At the moment I am away on the bi-annual District Ministers retreat at the Swanwick Hayes conference centre. I thought you might like to see the view from my bedroom window. Lovely isn`t it ?
We`re having a very thoughtful time led by Rev Martyn Atkins, General sec of the Methodist Church. Beginning with his reflections of 34 years in the Ministry and what he feels he has learned during that time there have been some interesting observations; some I can understand and others which I might want to challenge.
This afternoon he spoke of the marks of Methodist discipleship, covering areas such as fellowship, connexionalism, scripture, prayer, an awareness of Gods prevennient grace, and much more. It’s quite fascinating, but I`m so aware that it might come over as boring to my readers so I won`t go into detail.
However I have spent some time today reflecting on why we actually do this. When I was at college one of my friends from my former life complained that Methodism was wasting its time “pumping unnecessary theology” into its students instead of simply giving them a Bible and letting them loose !! At the time I was knee-deep in theological essays, worship reading, counselling training and I was tempted to simply agree with him.
So why do we do it ? Well, I`ve come to a position of realising the truth behind the words of Albert Einstein who said “the mind is like an umberella; its only of use when it’s opened”. The Bible reminds us that we have been made in the image of God, and he expects us to use everything he has given us to his glory. Well if we don`t use our minds and stretch them then we`re not fully giving everything to God. If I didn`t try and stretch myself and give my mind regular exercise it would go a bit like my belly !! Flabby and not a lot of use !
Secondly, a closed mind is the first step towards fundamentalism; the failure to listen or study the other persons point of view disrespect them as a person created by God. It doesn`t mean we have to agree with them but we should at least hear them. Over the years I have softened my stance on various things, taken up a new stance on some and become more hardline on others. In other words I have changed as a result of God speaking to me through scripture, prayer, fellow Christians, dialogue and good quality reading.
Thirdly, whilst I believe that Scripture is God speaking to us, I sometimes need a hand understanding it. That comes through exploring with others rather than casting anything I don`t understand to one side.
And so I look forward to another day tomorrow of listening, discussing and reflecting and I pray that I and my Ministry will be all the better for it.
Two photographs which stand in sharp contrast to each other. The first is from a friend who suffered the loss of her garden shed in the recent gales. The next door neighbours fence panel blew over and took out her shed, thankfully whilst sparing the greenhouse which would have been next in line !! By contrast the second picture was taken this morning outside Skegby Methodist Chapel as they opened their premises for their monthly community coffee morning, which was quite full of people and was raising money for `Action for Children` a Methodist children’s charity. Each month they choose a different charity to send the proceeds to.
Why am I highlighting these two occasions ? I think that in their own way they show the contrasts in the world. Some will go through life reaping havoc wherever they go by their selfishness, self-centredness, egotistical hedonism or by their careless and thoughtless lifestyles. The media shows all too graphically for us what happens on weekends in many of our towns and cities where young men and women seek an alcohol fuelled temporary experience only to wake up later to discover broken relationships, unwanted pregnancies, ill-health and so on. Of course this is a sweeping generalisation but to many people this is a normal experience which they would describe as `enjoyment` but there is no thought to the potential consequences on other people, let alone themselves. We find the same with speeding car drivers, drug users, and the list goes on.
By contrast the people of Skegby, and many other places, show us the benefits of a lifestyle lived for other people. This morning there was laughter, fun, good conversation and `gossip`. I spent some of the time talking to a gentleman who was visiting for the first time and was seeking companionship, and an elderly couple who were considering joining the Church as they had received a lovely warm welcome. Peoples lives were enriched by simply dropping in for a coffee and a bacon butty ! All because of the desire of the Chapel folk to serve the community in some way and raise funds for a much-needed charity at the same time.
Today their desire to serve their community will have resulted in many folk feeling good about themselves and also many children who have little or who live in situations of abuse and violence will feel the benefits through the money raised.
Which camp do I want to be in ? Without a shadow of a doubt I want my life to be one lived FOR other people and not one lived IN SPITE OF other people ! In tomorrows worship we will make the annual Methodist Covenant, which is our annual renewing of our promise to serve God in our lives and in this world. It contains many challenging phrases and when people take it seriously it is quite hard to live up to, and so it should be. It demands quite exacting standards of the followers of Jesus. The central part of the service contains the following promise …………………….
‘I am no longer my own but yours.
Put me to what you will,
rank me with whom you will;
put me to doing,
put me to suffering;
let me be employed for you,
or laid aside for you,
exalted for you,
or brought low for you;
let me be full,
let me be empty,
let me have all things,
let me have nothing:
I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things
to your pleasure and disposal.
And now, glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
you are mine and I am yours.’
That opening line “I am no longer my own, but yours………..” sums up the choice we have between living for ourselves which is almost inevitably hedonistic or living under Gods direction which will always be to put Him and others first.
I fail often to keep that promise but tomorrow I`ll be saying it again, meaning it again, endeavouring to live it again, but thankful in the knowledge that we have a loving, forgiving God who picks us up from the gutters of life when we get things wrong, restores us and gently says “now let’s have another go, shall we ?”
As many of you know I find Facebook a great tool for prayer, for keeping up with friends, and also for challenging thoughts. Today a friend posted a YouTube link up and it stunned me with its simple power.
I hope it connects for you. Use it as part of your private devotions, but also marvel at the opportunity that the Fransican monks took in Preston last year in doing this.
So often we try to create evangelistic opportunities, we plan and prepare, we figure out costs, we strategise and nothing happens, but sometimes God is simply asking us to proclaim His Word in a non threatening way without haranguing people or Bible bashing. This guy simply performs the sacramental act of holding up the Host (the bread representing the body of Jesus) and another reads out Scripture; at the end they pack up and walk away without seeking anything in return, neither money nor converts.
What have they done ? Quite simply they brought the presence of Jesus into the shopping centre of Preston. Notice how many stop and kneel, some for a short while others for the whole episode, but they all take the opportunity of pausing in their busy lives and adoring Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour.
Oh, if only the Methodist Church would reclaim some of its heritage and find ways of drawing alongside the community and bring the presence of Jesus into the centre of communities.
I`ve just recieved my annual review of this blog. If you`d like to look at it then follow this link