Monday, 19 July 2010

A tale of two funerals

I went to funeral last week. It was for the mother of a friend who was suitably advanced in age and by all accounts was quite a character. She appears well loved by those who knew her and yet there was no more than about 15 people in the little chapel at the crematorium. The short service was conducted by a vicar who had never heard of the deceased until he was approached to conduct this short service. He prayed for the deceased which to me seems pointless.

This all happened 1 year and 2 days after the last funeral I'd attended, that of Jo Norton. The difference could not have been bigger, with a large Church packed with friends & family. A day marked with some sadness for losing a friend, pastor, leader who'd had such an impact on so very many people, but also marked with genuine celebration of the privilege of knowing this amazing woman of God. It was just about the only time I've been at a funeral where the coffin has left the church to huge applause - and it felt right & proper if not just a little odd.

Two very different funerals, two very different people but both very much loved. Both lead by people of faith but only one where the faith mattered to the deceased and the majority of those present. Both important events to the few or the many affected by their loss. Once again I'm reminded of the song by one of my favourite song writer / singers; Glenn Kaiser
"If I leave this world tomorrow, let me leave a little love behind
There is too much pain and misery, too much heartache & too much crying"

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Convertible churches

It's been quite a while since my last post. Apologies for the absence...
I'm still working through the Gospels. Still getting fascinated by even familiar stories. Like the passage in Luke 5:12 - 27 where some guys take their paralysed friend on stretcher, break in through the roof & get him healed.

I was interested that it was the friends faith that was commended. That they were willing to wreck the place to get in, and that forgiving sin was so very very controversial.

Imagine the scene...

You are sat in a nice church. Not extravagent or ornate. A nice church with nice people in a nice area.

Today you have a guest speaker, a new man in town. You sit facinated that this man seems to teach something you’ve never heard before and yet it so very clearly makes sense. Someone who clearly knows scripture so very well and deciphers it with such certain authority, not wooly and vague, humbly and not arrogant like so very many others. And what is more, you hear that he has been known to miraculously heal all kinds of sick people. Even lepers. By touching them!

You are nicely settled, in your nice church of nice people in a nice area, despite the fact that your guest speaker has attracted such a huge crowd that the place is packed more than you ever imagined possible. You are now aware of a scraping sound coming from above. Then you realise you have quite bad dandruff (despite the ‘Head & Shoulders’). No, sorry, it isn’t dandruff, it’s crumbling plaster. Someone is trying to break in through the roof! The roof for heaven’s sake!

Now you see four big oiks lowering in some cripple on stretcher. These blokes are wrecking your nice church full of nice people by creating a huge unsightly hole in the nice roof and then lowering in a cripple of all things. Now this visitor chappy may be able to heal, even willing to actually touch a leper, but bringing in some cripple who we’d rather not see in our kind of church through the unsightly, unplanned hole in the roof made by the equally unsightly oafsis not something you want to witness.

But this is odd. The nice visiting preacher man is not upset at the unusual changes to your nice church. He thinks the big blokes actually have a lot of faith. Faith that should be rewarded. He doesn’t even mind the cripple, even wants to help him. Maybe worth seeing...

You’ve seen this before. He says that their faith has made them well and off they go... But not this time. He’s declaring his sins forgiven! Who does he think he is? God?


So. Question time...

How far would we go to try & get our friends to meet Jesus, have their sins forgiven & get healed?

How are the structures that surround our churches stopping this happening?

How do we “open up” church to those that still need Christ?

Actually, it would be rather good to be in a church that was “convertible”

Monday, 29 June 2009

Blessed be your name...

It's been a real rollercoaster ride of a few weeks. I guess many of you who will read this will know all about Major Jo Norton, a most remarkable woman of God. Having been very suddenly struck with a brain aneurysm and by much prayer of Godly people survived... for a while

Having been "promoted to Glory" as we in The Salvation Army put it, just as she was due to return home, it appears that some amazing things have been happening. One song that has been much quoted says

Blessèd be Your name
When the sun's shining down on me,
When the world's 'all as it should be',
Blessèd be Your name.
And blessèd be Your name
On the road marked with suffering,
Though there's pain in the offering,
Blessèd be Your name.

The worship group I lead on Sunday evenings sang that yesterday. I felt we needed to. They didn't know Jo of course, and really it's impossible to explain 'Jo Norton' to anyone that hasn't had that experience. But it can be helpful just to say or sing things that you need to believe.

There are a number of Bible verses that have jumped out at me including Philippians 1:21 "to live is Christ... to die is gain". Life is being Christ to those that don't yet know Him, and to those that do - but Jo has the good bit, the gain of death. Romans 8:28 tells us that in all things God works for the good of those that love & follow Him - we've seen at least a glimpse of that.

I don't know what to think just now. I only seem to feel emotion about this when I speak about it. I have an even greater urge to return to what I have to confess as my spiritual home of Wandsworth Salvation Army / Boiler Room. But that may be tainted by current emotion as well as disillusion with my current situation. Sometimes I think that I'm needed there, but at the same time think that I'd no longer have a place.

Grief is confusing. Especially when you don't even know if you have a right to grieve for someone you haven't spent that much time with in the last 8 years. But that will settle with time I guess - it will all make more sense. So best stop waffling

Monday, 20 April 2009

Confessions of the motivationally challenged

In my reading recently, I've come across one of those incidental details in the Gospels that seems to have struck a chord greater than it may need. I'm still, almost 16 months after starting, doing my reading through the Gospels in a year thing and at this rate it may be one per year.

I was reading in chapter 6 where the 12 come back from a short mission of preaching, healing & deliverance...

"The apostles gathered together with Jesus; and they reported to Him all that they had done and taught. And He said to them, "Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest a while." (For there were many people coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat.) They went away in the boat to a secluded place by themselves."

So they're getting away from the crowd to get some quality time to 'de-brief' on their recent mission. If they walk they'll be followed on foot and pestered as they walk (maybe pester is the wrong word), so they take a boat trip to some secluded spot.

Their only quality time then appears to be on the boat - the crowd figure out where they're going & are waiting for them (cue feeding of 5,000). It made me think about time away. Maybe it isn't necessary to stop doing stuff totally to get rest - they had some time but it was a part of the journey and not purely time out - very necessary and useful, but not a stop but a restful journey.

My title here is down to the fact that I am by nature a lazy person, or to be polite, motivationally challenged. Sometimes I realise that being motivationally challenged doesn't help rest. I go with the flow, not wanting to make the effort to refuse people. I end up doing more sometimes because I'm just too lazy to say no & argue my point - that and a long standing fear of confrontation.

What I need to learn from this is to know when to take myself out of a situation and to take time out without stopping progress... if I can be bothered?

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Christmas thoughts

It seems that the last couple of years I've had new takes on Christmas; on what it can and maybe should mean. This being despite what has felt like my busiest season for quite some time, and in part triggered by the realisation that on the first day of one of my 3 non-stop weeks, I managed to pass through Birmingham Snow Hill train station going back to work about 9-10 hours after passing on the way home the previous night. That was a work-busy week followed by 2 church-busy weeks.

One great illustration I am in danger of over using at Christmas came from Alan Norton (not sure where he got it from). It involves getting people to imagine in great detail their perfect Christmas present, then expecting them to thank you because as we all know, it's the thought that counts.

Then I got on to thinking how for some, maybe most people, Christmas is maybe a little disappointing. The hype somehow doesn't match reality. It occurred to me that maybe we have a "it's the thought that counts" mentality. Or maybe it's down to expecting to get a lot, even giving to get if need be.

Maybe we can feel the same about Christ as well as Christmas. It promises peace on earth and goodwill to all men. We don't see that in the way we expect. It isn't that we expect too much of God Incarnate, it's that we expect the wrong thing. It seems to me that we expect Jesus' bringing peace & goodwill to be a do-it-all service when it isn't like that.

It occurred to me that rather than just turning up and in a Disney-esque manner to magic up an idyllic society of love, peace & security, Jesus perfectly demonstrated what this would look like and what it would cost. Peace on earth means we have to not hate or hold grudges - whatever is thrown at us - it's what Jesus did after all. Goodwill to all means that we have to give of ourselves to help all, even the very least & very worst. That's what Jesus did. He didn't give to the deserving only, He just gave everything. Even it meant His own death.

So this Christmas, I hope you know the peace and goodwill that Jesus brings. And the strength to live in peace and goodness o fellow man.

Saturday, 4 October 2008

A new take on an old song

As I think I mentioned earlier in the year, I decided at the beginning of this year to study the Gospels, reading every day to get through them all in a year and making notes in a page-a-day diary. It appears it will take more than a year though, as I'm currently just starting chapter 26 of Matthew.

This, of course, means I've just finished chapter 25 and that scarily familiar passage about the judgement being where the 'Son of Man' seperates like the sheep from the goats with the main message being that "to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me" (verses 40 & 45 NASB). This has been getting under my skin for a while now, aided and abbetted by writers who talk of seeing Jesus in "His most distressing disguises".

Whilst pondering this at a Bible study the other night (it wasn't the subject at hand, but I was drifting as always), an old chorus popped into my head. It's taken on a completely new meaning for me:

Open our eyes, lord,
We want to see Jesus,
To reach out and
touch Him
And say that we love Him.
Open our ears, Lord,
And help us
to listen.
Open our eyes, Lord,
We want to see Jesus.

I can't help but think that the next time I hear this sung, I'll want to take them by the hand to where the homeless, starving, social outcast's and other "least of these" live and say "There you go; reach out and touch them, tell them that you them, listen to them, feed them, clothe them, visit them."

Maybe this chorus isn't so 'nice' anymore. But it is more challenging!

Monday, 1 September 2008

Me & my big mouth!

Anyone who knows me will by now have realised that I have congenital verbal diarrhea. I often speak without thinking first and therefore I also have chronic foot-in-mouth disease.

Yesterday in Church as we stood to sing I moved, as I often do, to enable the person behind to see the projected song words. The leader saw that a few of us had done that and said that if we wanted to dance we should feel free to do so "After all... David danced before the Lord"

Without hesitation I responded "Yeah! but he was naked!"
I've been smiling ever since. But alas I was wrong... Having just looked it up it appears he was wearing his pants.

2 Samuel 6:14 (NASB)
"And David was dancing before the LORD with all his might, and David was wearing a linen ephod."