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.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

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.

joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart


joy
Those who sow with tears, will reap with songs of joy.    Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return  with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them…  Psalm 126


Joy is really important for mission.  Joy deep within you.  Joy deep within your church.  Joy that has a constant source. Joy that never runs out.

There was a man I once knew, who used the phrase ‘deep joy’ as a form of punctuating sentences he used.  If some good news was shared, he would respond with the phrase ‘deep joy’.  If a mutual arrangement was made: ‘deep joy’.  If he was offered an unexpected gift: ‘deep joy’.  It became his Pavlovian exclamation to almost anything, or at least it seemed to be so.  He was aiming to convey a joy that was deeper than fleeting happiness.   A joy that he believed came from God.  Sadly, in some circles, it became a subject of mirth, to the point where his catchphrase was featured on t-shirts worn by his friends.  But was he on to something?

There is a wide range of things which bring us joy.  A good movie.  A compliment.  A relaxed meal with friends.  Seeing somebody change for the better. West Ham’s first win of the season.  But like the Psalmist we know that life is not always joyful.  We know that other feelings can crowd in and joy can get lost.  This doesn’t mean that we should always be smiling and happy.  It’s wonderful if you are, but the reality is that joy is something we can choose to have.  It might take some effort, but it can become an integral part of our faith, even though we may not show it at all times.  Joy can always be there as part of our make-up; one of the deeper ingredients of our life and faith.

Joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit.  Paul encourages us to ‘keep in step with the Spirit’ in Galatians and part of this is knowing the joy of the Spirit.   We can experience this joy when we follow Paul’s advice.  It is a gift to us, but we need to receive it with open arms and hearts.  We might have to turn ourselves to God in a deliberate act of meditation or action to receive the joy he gives to us.  Each of us will do it differently, but we should take the time to receive and know the joy of the Holy Spirit!

And how does this have a link to the mission life of our church?  Joy is foundational to our faith.  Maybe, if we experience the joy of the Holy Spirit more, we might find our faith would shine brighter and longer into our communities.  When we are joyful, we feel positive, energised and confident.  The joy of the Holy Spirit could help us in our mission as a church.  It could be the wellspring for ideas, creativity and engagement with our community.  We may never know when our joy might make a difference to someone that we meet.  So let’s be joyful.  Let’s know joy deep down in our heart.