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.