Signal Fires

I was struck by something a friend said to me yesterday, that his normal London commute was delayed due to two signal fires. I’m not a regular train traveller so I don’t know if this happens regularly. 

But I was praying with a couple of our leadership team before the Sunday service this morning, and two things made me sense the wind of the Spirit. One, voiced by someone else, was that the cobwebs would be swept away. It didn’t strike me at the time, but later in the meeting a sister prayed for ME that the cobwebs get swept away. She hadn’t been there for the pre-meeting prayer! And then, I just got the thought about track-switching, about a train unavoidably re-routed by a switch on the track, and at the same time was reminded of signal fires.

Train signals are desperately important for safety. I’m guessing that a signal fire is the same as a signal failure, and that trains just have to stop and wait, rather than blunder on to possible collisions. But I think perhaps there needs to be more burning at the moment.

What sort of burning? I’m not saying that we reject everything we have experienced and learnt so far. It is true that from time to time I feel like I want to start again, put everything down, reassess. Looking through my possessions before moving house, you can be tricked into thinking: I’ve not used that item, or turned to that book, in five years, so I won’t need it. Chances are, just after you’ve got rid of it, you will be clamouring for it. Life has a habit of moving in waves, in phases, where whole swathes of your personality or networks of relationships aren’t touched for a while, and then suddenly you’re reconnected to them. So no, I’m not saying decrease the richness and the breadth of your life.

But I AM saying, burn up the dross. Let the bitterness go. Let the comparisons go. Lose the teenage crushes and the consumerist envy. Joy, as a veteran of the faith reminded me the other night on the way to Lighthouse Prayer, is spelled Jesus, Others, You. Happiness is the opposite, it starts with You, and never gets any further, circling around self self self like a vulture waiting for the final pickings; the lust for happiness is not satisfied until every shred of joy is completely gone.  Jesus said, deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me.

He modelled it in his own path. His was not the primrose path to the everlasting bonfire. I think we have to be careful if we find there are too many primroses on our paths. Jesus walked a narrow way, but it led to an unspeakable joy. The Lord chooses to speak to us through a fire, or through a strange event, and he is telling us the next step. My food is to do the will of him who sent me. Am I going to listen, and respond, to the word that the Holy Spirit is bringing, or do I retreat to a formula, to a good idea?

To let go. To let the Spirit burn up in me each day. To say No to self.

What release. 

What freedom.

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With Full Conviction Review

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The programme Neil kindly let me have – take £1 to get your own copy!

Feeling very privileged, I set off last night to be in a select audience for the first performance of a remarkable piece of drama, ‘With Full Conviction’ written by my good friend Neil MacDonald.

I had seen the playscript in an earlier form and was quite excited by the possibilities.  When I entered St. Wilfrid’s Church, Bognor Regis, however, I wasn’t quite prepared for what I saw!  There was an atmospheric feel with muted lighting, green squares representing grass and two benches, opposite from each other (which would move to side by side later on in the performance), and a larger-than-life, leafy, cosmic tree in the background.  Also there was a character looking as if she had sprung from the tree, Wanda by name, wandering around as the ‘spirit of the park’, witnessing and at times symbolically leading the action.  The play was accompanied by a spacey, dreamy musical accompaniment that helped to prolong and deepen the impact of the piece.

What takes place in this play? Mike, a gay Christian on a lunchbreak on a park bench, gets into conversation with Kev, a young unemployed man with a bad foot.  He offers to put some holy water on it, and Kev’s friend Magda and Kev himself are not a little surprised by the result.

The ripe language at times drew gasps from some in the audience (drawn I am guessing mainly from a church background), but it seemed to fit in perfectly with an educated, avuncular, camp older man making cold contact with a younger man who clearly needed help.  I don’t want to give away how the play movingly develops, but I do want to single out a couple of powerful moments.

The first was when Kev just cannot cope with Mike’s probing questions and demands for a response: Mike gets a bit in Kev’s face, and Kev leaps up, swinging Mike around and landing a punch in his stomach.  Completely believable and shocking.  I almost wanted to dive up and help ‘Mike’ myself.  At this point, I felt that the character Magda, who is a friend to Kev but at the same time is more open-minded than him towards things spiritual, valuably conveys the audience’s shock and sense of decorum.

The second powerful moment comes later on – the play is partly inspired by the Ravensbruck Prayer, and it’s after Magda retells the story of Etty and her experience in the Second World War, that the quick repartee between Mike and Magda becomes very powerful and a dialogue of faith and its possibilities: the line ‘Everything can change’ really rang out at me and is inspiring me still.  From this point onwards, the drama had a powerful sense of onward momentum: it wasn’t just a sense that ‘Mike’ as your representative Christian was out on a mission in the world, but the three individuals are drawn together and discover they all need each other – the power came as Mike freezes and appears to become catatonic.  It is Kev, surprisingly, who responds warmly to Mike and helps him.  It becomes Mike’s turn to show his need, and it is just as broken, urgent and desperate as the others.

I think for myself as a Christian, I do not take seriously enough the help that I can receive from others, particularly those who would not identify themselves as ‘Jesus freaks’.  God uses everyone, and we need each other.  Sometimes, the only person who can help you is a Christian – what’s the problem with that?  But at other times, as Christians, we need to allow those around us to support us – I think Jesus would have done the same, and probably often did.  We might be surprised by the way what they say keys in to our need and where we are – as Hopkins wrote, ‘Christ plays in ten thousand places, lovely in eyes and lovely in limbs not His.’  That probably sounds patronising for those who are not God-botherers, but to put it a different way, kindness and love is not limited to Christians – quite the opposite!

The power in the last moments of the play as the characters leave the stage, with the lines: “we are ordinary people…people who must love…whatever the cost.” meant that those of us in the audience just sat there, slightly awestruck, by the vision, the tawdriness, the magic (of the music, of the set), and the sheer guts of this play.  Here we were, in a church building and church community, watching a play written by a member of that community (but may I say performed by at least two people very much strangers to institionalised church): yet the play was saying – the institution is not enough to help, not everyone.  It was also saying: gay people can show others the way to Jesus.  It was also saying: we should keep trying and keep believing.

I guess the value of community is that love is found in actions, rather than simply intentions.  This play came out of a desire to communicate the value of an Ignatian Retreat and the Spiritual Exercises: one great tool that these provide are about helping to make better choices.  Everything can change because we can change our choices.

I don’t feel that I’ve done the play justice at all – it’s being performed tonight and tomorrow night:

Sunday 21st February at 7.30 pm – All Saints Church, Hove, BN3 3QE
Monday 22nd February at 7.30 pm – All Saint Church, Hove, East Sussex, BN3 3QE

at All Saints Church, Hove – you can find more information about the project here.

I may come back and write more about this at a later stage, but thank you Neil, Jack, Mari, Joanna (actors and last one, director), as well as Gus, Zoe, Marian and those others involved as well, for a remarkable and memorable evening.

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Losing your Mojo

This may be a spur of the moment, but the pleasure of WordPress, and the desire to engage and explore, has brought me to the keyboard and the screen.

For a short period I was blogging regularly, and I revamped my blog a little while ago to regain a focus on living in revival.  Oddly, the opposite perhaps has happened since I have been on here.

I have been going through one of those seasons in your life where you are just, yep, living.   Just about.  Not quite sure if you’re coming or going, trying to do a dozen things, doing none of them very well – everywhere you turn, someone is firing at you either broadsides, or taking a pot-shot.

There are days, aren’t there, where for some reason you manage to escape anyone firing at you, and you think: Hah, got away with that one!  Then the next day, you realise that they were saving them all up, and they get fired at you all at once.

Please don’t think I’m getting at anyone here.  If anything, I’m getting at myself.  I remember, when I started out in teaching, that I put a topical slogan ‘I choose to lose today’ by my desk, and my then head of department said: That’s a bit negative!  It was a reference to Galatians 2:20 and dying in Christ.  It’s fine declaiming ‘I was lost without the Saviour’ but the truth is: I am still lost without the Saviour.

Let’s get this straight.  Meeting Jesus so early in my life ruined me for anything other than knowing Him. Whatever my lofty ambitions were in my teens and my twenties, everything has shrunk now and, while grateful for what I have, the opportunities close down like that Larkin poem (see ‘To My Wife’ page above). I now look at the years I have lived so far, and I think: what have I done with them?  Where is the fruit?  And I am not in despair, because I trust in the awesome salvation that Jesus has worked, all with me in mind.  But there is a large gap between where I wanted to be for Him, and where I have been shown to be in prophetic words, and where I am.

A key was mentioned in passing in our church a month or so back.  Someone said; It’s the regular washing of the Word that you need.  The days I wash in the Word are the days I get my priorities straight.  They’re the days I remember to do the tasks that will matter left undone.  The days where I’m about to get attacked, but I flourish the piece of completed work and say: All done.  It’s not so important to be up early and working to get that piece of marking or planning finished.  It’s much more important to see the face of the Saviour before I see the face of men (or women – to quote Robert Murray McCheyne).

So I’ve come back to the blog, and I do not think that blogging is a cure-all.  It’s not even like a New Year’s Resolution – just the echo of a desire to change, quickly abandoned.  But rather like journalling (which I have managed to do, thankfully, this week at least), it helps me to set my mind straight and to seek God’s kingdom before I seek my own.  Then I won’t THINK about seeking my own kingdom!

What do we all have to look forward to as believers?  The opportunity in the present moment to touch Him, to align, and to change the world.  He will take care of the ungraspable future, the impossible future, that He has promised.  But the little present is where we all need to start.  Help me God!

 

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Better Than a Thousand Elsewhere

The start of this post seems very time-/works focused, at a glance, but then the desire at the end is totally sweet; only You Lord! And how could Psalm 84 ever get old?

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This was my first week at The Prayer Room in Arlington, Texas, and I hit the ground running. I have already led four two-hour solo worship sets on piano, section led twice (a section leader is the main point person in charge of the prayer room for a six-hour block of time), and ushered once. Yesterday I was at the prayer room for fourteen hours because I was filling in as a section leader on top of my regular prayer room hours and worship leading. In total, I count 26 hours I’ve spent in the prayer room in the last five days- and Wednesday was a day off.

Worship leading is still rather new to me, as is playing piano in general, so of course I’ve encountered glitches like hitting the wrong buttons on the keyboard (that was NOT the sound I wanted!) and fumbling the chords plenty of times. I love it, though, because every…

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Thoughts on Revision

Really liked this on redrafting – I’m toying with the idea of writing a novel NaNoWriMo

Aarongilbreath's Blog

There is power in a first draft, but Hemingway was mostly right: first drafts are shit. Maybe it’s not that way for everyone, but for me and what seems like many people, first drafts are a start; you find your story in revision.

Revision is both the most gratifying and the most draining part of my writing life. It exhausts while it challenges, engaging my aesthetic and intellectual sensibilities simultaneously, my conscious and subconscious minds, and it leaves me so worn out that I no longer distinguish between the excitement of constantly thinking about and laboring over an essay, and the frustration of it. Revision is so essential that if I had to choose one line to describe the writing process, it would be: “writing is revision.” Maybe that’s why I love poet Robert Hass’s quote so much: “It’s hell writing and it’s hell not writing. The only tolerable…

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Making all things new

Mark Stibbe is excellent and very clear – this new blog looks worth following!

Kingdom Writing Solutions

I don’t know when you’re most creative time is. For me it’s that phase between sleeping and waking, usually between 0500 and 0700. About a year ago I was in this state when I suddenly saw and understood something that I’d been thinking about in preparation for leading my first ever KWS writer’s workshop. I’m talking about creativity. Suddenly I had clarity. I understood what creativity is and, more importantly, I began to recognise the process that all human beings go through when they are being creative.

In this series of blogs, I’m going to unpack what it means to be creative and how creative expressions – such as books and songs, paintings and movies – get born from within the human soul.

To start with, I want to stress that we are all of us creative. I don’t buy the lie that some are analytical while others are artistic…

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Dreaming about Prayer

Wondering about how to make more of an impact with prayer in our town and community – what do you think?

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Let me do a bit of dreaming.  It says in Joel that your young men will dream dreams – I like to think that I’m still young!  I have been reading about the National Prayer Weekend, where it is encouraging us to gather prayer requests from our community, and bring them before God in prayer.  What an opportunity to make the nation aware of the power and the activity of prayer!  It does no harm to try!  There are many things that we attempt, that even cost us money, and we cannot guarantee success.

How can we dream this event into being on the 25th to the 27th September in Bognor?  I dream of a unity among the churches, where Christians are crossing the thresholds perhaps of churches they didn’t realise existed, in order to purposefully pray, for someone they have never met, but who LIVES IN THEIR COMMUNITY and…

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Baptism in the Holy Spirit

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A couple of years ago I prepared a short paper on this topic for the benefit of our local church, and I do feel passionately about the importance of the role of the Holy Spirit in our growth in the Lord.  I would encourage you to take a read and perhaps to follow up some of the references.  I’m afraid you’ll have to open it as a separate attachment:

Paper on Baptism in the Holy Spirit

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Summer 2015 backlog challenge

A friend suggested I identified some books I wanted to get read this summer – of course, this does not include those I will have to read to be ready for the new academic year, but I’ll give it a shot!

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Tribute to a Pastor Part Two

My second, slightly delayed, portion of Tribute to a Pastor:

Leading a Meeting

This would be where his pastoral gifting and leadership anointing would be seen.  As a church who believes in the priesthood of all believers, we see an appropriate sensitivity to allow others to minister.  At one of our Encounter meetings, for example, he would create space and under his authority others are released to minister.  One after another of the saints takes up the gauntlet, bringing a decisive contribution to the meeting, deepening intimacy with the Lord, initiating ministry between each other.  There may come a moment at which he goes to the microphone, and simply nudges the meeting or retracks the purpose: ‘If anyone would like prayer, we’re here for you’, or to say: ‘Let’s continue in worship.’

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He also confidently carries a larger meeting, with the ability to acknowledge all parts, different ages and needs, and run it in a godly, brisk and sensitive manner.  This would apply for inter-church meetings, for the larger joint meetings of our church in times past, and for special occasion meetings, including weddings and funerals.

Leading the Worship

Although this has been a newer development in his ministry – in the last ten years, perhaps – there has always been  strong emphasis on the importance of corporate singing at our church.  His wife’s consistent input in worship has also tutored and supported his recent work in leading worship.  What is so beautiful when he leads worship is the heart to make space for the presence of God to move.  He will spend time on a song, and suddenly, although it might feel that we have sung it for ages, the Spirit will breathe life and the Father will start to minister through it.  Also he is not partisan in his worship, always going for a particular style, but will embrace upbeat praise numbers as well as more mellow reflective lyrics.  When he leads worship, he does it with complete commitment, and with a servant heart.

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This links in to the evening meetings that he and his wife have run for a number of years in the church.  Many of these have been extremely precious times, whether Beryl has led on piano, or they have both carried the singing together.  In a more intimate setting, there have been opportunities for creative and powerful encounters with God and with each other as the Body.  Our pastor has also taken seriously special opportunities to be involved with ministering through music, whether at a special day with a guest speaker or an Away Day, and a desire for excellence has permeated his preparation and delivery.  He can be deeply critical of his own performance technically, and yet the singing has still been anointed, which shows the crucial importance of the state of your heart when involved in the singing.

Looking Back

Over the past seven years I have got to know John in the eldership setting, and over the last fifteen years on leadership team, and I deeply appreciate his skill in leading a meeting, in handling different characters, in prioritising in a godly way, and in his kindness in dealing with other peoples’ shortcomings, including my own.  John is a completely genuine man of God; he does not pretend to be anything he is not, but he has never lost his passion to see the kingdom of God come in power, and to see people saved, healed, delivered and set free.  He has not been unduly disappointed by setbacks, he has not waited or strained after personal recognition (so this is probably extremely difficult for him!), and he has quietly gone about his ministry when it has often been given at huge personal cost, particularly during times of ill-health.  Philip Keller discusses kindness this way:

“It is getting involved with the personal sorrows and strains of other lives to the point where it may well cost me pain – real pain – and some serious inconvenience.   The truly kind person is one who does not flinch at the cost of extending kindness.  He forgets his own personal preferences to proffer help and healing to another.  At the price of inconvenience, labour and personal privation he goes out quietly and without fanfare to bring pleasure to another.”  He also says that “we give up our little games of playing tit-for-tat with others.  No longer do we show love to get love back.  No longer are we kind in order to be complimented and thought well of.  We no longer give for what we can get.  Those days are done – those tactics are terminated.  Selfish self-satisfaction is no longer the mainspring of our actions.”

While I am still playing my games of tit-for-tat, I have watched this man of God observe at times thoughtfully, wisely and discreetly, and say nothing, and yet in his discretion teach me much.

So how do I sum up the years of ministry that I have been privileged to witness?  I think a different way to do it is to look at the church that he has pastored.  It is well-regarded in the community – known to be clear in what it believes.  It works with other churches.  It reaches out to those around.  It is a close-knit community, and it is friendly to visitors.  There are faithful individuals within it who have stuck it out through thick and thin.  Perseverance, determination, joy and peace are hallmark traits of King’s Gate Church.

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What’s more, King’s Gate Church has a Caleb, can-do spirit.  It says ‘The time is now’ and ‘The time has come.’  It affirms: ‘We can take this mountain, for the Lord has already given it to us.’  Robert Clinton in his book  ‘The Making of a Leader’ defines several phases in a leader’s life: Sovereign Foundations, Inner-Life Growth, Ministry Maturing, Life Maturing, Convergence and Afterglow. I wouldn’t want to presume to identify what stage John is at in his leadership: however, he is a mature man of God and I feel that there is much that has converged in his ministry already.  A sister with a prophetic gift on his retirement brought a small coat hanger, and said ‘The Lord is telling you to hang up your coat’ but she then handed him a larger coat hanger: ‘You are putting down one mantle to put on a bigger one.’  I am looking forward to how John will return after his sabbatical and bring a different flavour to the honey.  In forty faithful and passionate years he has kept us close to Jesus and close to the saints whom He loves.

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