Thursday 29 September 2011

Reflections on Refresher Conference

Well, that wasn't bad at all! The Ministry Refresher Conference, I mean.

I've now been in Baptist ministry for 15 years, and since the conference was around 10 years ago, this was my second such event. Five years ago, things seemed a bit dry and formal. This time, the Holy Spirit seemed to get more of a look in. Either I've changed, or the conference has, or more likely both!

So, what happened? Here's the brief summary:
  • Jeannie Kendall, one of the ministers at Carshalton Beeches Free Church (where, by coincidence, my Grandad ministered for around 29 years, and my mum grew up), shared movingly from her experience of pastoral ministry.
  • Paul Goodliff gave two masterful bible studies using paintings from Piero della Francesca and Caravaggio. I am a complete Philistine when it comes to art, but was entranced by the explanations and meanings of the pictures.
  • David Coffey gave a fascinating account of 'Listening to the Voices of the World Church'.
  • Jonathan Edwards preached as passionately as ever during our closing communion service.
  • And yes, the class of '93-96 (ie my year at college) managed to find time to share and pray together.
Baptist ministers among my readers will know the names above. To the rest, I point out that it was not the retired triple-jumper preaching at our communion service (now that would have been a turn-up for the books!).

Monday 26 September 2011

Ministry Refresher Conference

Later today, I will be heading off to the Hayes at Swanwick, for a five-yearly Refresher Conference. This is an event put on by the Baptist Union of Great Britain to - well, yes - refresh and encourage Baptist ministers in their journey.

Will the conference achieve its objective? I'll let you know when I return. As ever with these things, I expect that the most useful bits will be catching up with friends in the bar, and playing golf with one of them during the free time on Tuesday afternoon.

Five years ago, I found the most moving part of the conference to be praying with my contemporaries from college. There were seven of us in my year (after one dropped out at the end of the first year). Unusually, all of us were still ministering in Baptist churches then, and all of us still are. We must have done something right!

Saturday 24 September 2011

Long live the Book!

Once again, Jonathan Sacks has given me pause for thought (see Jonathan Sacks and the Bible). This time, it is through quoting Caitlin Moran in today's Times. In a Times Magazine article dated 13 August 2011, she wrote about libraries:
'Libraries are cathedrals of the mind; hospitals of the soul; theme parks of the imagination.'

I must confess that I missed Moran's original article, but what a beautiful turn of phrase. My thoughts turn to that most mobile of libraries, apart from the Kindle: the Bible. Sixty-six books of history, law, prophecy, poetry, wisdom, biography, story, letter-writing and gospel. Does Moran's quote work if you substitute 'bibles' for 'cathedrals of the mind'? I think it does!

  • The Bible is a cathedral of the mind. As we read it, it expands our horizons. We can be lifted in praise and worship through its pages, 'to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple' (Psalm 27:4). We can be challenged to examine our own preconceptions and to ask whether God is saying something else?
  • The Bible is a hospital of the soul. Many are the times when the reading of it has reassured believers in their doubt, and soothed the hearts of seekers. The Bible reveals the living God who brings forgiveness and healing to those that seek.
  • The Bible is a theme park of the imagination. I love this idea! So often, Christians use the Bible as a book of rules, and drily quote chapter and verse from its pages. That seems to reduce it to the level of mere printed text. Surely, a book such as Revelation was given not so much as predictive prophecy, but more to stimulate the imagination as to how the world (and the new heaven and new earth) might be when lived in the knowledge of the presence of the Risen Christ?
I can see this blog entry becoming a sermon, or even a series, in my own church. For now, I'll close with another quote, this time from Isaac Bashevis Singer, also used today by Sacks:

'God is a writer and we are his co-authors.'

May God write us all into his book, and may we write with him!

Friday 23 September 2011

Top Ten Tips for Welcome

At my church, we are participating in the 'Big Welcome' next Sunday, 25th September. It's a special opportunity to invite along friends and family who would not normally go to church. It also provides a reason to evaluate how good our welcome is to those who visit us.

The Top Ten Tips for Welcome have been circulated to Baptist churches via a six minute video, which you can watch here. Below is a summary of the tips:

  1. Don't let people struggle to find you
  2. Make sure what you offer is relevant
  3. Know why you go to church
  4. Know that hospitality is your duty
  5. Know how well your church is doing
  6. Don't accept 2nd best - coach and train people to give a welcome
  7. Know what is expected of you
  8. Know the difference between 'greeting' and 'welcoming'
  9. Apply the 3-Minute rule. Talk to someone you don't know for at least three minutes, before you talk to those you already know.
  10. Decide what needs to be done.
It's all practical commonsense, but it's good to be reminded. Hopefully, we will get it right and give a big warm welcome!

Monday 19 September 2011

An Alternative Harvest?

This is a copy of my church magazine article for October

In Psalm 65, the writer says to God: ‘You care for the land and water it; you enrich it abundantly. The streams of God are filled with water to provide the people with corn, for so you have ordained it ….you crown the year with your bounty…’

This is the time of year in which traditionally, we thank God for the harvest. We bring offerings of produce from the land and display them in our church building. We sing traditional hymns such as ‘We plough the fields and scatter, the good seed on the land’. We make an offering to help bring a harvest in another part of the world.

I love to do all of these things, but I wonder if the time has come to ring the changes? Personally, I have never ploughed the fields nor scattered seed in them. I do not regularly work the land and what I have tried to grow in the garden has rarely come to much. The supermarket where I buy produce (OK, usually where my wife buys it!) seems remote from the fields that are celebrated at harvest time.

Of course, I know that God provides for us, but it is rarely through our own sowing and reaping of crops. We work in churches, schools, hospitals, factories, shops, offices and the like. It seems strange to bring an offering at harvest time of things that we did not produce. Perhaps we should bring an offering of something that symbolizes what we do, through which we gain an income and by which the Lord provides? So the office worker might bring a piece of office equipment, the shop worker might bring a shopping basket, the factory worker might bring a product made (if practical), the doctor might bring a stethoscope, the teacher might bring a lesson plan and, yes, the minister might even bring a sermon! The retired person and the unemployed might bring a symbol of the ways in which they are able to serve. The children might bring an example of something they like to do – a story or a painting, perhaps. We can bring these as a reminder of the gifts and jobs that God has given us, and be reminded that we are called to offer them and ourselves back to Him. We can remember that this is our produce that provides for us the things that we need.

God is so good to us, and provides for us all that we need! Of course, I think we should still bring offerings of fruit and vegetables as signs of his providence. It’s just that I think there is so much more that we could and should bring in thanksgiving to Him.

Saturday 17 September 2011

Sharing Fame with the Vicar of Dibley!

OK. So I’m not at woman! I’m 6”4 rather than 5” nothing. I’m not a vicar but a Baptist minister. But like Geraldine Granger, I am a media star!

Yes, reader, the whole of page 98 of the April edition of Today’s Golfer is devoted to me! Actually, I’ve only just found out it was in there, but the photo is the evidence. Back in January, I responded to an offer which came via my golf club to a golfing clinic at Today’s golfer, which just happens to be in the city where I live and about two minutes from my home. Basically, I got a free half-hour lesson, picked up some useful tips from an ‘elite’ golf coach, and was photographed for the magazine. As if that wasn’t enough, my media career has continued. Singing with Lesley Garrett in July, and recording some jingles for TalkSport with the Male Voice Choir in August.

I remember Geraldine becoming rather too full of herself after her radio career took off. That’s unlikely to happen to me – unless, of course, Songs of Praise comes calling!

Monday 12 September 2011

Fruit of the Spirit

I've just finished a sermon series in my church on the Fruit of the Spirit. You may well know that, 'the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law' (Galatians 5:22-23).

It never hurts to bribe a congregation with food, nor to give them an aid to memory, so each week I gave them a piece or more of fruit! I won't explain them all, but I wonder what you would have chosen for each characteristic of the fruit of the Spirit. Here are my choices:
  • Love - Strawberries
  • Joy - Mango
  • Peace - Olives
  • Patience - Oranges
  • Kindness - Apples (Granny Smith's because Granny's are kind!)
  • Goodness - Banana
  • Faithfulness - Blackberries
  • Gentleness - Peach
  • Self-Control - Fruit Salad (a final CafeStyle worship, with many temptations requiring self-control!)
So that is the fruit of the Spirit! Now, surely there is a reference in the Bible to chocolate that I can use?

Saturday 10 September 2011

Breakdown Cover

So, should I swallow my pride and renew my breakdown cover with Aviva (see 'Appalling Service from Aviva' )?

In the next year, I am likely to be taking my car to Europe on two occasions, and the fact is that their quote is seriously cheaper than AA/RAC/Green Flag and even than their own cover via my Aviva car insurance policy (curiously, it would cost another £50 that way!). Money is money! And surely, I think, the service cannot be as bad if I am unfortunate enough to break down again?

We Christians talk about God giving people second chances when they mess up, and I'm inclined to the do the same for Aviva Breakdown (which uses RAC). In fact, I believe God gives multiple second chances to those who are penitent. Having said that, I don't think I'll do the same for Aviva if they mess up again....

Wednesday 7 September 2011

Faith and Common Sense

I've been a bit quiet on the blogging front for the past few weeks. However, here's a brief quote I read and reflected upon during an early morning walk. It's from Oswald Chamber's 'My Utmost for His Highest' which happens to be a part of my iPhone Bible. The date was 30th August, and the verse was John 11:40 - 'Then Jesus said, "Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?"'

I'm not sure the verse totally fits the comment, but I found the latter very challenging.

  • ‘Common sense is not faith and faith is not common sense. In fact, they are as different as the natural life and the spiritual. Can you trust Jesus Christ where your common sense cannot trust Him? Can you venture out with courage on the words of Jesus Christ, while the realities of your commonsense life continue to shout “It’s all a lie”?’

It made me wonder how much we put first the commonsense considerations of career progress, family and security, when God may have a different plan? It still does.