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.