Wednesday 22 June 2011

DIY Psalms!

At my Church, we are presently using the E100 Challenge, with daily bible readings and weekly sermons and small groups following the same theme.

I lead a daytime small group and when studying the Psalms, we were encouraged to compose our own Psalm, using the following instructions:

‘Get the group to write their own Psalm using the following model. Provide each person with a piece of paper, large enough to be folded 7 times. Tell them to write an address of praise to God. Eg ‘God I worship you’, across the top of their piece of paper.

Get everyone to fold back that line of writing, and pass the paper to the person on their left.

Next line everyone writes an aspect of God’s character starting: ‘because you are...’ Fold and pass on.

Next line: Two things about how wonderful creation is. Fold and pass on.

Next line: Something God does for you. Eg ‘You guide me’. Fold and pass on.

Next line: a message to Jesus with because in the middle. Eg ‘I love you because...’ Fold and pass on.

Final line: A resolution. Eg ‘therefore I will’. Pass on and open.’

It’s kind of like the party game of ‘Consequences’ and I confess I didn’t think this approach would work in composing a psalm! However, here is the result of one of them:

‘Loving and marvellous God, I praise you

Because you are so loving and caring.

Lord God, the beauty of your world is breathtaking.

You guide me day by day

Thank you Jesus for being my Saviour and Friend.

Therefore, I will continue to follow you and let my light shine for you.’

It’s not as good as those in the Bible (they are God’s Word, after all), but it kind of works!

Thursday 16 June 2011

Surviving the Tough Bits of Pastoral Ministry

It’s a pretty hectic time for me at the moment with all sorts of pastoral situations arising: some good, some sad, though none particularly bad. This Saturday, I am taking a wedding. Next Wednesday, I am taking the funeral of a church member just a few weeks after taking that of her husband. I was to be taking the funeral on Monday, of a woman who was married at our church about 62 years ago. That’s been postponed because, would you believe it, her husband has just died. So now we have a double funeral, the following week.

Those of us who are clergy never quite know what’s going to come our way. In a sense, funerals are quite routine but we can be affected by the sadness of the situation, especially for the families concerned. Weddings are less frequent for Baptist ministers like myself, who are not blessed with ‘pretty’ buildings! Other situations, though, can be immensely draining. I did not believe (although I was told – my college was good like that) that in 15 years as a Baptist minister I would have dealt with pastoral situations involving adultery, murder, psychiatric illness, suicide, exorcism, inter-family strife, child abuse, witchcraft and personal criticism galore. Some of it, yes, but all of it? And although these are the headline grabbers, they are really just the tip of the iceberg.

Of course, there are many good things in pastoral ministry, too! Yet how do we deal with all the baggage that comes our way, those of us in pastoral ministry, or a similar profession?

For me, it starts with remembering my identity. I am not defined by what I do in pastoral ministry. I am defined by who I am in Christ. If it were the former, every difficult pastoral issue has the potential to derail the pastor from his/her task. When it is the latter, we know that even if everything we try to sort out goes wrong, we still belong to God.

Secondly, it revolves around ‘calling’. I believe that God has called me to be a pastor. Despite what we sometimes think, God does not call pastors to be the problem-solvers. We are called to accompany people on the journey, and perhaps to give them choices, but it is up to them with God to sort things out. We, of course, can share the joy when they are, but need not wallow in sorrow when they are not.

Thirdly, I have tried to learn from the truth of Scripture. The words of 1 Peter 5:7 have been very helpful to me: ‘Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.’ I try to be a non-anxious presence (or at least, a less anxious one) when I am with those in need. When I leave them, and am wondering how on earth I can help, I will often say to God, ‘I can’t do the worrying about this! Will you take over?’

It works – mostly! And, I think, my ministry is better for it.

How do you cope?

Wednesday 8 June 2011

Pentecost - Setting the World on Fire!

This is a copy of my Church Magazine article for June

As I and my family were travelling back across the M62 at the beginning of May, we saw a vast flume of smoke billowing out over the Pennines. It was only when we arrived home, and turned on the news that we realized it was the consequence of one of the many forest fires that had broken out across the country. As the saying goes, there is no smoke without fire!

There may, on the other hand, be fire without smoke! On the Day of Pentecost, which we celebrate this year on 12th June, the early church was waiting in Jerusalem for the gift of the Holy Spirit just as Jesus had told them to do. ‘They were altogether in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit…’ (Acts 2:1-4). On this remarkable day, a previously downcast failure of a disciple called Peter preached powerfully to a large crowd, and about three thousand came to know Christ and were baptised. A fire had truly been lit which spread around the ancient world, and is still spreading today as more than two billion people attest to a Christian faith.

Of course, the fire in the forests has led to destruction. ‘Our God is a consuming fire’ say the Scriptures, but the fire of the Holy Spirit is more often a creative and spreading fire – or it should be! When we talk of someone setting the world on fire, we don’t mean that they destroy it but that they make people sit up and take notice. Christian witness in the book of Acts certainly does that: on one occasion the Christians are reported to be have ‘turned the world upside down’ (Acts 17:6, NKJV). It is Acts, the book of the Holy Spirit, that tells how this comes about: disciples tell others who tell others about Jesus Christ; they do amazing things in the power of the Spirit and the name of Jesus; the Church grows daily.

How are we setting the world on fire? How are we getting the world to sit up and take notice? Well, initiatives in our city like Inspirations Studio, CafĂ© Kindness, Refresh and City Centre Chaplaincy are a part of it. Each individual within our church is a part of it: in our community, workplace and family. Perhaps, as we remember the coming of the Holy Spirit, forty days after Jesus ascended into heaven, we should sing with William Booth (founder of the Salvation Army), ‘We need another Pentecost, Send the fire today!’ Then we too can be fire-starters!

Let’s be on fire for the Lord!

Monday 6 June 2011

Being Single

It’s been nearly 23 years since I married my lovely wife, so I am a bit out of touch with being single. Last week, however, gave me a taste of what it can be like and how simple things can become difficult.

I was given leave – even encouraged by my wife and family (should I be worried?) – to take a few days break for some serious hill-walking. It’s something I used to do often, before family and other priorities intervened. So off I went to the Yorkshire Dales.

I have no problem with my own company, although I’m glad to strike up brief conversations with other walkers during the day. However, it was not the walking that was the problem. It was the evenings.

On the first evening, I queued in a very busy pub to place an order for food. Having reached the front of the queue, I was ready to order when confronted with a problem by the barman. ‘What’s your table number?’ ‘I don’t have one’, I replied. ‘I need a table number to place your order?’ he said. ‘How can I save a table when I’m on my own and have to queue?’ I asked. And so the conversation went on. Eventually, we reached a compromise. I left my place at the front of the queue, got the number of the last vacant table (outside) and he allowed me back to the front to place my order. Fairly soon, a rather modest portion for the price arrived at my table.

I decided to try the other pub in the village for my dessert. ‘What’s your table number?’ asked the barmaid. ‘Oh, no, here we go again,’ I thought. We agreed on a table number, and eventually my sticky toffee pudding arrived.

The next evening, I tried another village pub. No problem with the ordering this time but, boy, was it boring waiting the half hour on my own for the food to turn up!

I know that many people are very content with being single. My experiences reminded me, though, that simple things like eating out alone can become difficult.

Is there too much of an assumption in our society that people live in couples or families? Should we be more actively inclusive of single people and their needs?