Sunday Afternoon

Hello Sunday afternoon. We meet again.
Exhaustion, questions, reflections, gratitude, regret.
I sit at the piano and sing in the now alone church.
It is quiet again.
The black dog nips at my heels.
I relax and trust. And trust. And hope.
“What can I give back to God for all the blessings?”
Hello Sunday afternoon. We meet again.

Like an Arrow

I’m with a fantastic bunch of church leaders in Auckland at the third Arrow retreat. And it is Shrove Tuesday.

We take turns to share some of our stories for ten minutes and tonight was my turn.

At one level I feel I have nothing to say
Leadership has not had a terrible toll on me (yet)
I am still in one piece.

God has been remarkably faithful
And for that I am so grateful.

 

But yet there have been experiences that have shaped me.
Perhaps not big in any scale of life
But they are mine and I own them.

Some have hurt. Some have caused me to doubt myself. Some bring me shame.
God has been present throughout.

 

And so tonight, as I lie
Tummy full of pancakes and pistachios
Aching feet hanging over the end of this bed
I reflect
And I am grateful
And I dream of what has been
And I dream of what can be
And I long for more.

Please.

A reflection on Isaiah 30:15-18

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Calm down.
Quietly trust me.

Are you anxious about the future?
About ministry and partnership and vision and longevity?

Calm down.
Remain close.
Quietly trust.

Breathe.

Do you not think that’s am concerned about these things?
Do you not realise that I know what you need.

Calm down.
Remain close.
Quietly trust.

Breathe some more,

I will keep you safe.
Turn back to me.
The Lord always does right
And blesses those who trust him.

You know what happens when you try to go it alone?
To amass the numbers?
To embrace safety?

Failure. Vivid, lonely, spectacular failure.

Calm down.
Remain close.
Quietly trust.

Breathe deeply.

It will be ok.

The refrain continues to echo

Trust and obey
There’s no better way
To be happy in Jesus
Than to trust and obey

The gift that sustains

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A few weeks ago, as I prayed God’s blessing on the baptism waters in a special service in Eketahuna, I commented that with the dry summer we have had, we are even more aware of the extent to which water is a gift. People knew what I was talking about. They were living it.

Water is a gift that sustains, refreshes and cleanses all life.

As the drought has gone on the words of Psalm 63 have resounded close:

O God, you are my God, I seek you,
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. (Ps 61:1-3)

The thirst for rainfall in this community has shown itself on the faces of those I talk to.

The desperation
the waking and looking to the skies
the longing
the waiting
the hoping.

I thirst.

The gift of rain today has been a blessing. For 24 hours we had little more than a gentle soaking. Tonight I drove home through torrential rain and a thunderstorm. There may be nothing more for a while, but we are grateful.

I heard one man at the blood donor centre today refer to the “miserable weather”
I wanted to jump out of my chair and shake him.
“This is a gift! This is the blessing! This is life!”
This is the answer to many desperate prayers.

And yet I thirst.
As farmers look to the skies
my soul thirsts for God
for more
for reality,
fullness.

Rain down.

Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well. He said “whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst.”
I want that. I need that. Have I missed out on the real thing?

I want to know Christ – yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus. (Ph 3:10-14)

Singleness

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Been thinking about singleness.

The thought triggered as I trimmed my hair this evening…
(How come I keep finding myself trimming my hair at 11pm?)

It went like this (and this indeed sounds crazy)

“If I had a ‘special someone’ then they would be able to check the back of my hair
To let me know if I’ve missed a bit.”

You see, there are some bits that you can’t see yourself.
Even with the help of an iPhone camera.

Perhaps the problem itself is that I’m a 35 year old man
who cuts his own hair at 11pm in his bathroom.

My friends, who have it all together, who have this relationships thing sorted out, who are all grown up, don’t do this, do they?

So what do I make of the fact that I am a 35 year old single man?

A well-intentioned friend encouraged me recently that church leaders really ought to be married.
That somehow that step is essential.

I’ve always tried to have a ‘content rather than contempt’ approach to my singleness.
I don’t want to be that ‘desperate single guy’. Arwkard. Difficult. Doesn’t fit.

So why am I single?

I dunno.

Perhaps I am broken
unlovable
difficult
immature
too closed.

Perhaps I missed the class as a teenager
where they told me what to do.
Others just seem to get it.

Perhaps it’s my fault.

Perhaps this is just the will of God.

Perhaps I need to try harder.

In the meantime I continue to be content.
I cling to my contentedness.
And to trust.
And to hope.
And to not worry.

I’m sure the hair at the back isn’t too bad…

Sound and Vision

This new video from Beck has excited me this week in a way little music has excited me recently.

To start with, the arrangement from David Campbell (Beck’s dad) is a stunning piece of musicianship. Eclectic musical styles come together into something beautiful and cohesive.

I love the setting of the piece. The stage in the round, the performers surrounding. The rotating platforms (the audience doesn’t move, everyone else does.) The blurred line between performers and audience.

Technically, it is beautiful. Lighting, video, sound (yes, it is a lovely listen in surround sound).

But I think that more than the sound, setting or visuals, I think this is a video that speaks to me about the church. Something about the bringing together of such differing expressions (“Remember that time the yodeller and electric guitars game in? Awesome.”), the cooperation, the creativity, the participation, and the conducting.

It is glorious and beautiful and complex.
I long to see a eucharist table in the middle of that setting…

Day 12,785

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Birthdays.
Just another day, but not just another day.
What a special day. A treat.

All day has been a stream of well wishes,
and I feel very lucky.

What a privilege to have so many friends.

 

I am go grateful to God
for my life
for this world
for love
for the beauty and creativity that surrounds us
for friends old and new, present and future.

Yet again, on Valentines day I am a single man
but I am surrounded and loved.

Lent 2013

2013-02-13 21.38.18Lent has begun.

I spent this evening with the ash of burnt flax smeared across my forehead.
It’s not a normal way to spend a Wednesday evening.

But Lent is a wonderful way for us to challenge ‘normal’.

Lent challenges me that there are things, many things, that become important to me. Things that I can and must give up. Not because they are bad, or that the act of giving them up makes me more pious. Holiness doesn’t work that way. We give things up because in the act of sacrificing we become more fully human.

Lent reminds me that I love God more than I love my things.
Way more.

And Lent encourages me to make a change. To take something up.
Not, again, as an act of piety.
Not as an act of ‘self improvement’.
Not as a ‘new years resolutions take two’.
But as an act of creativity. An exploration of Kingdom life.
An openness to try something new for a season.

I love it. It is good.

Our journey toward crucifixion and resurrection carries us through both points.

From “The Foolishness of Preaching: Proclaiming the Gospel Against the Wisdom of the World”

I think good preachers should be like bad kids. They ought to be naughty enough to tiptoe up on dozing congregations, steal their bottles of religion pills…and flush them all down the drain. The church, by and large, has drugged itself into thinking that proper human behavior is the key to its relationship with God. What preachers need to do is force it to go cold turkey with nothing but the word of the cross–and then be brave enough to stick around while [the congregation] goes through the inevitable withdrawal symptoms. But preachers can’t be that naughty or brave unless they’re free from their own need for the dope of acceptance. And they wont be free of their need until they can trust the God who has already accepted them, in advance and dead as door-nails, in Jesus. Ergo, the absolute indispensability of trust in Jesus’ passion. Unless the faith of preachers is in that alone–and not in any other person, ecclesiastical institution, theological system, moral prescription, or master recipe for human loveliness–they will be of very little use in the pulpit.

The final Carey from the archives

Three posts in a day! Another article from the old ARMNZ Magazine.

DESTROY OR BUILD!

by George Carey. Lat—ARMNZ Conference, August 1987.

The church needs a fresh perspective on Jesus Christ and His claims on us. We come to this conference from many different backgrounds and needs. You may have seen your church come in a fresh way in the recent past. On the ether hand, you may have had a time of failure and problems. A year ago I was speaking in a church in the west country and the Vicar came up to me and said “A cough in my congregation is the only sign of life.” We do indeed need a fresh infusion of life.

For Paul Christ was the incomparable Lord. He sees Christ as dwarfing everything else. He is writing a letter to a little group of Christians in Colossae, Asia Minor, who were being beleaguered by a heresy. False teachers had come with a smattering of Christianity which they mingled with gnosticism and a dash of other faiths and hoped that they would be able to serve it up as a satisfying meal. They had room for Jesus. They thought He ought to have a place in their religion. Paul would have nothing to do with that.

In Colossians 1:15-20 we have a breath-taking account of Paul’s measure of Jesus Christ. One word in 19 sums it up: “fullness.” In relation to God, Jesus Christ is His image, 1; in relation to creation Jesus is the firstborn, 15: in relation to creation all things are moving towards Him, 16-17; in relation to mankind He is Saviour and reconciler, 20; in relation to the church He is the Head, 18. Lie as Christians ought to be excited about a message like that’. Often we sit back with an ‘I’ve heard it all before’ attitude. Paul is excited because he sees Jesus Christ as the Saviour of everything and the answer to our needs. We will study the implications of that for ourselves today.

How to Kill a Church.

There are three sure way of emptying a church and the Christian message.

1. Strip Jesus Christ of His exclusive claims.

Have a Christ who doesn’t give an uncomfortable message, who is one of a number of religious teachers. A John Hick kind of Christ. Such n Christ will eventually kill Christianity because Jesus Christ confronts us today as He always has done. He is the one who says “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.” A Gospel with any less than that will kill the church.

2. Strip Jesus of the Miraculous.

Have a reasonable Christ, modest in His claims, a fallable human rather than a divine Christ. We ought to be preaching His humanity as a bridge to His divinity, but take away from Jesus His power and His signs and wonders, His glory and majesty and you’ll make Him much more mysterious than perspicuous, and people will say “why bother about Jesus? Why follow Him? In what way is He superior to Buddha?” In this way many teachers are in fact killing the Christian faith today. (If we didn’t have the New Testament, what would we know about Jesus Christ? From pagan sources all we would know is that Jesus Christ was a man who went around healing the people.)

3. Strip Jesus, of personal salvation.

Replace His uncomfortable teaching as being a Saviour with more fashionable notions, and make Him a social worker Jesus, mending people’s lives, or an educator with a pleasant message, or a political leader and liberator.

Any one of these three lines will quickly empty churches. I was recently in Canada and attended a church where the Minister told me that “We are working our way through Aesop’s Fables. We don’t really believe in tho Bible as the Word of God. I’m a modernist. I don’t believe the Bible is any different from any other literature.” It was no surprise to know his church was dying then; nor that shortly after he left the ministry. Maybe these things are relevant to the church in New Zealand.

David Holloway writing in “Where is the Church of England Going?” says he is convinced it’s going down the drain because it is not preaching the Christ of the New Testament. He’s saying the leadership of the church hasn’t got a firm grip of the Gospel. We must return to a secure hold upon Scripture. I believe he is right.

I believe in the importance of scholarship and research, and that it is possible to hold on to them and still have a secure hold on Scripture at the same time. You may know of Richard Niebuhr’s stinging criticism of liberal theology written a couple of decades ago. He speaks of liberals as preaching “A God without wrath, which brought man without sin, into a kingdom without judgement, through the work of Christ without a cross.”