Saturday, 18 December 2010

Christmas feels good!

Have a look at these two links; they are a little Christmas something to cheer you up.

Friday, 10 December 2010

Light of the world!

Last Saturday, we went to an excellent event in the Usher Hall - Light of the World run by Origin Scotland, featuring the Exile orchestra and singers and the children of St Peter's Primary School. The music was superb, the singing excellent. The children sang a fantastic song - 'the hippo song' - all about wanting a hippopotamus for Christmas! It was a real uplift to the soul to be there and celebrate Christmas early and well.

Dominic Smart, from Aberdeen, did the epilogue. He took the theme of Light of the World and helped us to think about light and darkness as the Bible understands these concepts, reminding us that the darkness is not only in the world around us but is also inside us; we are the darkness at times, by our faults and misdeeds.

From all of this, one simple thought. The light of the world is not a philosophical concept. The light of the world is not a code of behaviour. The light of the world is not a book to read. The light of the world is a person - Jesus Christ. Jesus is the Light of the world. He came to deal with the sin of the world and the sin inside us. Christmas is not about concepts; Christmas is about welcoming a person into the world.

Reflect on the words of the song we will sing on Sunday as our gathering song and sing it well when you come to Church:
Light of the world,
You step down into darkness.
Opened my eyes let me see.
Beauty that made this heart adore you
Hope of a life spent with you.

And here I am to worship,
Here I am to bow down,
Here I am to say that you're my God,
You're altogether lovely,
Altogether worthy,
Altogether wonderful to me.

King of all days,
Oh so highly exalted
Glorious in heaven above.
Humbly you came to the earth you created.
All for love's sake became poor.

Here I am to worship,
Here I am to bow down,
Here I am to say that you're my God,
You're altogether lovely,
Altogether worthy,
Altogether wonderful to me.

I'll never know how much it cost to see my sin upon that cross.
I'll never know how much it cost to see my sin upon that cross.

Here I am to worship,
Here I am to bow down,
Here I am to say that you're my God,
You're altogether lovely,
Altogether worthy,
Altogether wonderful to me.

Tim Hughes; ©2001 Thankyou Music; CCL Licence no 1287

Friday, 26 November 2010

The Samoan Circle

Let me tell you how I spent much of Thursday.

I had been invited to Carberry Tower by the Ministries Council of the Church of Scotland to be part of a group discussing the issue of same-sex relationships and the ministry. I had not a clue about what I was going to take part in, other than the banner for the meeting was A Place for Hope the Church's conflict resolution project.

There were about 30 of us there, all wondering why we had been invited. We were meant to represent a range of views and opinions on the issue and I suppose we did. I planned simply to listen. The day was facilitated by an American, David Brubecker, a man very skilled in his job of facilitation and resolution as we were to find out!

The Samoan Circle was 6 chairs forming an inner circle, a group within the group, as it were. Anyone who wanted to speak had to take one of the speaking chairs and the others were to listen. We were to answer a question about our opinions on this issue and then later a question about the future of the Church. I had no plan to speak.

However, in the afternoon I did speak. This is the gist of my contribution.

I have been in ministry for 28 years and in that time have grown well-used to being in a minority because of the views I hold. Until now, I have been able to live happily in that minority with no feeling of threat. This time it is different; this time, being in the minority feels being threatened! It feels, from where I sit, that those who appear to hold the majority view on this issue keep telling me what to do and what to believe and that the future of the church is down to me giving up my minority view. We are a broad Church, we are told and when I hear people say that, it is as if they are telling me I have to accommodate myself to them! My views are not about hating anyone, but are genuinely formed and sincerely held from my reading of the Bible. I tried to persuade the group that when we talk about the Church we need to be careful in how we speak: is it 'you' or is it 'we'? Is there a mutual responsibility for the Church or are you telling me what to do and what I should believe?

Having done this job for a while now, I hope I am still willing to listen to advice, but I also hope that those with whom I may disagree will treat me well and respect that there is a certain amount of experience and professional expertise behind the things I believe and the way in which I conduct my ministry. It is a delicate balance to hold.

The outcome of the Samoan Circle? A realisation that we all love the Church, but we still wait for the outcome of the General Assembly 2011.

Pray that we discern the will of God for His Church!

Friday, 5 November 2010

water, water everywhere!

As some of you know, I managed to knock a glass of water over my laptop, quite by accident during the Sunday@Seven service last week; the laptop was not only knocked out for the rest of the service, it has been permanently damaged beyond economic repair; I'm now in discussions with the insurance company about a replacement!

The same glass of water enables me to preach by quenching my thirst and lubricating my voice.

Last week, we heard that some parts of Poipet, Cambodia, were under water. Some of the villages we had visited in July were badly affected and Chomno sent us some photos and one is opposite. What looks like a river, is in fact a road; this is the road that leads to Safe Haven centre for rescued children. This flooding has had an impact on the local area: some rice fields have been ruined, meaning that some people will have no food next year and also no seed to plant in their fields next year; there is an increase in some water-borne diseases and some people suffering from HIV are made homeless.

This is the same water that the people of Poipet rely on to replenish their supplies; the wet season provides them with water to last all the way through the year till the next dry season because there is very little piped water and very few taps.
“Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” (John 7:37,38)
These words of Jesus mean two things according to Leon Morris:
1)"the thirsty soul will find supplied in Jesus that need which could not be supplied elsewhere"; faith refreshes and gives life.
2)"faith has its results. When the believer comes to Christ and drinks he not only slakes his thirst but receives such an abundant supply that veritable rivers flow from him... As he receives the gift of God, he passes it on to others... God uses him to be the means of bringing blessing to others."
Food for thought! (the next time it rains!!)

Friday, 29 October 2010

When will we learn?

I came across these 4 qualities of the Church, qualities which I suppose are really hopes and aspirations. When I read them again today, I'll sign up to a Church that is determined to have these 4 qualities at its heart.
•A Church restructured for mission - mission is so important for the future of the Church and the church of the future; when will we rediscover the notion of evangelism, simply telling our friends about Jesus? Will we shape the structures of the Church, the way we do things, with mission in mind?
•A Church recalled to worship - how important is worship? This puts God at the centre of Church life, where He should be! Church is not a business to be managed; Church is not a social group to rival the bowling club. Church is the people who belong to God, with God at our heart.
•A Church still being reformed - so many of our practices were born a long time ago; we say that we're always reforming, but in fact, we do things in the same way as we did them 30, 40, 50 years ago.
•A Church unafraid of change - we are afraid to take risks and change. I hope that by the time the Church in Scotland wakes up to the need for big changes, it is not too late! It may already be too late for some.

Where do these 4 qualities come from? A report to the General Assembly by a group called The Committee of Forty, in 1978!

It also says that: “the whole witness of the Bible points to a God who calls His people out & on from where they are, not knowing where they are to go, and the true image of the Church is the community of the future and not of the past.”

Thursday, 21 October 2010

The blog is back! The long view?

It's taken me longer than I thought, but the blog is back! It has a new look and will have a new way of making you think. There might not be so many longer pieces, but more short nuggets that I find on my way through ministry. I have also taken away the ability to comment on the blog.

The map background is not random; I love maps, always have done; I have a new book called Map Addict which is not about me, but... Maps show us how to get to places, how to travel. I wish that the Church had a real, detailed map for the future, for the next few years in particular, but it doesn't and we have to travel by faith, trusting that God knows what He is doing.

Here's today's thought: Lucy Moore is the author of two books about Messy Church. In the second volume, she discusses the question of discipleship at home and in families. One of her challenges for us is this: "Work for your children's grandchildren: we're in this, whatever form it changes into, for the long haul." (Messy Church 2 p.34)

Most church members have a good idea of what they want from their Church and what suits them. Can we develop this long view? What difference would it make to our attitudes? Many people are concerned that there will be no church for our children's grandchildren, but God is at work here! What work do we need to do now to pave the way?

Saturday, 26 June 2010

au revoir for now

This is the last posting on my blog till September. It will be back in the autumn with a new look and a new and more varied kind of input.

In particular, I am removing the ability to comment on the blog. This was meant as an opportunity for on-line discussion of the issues raised in the blog, but that has not happened in the way that I had wanted. Indeed, it has become the vehicle for some thinly-veiled personal criticism of me and my church and I will not provide the platform for that kind of attack. The cloak of anonymity has not helped.

I hope you have enjoyed at least some of what I have written and I hope you will enjoy it again.

Friday, 25 June 2010

the trip to Cambodia

2 weeks from now, nine people from the Church will be packing our bags ready to catch a flight to Bangkok at the beginning of our trip to Cambodia. We are going to meet up with our friends and partners at CHO, to see their work at first hand and to take part in it in some way or another. Nearly all of the arrangements are in place; in the Church service on Sunday, we will be prayed for by the congregation; the money that people have raised will 'go with us' electronically; we're set to go, with a mixture of excitement and apprehension.

You can learn more about CHO through the link on the Church website.

While we're away, you can follow our progress by our new blogsite on which we plan to post something every day that we're away.

Why are we going? 3 reasons:
1. we are partners in the gospel with CHO; they seek to serve Christ in their community and we seek to serve Christ in our community and we both do so because we know the love and grace of God for us in Jesus Christ. We are going to strengthen that partnership. So we will run a pastors' conference for 3 days, with 70 people coming to learn Ephesians.
2. the work which CHO does amongst the poorest people of the world is vitally important in the mind of God and we are looking to take part in that work, even in a very small way. So we will be making bricks, planting crops, teaching children.
3. justice for all is such a huge part of God's kingdom; by visiting Cambodia we can learn a little of what justice means and what justice looks like when Christians get to work to rescue people from violence and oppression.

Desmond Tutu: "Christians shouldn't just be pulling people out of the river. We should be going upstream to find out who's pushing them in." For a long time, we've given money to good causes and that has been a good thing to do; but we also have to learn about what causes people to be in need and change the world. If we can do that even a little, our 2 weeks in Cambodia will have been well worth while.

Friday, 11 June 2010

catalyst for change?

This morning I took part in a discussion about a service to support some candidates for ministry in the Church. Every year in June, the Presbytery of Edinburgh has held a service to allow the group of candidates completing their academic courses to say 'thank you' to those who have supported them - family, friends, home church, placement churches - and to ask people to pray for them as they move to work full-time in ministry through their probationary placements.

For a number of reasons, the previous practice of holding a service on a Sunday evening, seemed not to work this year. We have decided to change it and the same kind of service, which before had a small congregation, will now take place at the beginning of the next presbytery meeting, guaranteeing an audience of between 200 and 300. More people will be aware of our candidates and will pray for them. Seems to me a better option.

But what was the catalyst for change? We didn't decide to do it differently because we wanted to do it differently. We decided to do it differently because it appears that the previous practice wasn't working!

It happens all the time. The rules governing MP's expenses were changed, not because someone said 'let's change these rules' but because the consensus in the country was 'this is not working!' That became the catalyst for change.

There are a number of changes that we might make to the way we do things in our Church, but is that change for the sake of it? Or is it because something is not working? We need to be wise!

What changes do you think we need to make? What might be the catalyst for these changes?

Friday, 28 May 2010

the confident Christian?

I was at the Scottish launch of Biblefresh on Monday evening. The event took place in Carrubers Christian Centre on the High Street. 2011 is the 400th anniversary of the publication of the Authorised Version of the bible and a group of organisations including the Scottish Bible Society plan to make the most of that by reminding people of the value of Bible reading. Check it out at

One of the people speaking at the event was Elaine Storkey, a quite remarkable woman. She is the President of Tearfund and at present is involved in training evangelists for the Church Army in the Church of England. She gave a quite fascinating presentation on the culture that we live in and the culture, against which we are trying to present the gospel.

In the question time that followed, she was asked a question about how we can have a Christian influence in our society. She said: "begin where you are!" Then she proceeded to tell us something of her story. Elaine is a 'public Christian' (her words) and so she is invited to take part in radio and other public discussions about faith and culture and moral issues. She described some of these discussions with some very big name controversialists and simply said that she brings the Bible into these public discussions quite unashamedly. Her confidence is something to admire.

Then she said: "You can do the same where you are?" Gulp!

Be confident in your faith; don't be ashamed!

Friday, 14 May 2010

Sneezing the gospel!

Every winter, on TV there is a particularly disgusting advert that warns us about colds and other viruses. It shows someone on a bus, sneezing, and then how all of the virus germs fly about on the bus infecting all of the other passengers. "Sneeze into your hankie" is the message; don't spread your germs about; we don;'t want to pass on the virus.

Do you remember swine flu? Whatever happened to it? It was bad for the people who caught it and tragic for the families of people who died as a result of swine flu. We shake out heads now, knowingly, thinking that it was all such a fuss over very little, but like every virus it had the capacity to run riot through the population if conditions were right. Thankfully, that didn't happen, but that doesn't mean we will ignore it the next time it happens.

Ideas spread in something of the same way. I came across this notion in a book called Forgotten Ways by Alan Hirsch. He calls them ideaviruses - "a big idea that runs amok across the target audience". Ideas grow by people passing them on to other people. How many of you have Hotmail addresses? Why did you start using Hotmail? It was not because they ran lots of expensive advertising campaigns, but because the thought of free e-mail was an appealing idea to lots of people and your friends told you about it. So the number of people using Hotmail grew because the idea caught on.

See how this works: as a reward for his invention the inventor of the game of chess was offered one wish by the emperor of India. He wished for 1 kernel of rice on the first square of the chess board, to be squared for every section of the board; there are 64 squares. The king thought he had got off lightly and agreed. so there were 2 kernels on the second square, 4 of the third, 16 on the fourth and so on; by the time he got to square 64 he would have had to produce 153 billion tons of rice, 2 to the power of 63! How things grow.

Sneezing the gospel is about sharing an idea with people we know so that they come to understand it and believe it too. "If it is a particularly compelling idea, we pass it on to other people. In some way that is exactly the way we all got caught up in the gospel... an idea can become contagious!" (Hirsch)

Do you find the gospel compelling?
Do you wish that other people, your family or friends also found it compelling?
How can you pass on this compelling idea to 2 or 3 people you know in the next month?

This is the way in which churches mainly grow. Why do some churches have large numbers of students? Because one student tells another that the church they go to is great! Share the compelling idea of the gospel with someone and see what happens.

Friday, 7 May 2010

The present uncertainty!

How does David Dimbleby do it? I went to bed last night at 11.30pm and he was there on television introducing the election night coverage on BBC. I woke this morning and put it on again at 7am and there he was, still in his chair, still presiding over the election events. I've just been watching the BBC News Channel for the last 15 minutes on the web and there was David Dimbleby again, introducing David Cameron and Nick Robinson and all the other people around his huge table. I suspect, he won't be up early on Saturday morning!

One thing is clear: nothing is clear! we know the election results, but we still don't quite know what they mean for the country. Even what that becomes clear in the next few days, we still don't know what the next few months will hold for us. There are huge political and economic questions facing whoever forms the next government and while we know the questions, we may not be entirely sure what the answers will be, could be or should be.

There are other uncertainties that simply refuse to go away; three of them hang over our proposed trip to Cambodia in July. The unpronounceable volcano in Iceland continues to erupt and volcanic ash continues to, literally, hang over the prospect or air travel in and out of Scotland. Then, their cabin crew have again voted to reject an improved offer from BA and are threatening strike action once more; our tickets are with BA! Thirdly, there continues to be difficulties in Bangkok and we are flying there because it is the easiest way into Poipet, the city in Cambodia to which we are going.

The General Assembly meets in 2 weeks time. I got my Blue Book last week, the book of reports which forms the basis of the Assembly debates. There are some proposals for reform and change, but perhaps the most alarming piece is contained in the Ministries Council report when it describes the financial situation in which the Church will find itself over the next few years. Reserves are being eaten up at such a rate that they will run dry by 2017 if nothing is done. So the plan is to reduce the number of people in paid ministry posts over the next 4 years. At present, in Edinburgh there are 88 such posts; the plan is to reduce that number by 14. Which ministers will not be replaced? Will congregations die as a result? Where will these cuts take place? What will be the impact on the mission of God in the city?

Uncertainty creates one of two reactions:
some people find uncertainty enormously energising; they live on it; they fly by the seats of their pants all of the time and they love it. Uncertainty becomes the catalyst and opportunity for creative thinking, for new ideas and new ways of doing things. I don't see many people like that around, either politically or in Church, but there is a space for them now.
we find uncertainty paralysing. This would be the tortoise school of management, taking refuge in one's shell and hiding because the world is just too frightening. It's almost as if the problems don't exist and if we ignore them, they will go away and when we emerge in our new world, it will all be sorted and we'll have avoided the pain.

I feel as if we're going to have to bite the bullet and face up to change in ways that we never have before; I don't know what the future will hold for the Church or for the country; all I can do is walk into the future, trusting the God who sees me and who walks with me, the God who knows the end from the beginning and let Him work His purpose out in me, in Church, in the world.

Friday, 30 April 2010

Personality or statesmanship? Style or substance?

I went to the Election hustings on Wednesday night in our Church. It was a good event; there were between 350 and 400 people there, all to hear the seven candidates standing for election in Edinburgh South West. It was organised by the Juniper Green, Currie and Balerno Community Councils and held in the Church as the only venue big enough for that size of audience. Cliff Beevers was in the chair.

Each candidate was given the opportunity to make an opening and closing statement to persuade us that we should give them our vote and there were questions. Some of the questions were probing, some were too big for people to answer in one minute; some were capable of being answered in a number of different ways and allowed the candidates not to answer at all if they were so minded. Questions about immigration, Trident, the Scottish budget, pensions and energy prices, Afghanistan, climate change and the way we elect our government were all asked and answered by each candidate in turn. There was even some heckling from the floor.

To keep interested, I started giving people marks out of 3. (I got this from a friend of mine who used to do it for speakers at our Christian Union group, except that Peter gave marks for content, style, illustrations, humour etc.) My marking had nothing to do with the content of what the candidates said, but was merely a style mark. I won't tell you how they all scored; for some it would be embarrassing, but I was impressed by some and very unimpressed by others. I was impressed by some in some of their contributions, but not in other ways.

The personality vote had to go to Colin Fox, the Scottish Socialist Party candidate. Of all of them, he was the most relaxed and offered the most humour; I've little doubt that he will have won himself some votes after that performance.

On the other hand, the statesman vote has to go to Alistair Darling. He was composed throughout and his answers were very professionally given; nothing seemed to throw him off track, unlike some of the others.

Please don't think there are clues here to my voting intentions next Thursday - there may be, but there may not be!

Which is more important - style or substance? Personality or statesmanship? You have to decide on that for yourself.

So much of what we debate in Churches is about style, about the way we do things. There is a pressure to adopt a particular style of music and worship, or we complain about the style (or lack of it) of the minister's preaching, or the way someone goes about things. Often, churches fall out over the question of style and personality, when in fact substance matters far more!

it would be good to have both substance and style, so that we offer the words of eternal life in a really attractive way; now, how do we do that?

Friday, 16 April 2010

Better together!

This blog is the product of a number of events that have taken place this week and have caused me to reflect on the real nature of the Church. Two families have been bereaved this week, one with a lady of 76 who had lived life to the full, the other a 3-year old girl who was full of enthusiasm for life; watching the families react and the Church react to these situations is part of my reflection. In our Church Wednesday Bible Study we looked at Acts 18 and the ministry of Priscilla and Aquila, a couple who were Paul's friends and who worked alongside him, looking after him, helping others quietly.

We are Church who:
  • worship together
  • pray together
  • laugh together
  • cry together
  • learn together
  • make decisions together
  • have cups of tea together
  • walk together
  • play together
  • discuss the Bible together
  • look after our buildings together
  • do the garden together
  • clean the halls together
  • care for and look after one another together
  • serve the community together
  • have conversations about all sorts of things together
  • support one another when life is hard
  • celebrate together
  • travel to Cambodia together

So often, people see Church as 'what I can get' and it is an individual thing; if Church doesn't satisfy me I either stop coming or move on to a new one that will give me what I want. Yes, it is true that each one of us has our own individual relationship with God for which we alone are responsible; but the most important word in that list is 'together'. We are brought together by Christ and by the faith we share, and we then have to give that bond some flesh and bones in the way that we live and behave. Sadly Christians also have a name for falling out together and fighting and being in conflict together.

How do we get this right? What do we have to do to nurture this life together? Surely it is better together, even if more difficult. How do we make it work?

Friday, 26 March 2010

When we stop listening...?

Does the Bible frighten you? It frightens me at times! Some people are frightened by the Bible and reading it and studying it with other people because they think they'll show how little they understand it. I'm not frightened by the bits I don't understand; I'm frightened (at times!) by the bits I do understand. Maybe 'frightened' isn't the right word, but disturbed certainly is, and challenged!

At Church Wednesday this week, we were looking at Acts 15, the story of the Council of Jerusalem, when the apostles and others had a bit issue to resolve - how does someone become a Christian and become part of the Church? For faith in Jesus, by the grace of God, on the one hand or by being circumcised? They had to resolve this conflict, these two views, because the Church couldn't have both. In the end, they decided that by for faith, by grace, was enough and that has been the good news ever since.

It was the process by which they arrived at that decision that fascinated me. The Church listened to one another, to those who had one opinion and to those who had the other opinion. Then they listened to the Bible and what it had to say. Then they made their wise decision.

One question that we had no time to tackle, but is fascinating, is 'what happens when Christians stop listening to one another?' I've seen it happen: there are people in Edinburgh Presbytery, who when they stand up to speak, you can see others switch off; on principle they will not listen to this person because 'he has nothing good to say'. I've detected at times elsewhere too, when someone is speaking, others are not listening and they betray that by either repeating almost word for word what has just been said, or by totally ignoring the previous contribution to the discussion.

The result is that we adopt 'positions'; we think we know what others have said, but in fact we've got it wrong. It's more of a recipe for conflict than for conciliation.

I have a colleague who, when he was Moderator of Caithness Presbytery, used to make a great show of consulting the Clerk about something in the middle of someone else's speech. I'm convinced it was all show, but it used to annoy me intensely because it was obvious that he wasn't listening to the debate. If nothing else, it was totally impolite.

I don't have a worked-out answer to this issue, but it really is very simple. We need to listen to one another properly; no 'bull-in-the-chinashop' kinds of behaviour.

We've not even begun to talk about reading body language....

Here's another question - what happens when we stop listening to God?

Friday, 12 March 2010

Creativity, Energy, Achievement

On last Sunday afternoon, I was standing at the corner of Belmont Road and Baberton Avenue at 2pm. My wife and I, along with a good number of other people, had gone to the unveiling of the new Juniper Green standing stone. It was unveiled by the two youngest primary 1 pupils from Juniper Green School and two slightly older former pupils of the school. Alison Sheridan from the National Museum of Scotland spoke and the whole event was conducted by Cliff Beevers. If you've not seen the stone yet, it is well worth a look. for more details!

The monument is a legacy of the very successful Juniper Green 300 project that happened in 2007. This year-long project told so much of the history of Juniper Green over the last 300 years, drawing people from all over the world to participate. At the end of 2007, a lasting memorial to the village was suggested and last Sunday was the climax of that whole process.

I occasionally attended the meetings of the steering group. I don't think I've ever come across a group of people with more ideas; they sat round the table simply being creative, imagining ideas and suggesting activities by the barrow-load. Remarkably, most of these ideas were done. not only was this group creative in generating ideas, but they also followed them through and achieved a significant number of them. "Can't do that" didn't often appear in their discussions. I don't think I've ever come across such a "can-do" attitude anywhere else. It was time-limited, only for one year, but nevertheless...

In a similar vein, Girlguiding celebrates 100 years this year. Here's another group of people with huge ideas and putting so many into practice: the launch at the Scottish Parliament, having walked down the Royal Mile in procession; a giant Hoe-down at Ingliston a couple of weeks ago with girls from all over Scotland; the Brownies are taking over Edinburgh Castle in May; some leaders are taking part in the Caledonian Challenge on the West Highland Way; etc; etc; etc. Again, here is a group of people with lots of creativity and energy, who will achieve so much for the girls and their organisation in 2010. It all finishes at 2010 on October 20th this year.

Churches need people with creative new ideas; society needs leaders who are creative and full of energy. They need to be applauded and encouraged; without creative people, full of energy, our lives would be poorer and we would achieve far less!

Friday, 5 March 2010

Aren't Snowdrops wonderful?!

We have some snowdrops in the garden and, to be honest, they are just about the only colour there is other than brown and a sort of washed-out green! They came up and out just before the last lump of snow and are growing through ground that is almost rock-hard! Yet there they are, year after year, in the same place; they're almost impossible to kill! Snowdrops are even a tourist attraction: there is a snowdrop trail, gardens that you can visit at this time of year to admire the snowdrops; Cambo, near St Andrews even has the snowdrops lit up at night so that you can keep visiting after dark.

I think I admire the resilience of the snowdrop. It is such a small flower, but it comes up through frozen ground, at a time of year when every other plant wants to hibernate, in weather conditions that make me want to hibernate! They are battered by the wind, squashed by the snow, attacked by the frost and the rain. Yet they still survive to flower and grow. Remarkable resilience for such a small and delicate-looking flower.

Jesus might have said "the kingdom of heaven is like the snowdrop which, though battered and bruised, still stands, grows and develops." If he had said that, then we'd be trying to understand the parable. People of faith need to be resilient! That would be the very simple message of that parable. People of faith need to stand strong and true under some very difficult circumstances. Some of the most resilient people look frail and have the most difficult lives, but they remain unmoved. Inspirational!

Where does our resilience come from?

  • Some are by nature people who just take everything in their stride; we might describe them as phlegmatic, or laid-back, but nothing seems to bother them, or shake them. They are just like that.

  • Others have learned to be resilient from experience. Life has dealt them so many blows that they have learned how to handle them; it's tough going, but they have learned to survive and remain strong.

  • Some take their resilience from other people, being part of a family, or a community of faith in the Church, or from friends that they meet in other places. By being loved and supported by others, they become resilient.

  • Ultimately, our resilience comes from Jesus. This works in 2 ways: first of all, we have the example of His own life, His resilience in enduring suffering and death for the cause of our salvation, so we see that he endured and take inspiration from that; secondly, because he endured, He is able to help us endure and the power that was at work in Him in also at work in us.

"Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." (Hebrews 12:2)

Friday, 19 February 2010

Why Mark McGhee is just SO wrong!

For those of you who are not football fans, Mark McGhee is the manager of Aberdeen FC. On Tuesday evening, Aberdeen were beaten 1-0 by Raith Rovers, a team from the lower division, and so were knocked out of the Scottish Cup. The game took place in Aberdeen. After the match, the Aberdeen fans were so angry with their team and the manager that, as he walked from the dugout at the side of the pitch to the dressing room, he had scarves thrown at him in disgust and worst of all, he was spat on by some of the fans.

On Wednesday morning, he was quoted in the newspapers saying that the fans were quite right to spit on him and that he and his team deserved all that they got from the fans. I can only imagine that he was trying to prove to the fans that he was on their side, or that he shared their dismay at the performance of the team. I think he is SO wrong to say such a thing.

Why do I think he was wrong? Supporting a football team is a traumatic business and every fan has a view on the way in which the team should play. Every fan has favourite players and thinks the manager should pick these players for every match. Every fan has a view on the way in which the club they support should be run. There are times when every fan thinks that he or she could do a better job than the present manager.

But here's 2 things. First of all, while every fan might have a view, not every fan has the ability to be the manager of a football team; not every fan has the relevant coaching badges and certificates, nor the requisite skills and experience to manage a football club. Secondly, when pushed and in a calmer moment, none of these fans would want the job; they know that it is a thankless task; they know you'll never please everyone; so while they will voice their opinion, they would not wish themselves in the manager's chair.

This is probably the only thing that I share with Mark McGhee. Everyone has a view on how I should do my job. Let me give two examples, one from my previous charge and one from my present one, but a few years ago. A situation had arisen that the Kirk Session needed to deal with urgently; I had been on holiday and a proposed course of action had begun to be pursued in my absence. It was the only practical course of action open to us, but at the Session meeting called to discuss the issue, I was told that if I pursued this course of action (and for some reason it was my course of action and the consequences would be my fault), then people would leave the Church and others would be seriously offended. We took the course of action, no-one was offended, nobody left the Church; but did anyone come to apologise for their accusations and insinuations?

One Sunday, during coffee at Church, I was almost literally pinned to the wall by someone who thought I was doing my job in quite the wrong way. I was told that people were going to leave the Church unless we did this, that and the other and it was terrible that I was not doing things in the way that I should. I was left speechless. People have not left Juniper Green Church in droves, as was prophesied; (a few have and that is always a source of dismay) but indeed people have come to join Juniper Green Church because they like what they find here.

Mark McGhee is a genuine man who is trying to do his best for Aberdeen FC and for that he should be treated with respect; no-one deserved to be spat upon, no matter how vigorously you disagree with him. I wouldn't want his job!

Everyone has an opinion about the way Church should be; I accept that. Someone said to me, nearly 30 years ago now, "Don't try to please everyone; Jesus couldn't do it, so you've no chance!" It's hard to live up to that at times, but...

Friday, 12 February 2010

It seemed a good idea at the time!

I spent most of last Saturday in Hamilton. I know, not particularly attractive, but we went to Hamilton College for the Tearfund Transform's Orientation Day for our trip to Cambodia in the summer. It was staffed jointly by Joy James who came up from London specially and Fiona Morrison, one of the new Tearfund staff in Glasgow; they were excellent. There were lots of positive things to come from the day:
  • our team got to know each other just a little bit better, as you do when you have to build a tower from newspaper (and ours was still standing at the end of the day!);
  • we learned a bit more about the trip and what it will involve and the issues that we need to face (mind you, we have to balance all of that health information - these are all the things that you might catch - with the knowledge that 90% of it you will never need);
  • we all became just a little more excited about the prospect of the trip.

It was arranged for Hamilton College (an independent Christian school) because there is a larger group from the school doing a similar Transform trip in the summer; they are going to Burkina Faso. So, 8 of us arrived for the day, and 15 pupils from the 6th year in the school with 4 adults. Tearfund wanted us to share the day because it meant one day, presenting the same material to two groups; it would save time. Yes it would! Yes, it did!

Today, they sent an evaluation form to us; what did we think of the day? Good marks for the material and for the presenter. Best question on the form: "what would have made the day a 10?" (I rated it 8!) Our small group seemed to be swamped by the others, and the school pupils weren't really interested in listening to us when we were contributing to plenary discussion, talking over us and plainly being rude. So what had seemed a good idea at the time because it would be the more economical use of resources, actually didn't work for us for a number of reasons, in my view.

What do we do with that? I hope Transform will learn from that and do it differently the next time they have 2 groups like these.

In Church, we often do things that seem like a good idea at the time, but for some reason don't quite work in the way we had hoped. Or we start something off that is a good idea for a time, but after a number of years has lost its 'good-idea' status. What do we do? Churches are really not very good at evaluating honestly: we keep something going for sentimental reasons or because someone would be offended when the group or the activity has long lost it reason for being. We even, would you believe, keep doing things in a particular way when it has been proved time and again not to work - it might come right the next time!

Why do churches find it so difficult to do honest evaluation of groups and activities and if it doesn't work, either drop it or fix it? Does Jesus notion of shaking the dust from our feet have something to teach us?

PS, put March 10th in your diary; we are holding the Church AGM on that evening; it will have a new look to it, with a financial report delivered by the treasurer; a new beefed-up annual report by the minister; an open forum session when anyone can ask a question about any part of Church life and get an answer; and a time for some of the team going to Cambodia to speak about their hopes and aspirations and fears. Exciting! Do come!

Friday, 29 January 2010

Two simple thoughts

I have no great wisdom to offer this week (some may say that I have no great wisdom to offer on any week, but that is a matter of opinion); just two simple bible verses that tell us something of God.

The first is this: "You are the God who sees me!" Hagar says this in Genesis 16:13. She is a slave-girl who is pregnant with her master's (Abram's) child and has been rounded ill-treated by his wife, her mistress, Sara. She runs away from home, is hiding in the desert and then becomes aware that God is with her in the black hole that is her life. He is the God who sees her and who, by implication, hears her cries and answers her.

The second comes from Psalm 3. The title at the head of the Psalm connects it to one of David's most difficult times, the fall-out with his son Absalom when he tried to make himself king in his father's place. David describes God as his shield and then: "you are my glory and the One who lifts my head" (Psalm 3:3) His head is down, his confidence shattered, his heart broken; God is the One who lifts his head and gives him back all that he has lost.

God sees our predicaments (do we think that He doesn't?) and comes to us to help and heal us. God is the One who lifts our heads by reminding us that we are His dearly loved children, who mean so much to Him. He sees us so much and He loves us so much that He gave Jesus; His love is profoundly cross-shaped.

Friday, 22 January 2010

Getting the message

I had a curious experience yesterday, shared with others I later discovered. I had been out all morning and came back home in the middle of the afternoon. When I sat down at my computer, I found a list of e-mails from myself. It seemed a bit strange; I looked more closely. I had 63 e-mails, all from my own address, that had somehow come back home. Some of these dated back to 2005; the most recent was sent just before Christmas; there was no rhyme or reason to them; they were all to different people, different addresses, different providers.

I've since spoken to two other people who have blueyonder addresses and they had the same thing happen to them, one with fewer, the other with three times as many as me.

It was something that I'd never come across before and I don;'t really understand why it should have happened now; we wondered whether Virgin are clearing out some cyber-filing cabinet and getting rid of 'stuff' or what; any ideas?

What it did set me wondering was this: did these e-mails ever arrive at their destination? Have they been sitting in cyber-space for years waiting to go home, trying to get to their destination, but going nowhere? If you expected an e-mail from me sometime in the last 5 years and didn't get it, I now have an excuse! As Elvis said: they've been returned to sender.

We tell people things, but do they actually get the message. Over the years, we have made changes to some quite fundamental parts of Church life and as far as I'm concerned, these changes have been explained over and over again, clearly and simply, and people have 'got the message'. Then someone will say something that reveals that evidently they have not got the message at all.

We have two responsibilities: the first is to communicate, to speak, to tell people what we think, what we need, to0 tell people the gospel and to speak clearly and humbly, with words full of grace and love.

The second is to listen, to engage properly with what other people are saying so that we hear what they say. Sometimes we don't want to hear and so we don't listen at all and we pretend we've got the message or complain that we were never told. It seems that listening is harder than speaking, but its the only way we'll get the message.

Friday, 8 January 2010

Beginning as we mean to go on!

Happy New Year to all our readers! I hope that 2010 is a year full of God's grace and peace in your lives, full of God's blessing for you, for Church, for the world.

This week, I have been at Crieff. Every January there is a conference in Crieff Hydro, a fellowship of ministers who meet to listen to a couple of speakers and to share and pray together. There were 5 set-piece sessions, talks from our two speakers, Ted Donnelly a Professor of New Testament studies in Northern Ireland, and Dick Dowsett who works with the Overseas Missionary Fellowship.

But it's actually a comment from someone else that sticks in my mind. In the evenings, we hear from people in Christian ministry across the world and one of those contributions came from Lindsay Ferguson, a geologist by training who now works in the administration of Perth Bible College (Australia). She was describing a Church that she went to in Liverpool, when she first left Scotland; she became part of that Church because "they love me well" she said. That phrase stuck in my mind - "they loved me well". She described how they cared for her, made her feel welcome, accepted her as she was, and so on.

There are certain individuals who stick in my mind from our Church over Christmas:
  • the little girl who took part in the nativity play with great gusto (they all did, but she did so perhaps more than the rest)
  • the teenager who decided to come to Church for the first time in years on the Sunday between Christmas and New Year
  • the man and woman who came (individually and separately) to Church for a couple of the services as a result of the Christmas cards we delivered
  • the gang of people who came into Church all together last Sunday, having ploughed their way through the snow.

What do we do with these first 3 examples? There is a great temptation in Churches to make them conform to our patterns, inherited and traditional, and to love and accept them only and when they conform. Much better to "love them well" for who they are and accept them for who they are and make them feel part of our Church family.

PS: Church Wednesday is planned to begin again this Wednesday at 7pm with the Prayer Time and Bible Study at 7.30pm. The weather may change that plan, but I'll circulate an e-mail if it is cancelled.