who is in control?

Control is a dangerous word.  It’s OK, and in fact vital, for us to have a control for our TV or for our Xbox.  It helps when we exercise control of our pets and our vehicles.  We may have to control things at work.  I get berated in the garden for my poor control of the football.  MV5BMTA1MTUxNDY4NzReQTJeQWpwZ15BbWU2MDE3ODAxNw@@._V1_All these things are good and normal… But we have to be careful when we use the word control in relation to our human relationships. However much we might like to sometimes, it is not acceptable for us to control other people; even if they are close to us – our children, our spouse, our friends.  The only person I can have any semblance of control over, is myself.   You might well know the feeling of wishing you could control somebody else from afar:

“If only I could fast forward this talk/lecture/conversation.. ”

“If only I could put this person on pause… ”

“I’d really like to eject this person from my life…”

This kind of feeling can easily occur in church life.  We look at others, and their activity or engagement with faith or mission, and we can’t help but conclude that it would be far, far better if they did it my way.  If I could just only control the way they think and approach things, then it would be so much more effective.  Working collaboratively can test our levels of self-control.  We have to listen to other people.  We have to take their views on board.  We have to find common ground.  We have to stop ourselves saying what we really think.  Self-control is vital for the planning stage of mission.  If we could all exercise it in equal measure, then it might just be easier to work together and to move forward effectively.

What would be even better, would be to be able to control those we are seeking to reach out to.  If we could just make them believe! What a brilliant shortcut to full churches and thriving communities that would be.  Mind-control of those around us is attempted by some, and is rightly rubbished.  It’s not right to even try this kind of thing.  So, how do we exercise self-control? And why is it important in our faith communities and in our mission?

The self-control that St Paul calls us to, is to do with us being watchful and temperate in our physical and spiritual lives.  The Authorised Version translated the word as ‘temperance’.  Temperance has become associated more with self-denial and the ability (or inability) of some to stave off the guilty pleasures of alcohol and other substances.  The Temperance Movement (not the Glasgow-based rockers) is engaged in the social promotion of abstinence and being teetotal.  An admirable attempt at austerity, but perhaps not in line with what Paul meant in his litany of fruits of the Spirit.

Paul is writing about a healthy way of being, yes, but one that has a more holistic feel to it.  It is not self-control in terms of us controlling our destiny; but it is an earthy, pragmatic encouragement for us to be more aware of our own being.  To manage ourselves more positively.  To not worry that we cannot control others.  To keep ourselves in check.  To walk with God’s Holy Spirit, we will exercise self-control.  We will continually orientate ourselves to God.  We are safe with him and he will keep us on the right track.

Finally, what does it bring to our mission as a church?  It helps us have perspective. A perspective that allows other views be listened to.  A perspective that gives others the ability to be involved.  A perspective that puts us in our proper place – not in control, but much more aware of where we fit in with God’s mission.  Working together in mission is such an exciting thing.  We are encouraged by Paul to manage ourselves, so that we can listen, contribute and plan our part in God’s story of mission.

Gently does it…

Gentleness is our penultimate fruit of the Holy Spirit.  That’s not to say that the fruit of the Holy Spirit ever come to an end, but you know what I mean.  Paul uses the word which can be translated as meekness (KJV) or gentleness (loads of other versions).  Being gentle is something that some of us find difficult.

‘Gentle Ben’ is a great story – the Alaskan brown bear befriends a young child in the original novel.  It is a fanciful story of a usually fierce and unpredictable creature being friendly, kind and careful with the humans he comes across.  But in a dramatic turn of events he is provoked and he retaliates dangerously, his claws are revealed and he protects his territory with violence.  The tale returns to a calmer version of Ben and the image is conveyed once more of a docile animal, who exudes great gentleness to all around.

Why should we bear gentleness as a fruit of the spirit?  What good will being gentle do us?  Especially in our mission as a church; shouldn’t we be being strident, forthright and incisive?  When we are preparing for a mission project or event, we often are encouraged to speak about boldness.  We are often sucked into thinking that if we use the loudest voice, or the loudest music, or the loudest clothes, or the loudest colours, then people will flock to us!  Our event will be a roaring success.  Sometimes, though, people can see through the loudness.  Sometimes we might just come across as a bit too keen. A bit too loud.

Where does gentleness fit in to our mission?  We have to be careful in mission, we have to be sensitive, we have to have respect.  Ultimately we have to listen.  Gentleness is a way of being, which leads us to a space where we listen to what is around us.  We listen to one another, we listen to our culture and we listen to God. St Peter writes in his letter:  “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect..”  What a great way to sum up how we can include gentleness in our mission and evangelism.

Jesus also uses the same word, when he says “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth”.  I don’t know about you, but this is a glowing endorsement of gentleness.  It is another fruit of the spirit that goes against the flow of our society.  Success is equated to power and power is in the hands of the strong, the loud and the over-confident.  Gentleness as a way of being is not fashionable in social, political and (sadly) religious life.  In scripture it carries echoes of humility and mildness.  Do we show humility towards others?  Do we show humility towards God?

Our mission is not about a grand show, telling the world how clever we are.  It is a real response to God in humility.  It is best to engage in mission after we have listened, which I believe is part of gentleness. We can go boldly and we go with a message of power, but we do it with the gentleness that the Holy Spirit gives us.

 

 

 

 

faithfulness

IMG_9349.jpgWhen Paul writes of faithfulness in Galatians, what does he mean? It’s from the Greek pistis, which carries a sense of loyalty and being trustworthy when dealing with other people. How can we learn about being faithful people in spiritual terms?  It may make us feel uncomfortable, because the opposite human traits are not very appealing.

My dog is extremely loyal.  Her name is Cassie and she is pictured here.  Every time I return to her, she comes and sits in front of me, wags her tail and looks at me expectantly.  She is always there.  She relies on me for her nurture and wellbeing.  Interestingly, I also come to rely on her.  I faithfully walk her, feed her and ensure she is safe.  It is a mutual relationship, which we both benefit from.  I learn about faithfulness just by looking at her.  If only our human interaction was as straightforward!

Galatia, at the time of Paul’s letter, was a mixture of early Jewish Christians and another group of Christians, who had a Greco-Roman angle on their burgeoning faith.  Paul was seeking to give them a united message.  Who, or what, should they be faithful to?  Was it their cultural norms?  Was it their interpretation of the law?  Was it their teachers? Or was it the teachings of Christ?  In Galatians 3, Paul writes There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”  He is quite clear that the person of Jesus was the key to understanding life.  Paul acknowledged that there was difference and was preaching a message of unity and mutual faithfulness.  In his list of the fruits of the Spirit, he gave the people of Galatia, and consequently to us, some ways to gauge how they were doing.

Faithfulness is a mindset which we show to all kinds of things.  Pets is an obvious example.  But we also show it to our favourite singers, we show it to our hobbies, we show it to each other at the pub, we show it to our families.  But how can we show it in our mission as a church?  We can show it by not giving up.  We can show it by keeping on keeping on.  We can meet it by being steadfast and always being there.

The opposite of faithfulness is a mindset we can sometimes be guilty of slipping into. We can be fickle and we can show disregard.  The church can be guilty of seemingly only appealing to people like us or people who will understand us.  This is an impoverished view of the faithfulness that God shows to us.  His lavish gift of unwavering faithfulness deserves more from us.

Faithfulness is something that we can all pray for.  It might be conveyed these days in terms of stickability or guts.  Faithfulness is the friend who is there whatever has happened.  Faithfulness is the brother or sister who still loves you. Faithfulness is in the ancient church door.  Faithfulness is in the face of Christ.  Faithfulness is in the bread and the wine.  Faithfulness is at the centre of our mission.  Faithfulness is what God shows to us.  Let’s do our bit and show it to each other and let it shine in our mission as a church.

 

oh my goodness

Aslan

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”                                       CS  Lewis, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe          

What is goodness? Does being good really get you anywhere?  We all like to feel that we are a good person. We will often say “good film” or “good bloke” or “good food” – but is there more to this concept of goodness?

Here we are, still in Paul’s letter to the Galatians, still being reminded of the fruits of the Holy Spirit.  Given the right conditions, fruit trees continue to grow fruit until the end of their life.  Given the right conditions, we are able to grow the fruits of the Holy Spirit until the end of our lives.  But perhaps with goodness, we are susceptible to the some of the problems which confront the discerning fruit grower.

Some fruits don’t grow properly – If you have ever tried to grow fruit, you may recall the frustration at your early efforts.  Mis-shapen apples or discoloured damsens could’ve seen the end of your desire to keep going.  Good intentions are the way that we start in our attempt to embrace true goodness.  Very often, we are guilty of leaving our goodness marooned on the island of intention.  We might sign up to the purpose of our church or the mission of our diocese, with very good intentions, but if it makes no discernible difference to our actual life, then the goodness is long along with other aspirations.

Some fruits fall to the ground – elsewhere in Paul’s writings, he says “be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5).   We need to be continually filled with the Holy Spirit, that we might bear his fruit in our lives.  This means that we, at times, lose the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  We end up in a state of emptiness.  Where has the goodness gone?  We’ve tried, but it just falls away.  We have done loads of really good planning.  We have executed good communications.  We have built good relationships.  Sometimes we still encounter failure.  Sometimes all this good stuff can end up like fruit fallen on the ground, trampled and forgotten.  This can be true in our own lives, but it can also be true in our churches.  It’s how we react to the failure which will define us.  Do we go back to the source of the fruit? Do we go to him and ask him to fill us anew? Do we ask him for more fruit?  That we might show it to others? That we might give it an opportunity to be shared and to last?

Maybe the main problem with goodness is that we believe it is ours.  We use the phrase “oh my goodness” as an exclamation of surprise or shock.  It could be seen as a replacement for the ancient cry of the Psalmist – “Oh my God in you I put my trust” Psalm 25.  There is a clue here as to how we can be filled with goodness by the Holy Spirit.  Not just a goodness on the surface, not just a good film, good bloke or good intention, but a goodness which we can be continually filled with, that comes from God.

So, how does this intersect with our thinking about mission in Tandridge Deanery?  We need to be more than just good people doing good things.  We can embrace the life-giving goodness which is sourced from God and is free to us.   The expression of this goodness will vary from person to person and from church to church.  Perhaps it will be shown in challenging injustice in your community.  Perhaps it will be shown in giving a voice to the voiceless.  Perhaps it will be shown in working with another local organisation or church on an outreach idea.  We are asked to bear the fruit of the Spirit, may people see our goodness in all that we do.

 

deliberate acts of kindness

I once sat and listened to a new headteacher in a county Secondary school speak of her commitment to kindness as being central to the ethos she wanted for her new school community.  The school wasn’t a church school, so her choice of words was meant in general terms.  At the point of the new headteacher taking questions on her presentation, a local vicar raised his hand.  He asked, with a smile, the following question:  “Were you aware that, according to scripture, kindness is a fruit of the Holy Spirit?” Some of us gathered cringed inwardly.  His question was earnestly meant, and even though it may have had a mixed reception, he had a point.  What does kindness mean in our cultural context today?  How can it enhance our mission?

kindness

Kindness might come easily to you.  That’s great if it is true.  Maybe you are one of those people who is blessed with a kind countenance and cheery disposition.  Perhaps you are always ready with an encouraging word or a forgiving gesture.  Or it could be that we find being kind one of the hardest things to do.  The busyness of the day overtakes us; we get pre-occupied and distracted.  Then perhaps we forget to say “excuse me” or don’t let someone turn before us at a junction.  There are small kindnesses that can be the happy punctuation of our day.  The kindness that Paul speaks about is greater than just being a nice bloke or having a cheerful way of being.  It, like all the fruits of the Spirit, has a richness to it that can bring colour and life to our lives and also to the life of our churches.  Let’s have a look at the word and it’s use.

“For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:30

The word Jesus uses for ‘easy’ in this quotation from the Bible, is the same root as Paul’s ‘kindness’ in Galatians 5:22.  It is also the same root as when Luke reports Jesus talking of the sweet quality of the old wine.  There is something here about freshness, sweetness, gentleness and ease.  Are they characteristics we associate with kindness?  Or do we see kindness more as a ‘quid pro quo’ arrangement?  If I’m kind, then others are more likely to be kind in return.  If I show kindness, then I might see it more.  That seems more cynical than sweet.  More futile than fresh.  More self-serving than Spirit-filled.

Paul encourages us to show kindness to one another.  To show gentleness, consideration and respect to those we live and work with.  Not to bolster our own well-being, but as a response to what God has done for us, through his Spirit.  It might take an effort.  It might be the last thing we want to be or to do.  It might take some sacrifice or other.  Let us start with ourselves.  We cannot force others to be kind to us.  We cannot control kindness in the wider world. But we can ask God to show us how to be kind.  We can then even practise it in our lives.  How could we show somebody kindness today?  Why don’t you see if you can be kinder to the people around you this week?

And what about our mission as a church?  Paul’s image of a body is helpful here.  If we are kind to our bodies in our diet, exercise and lifestyle, then it is more likely to stay fit, healthy and strong.  What a brilliant mission we would have, if the world saw how kind we were to each other!

 

‘all you need is just a little patience’

I have a confession to make.  I used to get home from school, and listen to this song.115483812  I might cringe now when I hear it.  It’s pretty awful. But teenage me must’ve found something meaningful in it.  The lyrics are rock n’ roll romance. (I think it was Axl Rose’s whistling intro which really caught my attention..)

The patience that Paul writes about in Galatians and in his other letters, is something more than the soppy sentiment of this song, or the equally slushy Take That hit of the same name.  Just like our previous posts, we will look at patience as part of our Christian mission and then see where it takes us.

What is patience? Is it just waiting for our turn to speak?  Is it those terminal minutes on hold at the utility company?  Is it a boring waste of our precious time? Or is it a gift from God; a fruit of The Holy Spirit, there for the edification and building up of the church?

We live in a culture that doesn’t do patience.  We like our food fast.  We like our TV now. We want the test results immediately.  We want to go the quickest way.  Getting lost isn’t an adventure.  We will half-listen to everything.  We like to multi-task.  We want a response.  We want it now.  We want the church full today.  We want it all to be sorted. Being patient is boring.  Nothing happens fast enough. Where are the results…?

The patience that Paul writes of in Galatians has the echoes of a different way. It carries ideas of deference, self-deprecation, waiting with confidence and endurance.  The KJV translation is long-suffering.  This puts into perspective our ‘now’ culture.  We don’t like any kind of suffering.  But we know that Paul encourages us to be long-suffering as a vital part of being a Christian (e.g. the end of Philippians 1).

Can we defer our Christian mission? Can we wait with confidence for our part in God’s mission to become clear.  Let’s encourage each other to endure.  Yes it might end up being the ninth revision of the mission plan, yes there might be people just getting in the way, yes we might be frustrated at the pure inaction of things.  But endurance is good for us.  If our hope and message is worth passing on to others in our community, and we believe it is, then it’s worth waiting for.  Waiting for the right time.  Waiting for an opportunity.  Waiting for the right team to make it happen.

Patience as a fruit of the spirit is unfashionable and possibly gets overlooked in Paul’s writings.   Mainly because it takes the onus away from us.  When we are waiting for something, we often have to surrender control to something or somebody else, we cannot control the bus, the postal service, the healthcare professionals or the prospective employer; however much we might want to! The same is true when we are waiting for something to happen in Christian mission.  The way patience will become a fruit that we taste in our Christian mission, is by deferring to God and his timing and his character.  If we allow that to be our mission, then our church’s mission might flourish.  All we need is just a little patience….

 

come on eiréné

‘There will be peace in the valley for me, oh Lord I pray’   (Thomas Dorsey 1937)

The peace of God is supposed to be beyond our understanding – well, that’s what Paul says in his note to the church at Philippi.  Maybe he should’ve said ‘if you want the peace that God gives, good luck trying to keep it…’  Does this peace, which Paul writes about, go not just beyond our understanding, but also beyond our reach?  Is it like that branch you couldn’t quite reach in the tree?  Is it the words you couldn’t find when faced with bad news?  Is it the time you needed the last time you were angry? How can peace form part of our Christian mission?

walk path

Paul loved to use the most common Biblical word for peace (eiréné) as part of a greeting or in the final flourish of his letters.  For Paul, greetings and endings were important. Perhaps the challenge for us as a church is to put this peace at the beginning and end of everything we do too.  With peace as our bookends, our mission will be more effective.  It will be more measured.  It will be more on target.  It will enrich our communities.  It will build up the church.  It will honour God as the focus of our mission.

How do we greet our mission opportunities?  Do we blunder in, blindfolded and bursting with excitement?  It’s good for us to be energised, but like a horse that needs to be broken, we need to allow God’s peace to be at the forefront of our opportunities.  That first conversation about mission should be focused and determined, but it should also be driven by the health and wholeness of the Holy Spirit.  Our mission begins with our desire to pass on what God first shows to us.  We ought to be a peace-giving presence in our community.  We need to listen.  We need to be sensitive.  We need to carry with us the peace that God gives to us.  Mission shouldn’t be divisive.  It shouldn’t cause our friends frustration.  It shouldn’t do more harm than good.

How do we end our mission opportunities?  Do we count people? Do we count money? Do we measure how tired we are?  Or rejoice in how happy it made us? Do we grasp at holy straws? Do we attempt to work out what exactly what we have done?  Often, at the end of a mission opportunity, whether it be a quick chat at the shops, or a long-planned event, we get busy.  We fill ourselves with the activity of working out how successful it was.  We write reports.  We have a debrief meeting. We start planning the next one.  How about we take a leaf from Paul’s book and try a bit of peaceful prayer?  We could rest a while and ask God to give us his peace.  We could wait and listen to what God has to say about our missional effort.  He might have something helpful for us.

How do we make sure that in our lives, and in our part in Christian mission, peace is at the greeting and ending of our efforts?  We do this by supporting each other.  By giving encouragement to one another. By praying that God will give us the resources we need to be people of peace in our mission. By building faith in the church.  Let us pause to send messages of God’s peace to one another; at the beginning of mission and at the end.