Sunday, May 29, 2011

God's Promises Are True

I felt quite low as I drove along a major motorway on Tuesday night with my children in the back of the car. Feeling the weight of the book-writing as I had a deadline for Thursday. Aware that I was quite alone "between churches" in this interim period of waiting to see what happens next in work/ministry. For forty-five miles a perfect WHOLE arch rainbow was in front of me. I used to teach Geography so I have always been fascinated by rainbows and their relationship to weather; I love watching the refraction of the light through the water droplets against dark clouds. I have rarely seen a full arch rainbow and never for more than a few minutes. But we felt that seeing this one was not a coincidence (I had been having a secret sniffle in the first 10 minutes of the hour and a half drive home).

The three of us were open-mouthed as we travelled with this beautiful rainbow in front of us for forty five miles, right till we reached our own front door.

God's promises can be trusted. He has said he knows what is ahead for me and can be trusted, I've got to wait and trust and work hard to finish the book. The children and I talked this through - what does it look like to trust God through whatever life has for you? - as we continued to watch - after 20 miles or so without the rainbow disappearing, we had the sense that we would continue to see it right till we got home, another 25 miles later!

Thank you God. I'l keep on saying thanks no matter what for ALL the signs of your goodness to us.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Non-Negotiables

Following up slightly from the last post (in a Tommy Tangent way, but all will become clear), I thought I'd write a quick post about my ministry non-negotiables.
Have a think about what yours are. Doesn't mean you have to be ordained/staff - in whatever you serve in, what are your non-negotiables?

The background to the post was that I was helping someone prepare for an interview and I asked: what are your non-negotiables? What do you hold dear? This is a very insightful question as the the things the person answers for their own ministry/service will probably be the things they consider high value for themselves i.e. they will look for a church/leaders that demonstrate the same things.

So here's my top 3:

1. LOVE:
I want to overflow with love for kids and families. If you know me then you might know that I truly love the local church; it's an amazing place, I just love it; what it is capable of. It breaks my heart then when it isn't like that. I grieve deeply for my imperfections as a member of the body. I frequently teach on how there is nowhere else quite like the local church; where all generations come together. I was deeply loved and mentored as a teenager by the older generations and this has had a lasting impact on my worldview.

I have found the capacity to love and love well increase over the past years, I can only assume that's because the closer we get to God, the more he wants to overflow our hearts with love.
Whatever else I don't manage to do; wherever I have let people down, I am confident that they would say "she loved". I am less concerned with activity and programme and events (the rush to gain approval and make folks think we are effective by the amount of programmed events happening) and more concerned that I love well. With youngsters it is ALL about relationship - they (and their parents!) can "sniff out" an absence of genuine love and care towards them. Conversely, they show great love and loyalty when they feel loved, listened to and thought of. Young people and their families must be represented at the highest level of church decision-making. I'm not stepping into the firing line any further than this - see the short section on "Advice to Senior Pastors" in George Barna's book "Transforming Your Children Into Spiritual Champions"! But pray for senior leaders - so much is pressing upon them for their time and attention. It ain't easy.....

Quite embarrassingly, one of the children's ministry team in the church we are visiting just now apologised on my first day for her (perceived) lack of preparation as my children joined the group for their morning activities. I reassured her by saying that all I was concerned about was that she loved on the children. Love covers a multitude of wrongs! It never gives up. It looks for the good instead of failure.

In my earlier years, Mr HIWWC and I were leaders then a discipling couple involved to the youth group in church. At the same time I was a teacher in secondary school. One of the things I tried to practice in both roles was to add value to every young person when I interacted with them. I tried to notice the good, praise sincerely and love unconditionally, not taking their strops personally (!)

When such a desire prevails, even the angriest youngster can be transformed by a kind word that builds up his/her self-esteem. Love brings trust. In 2002, I remember taking my newborn son into see a class of Third years where the girls had been difficult to teach and dislayed pretty nasty attitudes to me and to each other. I remember giving my tiny baby to a girl I shall call N to hold. She cradled him, I think she felt so honoured that I trusted her to hold him. But I did. I wanted her to know I trusted her. When I returned to work after maternity leave, her attitude to me had completely changed. She listened attentively, worked hard and was a pleaure to teach. All because I honoured her and trusted her. As a teacher, I really loved my pupils with the love God had placed in my hearts.

I've lost the rag with my own kids of course, really badly. I'm not perfect. But I'm work-in-progress under grace when I confessed that I have blown it.


What does this mean? Why is this a non-negotiable to mE? Put simply - I need it. I covet it, I want it, I don't want God's presence to leave me. I want to experience it, i.e. feel it in my emotions as well as by faith in my head! Three years ago I posted about this passage in Exodus , so apologies to blog followers with good memories for bringing it up again, but now this OT foreshadow of God's self-revealing is complete - the presence of God brought home to our hearts by Jesus, our great high priest. And because I love him and because he wants to pour out his love into our hearts, I expect that to happen when I take time out to worship or gather corporately to worship. And it's NOT JUST ABOUT SINGING SONGS!! - although bring me the prophetic minstrels who so often precede God speaking - check out 2 Kings 3:15.

This desire for God's presence is the link to yesterday's post, sometimes it's as simple as in the intake of a breath that you are deeply aware of God's presence. SO this is also a THEOLOGICAL non-negotiable to me for I teach children and young people (and when I gather teams together) about the whole dynamic of praise, worship, adoration, reverence and intimacy because if folks don't get this when they're young then they're going to struggle later on. Frightening Barna findings on this - found in the book "Real Teens" - 69% of 13 year olds who profess to be Christians have never experienced a sense of God's presence.

Finally, I am attracted to the school of "I can't, but he can". I suppose this is particularly acute in my life because God drew someone (me) who worked with teenagers and adults within church and outside church and asked them to work with children, teenagers and adults. Over the past eight years he has refined my skills there, taken me down the road of theological qualification and placed me in two great churches that taught me loads. He did a Jehovah Sneaky on me mid-2003 and popped in the heart for children. Why? Because many folks do adult ministry and lots do youth ministry, but who has a heart for them all together? i.e. stops seeing partitions? I freely admit I wouldn't have chosen the path I've been on if I wasn't woo-ed, drawn and desperate to be obedient.

There are many, many things that this role could entail that I simply can't do - so that's where I believe in building team. And I am very drawn to facedown encounters with God when new strategies are in the off-ing, not relying just on discussions based on strength and competency. This is the way Paul describes it in 1 Corinthians:
Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.

So this is a non-negotiable for me that I imprint on the mind of the teams that I supervised - yes, prepare teaching inputs well, yes, pre-plan and organise your ministry yes, have the highest standards of safeguarding - but come in humility, asking him to work through you.

This (short) post needs to stop here: so have a go in the comments - what are YOUR non negotiables for your church/your job/your family?

Friday, May 20, 2011

Song of the week

This song is related to the post that follows (maybe tomorrow!)

Father, I am waiting.
I'm not very good at it.

At home on Monday and Thursday I could have literally breathed you in, your presence was so close. And on Tuesday and Wednesday at the conference, in the morning worship, I felt myself take that tentative intake of breath where I just knew I was experiencing your manifest presence - I found myself taking a tiny inhale and exhale - as if I could chase you away by a hearty breath - how silly!

It's at times like this that I want to give my life to make sure that the next generation of Jesus followers know what it is welcome your presence.

More tomorrow.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Missional Communities and Children

If you have been following my story a little you will know why the excerpt from the interview below is ver-r-r-r-r-y interesting. You might also know I am on a three month break to attempt to write a book on all things to do with children's spiritual development, outreach and mission to the young and their families and how to do this in the context of the wider church.

I'm not wanting to go back the way to recount again the past few weeks as I am feeling a fresh wave of thankfulness, gratefulness and hope for the future (after a very low low on Wednesday). I've now resolved in my mind that part of what I have been going through, in the past few posts, has been for the following reason:-

This writing project and time out to reflect and to talk to others means that IN PARTICULAR I can hone in on how younger ones, lone parents and families who I love with all of my heart might fit into and GROW into the missional church model that my church bravely entered into. What is God's Spirit saying about missional communities and families and kids/teens?

Already I have had some vivid new dreams about what this might look like. Like, what shape it would actually take to make it begin to happen, but in the dream it isn't me that's giving it shape, I'm simply facilitating, it's the people gathered together under a waterfall, a pouring out of God's Spirit who receive the details he breathed into them. It feels as if I am seeing a fresh and new perspective because I am away from it all. Is it possible that precisely when you're not IN something you can see something new?

It's important to note that the things I've experienced with missional expressions were not because they were wrong - I don't think that nor have ever thought that. Missional expressions/communities turn inward-focussed Bible study groups into groups of people who look at local needs and ask the Spirit of God to lead them deeper in what it means to do the kinds of things that Jesus would do. Therefore, once they are ablaze with the Spirit's power and living out of a deep, personal revelation of the Father's love and a solid foundation on his word, there is literally nothing they can't tackle head on!

So half-hearted meeting together for Bible study out of routine, struggling every step of the way is not what I envisage. Nor is a tight community of people of similar socio-economic backgrounds what I envisage.

Radical, Holy Spirit empowered encounters deeply engrained in simply loving the community around and watching and listening for the people God is bringing across one's path is what I really want to be part of.

I personally love looking out for the Person of Peace God puts across my path(the terminology used) as I know in my noah what that means; that one who you pray for and love to bits and look for ways to love and serve. Someone who, for that period of time, is receptive to you and the good news about Jesus. For reasons of confidentiality its best to share an example from many years ago. Someone I knew vaguely was very ill a few years ago and it became clear that she was my Person of Peace. For a long time I thought of her, prayed for her and tried to do practical things to help her as often as I could. I still miss her and think of her often.

The greatest privilege was asking if I could pray for her in hospital and seeing her full recovery some time later. The whole point of the person of peace is that we love them and serve them.

Back to the last week's research on missional communities and children, teenagers and families. This forms part of what I'm writing and follows on from my first chapter, an examination of how children and new Christians learn and grow in their faith and the second chapter, the place of nurture, which missional communities are so well placed to offer, if they are growing well.

The following is an excerpt from an interview with Mike Breen, who is widely credited as one of the first people to practise missional communities in his church in Sheffield (Mike now lives in the States). You can read the whole interview here, on Fuller Theological Seminary's blog.

The parts in bold are the interviewer's questions:

I don’t think I’ve read any book on the missional church that spends as much time discussing how to create space for families and children. What are the primary difficulties you’ve seen incorporating children and families into these types of communities? Why is it worth the effort to do this?

Well like I said above, I think there are different ways of incorporating kids into Missional Community life. There isn’t one way we’ve found best to do it; it generally depends on the mission context, age of the kids, temperament and work situation of the parents, size of the meeting spot, etc. But at a bare minimum, we would say that kids need to be seeing their parents involved in mission and discipleship and participating with them. We’ve done a fair amount of research on this and what came to light is that kids who have atheist or agnostic parents have a better chance of having a strong faith than kids who have parents that go to church, but don’t ever disciple their kids themselves. There’s simply too much dissonance there. Parents must be the primary disciplers of their kids and Missional Communities let this happen.

The reason it’s worth it is because this allows our kids to journey into a story bigger and far more important than the consumeristic narcissism they are sold everywhere else. And parents and spiritual aunts and uncles have to show them how to live this kind of life if it’s going to stick.

And so, for me in the quote above Mike Breen highlights this kind of thing that I've banged on about before and I personally can't wait to hear what else he says when he speaks in Scotland next week.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Come as a child.....

Watch this - hilarious and also serious:-

Goes to show how much children are natural copy-ers of what we do and say - our mannerisms and and intonation.

This small clip resounds with depth for anyone with a heart for discipling (people of any ages!)

- is our chat something we want copied by those "learning"? Is our chat engaging and even delightful to listen to?

- Even more importantly, what does our chat sounds like not just when we are "on show", but when we are in more private places; in the kitchen, in the car with our partner/kids, frustrated with a slow download (!)

- do our hands follow through with what we are saying? Are we combining talk with a life lived differently?. God's Way is not a matter of mere talk; it's an empowered life. (1 Cor 4:20 from The Message)

- do we talk with one another in a state of utter vulnerability (as represented by the babies' half-nakedness?)or do we dress it all up with fancy clothes and fancy words?

In this clip which I have watched several times today while meditating on some scriptures, I wonder if many of us are not entering a stage where what we know is being stripped back. Stripped back to the bare essentials!!

It's a time for simplicity, not for fancy stuff. Time to love, time to pray, time to aligned hearts, time to practice selfless actions, admitting mistakes, time to love beyond anything else, move on and grow, honour one another, persue passion and holiness and the kingdom above anything else. Anything else. Ambition, empire, fame or fortune.

Who are your runners? Who runs with you? Forget the strategies or politics or plans for a moment, these are the ones you can have heart to heart exchanges with, talking about dreams and visions and stuff that's exciting you. And this, I believe is key: you will not always understand everything the other is saying, you will not always be able to talk back in a way that they firmly understand, but you are united in your love for one another and for the Father. This is kingdom.

"da da da da-da-da da da-da da" to you:-)

I've probably gone far too deep with this innocent wee youtube clip, but its impacted me quite a lot today!