Tuesday 6 November 2012

Popes, archbishops and blindfold boys

We continue to await the appointment of the next Archbishop of Canterbury.  Meanwhile, a blindfold boy has chosen the next Pope of the Coptic Church in Egypt from three candidates.  Is there a lesson to be learnt here?

As an interested observer of the Anglican Communion and a friend of many within it, I cannot help thinking that the selection procedure is all about power-play and politics.  Liberal Anglicans want an archbishop, who will see through reforms, which they had hoped would come from the present incumbent.  Conservatives desire one who will resist the tide of tolerance towards what they see as unbiblical practices.  If it were just about the Church of England, a decision might be more easily reached.  But we must also factor in the worldwide Anglican Communion, where even more entrenched positions seem to be taken.  Who is the diplomat who could hold all of these things together?  Deadlock!

It got me thinking.  What if the choice were whittled down to a final three candidates?  Each candidate would have different gifts, skill and points of view, and each would be able to make a valuable contribution to the life of the Church.  That would be the human part of the process.  A blindfold child makes the final choice from the three.  That could be the divine part – the place where the Church entrusts the outcome to luck/chance/God (delete as appropriate). It has its advantages.  No jockeying for position from the final three, no canvassing of votes from their supporters, no accusations of the wrong choice being made.  It might lead to more fervent prayer from all parties that God’s will be done.  That would be a good thing!

That’s the Archbishop sorted – what about the US Presidential election?

Wednesday 12 September 2012

Sharing the Peace

At a recent Eucharist that I attended at Peterborough Cathedral, we arrived at that point in the service that some Baptists call ‘clammy handshake time’.  Yes, it was the Sharing of the Peace!

I was struck by contrasting examples of the way in which peace was shared with me.  As I was circulating and shaking hands, one woman put her hand in mine but was already looking towards the next person as she shook it and declared, ‘The peace of the Lord be with you.’  No eye contact was made.  No smile was given.  It seemed to me that peace was shared in word only.  Contrast that with another person, who knew me and approached me specifically to wish me well as my family and I prepared to move to Newbury, and to share God’s peace with me.  This time the action matched the words.

It got me thinking about the Sharing of the Peace.   Why do we do it?  Where does it come from?  I have to admit that it’s not usually a big part of my Baptist tradition, although I will occasionally encourage people to share the peace in the Eucharist, or Lord’s Supper as we tend to call it.

A quick bit of research pointed me back to the Didache, an early handbook for the Christian Church.  This in turn points back to Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount, confirming their use in the early Christians’ practice of Communion:

‘[Therefore], if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something again you, leave your gift there in front of the altar.  First, go and be reconciled to your brother or sister; then come and offer your gift.’  (Matthew 5:23-24, NIV).

So, sharing the peace is about being reconciled with your brothers and sisters in Christ.  That makes sense! 

Happily, I don’t seem to fall out with a companion believer too often and then have to leave my gift at the altar to go and be reconciled.  I suspect this is true of most Christians (or am I just being naïve here?).  Why, then, share the peace at all?  Perhaps there is a principle at stake here, which allows us to enter into the practice of reconciliation when we need to?  Sharing the peace reminds us that humanity is fallen, and that the Church is a part of that, and individual believers are a part of that.  It reminds us that we all need to be reconciled to Christ.  It is not just a way of saying ‘hallo’ to one another, but rather a sharing of the peace that comes to the world through Christ alone.  When we share the peace, we are preparing ourselves and one another to take the bread and wine which reminds that Christ reconciled the world to himself by the Cross!

With all of that in mind, I might encourage my congregation to share the peace more often!

What are your thoughts on, and experience of, sharing the peace?

Tuesday 26 June 2012

What have I done?

This is my final article for the Church Magazine (July/August 2012)

As I write my last magazine article after eight years as pastor of Park Road, there are three questions that come to mind.

The first question is, ‘What have I done?’  Why am I taking myself and my family from a place where we are settled to a place where we will have to begin again?  Why am I causing my wife to leave a job that she enjoys, and my children to leave a school with which they are content?  For all of us, why are we leaving behind friends and starting again with, well, strangers?  The answer is ‘God’!  We believe that God has called us to go to Newbury, and that he is calling us from Newbury to serve in the Baptist church there.  God is the reason we are going, and in faith we are seeking to follow him.

Of course, that question can be taken another way: ‘What have I done in eight years of ministry in Peterborough?’  I prefer to tackle that with a second question: ‘What have we done?’  Ministry is something that we as a church of God’s people are called to do together.  I happen to have had the privilege of being paid for it, and of serving you as your pastor!  As I look back on eight years of our ministry in the city, these are some of the things (in no particular order) for which I believe we can give thanks:
·      Alpha Courses.  The first course that we did after my arrival was the best in which I have had the privilege of being involved.  Some of you were on that course – you might remember.  God was so clearly at work!
·      Baptisms.  These are always a high point for any Baptist minister and church.  From age 12 to 85, we have had the blessing of people being baptized and setting out on the journey as disciples of Jesus!
·      Church Members’ meetings – no, really!  My first church did not really have a strong sense of identity as a Baptist church.  You have shown me more of what it means to seek the mind of Christ together as a church.  Of course, I still get frustrated with them at times, but don’t we all?!
·      Inspirations Studio.  Linked to the last heading, the series of three church members’ meetings through which we explored and affirmed the vision of Inspirations Studio were inspirational!  And it’s been great to see the work developing under the guidance of our church member and project manager, Stuart Mathers.
·      Mentoring.  For a couple of years or so, Stuart, Mark Tiddy, Joel Mercer and myself met about once a month to explore different aspects of church leadership.  See above and below for updates on Stuart and Mark!  We can give thanks too for the opportunity to support Joel as he has explored a calling to Baptist ministry.  Watch this space for where he will be in September!
·      Café Kindness.  This is such a simple idea – opening up the front of the church and offering free coffee and cake – and yet it has probably put us in contact with more people than anything else we have done.
·      CaféChurch.  This was a great experiment in a different way of doing church.  Although we brought it to an end after a year, it was good to have the experience.
·      Mark Tiddy.  A few months into my time here, we applied to receive a church-worker from Careforce for one year.  We got Mark Tiddy and we ended up having him for four years!  He was a great blessing to us and especially to our young people.  We can be proud (for God!) of our part in training Mark for full-time Christian youth ministry.
·      BMS, Street Pastors and Interim ministry.  A blessing of being set aside as a paid minister is that I can work on your behalf in areas for which you might not have the time.  I’m thankful for the opportunity to serve as a trustee of BMS World Mission, in helping to set up Peterborough Street Pastors and as interim minister/moderator of Open Door Baptist Church (Harris Street). 
·      BMS, again!  We can be thankful to God for the faithful service of Pat Woolhouse over many years in Kimpese, DR Congo.  Three of us have had the opportunity to visit Pat there, and to see the impact that her work with others has made for God.  Now we can pray for Fiona Macdonald as she prepares to pick up the baton as a member of the forthcoming Peru Action Team.
·      Churches Together in Central Peterborough.  Looking back, I believe that the Lord brought together a group of like-minded clergy at just the right time.  We had a desire and a will to build upon the ecumenical links that already existed.  It was a very moving occasion when we came together in January 2009 to become CTiCP.  Fruit is growing from our relationship: Love came down at Christmas, City Centre chaplaincy, Inspirations, Children’s Fun Days etc.
·      Small groups.  Back in 2004, we had a couple of small groups but most of our members were not in a small groups.  Today, we have ten small groups and with many more involved, they are at the heart of our church.
·      Baptisms, again!  At the time of writing, it looks like we will have two baptisms on 15th July.  Maybe, there will be more?  God is still at work!

Of course, there are many more things for which to give thanks, but this article is beginning to gush like an Oscar acceptance speech, so I’ll leave it there!

The third question is, ‘What has God done?’  For the answer to that, see above!  ‘…for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose’ (Philippians 3:13).

Wendy and I and our girls will go from this place with sadness because of the friends we leave behind, and with gladness at all that we have been able to do together.  We go, too, with excitement at all that God will continue to do in Peterborough and Newbury.

Please pray for us, as we will pray for you.  We will welcome visitors from Peterborough, once we get settled into our new abode.

Thank you so much for sharing the journey of faith with us.  It’s been great! Praise God!

Wednesday 13 June 2012

Faith on the Golf Course

As members of my church know, I aspire to play golf!  Often, I arrive at my golf club on my own and end up playing with someone that I meet on the first tee.  The game progresses and eventually, usually on the sixth hole, my opponent asks me what I do for a living.  ‘I’m a Baptist minister,’ I reply.  There’s a silence, as they think, ‘What have I said?  How much have I sworn?’  As if we clergy haven’t heard it all before!  Or used it …..?

Last Saturday, it happened again – although, this time not until the sixteenth hole!  My opponent asked the question, I answered.  He apologized, ‘Oh, sorry about the language!’  Well, what does one say?  You can take offence, but that doesn’t really help.  You can ignore it, but that doesn’t respond to the apology.  I said, ‘That’s OK.  I can cope with the swearing – nearly everyone does it.  What I don’t like is when people say ‘Christ!’ all the time as a swear-word.’  He didn’t really respond, but I hope it gave him something to think about.  Clearly, he was not put out as he sent me polite e-mail later in the day, thanking me for the game.

It made me think, too.  When is it right to overlook people’s behaviour and language, though it may not be our own way, and when is it right to speak out?  It reminds me of the words of 1 Peter 3:15:

‘In your hearts, revere Christ as Lord.  Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.  But do this with gentleness and respect…’

Friday 11 May 2012

Where Jesus touched the earth

It's easy to get a bit cynical about pilgrimage sites in the Holy Land.  Everywhere you go, there seems to be a church built on a location where Jesus and/or his disciples said or did something.  Dominus Flevit, where Jesus wept over Jerusalem; the Church of All Nations at Gethsemane, over the rock where Jesus agonised over the coming cross; the Church of St Peter in Gallicantu, where Peter denied Christ; the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built upon the place where Jesus was crucified and buried and from where he rose from death.  You get the impression that if Jesus was known to have sat down or sneezed somewhere, a church would have been built!

None of the sites are necessarily proven.  What we can say is that there is a long tradition associated with them, and that the building of churches in these places has prevented them from being 'lost' to the pilgrim. If you like the idea of 'sacred space', you will certainly find a sense of holiness arising as you add your prayers to those of many generations of pilgrims before you.  And the journey from one place to another, for example on the Via Dolorosa (Way of Suffering, or Way of the Cross), helps to evoke the memory of events from 2000 years ago.  Nonetheless, some struggle with the 'churchification' and commercialisation of Christ.

How are we to find Jesus in all of this?  The following poem by Steve Turner puts it well:

'Where Jesus touched the earth'
I went to see where Jesus
Church of All Nations
Once touched the earth
but the Church
Had got there before me
And obscured his footprints
With arches, buttresses,
Gold and incense.

I went to see where Jesus
Once touched the earth.
I couldn't see for
Concrete and collection boxes,
For postcards and guide books.

So I looked further down.
I looked to the ground.
But the ground was thirty feet
Higher than back in AD3.
This is not where Jesus walked.

I looked down, down to my feet,
My legs, my arms, chest.
I looked down to where Jesus
Touches the earth.

Thursday 10 May 2012

Break down the Walls - a reflection from the Holy Land

This blog was meant to be posted on Wednesday 2nd May 2012, whilst I was in the Holy Land.  However, technical difficulties prevented me, so here it is now.

Today has been a challenging day.  We began with a visit to Bethlehem, stopping en route to look at graffiti on the Separation Wall in a Palestinian Refugee Camp. These days, it has more of a permanent feel than the word ' camp' implies, for since 1948 Palestinians have been yearning to return to the land of which they were dispossessed.  Pictures of their various villages adorn the panels of the wall, keeping alive the memory of their homes. Slogans such as the one depicted in this photo express anguish: 'We can't live, therefore we are waiting for death.'

In the afternoon, we visited Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial museum. Here is kept alive the memory of the six million Jews who died at the hands of Nazi Germany. There were harrowing videos of Adolf Hitler stirring up nationalistic fervour, and of Jews sharing the tragic stories of family loved and lost. One part of the display leapt out at me.  In wartime Warsaw, the Jews were herded into a ghetto, contained by a wall.  It was a life of overcrowding, and deprived of the gift of freedom.

To me, there seems to be a supreme irony here.  The Jews, for whom today's state of Israel is a spiritual and political homeland, were contained by a wall.  Today's Israel is containing Palestinians behind a wall and depriving them of basic freedoms.  They seem to have come full circle.  Meanwhile, the Western Wall stands as a symbol of the division between Jew and Muslim, Israeli and Palestinian.

In between those two experiences, we visited the Church of the Holy Nativity in Bethlehem, and the assumed birthplace of Jesus.  It seems simple and simplistic to say it, but in him lies the answer.  Human history demonstrates that building walls to separate communities has never worked, though it may have calmed things down for a time.  The examples of Berlin and Northern Ireland spring to mind.  Paul, in Colossians 2:14' reminds us that Christ Jesus 'is our peace, who has made the two one (I.e. Jew and Gentile) and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility....'. You can read that verse in context for yourself, but basically it is saying that we are all brought into God's household through Christ.

If Christians are to imitate Christ, then I am convinced we must work to break down walls wherever we find them.  How that is to happen in Israel, God only knows, but history shows that it is possible.

Strangely, as I began to write this blog, a song called 'Break down the Walls' began to play on my iPad.  'Break down the walls that I have built keeping you distant' goes the song. 'Break down the walls around my heart, make me real.' Poignant words at the end of a day in which I have wept inside for those who lack the freedom that I take for granted.  Perhaps God is reminding me not to judge others, before I have examined my own heart?

Wednesday 25 April 2012

What a load of old rubbish!

This is a copy of my church magazine article for May 2012

What a load of old rubbish!

I’m hoping that these are not the words after one of my sermons!  However, they are my words I and my family prepare to move in the summer.  After eight years in the same home, we have accumulated quite a lot of stuff.  We are trying to make decisions about what we know longer need, and what there will be little point in taking with us when we go.  To be honest, there are a couple of boxes that came with us when we moved to the city that we haven’t got around to opening yet!  Do we really have to keep what was inside?

So we are trying to get rid of the rubbish, and I am expecting to make quite a number of trips to the tip!  What is worth saving will be sold or given away. 

All of this gets me thinking.  How often do we hang on to rubbish in our lives?  How long do we harbour a grudge long after God has forgiven?  How much do we cling on unhelpfully to sin that should have been dealt with?  In 1 Corinthians 6, the apostle Paul talks about Christians who were taken legal action against one another, such were the things of which they could not let go.  He has stern but loving words for them:

‘Don't you realize that this is not the way to live? Unjust people who don't care about God will not be joining in his kingdom. Those who use and abuse each other, use and abuse sex, use and abuse the earth and everything in it, don't qualify as citizens in God's kingdom. A number of you know from experience what I'm talking about, for not so long ago you were on that list. Since then, you've been cleaned up and given a fresh start by Jesus, our Master, our Messiah, and by our God present in us, the Spirit.’  (1 Cor 6:9-11, The Message)

We need to remember the sinful lives from which we have come, but without going back.  We need to realize the grace-filled lives to which God calls us and welcomes us.  From time to time, the rubbish can begin to accumulate again.  Perhaps we need a spiritual spring-clean, getting rid of what is unhelpful and developing what is good?  The ways to do this are time-honoured, but bear repeating:
  • ·      Examine your life for signs of sin.  If you are brave, ask a trusted friend if there is any aspect of your character where unhelpful words and behaviour is creeping in.
  • ·      Confess to God and seek his renewed forgiveness.  Get rid of the rubbish!
  • ·      Ask God to fill you afresh with his Spirit – the Spirit of Jesus.
  • ·      Keep filling your mind with helpful things – ‘whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable’ (Phil 4:8-9).  The Bible is the best place to find these things, so keep reading it!
  • ·      Keep fellowship with your church, so that you can encourage others and be encouraged, in our walk with God.

Will you take time out today to deal with the rubbish?

Wednesday 21 March 2012

Celebrating the SonRise

This is a copy of my church magazine article for April 2012

What does Easter mean to you?

Does it mean Easter eggs and bunnies? Does it mean daffodils and tulips? Does it mean a long weekend off work? Does it mean the end of one school term and the beginning of the next?

For me, it has meant all of those things, although these days the long weekend is not one that I take off work! Yet the most important aspect of Easter for me is the SonRise!

In my childhood years, I used to go with my parents and my sister to the early morning Sunrise service that took place at Ness Point, Lowestoft. It’s not a scenic landmark, but it is Britain’s most easterly point. In 1999, Lowestoft Town Council put a lot of effort into advertising the town as the first place in the country on which the new millennium would dawn – until someone pointed out that due to the curvature of the earth, the sun would rise first over Dover! That’s probably still true in March and April. Even so, there was something special about gathering with other Christians on Easter Sunday, and celebrating the SonRise whilst seeing the sunrise!

After the darkness of Jesus’ crucifixion, and the seeming finality of his burial, the gospels tell us that some women went to anoint his body with spices, early on the Sunday morning. It was just after sunrise, and as they journeyed to the tomb, they wondered who would roll away the stone in front of it to allow them to perform this final act of service for Jesus. They had thought that this man might be the Son of God, but now he was dead. They reckoned without the power of God, who made the SonRise! Two angelic figures said to them, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here: he has risen!’

Jesus, the Son, has risen! He is still the Risen Lord! He has conquered death! Because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we can know life. The SonRise gives me confidence that all of the darkness of my life, and the pain of the world, will one day be overcome. I hope it gives you that confidence, too!

The Lord is risen. He is risen indeed. Hallelujah!

Sunday 18 March 2012

Accepting God's Call

This is the text of what I shared with my church, as I had the emotional task of telling them that I and my family are moving on.

We are called to accept one another as Christ accepted us. Sometimes, we are called to accept one another’s decisions.

As Christians, I think that we should be constantly asking the Lord if we are walking in his will, and serving in the place that he wants us to be. Last year, I spent much time in prayer and through retreat days, asking God if here at Park Road was where he wanted me to be. To be honest, I really didn’t know what he was saying, but whatever it was, I wanted to be obedient. With that in mind, I decided to talk to some other churches to see what God would say, seeking either a renewed call to be minister at Park Road or a new call to serve elsewhere. One door in particular kept opening wider: through a meeting with a pastoral search team, and a meeting with deacons, and a visit to preach and meet the church, and then, last weekend, an invitation to preach with a view. After a special church members’ meeting last Thursday, that has culminated with a clear and decisive call to be minister and team leader at Newbury Baptist Church. So, in the summer, the Edworthy family will be leaving Peterborough to go to pastures new.

We love this church, and since you are the church, that means we love you. We have shared with you through life’s joys and sorrows and, thankfully, the joys have come out on top. We can think of many reasons not to leave Peterborough: among them, the exciting things that are happening here, our friendships here, our children’s education, Wendy’s job. One thing outweighs all of those things, and will always outweigh them – that is … God’s will. We believe that God is calling us to Newbury and from Newbury, because He is already there! I recognize the implications of our departure from here, but I know that God has his plans for this church and this city.

Discerning God’s will is not always easy, and Wendy and I have agonized through this process of what God has and hasn’t being saying to us. However, a friend reminded me that living in God’s will is the best place to be. I feel completely at peace about accepting the call to Newbury, and believe this to be God’s will. We ask your prayers for us as a family as we plan to move, and your prayers for Newbury Baptist Church as with them we enter into a new sphere of ministry. We shall continue to pray for you, not least as we have four more months of ministry to share, and as the future unfolds.

With love in our Lord Jesus Christ.

18th March 2012

Wednesday 7 March 2012

Easter Cross

Here is the painting 'Easter Cross' mentioned in my last blog. It's a bit bigger in real life!

On being an art critic!

I can't really tell one end of a paintbrush from another, but I am feeling quite arty at the moment!

Firstly, the local Street Pastors' management committee, which I chair, has been involved in an art project over the past 12 months or so. We had to choose from several different proposals and went for the one that we felt would give us the best publicity. That choice was for Grennan and Sperandio, artists who work on opposite sides of the Atlantic, but who collaborate together. Simon Grennan went out with local street pastors on a number of occasions, taking photographs and asking questions, before retreating to the studio (or more likely these days, his computer) to develop the project. And so, a comic strip series was born to be published in our local Evening Telegraph on 15 consecutive Fridays. The cost to us has been nothing, except a little time, and we hope that our profile will be raised in both financial and recruitment terms. The first in the series is above. I think it's rather good! There is more to come, and perhaps I'll post them - watch this space!

Then, today, I spoke at the Cathedral on the theme of 'The Glory of the Cross.' The Wednesday at One series for the season of Lent is based upon an exhibition of paintings entitled 'Rejoicing in the Cross. My given painting was 'Easter Cross' by Karola Onken. I can't manage to get it posted next to this text, so please see it in the next blog!

Two very different pieces of work, but both with a story to tell!

Thursday 23 February 2012

In like a lion, out like a lamb!

This is a copy of my church magazine article for March 2012

Popular wisdom says that ‘March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb.’

Of course, that proverb refers to the weather, and I guess it’s true that the month often begins with gales roaring in, and ends much more gently.

It got me thinking about the lion and the lamb. We know that the lion is pretty much at the top of the food chain, and the lamb would be fair game! When the boy David went to King Saul and offered to fight Goliath, he told the king of his qualifications for the job: ‘Your servant has been keeping his father's sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it’ (1 Samuel 17:34-35). It confirms what we know: left to their own devices, lions will kill and eat lambs! It points to a reality in our world: that the powerful tend to take advantage of the vulnerable, the rich becoming richer and the poor, poorer.

Yet the Bible points us to a different vision of how things one day will be! The prophet Isaiah speaks the word of the Lord: ‘Behold I will create new heavens and a new earth’ (Isaiah 65:17). As the chapter unfolds, we find that this re-creation involves fruitful and peaceful lives for all, and that lamb and wolf will lie down together, whilst the lion will eat straw like the ox. What we call the natural order of things will be overturned! One day!

I think that God calls us towards that vision now. He calls us to reduce the disparity and bridge the gap. One organization seeking to do that in Peterborough is ‘Hope into Action’. Their director, Ed Walker, will be sharing with us on 11th March about how they are providing homes for ex-offenders and homeless people. We will find out how we can be a part of that. Another organization is our own Inspirations Studio, seeking to provide opportunities and support for young people in the city of Peterborough. Stuart Mathers would be glad to receive your offer of help with that.

What more of the lion and the lamb? Revelation 5 brings the two together. The risen Christ is both Lion and Lamb. He is fierce and gentle. He overcomes the disparities that exist in the world by his atoning sacrifice. He is God’s chosen instrument of re-creation.

Perhaps lion and lamb, fierce and gentle, is what we should be in serving God in His world? We should be confronting injustice and inequality, but doing it tenderly and with love!

Be fierce and gentle for Christ!

Thursday 9 February 2012

Spirit Break Out (Part Two)

A couple of good points from my visit to last week's 'Spirit Break Out' event:

  1. Tim Hughes reminded us that we should aim to shape culture rather than be shaped by it. I agree!
  2. Tim suggested that we are a generation with more ways to communicate than any before us, yet we have less to say. Again, I agree! Perhaps it is a case of the medium not only obscuring the message, but replacing it too? Beware, Christians, the danger of being so shaped by our culture of communication that we obscure the Living Word who has communicated himself to us!

Friday 3 February 2012

Spirit Break Out!

Last evening, I went to the latest leg of the Spirit Break Out tour. The tour emanates from Worship Central, which has close connections with Holy Trinity Church, Brompton, the home of the Alpha Course. The evening was led by Tim Hughes (writer of such songs as ‘Light of the world’ and ‘The greatest day in history’), assisted by three other solo singers and the usual array of musicians.

It was a good evening, attended by 1000 or so people and yet I felt curiously detached from it. Before you ask: yes, I was there to enjoy worshipping God; yes, there almost certainly is unconfessed sin in my life (isn’t there with all of us?), but none I could call to mind! So I was there without any particular baggage.

In fact, I spent much of the evening comparing the experience with my last visit to see U2 in concert in August 2009! I decided that I was more aware of God’s presence there than at yesterday’s concert. Lyrics such as ‘I was born, I was born to be with you’ (Magnificent), and ‘You heard me in my tune, when I just heard confusion’ (All because of you) spoke to me more than those of Tim Hughes et al. I was more caught up in worship (or emotion?) with 50000 other U2 fans than with the 1000 worshippers. At the U2 concert, perhaps 5% of the crowd had a Christian faith. Last might, one assumes it would have been at least 95%.

So why did the U2 concert allow me to worship more freely? In no particular order:

  • AtU2, I knew the songs – pretty much word for word! Last night, I knew perhaps half of the songs. My own church is not exactly on the cusp of the latest worship songs, but we do use some newer ones! However, I think churches often over-estimate the ability of a congregation to learn new songs. I usually work on the rule of no more than one per service, if that.
  • U2 did not have to pretend that it was a rock concert! They, and we, knew that it was. ‘Spirit Break Out’ tried to take on the attributes of a rock concert, with light show, dry ice and seven lampstands (I wondered if there was going to be any significance in that?). For me, there was a sense of hype being generated so that the Spirit would come!
  • U2’s lyrics are more nuanced and thought-provoking e.g. ‘Yahweh, Yahweh, always pain before a child is born’. Today’s writers of Christian songs tend to fall into religious cliché, and even to reclaim clichéd lyrics of the past. There is nothing necessarily wrong with that – we are comforted by the familiar, and our beliefs are reinforced – but there is often no sense of anything new in today’s worship songs.
  • The U2 concert was more evangelistic, though I doubt it set out to be so! Like ‘Spirit Break Out’, it was there for the fans. Unlike ‘Spirit Break Out’, many of those fans were ‘unconverted’ to Christ. They came with many questions about life, where Christians tend to come with many answers. Yes, I believe that Christ is the answer! Yet I believe that we must all be allowed space to ask our questions and express our doubts about life, the universe and everything! Maybe a U2 concert is a more effective place for that?

I can’t deny that most at last night’s concert were engaging with God in worship. I’m just thinking that worship is so much more than we sometimes make it.

Tuesday 31 January 2012

Keep on running!

This is a copy of my February church magazine article

Last month I spoke about our motto for 2012, and I want to return to it again this month:

‘I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus.’ (Philippians 3:14).

As I said last month, the apostle Paul is picturing an athlete in a race, always looking ahead to the finish line and straining every muscle and sinew to reach it. There is one problem that I find with this verse, which is that it can be read in a very individualistic way. ‘”I” press on to win the prize……’, as if only one person can win and it is each for themselves.

I don’t think that Paul intends it that way. He is encouraging the church at Philippi with his own example. Then he says to them, ‘Join with others in following my example, brothers and sisters …’ (v17). Perhaps he had in mind the Ancient Olympic Games of his day, which he would have known about and may well have encountered as he went on his missionary journeys. Like our modern Olympics, the crowds would gather to cheer on the athletes and inspire them to greater endeavour. I suspect that Paul would say to us, ‘Don’t just be a part of the crowd, watching others, but join in!’

Perhaps the race that best fits the description of our church motto is today’s marathon. I thought that the marathon was an ancient race revived for the modern Olympics. It turns out that it wasn’t, although it does have its origin in ancient Greek history. A Greek messenger named Pheidippides, was sent from the battlefield of Marathon to Athens to announce that the Persians had been defeated. Legend says that he ran the entire distance (roughly 26 miles) without stopping and burst into the assembly exclaiming ‘We have won’ before collapsing and dying! The end of our lives may not be so dramatic, but we can know that we have won the prize before we die. It can be so because God in Christ has already won the victory over sin and death. When we believe in him we achieve the promise of the prize. I believe, however, that the Lord does not wish us merely to coast towards the finish line, but to press on through thick and thin, serving others and serving him.

Let’s encourage one another in this as we run the race together as God’s people!

Keep on running!

Monday 16 January 2012

Wandering Sheep

As the shepherd does not want to see his sheep wandering off to another fold, no pastor wants to lose members of his congregation to another church. There are exceptions but let’s not go there …..

How do pastor and church react, then, when wanderers come into their congregation? Of course, we will want to give a welcome and to make them feel at home. We may start lining them up for this or that job, five minutes after they have sat in our pews for the first time! We will invite them to come again. All of these things are good, excepting perhaps that we ought to wait longer than five minutes before putting them on the coffee rota or in charge of the youth work! But do we ask where they have come from and why? Or are we too scared that it might frighten them off?

I accept that it is right, sometimes, or that it is the least worst option, for individuals to move to another church in the locality. In both of the churches I have pastored, we have been blessed by newcomers transferring from other local congregations. We welcome them, and after a few weeks’ attendance I will visit them. Yet I always ask them if there is any unfinished business in the church they are leaving. I will also try and speak to the pastor there.

Recently, we had a couple visit our church who I recognized from a previous visit about six years ago. I even remembered the name of one of them, which I thought was pretty impressive! At that time, they had been thinking about leaving their church. They said that I said something to them then that they didn’t like at the time: ‘Is there any unfinished business?’ But they went away, returned to their church, and although they left it subsequently, they dealt with the unfinished business. And after six years, they came to see me and say ‘thank you’!

It reminds me that in our eagerness to welcome the newcomer, we should not neglect to challenge on their reasons for leaving their current spiritual home. Unresolved issues do no-one any favours. It seems to me, that if they are not dealt with, history has a habit of repeating itself in the next church. If they are dealt with, and the individuals still move on, I think there is every opportunity for both a happy ending and a new beginning in the knowledge that we all serve in the One Church of Christ.