have done in a former time, I joined in the outburst of praise, and to make it more orderly, I gave out the Doxology—’Praise God, from whom all blessings flow’—and the people sang it with heart and voice, over and over again.
My Churchmen were dismayed, and many of them fled precipitately from the place. Still the voice of praise went on, and was swelled by numbers of passers-by, who came into the church, greatly surprised to hear and see what was going on. When this subsided, I found at least twenty people crying for mercy, whose voices had not been heard in the excitement and noise of thanksgiving. They all professed to find peace and joy in believing. Amongst this number there were three from my own house; and we returned home praising God.
The news spread in all directions that ‘the parson was converted,’ and that by his own sermon, in his own pulpit too…. So clear and vivid was the conviction through which I passed, and so distinct was the light into which the Lord had brought me, that I knew and was sure that He had ‘brought me up out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a Rock, and put a new song into my mouth.’ He had ‘quickened’ me, who was before ‘dead in trespasses and sins.’… At the end of this great and eventful day of my life—my spiritual birthday, on which I passed from death to life by being ‘born from above’—I could scarcely sleep for joy.”
Wow! If only more clergymen - and women - were converted by their own sermons the church would be in a much better state than it is now.
Wednesday, 27 February 2013
As I mentioned in the last post the promise to the disciples and the conditions that existed were a one off and in that sense unrepeatable. We belong to a church that has rumbled on for over 2000 years seeing lots of ups and downs in the process. We are facing a particularly down time at the moment and looking for answers by turning to the pages of the New Testament and considering whether or not we need to go 'back to basics'. The trouble with this is that the basics we are talking about stand in a particular context which is not the same today. The situation the disciples were facing were pristine and brand new. They themselves were blank pieces of paper that the Holy Spirit was about to write on and therefore had less of the baggage that we carry today. Also life is much more rushed and busy and we struggle to pause and pray or relax and reflect. Karl Jung - although not a Christian at least not in any New Testament kind of way - did get this right when he said that "Busyness is not of the devil, it IS the devil." and it is keeping us from listening to the still, small, voice of God.
Another thing to factor in too is our attitude to God in all this. In our usual and very 21st century kind of way we are looking to apportion blame or offload responsibility for what is happening to us as a church and at the moment, subconsciously if not consciously, God is the one who is having to shoulder it either positively - "God calls us to be faithful not fruitful" or "His timing is what counts", or negatively - "my God, my God why have you forsaken me" or even worse perhaps, "God does not care about us".
Worse still perhaps the prayers we pray are framed in such a way as they seem to imply that God needs somehow to change in order to answer our prayers. When we implore God to send down His Holy Spirit we can give the impression that He is reluctant to do so. Or that He is waiting for the right form of words for us to use. Or he is not generous or understanding but reluctant and needs persuading by prayer and fasting! But what about those scriptures which tell us of his love and generosity and his fatherly concern? In Luke 11 we have already been taught that God is NOT evil and will not give us a scorpion when we ask for bread.
Which leads to this. If God does not change in his character, desire and generosity and loves to answer all our prayers according to his will or in his name (John 15:7, 16) then quite clearly there is nothing wrong with the signals but there may be a problem with the receiver! In other words God doesn't change, but maybe we need to. Here's something along the lines of what we can pray: "Lord, I thank you for your promises to give the Holy Spirit to those who ask you. Please change ME so that I can become the kind of person who will be able to receive Him, the kind of person He can use and operate through. In Jesus' name I pray. Amen."
Perhaps we need therefore to change us and change His Church so that what He gives may be able to be received in a worthy, humble and obedient way.
Looking back to Luke/Acts can give us a lift if we remember what the Holy Spirit was able to accomplish in such a short space of time. But where it does not give us the whole picture of what was going on in the disciples lives etc and how the Spirit was already changing them in order for it all to fall into place.
I don't know if this is helpful to you. It has been to me because I am now able to widen my perspective a little more and see the broader picture. What happens next then is to change the way I pray so that God is able to work IN me and now just around me His will and purpose. As someone once said, I must become part of the answer to my own prayers.
Note: We cannot - and should not - read Luke 24:45-49 without reading for example John 21:15-21 where Peter is healed. Jesus clearly prepares his heart for what was about to happen and maybe in the days following his ascension Jesus was able to to something similar in the lives of the other disciples before the Spirit fell?
Which is why, although I don't personally encourage devotion to any of the saints, I like to research their lives if they crop up on the Anglican Calendar of readings for the Christian Year.
Coming soon is the day to remember St. Non (March 2nd), famously remembered as the mother of David. Here is a little talk I prepared for the occasion:
The main source of information we have about Non is from an 11th century work about her famous son David called “Life of St David”. It was written by Rhigyfarch who was a Norman cleric whose father had been Bishop of St David's for 10 years.
Tradition holds that Non and that the product of that rape was David. Rhigyfarch bases his claims on oral tradition that the offender was Sanctus, King of Ceredigion, who came upon Non while travelling through Dyfed. After she conceived Non continued to live a celibate life living on bread and water alone. When a preacher found himself unable to preach in the presence of her unborn child, this was taken as a sign that the child would himself be a great preacher. A local ruler learned of her pregnancy and was afraid of the power of the child to be born. So he plotted to kill it upon birth, but on the day of her labour a great storm made it impossible for anyone to travel outdoors. But wheer Non was in labour it was bathed in light. It was a difficult birth and the pain was so intense that her fingers left marks as she grasped a rock and the stone itself split in half. On the place of David's birth, a church was built, and this stone is now said to be concealed in the foundations of the altar.
Variations on her story state that she was the daughter of the nobleman Cynyr of Caer Goch (in Pemborkeshire) she may have become married to Sant before David's or after his birth. She brought the boy up at Henfeynyw near Aberaeron and founded a convent nearby at what is now called Llanon (the village being named after her). It appears she may have travelled to Cornwall and ended her days in a Breton Convent.
The place where Non gave birth to Saint David is now named Capel Non, and is marked by the Chapel of St. Non. Close to the ruins of this chapel is her holy well. Other churches bear her name in Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire.
Non's relics were initially venerated at Altarnun in Cronwall but these were destroyed during the Reformation. There is a holy well nearby with a long tradition of bringing the insane to be immersed in hope of a cure. She is also the patron of Pelynt in Cornwall where there is St. Nonna's Holy Well.
Non died at Dirinon, Brittany, ten miles east of Brest, and is buried there; her shrine can still be seen in Dirinon's parish church.
What can we learn from Non’s life such as we have of it?
First, her life and the birth of her son underlines the truth of Romans 8:28 where Paul writes “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
Last night in the UNITAS Lent Course “Glimpses of God” our group shared together some of the challenges of life and how God helped us to deal with them. One lady shared her story about her fight with cancer that at one stage infected parts of her stomach, lungs and other vital organs. Thankfully the treatment worked and she is in remission, but although it was a frightening and scary experience God used it for good as she suddenly began to cut away all that was of secondary importance in life and concentrate on what mattered most—God, family and slowing down to drink more deeply of the life she had. She thanked God for the cancer NOT because cancer is good but because God used it for good to open her eyes and her heart wider to Him.
Non’s experience of rape was a terrible and violent thing but through it she was able to give birth to a Saint whom God used to preach the Gospel and save Wales from the darkness of paganism and unbelief. His life had an enormous impact for good on its life, culture and faith.
Second, Non was a good and godly mother very much in the tradition of the mothers in the Bible - Mary, Elizabeth, Ruth and later in history Monica (Augustine's mum) and Susanna Wesley. The work of giving birth is even today a hard one but harder still is trying to guide children in the right way through life. Sometimes you can do the very best you can and it still goes wrong. Non’s example and godliness—epitomised by her vow of celibacy and her simple lifestyle and faith -managed to have a profound impact on her son and just as we are grateful to David the man for who he was, we must also remember Non whose contribution was important too. Without her there would be no David.
Third, although it is not mentioned, there is no doubt the power of prayer and Non’s prayers for her son. And again there are wonderful examples in the Bible including Hannah, where mothers have prayed for their children and exerted a positive influence on their lives. My own mother was not a regular churchgoer although in later years she went more often. She very much kept her faith quiet and private. In fact I was not sure that her faith went very deep until not long before she died I discovered that every night she had prayed for me and my brother and sisters. Unfortunately—so far—my older brother and younger sister are both atheists although my older sister Pat is quite involved in her local Methodist Church in Tenby. So two our of 4 is not bad I suppose. But my calling and subsequent ordination I now acknowledge, had a lot to do with my mother and whatever good I am able to do as a Christian leader I very much owe to the faithfulness of my mother’s prayers. Her example means that I - and my wife - pray daily for my children as she did for me.
So to summarise. What we know of Non shows us a woman whose faithfulness and trust in God ensured that his promise to redeem us will, if we let Him, work all things—good, bad and even evil—to the good. And just as good came out of the evil and destructiveness of the Cross so the good that was David came from a woman who herself suffered the evil and violence of rape. It was through God's grace that Non went on to raise and nurture her son in the way of Jesus and through her influence as a good and godly mother, and the value of her prayers, helped make David the great man he was.
So let us be encouraged by her, and let us thank God today as we remember her together.
Tuesday, 26 February 2013
Here is one of my favourites which never fails to move me (I want it at my funeral). It's a conversation between an unworthy sinner and a loving, seeking God:
Love bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lack'd anything.
'A guest,' I answer'd, 'worthy to be here:'
Love said, 'You shall be he.'
'I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,
I cannot look on Thee.'
Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
'Who made the eyes but I?'
'Truth, Lord; but I have marr'd them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.'
'And know you not,' says Love, 'Who bore the blame?'
'My dear, then I will serve.'
'You must sit down,' says Love, 'and taste my meat.'
So I did sit and eat.
Psalm 23 is probably most widely quoted and recognised of all the psalms and most people - church or otherwise - would be familiar with it. But how many of us really understand it? Or has familiarity bred a kind of blindness to what it is really saying or teaching?
The opening line introduces the theme for the whole psalm. It begins with an amazing promise:
"The Lord is my shepherd therefore can I lack nothing" Or in the less poetic Message translation: "God, my shepherd! I don't need a thing."
Which ever way you look at it it's quite a promise, that if we trust God to be our/or my shepherd,
there is nothing that we will lack. But is that what the opening line is really promising? Will God our shepherd really give us that second home in the South of France we have always wanted—welcome to my dreams—or a lottery win next weekend? Will God our shepherd really solve all our personal problems and give us trouble free lives until its time to leave our home here on earth?
If we look at it more closely I don't think that that is what it means. It starts with that opening statement but then continues to unpack what it means as the psalm progresses. What does it mean that we will lack nothing?
First it means that God will provide for us what we need to eat and drink—green pastures and still waters. If we trust God as our shepherd—David is saying—we will have enough to eat and drink - our physical needs will be met.
Second, it means that alongside physical nourishment God will also provide for our spiritual needs. He will restore our souls. The word means "to repair, renovate or return to former condition".
What was our “former condition” as a people? If we go back to Genesis chapter 2 we will see that it is an unbroken relationship with God. Adam and Eve there represent what it means to be in close friendship with the one who created us. But then they disobeyed and death became a reality. The question the psalm is asking is this. What condition is your soul?
When you and I die it doesn't matter how well we have looked after our bodies. It's the condition of our souls that really matters. Are they dirty or clean? Are they healthy or unhealthy? What is our relationship
with God like? Are we close or distant? Are we friends or strangers? If we know God as our or my shepherd that's a question that is already in the process of being resolved as we walk with him or alongside him. That is the place of restoration and renewal as he “brings us forth in the right way for his name’s sake.”
Next, because of that relationship we will have no fear of death. How? We will know and trust that when we walk through the darkest valley - the Hebrew actually means ravine which is narrower and more constricting - he will be with us protecting us with two things.
First his rod - a short club to beat off our attackers namely the roaring lion which is the devil or the wolves
which are the false prophets and teachers; And second his staff or crook which hooks round the neck of the sheep to haul them and us back onto safe ground and the right path.
Fourth, whoever our enemies are - whether people, or circumstances or illness and disability - with God as our shepherd we know that we will triumph over them. And here the psalmist pictures a victory meal which takes place "in the presence of them that trouble me".
Here we will be cleansed with oil and full with celebratory wine, not dirty and empty - signs of happiness, contentment and ultimate triumph.
Lastly, having known the loving-kindness or grace and mercy of the shepherd all the days of our lives we will then live in his presence - the house of the Lord - forever.
All those things - physical needs, spiritual needs, protection through death and the overcoming of our enemies as well as assurance of our eternal destination - all these things are what it really means to "lack nothing" because they are what in the end really and ultimately matter.
Just one final and very important point. And it's a challenge. Do you know God like that? Is He your shepherd? Are you aware of his guidance and provision for you? Do you trust him? That's the condition for promise that is made. If the condition is not met - the promises are null and void. Do you really know God as your shepherd?
Monday, 25 February 2013
What keeps popping out of the text at me is Jesus' command to "stay in the city until" they are clothed with power from on high. The word means to sit down, dwell, hover, continue (in the same place), set or tarry. In other words don't do anything other than stay there until the promise of Jesus is fulfilled.
You can't get away from the fact that this was in many senses a one off command. It's one off because Jesus spoke it specifically to the disciples - not us. It's one off because this was the start of the forthcoming mission which was to begin at the epicentre of world outreach. It was a one off because this was the fulfuillment of the specific promise Jesus had given to the group of disciples. So in those ways this is unrepeatable. But - and its a big but - there are basic principles which we can draw that apply to Christians and the Church in every age. Namely, at the basis of everything we are called to do is the necessary and fundamental partnership - unequal as it is and leaning more towards the divine than the human - between God and man. It was this that lay behind Jesus' command to stay put until the Holy Spirit was not just alongside but sharing the driving seat.
I always remember that rather effective illustration about the individual life of the Christian represented by a car. Before we come to Christ there is no one in the car but us and we are driving it rather badly wherever it is we want to go. Sometimes its on the road but a lot of times it is racing the red light or careering over roundabouts or crashing and hurting ourselves or knocking over others as we make our way along. And then we realise just how bad we are and the road we are hurtling along is actually going nowhere and we are only hurting others and ourselves in the process. So we invite Jesus to join us and by His Spirit he climbs in the back seat where he can whisper in our ear of show us the way to drive and the direction to take and we start the get the car of our life back on track again. But even though the Holy Spirit is in the car with us he is in the back and so sometimes we turn the radio up so we can't hear him or we decide that we would rather turn left than right or take short cuts rather than go the safe and secure way. What has happened is that Jesus is a passenger who we turn to for help when get lost or when we get into trouble. However is this really how we were meant to live as Christians, with Christ as a passenger? We need him in the driving seat so that our life is his and he can steer the car of our life on the road and in the direction we need to go.
Okay its not the best illustration but it shows us one thing. We can't drive our life on our own and we need the Holy Spirit's presence if we are to keep things moving in the right direction. What applies to our individual lives also applies to the Church.
Charles Spurgeon puts it like this:
"The grand thing the Church wants in this time is God's Holy Spirit. You can get up plans and say, "Now if the Church were altered a little bit it would do better." You think if there were different ministers or different church order or something different, then all would be well. No dear friends, its not there the mistake lies. It's that we want more of the Spirit. Now people are saying, "This must be altered and that must be altered," but it would go no better unless God the Spirit should come and bless us. you may have the same ministers and they should be a thousand times more useful for God if God is pleased to bless them. This is the Church's great want. And until that want be supplied we may reform and reform and still be just the same. All we want is the Spirit of God."
These words could well apply to us today but they were delivered on August 31 1857! And they serve to underline Jesus' imperative to wait or stay until the Spirit comes. What has changed except the situation is as bad if not worse than Spurgeon's day. We need the Spirit but we cannot have Him unless we are prepared to stop and wait and pray.
But that is only half of a possible answer. God's part is to supply, ours to receive. But what state of readiness are we. Another blog post is needed.
Friday, 22 February 2013
(I love the idea of Christ taking His rest in my heart or "walking within it". Makes me want to go there and meet Him.)
"The heart is but a small vessel; and yet dragons and lions are there, and there likewise are poisonous creatures and all the treasures of wickedness; rough, uneven paths are there, and gaping chasms. There also is God, there are the angels, there life and the Kingdom, there light and the apostles, the heavenly cities and the treasures of grace: all things are there." (Homilies 43:7)
Praying is therefore not the mere saying of prayers, it is to go there, to the heart, to battle the dragons and lions and poisonous creatures in the name of Christ and meet with Him in the company of the angels and apostles.
Thursday, 21 February 2013
Power. We all need it to run our cookers, radios, heating and lighting, cars and washing machines, phones and computers and without it life would be difficult - and in some cases - even dangerous. The same principle applies to church life. It is 'driven' by the life of God working among and through his people, and as long as this power is present among us the church will 'work' and life will be sustained. When the power of God is not present there is atrophy, decline and eventually death.
I was brought up in Clydach a town at the lower reaches of the Swansea Valley. Growing up I used to attend St. Mary's an Anglican Church situated on the east side of the town. Some of my early memories were of the chapels in the towns and listening to the singing - which was always better than my own - and wondering what it was like inside. Most of those chapels are now closed including the Methodist Chapel where I prayed fervently for the baptism of the Spirit when a mission came to town. This church where once I opened my heart to the Spirit is now a private home and the only singing is what takes place in the bath or shower and the only spirit is one that is poured out of the bottle (assuming the residents like a glass of whiskey etc.)
Why did it close? Why did any of them close? We can postulate that they failed to keep ahead of the times, or blame the advent of Sunday opening. We could factor in the failure to appeal to the youth or the apathy of the congregation. The growing secularization of the society we live in and the collapse of traditional moral values plus the many other spiritual 'options' can also confuse matters and the failure of the church to adapt to the many changes in society has certainly not helped. And what about the lack of callings to ministry and the overstretched clergy or the retreat of the church in the face of its failure to engage with the society around it. Some would cite a failure to evangelize, or teach or disciple new Christians. Others would talk about an inability to keep pace with new technology or modern music or even an over-reliance on the organ and an insistence on using the choir for everything. The list goes on and on and just serves to underline how big the task is to sustain any church let alone grow it. However it also serves to underline just how much we need the power and the grace of God to get anywhere with regards to Church today.
It reminds me of Jesus'imperative to the early disciples to go to Jerusalem and not to budge from there until the they were "clothed with power from on high." (Luke 24:49) He knew then - as we have forgotten today - that the church is powered by the presence and power of the Spirit as a car runs on petrol.
I am a great lover of the writings of A.W.Tozer - his work The Pursuit of God was among the first I read as a new Christian. In his book "Mystery of the Holy Spirit" he records a conversation he had with a lady who spoke to him after hearing one of his sermons. Here is what he records:
"I mentioned once in a sermon in Chicago that some churches are so completely out of the hands of God, if the Holy Ghost withdrew from them, they would not find out for three months. afterward I received a telephone call from a woman.
The voice on the phone said, "Mr. Tozer, I am not a member of your church; I am a member of a church on the north side.".....She said, "I was down to your church last night and I heard you say that there are churches where, if the Holy Spirit should desert them, they'd never find it out. Mr. Tozer, I want you to know that's what has happened to our church."
Her voice was tender and broken, there was no criticism, and I tried to console her.
"Well, maybe," I said, "it's just that He is grieved, or maybe He's not given His place."
"No," she said, "it's past that, Mr. Toxer. We have so consistently rejected Him in our church that He is gone; He is longer here."
Now, I doubt whether she is right.I do not believe the Spirit of God ever leaves the church completely, but He can, like the Saviour who was asleep in the hinder part of the ship, go to sleep and not make Himself known and let us get along without Him for years." (Tozer: Mystery of the Holy Spirit)
Whether it is the Holy Spirit who has "fallen asleep" or the congregations that have - or a combination of both - I can't say, but what I do note is that the Holy Spirit is noticeable by His absence from us rather than His presence with us and it's killing the church - or at least the historic expressions of it.
What is the answer then? It's okay to diagnose the problem - which at least takes us halfway towards a 'solution' - but what must we do?
Jesus did not offer the Spirit as an antidote to a dying church but as a prerequisite for a living one so we are in a slightly different place to the first bewildered disciples who first stepped out of the resurrection euphoria into the reality of a first century world. But His words are worth going back to for we have no better Word but His on the matter. So next blog I will take a look at what Jesus said on the matter to see - for my own benefit - what transpires.
Saturday, 16 February 2013
It's this difference between word and experience that marks the new life of a Christian. He or she hears - perhaps many times - about the love of God in Christ and how when that is received by faith in the life of someone it brings a deep sense of joy and peace But it is only when that is experienced for oneself - when it is truly ours - does it really make sense.
Incidentally Theodore means gift of God and as you can see he certainly is.
Tuesday, 12 February 2013
"Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent." (John 17:3)
Getting to know someone, and getting to know them really well, takes time. Lent gives us that opportunity to get to know God and to get to know ourselves too. One of the most useful pieces of advice I was given as a married man training for the ministry was to be sure to take time out every week to spend with my wife so that our time together could ensure that we stayed connected and that our relationship didn't suffer as a result of the busyness of Parish life. That advice applies to every Christian and their God too.
The following article makes a plea to try and keep Lent in the way it was always meant to be kept, as an opportunity to stop doing the usual things and to spend more time with God:
"Chocolate and coffee are typical sacrifices during the period of Lent but one clergyman is challenging people to give up being busy. The Reverend Canon Dr Stephen Cherry is encouraging people to push their schedules to one side, even if it's just for half an hour, and discover the simple joy of doing nothing.
In breaking the relentless rush and activity, Dr Cherry believes the daily quiet time will help people to review their priorities and become more spiritually alert.
“This is a way of taking Jesus message that ‘time is made for people not people for time’, right out into the marketplace, the workplace, the home and the shopping centre," he said. "In all these places people have allowed themselves to get caught in a process of seemingly endless acceleration. People feel stressed and out of control. They find that the faster they run the faster life seems to pass them by.
“Lent is an excellent time to do this. The season of forty days and forty nights reminds Christian people of the time Jesus went into the wilderness. "This was after his baptism but before the energetic time of his ministry of teaching and healing. But even at his busiest Jesus punctuated his time of activity and service with regular time to withdraw and recuperate.”
He believes that taking time out may even have a knock on positive effect on relationships, he believes, as people become more patient and generous with each other.
Dr Cherry, of Durham Cathedral, is author of the recently published Time Wisdom For Ministry, in which he gives clergy useful tips on how to avoid the burnout from busyness and better manage the demands placed on them. When Lent gets under way on Ash Wednesday - 13 February 13 - he hopes people will make a small change to get through the day without becoming a victim to the busyness syndrome.
"The idea of actively trying to give up busyness in Lent struck me as a really good one," he said. "Time is so much more important than chocolate. Many people today talk of experiencing ‘time poverty’ when the reality is that there is plenty of time, we have just not learnt how to live will with its limits.”
A special website - www.notbusy.co.uk - has been set up to support those ready to give the challenge a go.
Dr Cherry will be publishing a very short ebook, Beyond Busyness: Time Wisdom in an Hour, with useful time management advice.
Dr Cherry adds: “Many people today who find it impossible to connect with organised religion are finding that spirituality is attractive, helpful and transformative. By giving up busyness, people are taking a step from the observance of religious ritual or duty – giving up chocolate or whatever - and going for a real spiritual challenge.”
I love children - which helps a little when you have four children - and when you hear them speak you wonder at whether theirs in some ways echoes the "still small voice" in 1 Kings 19:11-13. Here are some children reciting Psalm 23 for an advert for a Christian book. Enjoy!
Monday, 11 February 2013
For many years I have struggled with the fact that the Church acts like some kind of religious club for the few instead of an expression of the Kingdom of Heaven which is for everyone. The following is a video produced by the Church of England which demonstrates the kinds of changes needed to make sure we welcome seekers and reach out to the community.
I have convoked you to this Consistory, not only for the three canonisations, but also to communicate to you a decision of great importance for the life of the Church.
After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry.
I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering.
However, in today's world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to steer the boat of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognise my incapacity to adequately fulfil the ministry entrusted to me.
For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter, entrusted to me by the Cardinals on 19 April 2005, in such a way, that as from 28 February 2013, at 20:00 hours, the See of Rome, the See of Saint Peter, will be vacant and a Conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff will have to be convoked by those whose competence it is.
Dear Brothers, I thank you most sincerely for all the love and work with which you have supported me in my ministry and I ask pardon for all my defects.
And now, let us entrust the Holy Church to the care of Our Supreme Pastor, Our Lord Jesus Christ, and implore his holy Mother Mary, so that she may assist the Cardinal Fathers with her maternal solicitude, in electing a new Supreme Pontiff.
With regard to myself, I wish to also devotedly serve the Holy Church of God in the future through a life dedicated to prayer."
Comment: I have to congratulate the Pope for taking these steps as it was not an easy decision to come to. Reading the letter several times a few things stand out for me:
1. His move seems to be a matter on conscience. Something - or in this case Someone - has been weighing on his mind and he feels 'led' to take this step. God is at work - is this the beginning of a new era for the Church? "Behold I am doing a new thing. Now it springs up, don't you perceive it?" Isaiah 43:19. The world is ready for a new move of God and the West is more ready - or more in need - than most.
2. This in part is due to his increasing old age which he feels makes him "no longer suited to an adequate exercise" of his ministry. This could be seen as a reluctant admission that he is 'past it' but I prefer to believe that it is a humble acknowledgement of the need to pass the baton on to a younger and fitter person. You have to therefore question the recent elections of popes which seem to favour older men.
3. He is aware too that he has not the resources - whether physical or intellectual - to deal with the rapid changes that are taking place in our world today. It requires a particular sort of person to guide the Church through the rapids and he is stepping down to enable the Church to elect someone better equipped to do so. However if this is indeed the work of the Holy Spirit should we be thinking of any other criteria other than he on whom the Spirit has fallen?
4. "There is a time for everything" Ecclesiastes tells us (Eccles 3:1ff) and wisdom is knowing when that time is. It is the time for Benedict to go and he has shown the wisdom to know that this is the time.
Whatever has been said in the past about Benedict XVI he has shown here that he is not afraid to make a difficult decision in the best interest of the Church.
Tuesday, 5 February 2013
There’s an old saying that we should “pray as if everything depends on God, work as if everything depends on you.” It’s been attributed to Ignatius (though there’s no evidence that he said it), and many think it captures the Ignatian spirit: turning it all over to God in prayer and then working tirelessly and urgently to do God’s work. I prefer to reverse it: “pray as if everything depends on you, work as if everything depends on God.” This means that prayer has to be urgent: God has to do something dramatic if everything depends on me. It also puts our work in the right perspective: if it depends on God, we can let it go. We can work hard but leave the outcome up to him. If God is in charge we can tolerate mixed results and endure failure.
Ignatius writes about work and human effort in a letter to an aristocrat named Jerome Vines, whom I imagine was a busy, hard-charging, Type A character who was getting upset about the fate of his many projects. A busy man, Ignatius writes, “must make up his mind to do what he can, without afflicting himself if he cannot do all that he wishes. You must have patience and not think that God our Lord requires what man cannot accomplish.” He concludes with this: “There is no need to wear yourself out, but make a competent and sufficient effort, and leave the rest to him who can do all he pleases.”
"Before leaving the question of divorce, I should like to distinguish two things which are very often confused. The Christian conception of marriage is one : the other is the quite different question -- how far Christians, if they are voters or Members of Parliament, ought to try to force their views of marriage on the rest of the community by embodying them in the divorce laws. A great many people seem to think that if you are a Christian yourself you should try to make divorce difficult for every one. I do not think that. At least I know I should be very angry if the Mohammedans tried to prevent the rest of us from drinking wine. My own view is that the Churches should frankly recognise that the majority of the British people are not Christians and, therefore, cannot be expected to live Christian lives. There ought to be two distinct kinds of marriage : one governed by the State with rules enforced on all citizens, the other governed by the Church with rules enforced by her on her own members. The distinction ought to be quite sharp, so that a man knows which couples are married in a Christian sense and which are not."
C.S.Lewis: Mere Christianity
Tonight before the disastrous vote in favour of Gay Marriage a couple of women living in a Civil Partnership were interviewed on BBC Wales. In the interview when asked about the prospective vote in Parliament, one of the couple commented that it should go through because the majority of the people in Britain are in favour of it. Following on from that logic if a vote was taken in favour of the reintroduction slavery or the legalization of bestiality then on those grounds as long as the majority of people thought it was okay then wrong suddenly becomes right?
I recognize that we live in a democracy and that it is, generally a good thing, but it is not perfect. Winston Churchill acknowledged that in 1947 when he wrote: "Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time." It's the best of a bad lot but it is flawed and the vote tonight to legislate Gay Marriage is one of the most clear indications of that truism. In fact Art Spander's quote about democracy - at least in this instance - perfectly fits the bill. He said: "The great thing about democracy is that it gives every voter a chance to do something stupid." In this instance 'stupid' is an understatement. Dangerous would be more apt.
Without looking at each case on its individual merit we cannot, I believe, make any sweeping statements stating that all abortion in every situation or circumstance is wrong. But there are general principles that should guide us in our deliberations and, for me, the sanctity of life (see above) is an overriding factor.
The pro-abortion lobby have usually side-stepped this issue by arguing that the foetus is not a viable human being - not really 'living' - until a certain stage of its existence and therefore to abort it is not murder. I would not fully agree with that but it at least seems to make some kind of scientific sense. However there seems to be some new thinking emerging which is the cause for very deep concern. The following is from a website which quotes a lady called Mary Elizabeth Williams of Salon.com. Let me first of all qualify what I will quote by saying first, that it is second hand (you can read the webpage I am quoting the quote from here); and second, I do not know the exact context that the quote is taken from. However if these quotes are accurate and true then it represents a worrying turn of thinking. The writer of the article Dr Albert Mohler writes:
"In a recent article, Mary Elizabeth Williams of Salon.com conceded what the pro-life movement has contended all along — that from the moment of conception the unborn child is undeniably a human life. And yet, Williams argues that this unborn human life must be terminated if a woman desires an abortion.....In recent weeks leaders of Planned Parenthood disclosed that they are moving away from the pro-choice language because it just isn't working. Mary Elizabeth Williams agrees, saying that the change is “long overdue.” She argues that the pro-abortion movement has fallen prey to the “sneaky, dirty tricks” of the pro-life movement — a movement she says has controlled the life issue for too long.
Mohler continues: "Then, in chilling candour Williams proceeds to affirm that every single unborn child is a human life. But, her argument is not pro-life. Far from it. In her words:
“When we on the pro-choice side get cagey around the life question, it makes us illogically contradictory. I have friends who have referred to their abortions in terms of “scraping out a bunch of cells” and then a few years later were exultant over the pregnancies that they unhesitatingly described in terms of “the baby” and “this kid.” I know women who have been relieved at their abortions and grieved over their miscarriages. Why can’t we agree that how they felt about their pregnancies was vastly different, but that it’s pretty silly to pretend that what was growing inside of them wasn't the same? Foetuses aren't selective like that. They don’t qualify as human life only if they’re intended to be born.”
Mohler comments: "Williams skewers the “pro-choice” evasion. The foetus is a human life, she asserts — every foetus wanted or unwanted by its mother, planned or unplanned as a pregnancy. She even affirms that life begins at conception. But, she quickly argues, the fact that the unborn child is a human life doesn't mean that it should not be aborted." She explains:
“Here’s the complicated reality in which we live: All life is not equal. That’s a difficult thing for liberals like me to talk about, lest we wind up looking like death-panel-loving, kill-your-grandma-and-your-precious-baby storm troopers. Yet a foetus can be a human life without having the same rights as the woman in whose body it resides. She’s the boss. Her life and what is right for her circumstances and her health should automatically trump the rights of the non-autonomous entity inside of her. Always.”
"So" - comments Mohler -"the mother and the child are both fully human, fully alive, and fully recognized as human life. But the mother can abort that human life within her for any reason or for no stated reason at all. Williams argues that the mother is an autonomous agent, whereas the unborn child is not.
In other words the unborn child is a human life, but not a human life worthy of respect or protection. But who is making that judgement? Not God certainly but the woman whose body it is and who rules over that body like a king rules his kingdom or a dictator his subjugated subjects. Its a double denial then first of God and second of the sanctity of every individual life. If that criteria were applied to other circumstances and people then we are in deep, deep trouble.
Looking up sources for my talk I came across one on the website of one of Teilo's churches, Llandeilo itself (click here). It appears quite dismissive not only of Teilo in particular but also of Christianity in general - I may have misread it - and so I wondered what the point was of writing it? This is part of what he has written:
"Biographies of the very early Christian saints read very much like modern novels, because in both cases the authors have effectively created a work of fiction. For most of the saints who are said to have flourished in the early centuries after Christ, not a single written source exists from the period when they were alive, and presumably hard at work converting the local pagans to the obscure middle-eastern cult that was then only a few centuries old. …….What people think are facts about such people as St David or St Teilo, after whom Llandeilo is named, are just an accumulation of legends, miracles, tall tales, church propaganda, and even outright fabrications (lies!), the earliest of which usually appear several centuries after their deaths. In the case of St Teilo the first written versions of his life appeared in the twelfth century, more than enough time for a thick crust of legend and supposed miracles to have completely obscured whatever are the true facts of his life.
Clearly then the writer is quite dismissive about Teilo and whether there was such a person and about the possibility of miracles. But here is a rough outline of his life:
He was said to be the son of a prince who was in turn a grandson of a ruler of Ceredigion. He was also related to St. David—his first cousin—and educated with him under St. Paulinus in Whitland. Like many founder-bishops they appear to have had experience in battle and so when they travelled to Mynyw (St. David's), where David founded his abbey, they had to first oust an Irish pirate, kill his cattle and burn his fortress.
In 540’s a yellow plague affected Britain and so Teilo with a small group of monks moved to Dol in Brittany where he stayed for seven years and seven months. They then travelled to Dumnonia—an ancient Kingdom encompassing Devon, Cornwall and Somerset - before joining again St. Samson in Dol. In fact the fruit groves claimed to have been planted by Teilo and Samson still grow there today. After his return to Llandeilo Fawr Teilo died on February 9th 560.
Teilo subsequently became one of the most venerated saints in Wales and his remains are said to be divided between three churches: LLandaff Cathedral where Teilo founded his first church—buried to the right of the main altar (although his skull is buried in the south chapel), LLandeilo Fawr and Penally Abbey near Tenby. At least 25 churches and schools in Wales, Brittany and Cornwall and Devon were dedicated to him and there are also three villages in Brittany named after him. Many miracles were ascribed to Teilo during his life and following his death.
So as you can see from these bare bones there is not a lot to go on. But returning to our sceptical friend at the beginning he does at least acknowledge this:
“Of course, someone must have been around in the sixth century, otherwise the spread of Christianity in Wales couldn't have taken place, and the existence of 25 churches dedicated to Teilo, some as far afield as Cornwall and Brittany, indicates that whoever he was, he was a very busy little missionary indeed. “
So even given his scepticism he has to concede that there must have been someone called Teilo who with others did a lot of work for the Kingdom of God.
This leads me to a few thoughts:
1. Teilo and his brothers and sisters in Christ lived in what was known as the Dark Ages. These were the years following the decline of the Roman Empire where Europe was in chaos both economically and culturally (sound familiar?). Into that the light of faith shone and became a force for good where hospitals, school and universities were founded upon Christian principles and the love of God was preached everywhere. As Europe continues to cut itself free from the moorings of the Christian faith we who call ourselves Christians can draw inspiration from people like Teilo and not only keep true to our faith but do all we can to share that faith with others.
2. These are dark times for the Church as it continues to make one compromise after another in a bid to try and keep up with the way the world is going. But, as Paul reminds us, we are not to be conformed to the world—or in J.B.Phillips wonderfully translated it we are not “to let the world squeeze us into it’s own mould” - but to be "transformed by the renewal of our minds." (Romans 12:1ff). We can only do that if we embrace more closely God’s light and not the world’s darkness. We must not compromise our faith or the faith of our fathers - people like Teilo, David or Paul and Peter before them.
3. Finally we must not allow despair to overwhelm us or we will become embittered and resentful and cease to be the salt and light Jesus calls us to be. There is an old saying: “Better to light a candle than curse the darkness.”
Monday, 4 February 2013
St. Ambrose of Milan (quoted in "A beginner's Guide to Prayer by Michael Keiser page 31)
The first comes under church. Every now and again someone attends one of our services for several weeks and chatting with them they seem enthusiastic and keen and say they enjoy the experience. Hope rises and you plan to run some kind of entry level Christian basics course with them in mind, only, a few Sundays later - or even the next Sunday - to note that they are missing. Perhaps its a blip - they seemed so interested - but Sundays pile up and they disappear into the past and along with it goes your opportunity to talk further and explain to them that God is more than Church and Christ is more than a name.
The second comes under personal. This is where you are able to talk about your faith and enthusiastically share your own journey. You may even meet a few times more and even open the Bible together and look a little more closely at the text and what it says about God. However the meetings seem to lose momentum somehow and awkward work shifts or pre-booked appointments create problems and the moment - such as it was - has passed and you don't see them again, or if you do mutual embarrassment means that you see each other coming and disappear behind a some aisle shelving at the supermarket.
Both types of 'failures' cause me pain and over 25 years of ministry I have struggled with that particular aspect of my work. I suppose part of that comes from the fact that my own conversion was - at least for the last six months of my search - a roller-coaster ride of questions and answers about the Christian faith and an all-consuming hunger for more and more truth. No one force-fed me and no one had to try very hard to come up with answers to difficult questions. I was an open mouth waiting to be fed and it all came to a head one morning as I stood in front of a shaving mirror having just read a chapter of Hal Lindsey's book "The Liberation of Planet Earth" about Jesus' death for me when the penny suddenly dropped and I 'knew' it was not just true but true for me. Since then I have seen a few people come to Christ through my ministry but never enough to satisfy my longing to see many more come to faith and it remains, to this day, one of the things I struggle the most with in my work.
I was thinking about all this recently and, as I sometimes do, I 'thought it' in God's direction, sharing with Him my concerns and disappointments and pain at such failure. In a flash I felt God say that He too shared that pain and sadness, and every time someone came close, but not close enough, it hurt Him that they didn't respond.
Reflecting on this I saw things in a new perspective. I remembered John 3:16 "For God so loved the world that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." How many times have I approached this from the same direction - a testament to God's grace and generosity and willingness to go to the greatest lengths to save us from our self-destructive path away from him? But now I saw it from another angle. What does God feel about everyone whose eyes are not open to this wonderful truth? How many have perished because this didn't work in their lives? How many times has this failed and how many times has God's love been ignored or denied or not returned?
Jesus knew this would be the case. In Matthew 7:14 he says: "How narrow is the gate and how constricted is the road that leads to life, and there aren't many people who find it!" In other words even before he set his face towards Jerusalem and endured the suffering and shame of the cross he knew that his sacrifice and death would not avail everybody and he would as a consequence suffer the sense of loss far more than anyone else.
So my 'pain' and disappointment suddenly found perspective. Yes I feel these things - and thank God I do - but what I feel pales into comparison with what Jesus feels. I didn't die on a cross. I didn't carry the sins of the world on my shoulders and experience all the darkness and pain of that and the subsequent rejection that followed. Jesus did and does. He weeps now as he did as he once looked over Jerusalem (Luke 13:34) and mourned for those who not only rejected him but brought disaster down on their own heads. My pain is but an echo of his. The real pain is felt by God.
The following is a sermon I gave in response to some concerns raised about our application for a Lottery Grant to renovate our church and ch...