Hoddidodds for BeeverSteve

something gritty to chew on

Welcome to my blog.

These are not the voyages of the Starship Enterprise but the reflections and musings of a local church minister about to begin a period of sabbatical study.  Some entries will have practical applications whilst others may resemble a Daliesque stream of consciousness. Those are the more personal entries as I’m holding up a mirror to my own thoughts as I reflect on my faith and life’s journey.

Feel free to comment but please respect these words, thoughts and ideas for what they are.  Most of them come from experience; others will reflect my reading and travel experiences over the next three months. Some are reworkings of older material (where is that PhD when you need it?) – a few will probably be written with the effort of getting my allotment ready for winter. (There’s a message in that somewhere, I’m sure).

Some will provoke, others warn or warm – some may even move you. When you do read, ask God what He might be saying to you. I’d love to hear about it.

The working title for my blog comes from two dialect words in use in rural Cambridgeshire until the 1970’s. A slap up meal at Mrs Miggins’ pie shop for anyone who deciphers the true meaning!

More than a building

It was a great privilege to welcome 11 people into membership on Sunday morning (19th February). As is customary with many Baptist Churches we extend this welcome during a Communion Service, immediately prior to sharing bread and wine. It was a real “family” occasion - we were together as a whole church, the children and young people remaining with us to share in the occasion and receive a blessing at communion.

In explaining what we were doing, I asked the congregation to respond to three questions - What is “church”? What does it mean to believe in Jesus? How can I be part of it?

There were some really great responses which (I hope) helped everyone to grasp what we were doing – and why we were doing it.

The first question, regarding the nature of the church, remains a continuing challenge for me. I know there are as many expressions of church as there are congregations (and probably more than that) but it is the essential DNA of being and doing church which seems to be at the forefront of my mind, as GHBC seeks to continue its witness in this local community. It’s probably the last of the “Railway” churches.

How would you describe “church?”  Well, here are a few possibilities for you to consider:

  • Church is more than a building     it’s about people
  • Church is not a fortress                 it’s open to all
  • Church is not exclusive                 it’s relevant to all 
  • Church is not just for Sunday        it’s 24/7

Does God want GHBC –and your fellowship - to be (and to look and work) like this?  If He does, then the personal challenge we have to work through is where we fit in with His plans and intentions, and how we deliver them in practice. This is, in effect, a call for us to put our trust in God and to put that relationship with him at the top of our priorities.  It’s also a process of listening, praying and understanding as we consider how our faith can be worked out through practical expressions of Christian witness and service.

Part of the everyday detail is expressed in Philippians 2 where, in verses 12 to 18, we find 4 personal and vital responses to Christ’s work:

  • to work out our salvation (v. 12)
  • to shine out in our witness (v. 15)
  • to hold out life to others (v. 16)
  • to pour out our lives in sacrifice (v. 17)

Each of these has implications. The first (“work out”), reflects our relationship with God: how do we follow through the process of daily Christian living in a secular world? 

The remaining three affect our relationship with others and the level and extent of our desire to make Jesus known to them. The most authentic witness of all is, as ever, that of a fruitful, transformed life.

We know that God is faithful in His promises. Now, as we look to the future let's put all our trust, all our dependence, all our strength towards serving others and walking with Him.

Push(*) on

Working in the last decades of the 19th Century, C H Spurgeon - renowned preacher and Pastor of the largest church in London - realized that the church faced challenges which threatened its very survival.

It was a time of great social, political and economic upheaval. People were deserting the churches, yet still claimed that they were looking for “something” which would bring meaning to otherwise meaningless lives.  Theologians and preachers were increasingly dismissive of parts of the bible which they felt were inappropriate, out of date or even irrelevant for their modern age. Ordinary people didn’t just believe in nothing - they were prepared to believe in anything.

It sounds very familiar to our 21st Century ears.  The church under attack divided against itself confronting a culture claiming to be spiritual, yet missing the truth entirely. All this at a time of profound and far reaching change, affecting every part of life and shaking hitherto accepted moral foundations to their core.

Spurgeon’s response is still relevant today. His solution was to put the gospel (and the cross) of Christ at the centre of the church’s life and mission and, to urge the church to pray.

To pray is to say something about God, about others and, not least, about ourselves. Prayer suggests drive and urgency. It confirms our need to communicate with God about our relationship with Him and the world.  Prayer is crucial to the life of the universal church and to the witness of the local church. As Spurgeon himself wrote: “… all the Christian virtues are locked up in the word prayer.”

Want to see lives transformed, hurts healed, broken relationships restored? Long to see the church move with power and commitment? It won’t happen unless we are committed to pray, to listen to God and to act as He directs.

Will we take advantage of the many opportunities we have to pray? Will we commit ourselves to pray more regularly and, in a more focused way?

(*) Pray Until Something Happens  .... but don't stop then

A cry from the heart: Suffering and the Justice of God in the book of Job

Accept suffering graciously. When you have reached such a point, all misery will seem sweet and you will relish it for Christ's sake and think that you have discovered paradise on earth. As long as you object to suffering you will be ill at ease. Accept it, and you will find peace[1].

It is infinitely easier to suffer with others than to suffer alone. It is infinitely easier to suffer as public heroes than to suffer apart and in ignominy. It is infinitely easier to suffer physical death than to endure spiritual suffering[2].

Over six centuries and over seventy years have passed since Thomas à Kempis and Dietrich Bonhoeffer respectively sought to give voice to one of the age old conundrums or struggles of human existence; why do we suffer? Perhaps 3000 years have passed since the author of the book of Job sought to put this eternal enigma into the realm of the justice of God as manifested in the light of human suffering. For Job himself (and the author who recorded his story), as much as for à Kempis and Bonhoeffer - as well as for believers all over the world through recorded Christian and Jewish history - the struggle has always focused on the central theme of reconciling the reality of a living, loving, omnipresent, omnipotent God, who is also apparently prepared to stand back and allow bad things to happen to good people.

Your life on God's line

White line fever. Have you caught it too?

When many sportsmen and women step across the line and onto the field of play, they become seriously competitive people. Most successful players have some form of this fever: the fact is, they have the will to win, the means to accomplish it and are single minded in their aim to achieve it.

The gospel invites us to step across the line on a daily basis. We leave the comfort and security of our church community behind and step into what can often appear to be a completely different world. Gone are the prayers, the songs, the quiche and the coffee: it’s now or never – bring it on, real world!

The opportunities for engagement are always there, because we are surrounded by people who want to tell us things, ask us stuff, inviting us to share in their lives, hopes and dreams. The biggest challenge comes when we’d rather be spectators sitting in the stands, looking on at the field of play, than crossing that white line ourselves.

What will it take to get us going? Taking a leaf from Nehemiah’s book gives us a couple of pointers – we will only rebuild broken lives when:

  • we're concerned about the ruins we see
  • we’re ready to involve God to find the guidance (and confidence) we need

On a practical level this has significant implications for us as individuals and as a church fellowship. We have the means to transform our communities but do we have the will and the single minded focus to support it and achieve God’s goals?

It’s a question that we can only answer as we consider our own response to Christ. Prayer, worship, good teaching and relevant activities are all important – but none of them are any substitute for a transformed life that develops a committed heart.

As we move into 2017 let’s keep our eyes fixed on Christ, willing to serve and to follow wherever and however He may lead & call us.

I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me (Phil. 3:12)

Book Review - Cynicism[1] by John Leach

Introduction

John Leach is an Anglican Priest, currently ministering in Folkestone. He is also a self confessed cynic who recognises that the institution he works within has a natural trajectory towards cynicism. He claims this is a destructive attitude which debilitates churches and disempowers leaders.

 Cynicism traces its origins back to the Ancient Greeks and to a school of thought founded by Antisthenes around 339 BC. His philosophy was simple: virtue not pleasure is the only purpose in Life. This was a call to reject the hedonistic culture of the ancient world where pleasure and self expression were rejected and virtue (which was seen as something you could be taught like any other academic discipline), was embraced. Anthisthenes and his followers were not exactly popular: they were often unkempt and took to public debates and to challenging people in the streets whose lives were examples of excess, not moderation.