Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Keeping us Moving Forward (2)

I've been doing some year-end stock taking.  Here's two more of the half a dozen priorities I've distilled.

3.  Third, things aren’t as simple as they were, (or as effective?).  Thirty-five years ago we’d launch into a Jesus March with just a push chair and bottle of squash.  We’d do double runs on the always-inadequate transport, and be fortunate to have anywhere to shelter if the weather turned foul.  We’d sing out by heart our repertoire of popular choruses, until we reached some Town Hall steps.  Here, a speaker addressed us, read from the bible, called up testimonies, and invited a response.  A singing group clustered Peter, Paul and Mary style round one microphone, accompanied by a twelve-string guitar.  We sang our dozen choruses over again, and grinned a blessing at all the passers-by.  Then it was back home for tea.

Today, a simple outreach picnic involves a 7.5 tonne truck loaded with staging; a camping shop of gazebos, cool boxes and Thermos jugs; and enough cabling and electronic kit to equip a small hospital.  The organisers eventually announce they haven’t actually planned anything, but they’re sure we’re going to have a great time.  A full-on band belts through lyrics you can’t follow (let alone sing to).  If we’re really lucky, there’ll be an in-house stage item.  And a prayer over the bread and wine, “Father, thank You for Your body; bless this blood.”  We’ll tell ourselves we made an impact. 

I mustn’t let impressions or assumption – held with conviction - overtake the reality of engagement with life now.  I’ve already made the biggest pastoral and church-planting mistakes of my life that way!  Teaching stuff that went over people’s heads, and advising them for situations that were exactly where they weren’t at!  Hebrews (3:7,13) tells us we only have today in which to experience salvation.  I just need to engage with life where it’s at, not where I wish it would be.

4.  It gets harder to expect a revival on the fifteenth time round.  The saying goes, ‘the ultimate insanity is to keep repeating an action and hope it will produce a different result from last time’.  But, I declare, the Christian life is entirely built up of keeping doing things because that’s what’s right.  Because, when God’s with you, you can’t predict the outcome, and you have to keep on attempting.  For 38 years Israel wandered round the wilderness.  One morning Moses announced they’d had the last day they would do it! (Deuteronomy 1:6-8). 

I once heard Philip Mohabair explain how the ministry he headed up collapsed when he had a major heart operation.  Returning to office afterwards, he had to rebuild everything.  He quoted from 1 Samuel 16:1, taking in the sense of failure and dismay Samuel felt over Saul.  He pointed out that God said: “Get on, and anoint another king!”  Picture the challenge of hope over disappointment this command represented.

Then, Jesus had to ask the man who had been sick for 38 years if he really wanted to get healed now (John 5:6).  None of us likes to admit we’ve been cheated in life.  It’s bad enough when we’re young and naïve.  But when we’ve grown on in years it can be next to impossible.  So we deflect or rationalise – to our own cost.  We cheat ourselves.  We need to face the reality, and believe we can move on as Jesus touches us.

Paul was a man with a dream to change the world.  We have his final words, after 25 years of ministry, recorded in 2 Timothy 4:1-8.  I tell my rising generation brothers that they’re in no position to exegete this passage.  Equally, I tell my contemporaries, it’s spot-on.  Paul sums up the state of the world, as “bad, and only going to get worse”.  Yet, in those very last recorded verses he calls Timothy, his lieutenant, to get stuck in and keep at it.  There’s no other option (and no retirement).  We must defy conventional wisdom, embrace the hard work, and keep faithful to the task we know is right.

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