Let’s Talk About It!

Yesterday, I attended a day of conversation on one of those “hot potato” issues that is facing the Church today.

Over the years, there have been many issues both great and small that Churches have argued about and divided over.  What struck me with yesterdays discussion was, it was a conversation.  It amazed me that, in the room were people of all manner and shades of opinion on that “hot potato.” Yet we were able to have a civilised discussion without accusation and anger.

Recently, in our nation, we have faced one particular “hot potato” and I know that amongst my readers are all shades of opinion.  What has saddened me, more than anything else, is the language that has been used.  Anger, aggression, accusation and name calling have been used to divide people rather than help them to understand someone else’s point of view.

Maybe it is because we do not know how to really listen.  Too often, we listen in order to respond rather than listen in order to understand.

Equally, conversation has become about debate rather than understanding.  We speak in order to convince the other they are wrong and we are right.  When we do this then, as the Apostle James warns us;

It only takes a spark, remember, to set off a forest fire. A careless or wrongly placed word out of your mouth can do that. By our speech we can ruin the world, turn harmony to chaos, throw mud on a reputation, send the whole world up in smoke and go up in smoke with it

(James 3 vs. 5 – 6 The Message)

Yesterday was an important day, for me, and left me convinced that our speaking and listening needs to change.  We must learn how to have conversations rather than debates.  We must stop seeking to win arguments and start seeking to gain wisdom.

What will you do to encourage the conversation?  

The Day My Mind Went Blank!

I am sure I am not the only one this has happened to but, there was an occasion my mind went completely blank. 

It was when I was training for ministry and leading a worship service.  We reached a point where, in that Church, it was tradition to say what is known as “The Lord’s Prayer”.  I had the instruction in my notes and, as I opened my mouth to lead the Church, I could not remember how it went.

Blank

Completely Blank!!!!

That memory has became so ingrained in my mind that, ever since, I have to write the Lord’s Prayer out in full in my notes.  On those occasions when I haven’t, I can feel my stomach churning until I finish.

I first learnt The Lord’s Prayer as a child in Boys Brigade.  I must have been 6 or 7 years old.  Part of one of our awards involved having to recite it in front of the Church Minister – funnily enough, I forgot it then too.  The Minister came to my rescue on that occasion by whispering the words to me!

When I came to faith and started to attend Church, the words of The Lord’s Prayer became part of the services I attended.  Each service involved the words that I had been reciting since childhood.  Sometimes they were comforting.  Sometimes they were just “what we did at this point in our service”.

As I entered ministry I found that the words were used so many times that I hardly ever noticed them.  On these occasions, the words came out but, the mind was blank and hardly registered them.

That experience changed for me about 6 years ago.  I was in Israel and on the Mount of Olives and visited the Church of the Pater Noster.  Around it’s walls are the words of The Lord’s Prayer in every language that you can 

imagine. 

We climbed down some narrow stairs and entered the grotto where, according to legend, Jesus had taught the disciples to pray.  On our pilgrimage it was our custom that, whenever we reached a particular spot, one of the pilgrims would lead devotions.  In that grotto, it was my turn.  I read those words that were so familiar;

He said to them, “When you pray, say: “‘Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.'”

(Luke 11 vs. 2 – 4)

 

I can still remember, even after all this time, the tingle that ran down my spine as my voice echoed around the cave with the words that pilgrims had said for hundreds of years.  Words that began with a group of disciples wanting to learn how to pray like Jesus.

For me, those words took on a new meaning that day.  As a consequence, I use The Lord’s Prayer frequently in our services.  I am, however, mindful that it can become mindless repetition.  As part of our values studies, I have invited / challenged the Church to come up with their own versions of The Lord’s Prayer.  I had a go, and this is what I came up with;

Our Father,                                                                                                                                                                    You are in heaven and yet                                                                                                                                        You are closer than the very                                                                                                                                          Air we breathe

Your name                                                                                                                                                                  should be respected because                                                                                                                                        it reveals your nature and your character

You rule over all                                                                                                                                                            In justice and mercy                                                                                                                                              Getting the balance perfectly right

You give us all we need                                                                                                                                            And pour out your grace                                                                                                                                             In abundance too.

When we get it wrong                                                                                                                                              And make mistakes                                                                                                                                                    You are ready and willing to forgive us.

You invite us to join your work of grace                                                                                                                By forgiving others too.

When our faith is challenged                                                                                                                               When we are tempted to give up                                                                                                                             Or walk away                                                                                                                                               Strengthen us Lord so that we                                                                                                                               Can declare your praises                                                                                                                                     Forever and ever

AMEN

       

 

Love One Another

When our leadership team at Church carried out our recent exercise on values one that we identified was “to love everybody”. 

Jesus said;

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

(John 13 vs. 34 – 35)

I have always thought of these words as a bit of a challenge because, let’s face it, some people are more loveable than others.  It’s easy to love those we like, who encourage us and make us feel good.  These words, however, command that I should love all people as Jesus has loved me.

I have, sometimes, found myself wondering if this is possible.  Can I really love others the same way that Jesus love me?

As I have been thinking about this, I began to understand that it all depends on the way that I view others.  If I remember that “others” are as loved by God as I am.  If I see them as somebody for whom Christ went to the cross for, as much as He went to the cross for me, then that affects the way that I view them.  Mother Theresa put it wonderfully when she said;

“I see Jesus in every human being. I say to myself, this is hungry Jesus, I must feed him. This is sick Jesus. This one has leprosy or gangrene; I must wash him and tend to him. I serve because I love Jesus.”

(Mother Theresa)

Love isn’t easy.  It is a challenge but, if we focus first and foremost on our love for Christ then it will make a world of difference.    

Be Encouraged

It was my privilege to write the “Thought For The Week” which went out on an Eastern Baptist Association Mailing.  This is the article wot I rit!

 

 

In my recent quiet times, I have been re-reading 1 Thessalonians.  I say re-reading because, earlier this year, I preached a series on this letter and so it felt like getting in contact with an old friend as I read it for my devotions.

I had reached chapter 4.  I was faced with Paul’s comments about death and the second coming of Christ.  When I reached verse 18, something struck a bit of a chord with me;

Therefore encourage one another with these words

(1 Thessalonians 4 vs. 18)

 

Only a few verses later on, in chapter 5, Paul goes on to say;

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing

(1 Thessalonians 5 vs. 18)

 

As I was preparing to write this piece, an email appeared in my inbox urging me to buy a book called “The State of Hate”.  What the book was about, I have no idea – it was spam, so I deleted it.  However, it’s title reflected something that I see going on in the world at the moment. People are becoming polarized. When people are set apart from one another, the effects of that are hate, anger and aggression.  In short, many people are living in a ‘State of Hate’.

As I reflected on this, it seemed to me that the Christian Church is called to be different. Rather than a ‘State of Hate’, we should be a ‘Community of Encouragement’.

Over the summer, I attended an event where the guest speaker, Rob Parsons, said that we should look to “catch people doing something good”.  That really challenged me.  I came back to my fellowship determined to catch folk “doing something good” and to give them some encouragement! 

Is it worth a try in your situation?