Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Edgy Places

As Christians we are called to watch out for those on the margins.  I have been reading Andrew Jones’ book “Mary: A gospel witness to transfiguration and liberation” in which he uses the same idea but talks about the need to be on the edge.  He uses Mary as a great example of this, pointing out how she “was a person who was at the edge of everything – status, gender, age, family, reputation – and yet she was supremely chosen to be the bearer of the incarnation.”

He goes on to talk about “edge places” as locations where we might particularly feel close to God.  However, in this context “the edge is not only a geographical place” but “also a place of the heart”.  These are places where we should be considering things from a different perspective.  It is, for example, Nicodemus encountering Jesus.


What are the edges on which God is calling us to be?

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Rushing To Christmas

It always seems to be a rush to get to Christmas.  I am sure many of you are better organised, but I always end up missing the last posting dates for some of the cards and going to Tesco – there are other supermarkets! – to grab the turkey early on Christmas Eve.  But maybe I am in good company.  After all, Mary and Joseph only just made it to Bethlehem before the baby Jesus arrived – God in human form.  I am not sure that the searching for the “right” present in quite parallel to their search for accommodation.  But I am sure that the joy of the arrival of that baby, celebrated by angels, shepherds and wise men, is something that we can – and must – share all these years later.

I have been reading Rachel Boulding's "Companions on the Bethlehem Road: Daily Readings and Reflections for the Advent Journey".  At the end of the reading and comment today, she poses the following question for reflection: "If someone were to ask you today (which they might ...), 'So what's Christmas meant to mean?' would you have an answer?  Could you plan what you might say?"

Happy Christmas!

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Star Gazing

I have been reading Stephen Cottrell's book "Walking Backwards to Christmas" in which he explores the Christmas story from the perspective of some of the more peripheral characters.  He is looking for new angles, new messages.  The fourth chapter focuses on Casper, the traditional name of one of the (again traditionally) three wise men or kings who went in search of the infant Jesus with their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Casper describes himself as a stargazer.  Adopting Casper's identity, Stephen Cottrell writes: "Most people learn to look down.  Not me.  I would not let my horizon shift.  So there are obstacles in the path?  Let them trip me up.  Better to keep looking upwards, to chase after dreams and stumble, than only ever see the few steps in front of you and spend a lifetime going round in circles, getting nowhere fast.  That is me: a dream-chaser, a stargazer, a misfit and a seer, a student of the cosmos and the galaxies."

These ideas about looking up, about chasing the dream offer an incredibly helpful perspective.  It is true that we too easily get dragged down and that we lose our sense of direction.  The wise men of old were entirely convinced that God had them on a journey that was worth completing.  They were very much chasing the dream.  We need to have more faith about what God has in store for us - and that will happen if we look up and to God.  That's the journey we need to be on.

Monday, 22 December 2014

Sermon Tweets

Over the summer I saw a challenge to put my sermon in a tweet - and that is what I have been doing. So here are the first dozen (in reverse order):

21st December:
Preach @ Stetchworth - Mary encounters Gabriel, asks how "this" can be, learns nothing is impossible for God and expresses her 'yes' to God.

8th December:
Preached @ Wickhambrook yesterday-John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus while basing himself in the wilderness. Do we find such space?

30th November:
Preaching @ Gt Yarmouth today- Advent Sunday- what to say about preparing for the Christmas event to a society distracted by Black Friday?

23rd November:
Preaching @ Newmarket today -how awkward is it that Jesus tells us to do nice (but essential) stuff to those that society normally neglects?

17th November:
Preaching at Whittlesford yesterday- Deborah, prophet and judge, gives the example of using her talents for God, responding to God's call.

9th November:
Preaching at Haverhill today- our stories are important and need to be linked to God's story so helping us to be ready for God's call.

2nd November:
Preaching at Maldon today- leadership is about serving, recognising the need to reflect, the need to take action and the need to value all.

26th October:
Preaching at Burwell today - Be holy by loving your neighbour as you love yourself - what a great pastorally based church mission statement!

19th October:
Preaching at Hadleigh Suffolk - render to Caesar, render to God. We are called to responsible citizenship, but even more to "serve" God.

12th October
Preaching at Ipswich -God does not follow our conventions, but does call us to worship/discipleship and not to prioritise/serve other 'gods'

29th September:
Preaching at Debenham yesterday - Harvest Festival. What bits of God's good news should we be telling to others today?

14th September:

Preaching at Clare today - authentic forgiveness doesn't bear grudges, takes account of justice, is central to how we live and links to love

Sunday, 21 December 2014

For There Is Nothing That God Cannot Do

Luke chapter 1, verse 37: For there is nothing that God cannot do.  When we think that we face the impossible, we need to remember that, with God, there is no such thing.  It is sometimes difficult to hold on to faith.  It may seem that overwhelming odds are pushing us in the opposite direction.  We share the struggle of the father of the boy with an evil spirit whose dilemma is recorded in Mark 9:24 – I do have faith, but not enough.  Help me to have more!  We go so far in our faith, but only so far.  These words contain the reminder that God takes the limits off.  This little sentence provides us with the confidence we need when it seems that this is not so.  These are words of support, comfort, courage.  We can see these words as an encouragement to leave things with God.  There are many examples in the Bible of the need to take this point seriously.  When Sarah was told that she would have a son, she just laughed.  This was something unbelievable.  She didn’t take it seriously.  But, with God, the unbelievable can be what happens.  David had the courage to face the giant Goliath.  Sheer stupidity, on any kind of normal assessment – but, with God, he eliminated the threat that Goliath posed to the people.  When faced with the challenge of battle with the Midianites, Gideon gathered, as you might expect, a massive army.  But God told him it was too many – and so the numbers were reduced before the task was undertaken.  For there is nothing that God cannot do.


What are the tasks that we are facing that seem impossible?  What are the impossible challenges on our agenda?  The question is not about whether they are possible, but whether they are what God is calling us to do.  Of course, it doesn’t happen all the time and everywhere, but quite remarkable things can and do happen – when God has got something unexpected lined up for us.  It is difficult to face up to those logic-defying challenges and perhaps all the more difficult because there are many good things that we would like to do and we can’t understand why God is not making them happen.  I am not going to try and explain that because I can’t.  But I do want to say, as Paul did to Timothy, 2 Timothy 1:12 – But I am still full of confidence, because I know whom I have trusted, and I am sure that he is able to keep safe until that Day what he has entrusted to me.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

How Can This Be?

Mary’s encounter with Gabriel in which he offers the startling news of the baby she will have is recorded in Luke 1:26-38.  Verse 34, unsurprisingly, ends with a question from Mary – how, then, can this be?

The context in which this question is originally asked is very much the bombshell of the news of her pregnancy.  It can’t be.  What’s going on?  While Mary  clearly accepted what was happening to her, there is also a sense in which she couldn’t believe it – in which she needed to question it.  It didn’t make sense.  It was going to totally disrupt her life.  This was chaos with a capital ‘C’.  How, then, can this be?

It is a question that we, too, are quite likely to ask.  And not infrequently.  And in a variety of contexts.  When something dreadful happens, whether personal or global – how can this be?  When we have some great opportunity that we never dreamed would come our way – how can this be?  When our church life is struggling and the surrounding secular community seems to be entirely indifferent – how can this be?  When God seems to be calling us to do something that we consider to be beyond our capability or our resources – how can this be?  Challenges, struggles, opportunities, possibilities – how can this be?

Way back in the seventies and eighties, when something called Liberation Theology was at its height, small communities, especially Roman Catholics, and especially in Latin America, used to gather to discuss the Scriptures and to try and discover just what the Bible was saying to them in their context.  These were usually very poor communities, often struggling against the difficulties of life and the oppression of more powerful people.  The basic idea which emerged was of the freedom which the Gospel offered.  Hence, the term ‘Liberation Theology’.  A theologian called Ernesto Cardenal, in a book called ‘The Gospel in Solentiname’, recorded some of these conversations from a community in Nicaragua. 

There is a conversation about this passage which records the angel Gabriel’s appearing to Mary – and they explore how Mary’s experience has parallels with theirs.  “She must have been scared.  She was very humble, a poor little girl, and she’s frightened when they tell her she’s going to be so important.”  So says one of the group.  Another responds: “But there’s no reason to be afraid of that.  We also could be afraid of being important, because we have to have an important mission too – perhaps being leaders, some of us ….  to liberate others, to carry out a mission in the community and [perhaps] even [beyond] …  we don’t know.”  They go on to comment how “Mary joins the ranks of the subversives, just by receiving that message”.  This, in turn, leads to a careful thinking about what this means for them.  “It seems to me that here we should admire above all her obedience.  And so we should be ready to obey too.  This obedience is revolutionary, because it’s obedience to love.  Obedience to love is very revolutionary, because it commands us to disobey everything else.”


The question ‘how can this be?’ reminds us that God engages with us.  It reminds us that things happen to us that we don’t fully understand, can’t fully explain.  The prophet Jeremiah tells us, Jeremiah 1:4/5 – The Lord said to me, ‘I chose you before I gave you life, and before you were born I selected you to be a prophet to the nations’.  Jeremiah’s experience and Gabriel’s words serve as a reminder of God’s bigger plan.  We like to know everything, but that is not how it is.  Sometimes we need to ask: how can this be?

Friday, 19 December 2014

Tell Me

When I lived in Panama in the early nineties, the normal way to answer the phone was with just one word ‘digame’.  After being used to giving either my name or my number, it was something different to learn to use just this word, the same word that everyone else would use as I rang them.  As my Spanish left quite a bit to be desired, it also took a while before I realised what was being said – ‘digame’.  Literally it means ‘tell me!’

I suppose our equivalent phrases would be somewhere around ‘what’s up?’, ‘what’s happening?’, ‘what’s the news?’  But I grew to like that Panamanian response.  For me, it expressed immediate interest, a wanting to know, a readiness to listen.  It also meant that the reason for phoning was that you had something to tell.

Christmas is the time when we especially tell the story of the nativity – God coming to earth in human form.  It’s one of the best chances in the year to tell the Christian story.  Let’s grab it with both hands.  I am convinced that lots of people in their own ways, and often without really knowing it, are saying “digame”.  Let’s tell them the Good News

Monday, 8 December 2014

Men Behaving Badly

Journeys provide one of the most common images used in the Bible - a reminder that God is not static, but on the move.  God calls us to journey into the future, wherever that may take us.

John Goldingay reflects on this in his book "Men Behaving Badly" (Paternoster, 2000).  He writes (p. 41/2) - "The nature of  a house is to be in a fixed location.  Yahweh liked being flexible, being on the move, able to go off and do new things.  Human beings prefer God to be predictable.  If you can get God to settle down, then you know where you are with God.  You can get some control of things.  .... When a human being like David wants to build God a house, that implicitly reverses the relationship between God and human beings.  It turns that relationship into one whereby you look after God instead of God looking after you.  It is another aspect of control, of the human desire to domesticate God."

We often talk about freedom, but are afraid to give God the freedom to take us where we should be. We like to be in control, and that is a big mistake.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Become what you love

I have been reading “Travelling Light” by Daniel O’Leary which includes some interesting and some challenging ideas connected to spirituality.  It is written as a series of daily reflections and spiritual exercises to take you across a month – though I am reading and pondering it as and when.  I got to Day 21 a few days ago and was particularly struck by some of its ideas.  It has the title ‘Become what you love’ and encourages us to be positive – “So many of our negative moods, ‘bad hair’ days, lifeless morning feelings come because we are unaware that our possibilities are limitless.”

It goes on to consider something of the challenges – opportunities – of life: “Maybe we are right to be afraid.  Some prayers, like the Our Father for instance, are downright dangerous.  …  we know that we will be transformed all right, but crucified first.”  The Way of Jesus is a great way, but it is not easy, calling us, as it does, to  be those who are “daring to dream the impossible dream, because it is not impossible at all, since it is ours by birthright.”


We need to take God at his word.  O’Leary quotes Thomas Merton – “Make way for Christ whose smile, like lightning, sets free the song of everlasting glory that now sleeps in your paper flesh, like dynamite.” 

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Advent Questions

Advent – a time of waiting.  A time of reflecting on what is to be.  I want to reflect a little on what this says to us about what we should be saying and doing in response to God’s call to us to be light and love within a messy and chaotic world.

Advent Sunday marks the beginning of that preparation time for Christmas.  At least that’s how I see it, but it does mean that the church needs to begin by playing catch-up because most of society around us in the UK has got its preparations for Christmas well under way.  It is not the same everywhere, of course.  I happen to have spent a little part of Advent both last year and the year before in Zimbabwe, visiting friends and churches in the Presbytery of Zimbabwe within the Uniting Presbyterian Church of Southern Africa.  It is very different there with few indications that Christmas is imminent.  There are some, if you look, but they are not splashed all over the place.  But it is different when you are in a situation where real unemployment is massive – some would say at least 90%.  A situation where you never know when you will have a power cut, but you do know it will happen regularly.  They used to schedule where and when they would cut the power, but discovered gangs of thieves making use of this information, so decided a random approach was actually safer, though more inconvenient.  A situation where the water is also frequently turned off, and not safe to drink anyway.  Part of our thinking needs to remember those in such situations – and that is without mentioning the challenges of Ebola, faced in other parts of Africa.

But back to the UK.  What are we to say to a society where the headlines of preparing for Christmas all seem to be focussed on something called Black Friday?  What are we to say to a society in which most places have already switched on their Christmas lights ahead of Advent, where shops have had Christmas displays for some time, where Christmas trees, even the real ones, are already on sale?  What are we to say to a society where the main point of Christmas seems to be to keep the retail sector going?  Not, of course, that I don’t want to keep the retail sector going.  I just happen not to think that it’s the main point of Christmas.  What are we to say to a society in which the political landscape looks as though it may be changing, though less than six months away from a general election, it may change again post-election?  What are we to say to a global society which faces the challenges of Islamic State, terrorism, so called jihad – always recognising, of course, that these things which are too often used to demonise Islam are not part of Islam as the very vast majority of its followers would recognise it?  What are we to say to the peoples of Syria, of the Ukraine, of Afghanistan?  The questions go on and on, and almost overwhelm us.

If we were with Matthew last week, listening to the final contribution of his Gospel to the lectionary for the moment, we were reminded that how we treat the marginalised, the vulnerable, the outcast is the indicator of how we are responding to God’s call.  I was hungry and you fed me, thirsty and you gave me a drink; I was a stranger and you received me in your homes ….  I tell you, whenever you did this for one of the least important of these members of my family, you did it for me!  It is a challenge to work out just what this means in terms of what we do and say, but that’s what we need to do.

If we look ahead, through the waiting and preparation period, some 25 days, and arrive at the celebration of Christmas, we can see and say all sorts of things about what that means and how it should make an impact on our thinking.  The incarnation, the coming to earth of God, is the essential demonstration of God’s getting alongside us.  There are so many things that we can take from the story – that he is the Prince of Peace, that he is the light of the world, that he is the greatest ever Christmas gift. 


What will we focus on this Advent?

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Thinking Ecumenically

The ecumenical imperative has always been at the centre of how we are in the United Reformed Church, and I don’t think that has changed, but it is changing.  When I was on sabbatical in 2001 I entitled the piece of work I did: “Local Ecumenical Partnerships: are they the best way forward, one way forward, or now past their sell-by date?”  I concluded that LEPs have a large contribution to make, and that they are certainly not past their sell-by date.  I have not changed my mind, but the reality is that many church leaders in other denominations put far less emphasis on them, and some, other than in very particular circumstances, whilst happy to continue those that are there, would actively discourage the formation of new ones.  It is widely said that ecumenism has moved into a new phase.  The phrase is receptive ecumenism – in which we allow others to do things for us, receiving their gifts.  The other thing that is often said is that ecumenism that work is project ecumenism.  So Christians working together on foodbanks, street pastors, sometimes youth projects or cafes, is where there is energy to be found.  That is true, and there are some really good things going on – but I am interested in the fact that new LEPs do still spring up, sometimes with slightly new models, and I have yet to see any real evidence that they are not a critical part of mission strategy in many areas. 
Back in and around the 1980s there was a heightened expectation that mainline denominations were quite likely to come together in the UK.  However, as Stephen Orchard points out: “In place of these national reconciliations between denominations a form of local ecumenism has grown up, strong in some localities, weak in others,  Mutual service to the community, be it after-school clubs, counselling services or Christian Aid collections, to name a few examples, is often carried out through these local structures.”[1]
Let’s use what we have and work together on and in it – but not forgetting Jesus’ prayer “that they may all be one” (John 17:21).



[1] In his essay in “Free Churches and Society”, ed. Lesley Husselbee and Paul Ballard, Continuum, 2012,  p. 17.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Marks of the URC

I was recently asked to speak on the question: what's the point of the United Reformed Church?  I thought a good starting point might be the paper presented to this year's General Assembly by the Faith and Order Committee entitled 'Affirming the URC's Future'.

That paper offered a list of nine things that we can identify as key characteristics shaping our identity as a church.
These are:
a) Semper Reformanda – openly and intentionally stating our readiness to change in light of experience of the Holy Spirit;
b) our particular interpretation of the priesthood of all believers;
c) elders – ordained and set apart for shared leadership;
d) the church meeting, in which people together discern the leading of the Holy Spirit, and through which power is shared;
e) the ability to develop policies that embrace diversity, e.g. in recognising both infant and believers baptism, but not re-baptism;
f) upholding the rights of personal conviction;
g) the strong sense of social justice and action;
h) freedom in worship, centring on Scripture;

i) valuing the local church.

There is no doubt that all these things are to be found elsewhere within the Church universal.  However, like any church, we blend things in a unique way and offer that to the wider community.  Of course, the church would survive without our denomination, but we do have something distinctive to offer - though, like others, we don't always offer our gifts to the wider church as well and as generously as we ought.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Success?

Michael Moynagh's "Being Church, Doing Life" (Monarch, 2014) offers a stack of stories from the fresh expressions genre of church.  He supports these with comments and guidelines with respect to how to be church in a new way.  Traditional churches are needed and valued, but we need to discover new and different opportunities for forming appropriate Christian communities alongside the existing models.  A problem that has been around is the attempt to fit everything into what we know.

By contrast, Moynagh suggests (p. 323) that ""Success" is not Christian communities that conform to existing expressions of church, but communities that have the capacity, through the Spirit, to criticize existing church."

We need what has now often been called a "mixed economy" - and all need to value the place of others.  Let's listen to see where the Spirit is calling us to go!

Thursday, 20 November 2014

What is the URC up to?

What is the United Reformed Church in the UK up to?  What is the added value that we give to church in general?  One of the challenging things, in my view, is that it is fairly clear that, if in the period leading up to the formation of the original URC in 1972, it had been known that we would still be in existence today we, almost certainly, would never have happened.  [Of course, something else might have happened - who knows?]  People were prepared to compromise because they thought it was only temporary.  The fascinating mix of Congregationalism and Presbyterianism (as we originally were) would probably have proved impossible if they had known it would last.  The fruit of that is largely seen in our governance – and that frustratingly wonderful conciliar system that sometimes puts Church Meeting in the driving seat, on other occasions, though probably less often, the Synod Meeting and certainly, on other occasions, the General Assembly.  Of course, we do still struggle with how we do our conciliarity, though that’s nothing new.  This year's General Assembly received a paper from the Faith and Order Committee, entitled 'Affirming the URC's Future'.  That paper commented on how we do our Church Meetings – “The Church Meeting is an indispensable part of the church’s life. … But in many of our churches it has ceased to be a living force and is maintained, often only by a few faithful people, out of respect for a tradition which no one understands very clearly any longer.”  That was actually a quote of a quote – and it serves to illustrate that all our problems are not new.  It could be a contemporary quote, but it was actually said by Daniel Jenkins in 1944.


But back to where we are.  If life begins at 40, then that happened a couple of years ago, and as for coming of age at 21, that is in the dim and distance past of 1993. The paper, to which I have referred, begins: “The United Reformed Church is here to live and not to die.”   … It goes on, in that first paragraph, to say that we are “not about dying, but about living more fruitfully, prophetically and adventurously, being re-energised by the power of the Holy Spirit in faithfulness to Jesus Christ.”  So we are here and we believe we have a role.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Beyond the Edge

Just finished reading Andrew Mayes' "Beyond the Edge: Spiritual Transitions for Adventurous Souls".  I was struck by a number of things, but not least his use of the John 4 story of Jesus' encounter with the Samaritan woman by the well as a model for spiritual direction.  Jesus is hot, tired and thirsty - but makes time to address the needs of this woman.  Mayes suggests that we can identify eight indicators that point to a good practice of spiritual direction.

First, Jesus places himself beside the woman.  It is a question of accompaniment.

Second, Jesus speaks with directness.  He is straight and to the point.

Third, Jesus affirms the woman as someone worthy of bearing the living water of the Spirit.  He sees her value.

Fourth, Jesus allows her to ask questions.  This is about engaging, not about just giving answers.

Fifth, Jesus challenges her.  Jesus knows she can move on and tries to get her thinking about that.

Sixth, Jesus speaks the truth.  There is no avoiding sensitive issues.

Seventh, Jesus teaches her.

And eighth, Jesus empowers us.  This is about equipping her to go and do what God is calling her to do.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

'Faith in the Public Square'

I have been reading Rowan Williams’ “Faith in the Public Square” which has lots of interesting stuff about how the church engages and should engage with society in general.  He explores various aspects of how we offer the sort of witness that is appropriate in a range of areas within the civic arena.  He touches on law, secularity, diversity, the environment and so much more.

I was particularly struck by the chapter entitled “Sustainable Communities” – “if we are going to plan sustainable communities, we have to have a good nose for what depletes human capital.”  He stresses the importance of place and what is put in place to form the environment in a particular locality.  “Functioning communities need to develop a sense of place, and that means developing variety, a real landscape, not just a territory covered with ‘machines for living’.”  He stresses the value of planning that fits the location and the need to ensure that there are appropriate and adequate facilities, like public transport.  “There are no infallible recipes for sustainable communities.  But there are ways of identifying what depletes our resources and of combating these factors with some urgency and energy.”


Let’s speak up for contexts that work, especially in new places, as we will then have a much better chance of communities that work. 

Monday, 10 November 2014

Spinning Gold

In "Travelling Light" Daniel O'Leary writes: "The Holy Spirit spins gold from the bare threads of our threadbare days.  Antonio Machado wrote 'I dreamt last night, oh marvellous error, that there were honeybees in my heart, making honey out of my old failures.'"

Of course, we make a mess of things.  At least, that is usually the case.  But God can make something good even out of our chaos.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Global Partnership

At Love's Farm, St. Neot's
It is hard to believe that it is a month ago today that, together with a few others from the Synod, I made my way to Gatwick Airport to meet the delegation coming to visit the Synod from the Presbytery of Zimbabwe.  Old friendships were quickly renewed and new ones established as we engaged in a few days’ of exploring the Synod and sharing something of our lives, ministries and missions.  We visited a range of churches and locations, trying to give a flavour of the Synod without spending all the time in the car.  So, for example, one day we started at the Synod Office in Whittlesford meeting the staff and then went to the churches in St. Ives, St. Neot’s (including stopping off at the Lover’s Farm Estate to hear something of the pioneering work there) and Cambourne.  Another day we went to Ipswich and met a number of people from different churches, and then on to Long Melford to hear about the rural side of Synod life. 

There were trips to Cambridge and London (which I missed as I had to be at a meeting in Windermere) and a lunch at Epping where we joined by a couple of Zimbabwean ministers now working in the United Reformed Church in the UK.  The visit included the Synod meeting at Witham and visits to a number of churches, especially those with twinning links, on the two Sundays. 


It is not always easy to work out the best approach to such partnership, but we were certainly left appreciative of the personal encounter that helps us learn from each other, pray for each other – and just be friends.
By Big Ben

Outside URC Church House, London

At Cambourne Church
Reception and Lunch at Gatwick Airport

Friday, 31 October 2014

Allowing God

We are awfully good at thinking we know best.  One of our problems in prayer is a tendency to tell God what to do.  We need to learn rather to let prayer be a time when God works through us.

As Andrew Mayes says, in "Beyond the Edge", "Effective prayer is, then, not about seeking to influence God but about allowing God to do extraordinary things in us.  But it requires of us the ability to silence our own admonitions and advice-giving to God, which can be a feature of intercessory prayer - as if we were advising God what he should do next.  It requires us to come to a place of vulnerability and receptivity before God."

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Praying with Daniel

The story of Daniel is a story of faithfulness and of God’s care for a faithful Daniel.  Daniel was particularly known for his life of prayer.  His opponents tried to use that to trip him up, but his confidence in God paid off.  Daniel’s story serves as a reminder that our engagement with God through prayer works.  In Daniel chapter 9, verses 15 to 19, we have an account of Daniel praying for his people.  The most famous pattern prayer is the Lord’s Prayer, taught by Jesus to his disciples.  However, here is another prayer that models how to pray. 

In his commentary on Daniel[1], Doug Ingram comments on this: “Daniel’s prayer provides a wonderful model for us to draw on. It starts by praising God, making specific reference to how the Lord is portrayed in the scriptures. It then offers heartfelt confession, again drawing on scripture and noting specific ways in which the people have sinned. Next it reflects on the particular situation that has called forth the prayer, relating this too to the scriptures. And finally it turns to petition—and these are no feeble, tentative requests, but fullblooded, confident pleadings which, in clear and unambiguous language, call on God to hear, forgive, listen and act quickly, and all for the sake of God’s good name!”



[1] The Bible Reading Fellowship’s ‘The People’s Bible Commentary’ series

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Prayer: Remembering & Hoping

Prayer is both central and essential to our relationship with God.  Corporate prayer is a crucial element in our participation in the Church, sometimes described as the Body of Christ.  However, it is also an intensely personal thing.  Prayer is always something that we can take deeper and, though prayer is best understood and taken to deeper levels by engaging in it, it is also true that we can learn from what others say of it.  Such learning will most commonly come from "spiritual" writers, but it is also interesting (and often of benefit) to look at the understanding and description of other writers.

I have been reading Eleanor Catton's Man Booker prize-winning novel "The Luminaries" and was struck by a passage in which she talks of prayer, first describing it as remembering others - and surely much of prayer is remembering others before God - and secondly identifying hope as a key element in prayer - and, as people of the resurrection, we clearly live by hope.


“Prayers often begin as memories. When we remember those whom we have loved, and miss them, naturally we hope for their safety and their happiness, wherever they might be. That hope turns into a wish, and whenever a wish is voiced, even silently, even without words, it becomes a supplication. Perhaps we don’t know to whom we’re speaking; perhaps we ask before we truly know who’s listening, or before we even believe that listener exists. But I judge it a very fine beginning, to make a practice of remembering those people we have loved. When we remember others fondly, we wish them health and happiness and all good things. These are the prayers of a Christian man. “

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Psalms For All Times

The Psalms are a great source of expressing how we feel.  They soar the heights and they plunge the depths.  They express how we relate to God, both when God feels incredibly close and when we struggle to feel any sense of God's presence.  Many have found it helpful to either try and write their own psalm or to offer new versions of the originals and these can both also be both helpful and in spring.  Thinking what you want to say to God and putting it in a 'psalm' can be a meaningful experience.

A recent example of this is Carla Grosch-Miller's "Psalms Redux" (Canterbury Press, 2014).  For example, from Psalm 3 redux - "But You, O God, continue to re-create the world, dancing at the fragile edge, breathing at the margins, in vulnerability offering Yourself again and again."

Or from Psalm 16 redux - "Fullness to my my emptiness, water to my thirst, ocean to my raindrop, still centre point that draws me in and and knows my name."


What might you say in a psalm?

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Time

"For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven" (Ecclesiastes 3:1).  How we use our time is interesting and can be challenging.  Many of us discover ourselves to be what we would define as 'too busy'.  We end up rushing around trying to get all sorts of things done.  Stephen Cherry, in "Beyond Busyness",  talks about "time and its apparent shortage".    He goes on to explore "time wisdom" - rather rather than time management.  "In order to be an effective and good minister, to survive and thrive in church leadership, it is essential to build up good time wisdom".
 

Busyness can be be a disease from which we find it difficult, or even impossible, to break free.  Deadlines are powerful and can be useful - but not when they are mastering us.  

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

On The Level

Mission requires that we engage with people in an appropriate and equal way.  We need to value those whom we are encountering.  Martyn Atkins warns against what he calls a "sloping" approach to mission (Martyn Atkins: Resourcing Renewal, quoted in Michael Moynagh: Being Church, Doing Life).

On this approach we see mission as sloping downwards from the church towards other people.  The church sees itself as in an elevated position, dispensing mission.


Jesus rather took a level approach.  He met people where they were, engaging with their needs.  There is no hierarchy in doing mission.  It is likely to be effective when we are able to engage as equals.  What we share with those we are encountering is the most likely source of an effective relationship and that is what is going to allow us to share our faith in a meaningful way.  Back in the 17th century one of the groups of Christians were called the Levellers.  Let's level things for and with God!

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Leaving Nazareth

I have just started reading Andrew Mayes' "Beyond the Edge: spiritual transitions for asdventurous souls".  In the first chapter he explores the idea of transitions and the impact they make.  He refers to some of the big transitions that will happen for all of us at various stages in life.

He emphasises the point by comparing what we may face with the impact that starting his ministry and leaving all the familiarities of Nazareth will have had on Jesus.  The Nazareth of the time will have been a fairly small village.  Setting off on an itinerant ministry of preaching, teaching and healing was a big step to take.

Mayes highlights the importance of being rooted in prayer to take us through the times of transition and uses some helpful imagery - "prayer - experienced now as a turbulent place, with eddies, whirlpools, rapids and unexpectedly strong currents; a torrent where boulders, other detritus and rubbish get forced along.  The river of prayer becomes a place of attrition and erosion,. where stones get their corners knocked off.  But prayer can at the same time be experienced as a place of profound transformation and creativity, where a new identity is being shaped and formed - waters can break down and build up."

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

The Truth Dentist

Margaret Coles' novel "The Greening" is a fascinating interaction between three stories.  The key character of the main story, Joanna Meredith, is a journalist who wishes to combine effective writing with an ethically sound approach.  She is strongly influenced and supported by what is effectively the second story which enters her story by means of a journal which she is reading her way through.  The third story is some account of the thinking and writings of Julian of Norwich.  Julian is a meaningful and positive influence on Anna, the writer of the journal, and comes to be also an important influence on Joanna.

There are lots of things to be drawn from the novel, but I was particularly struck by a passage where Joanna has a conversation with Ismene, one of the novel's other key characters.  Ismene perceptively recognises what Joanna is trying to achieve through her journalism - "You, Joanna, are what I call a truth dentist.  By that, I mean someone who is determined to extract the truth of the stories she reports, who will not be fobbed off, who will not let go.  It's all there, in the quality of your work.  You notice the details.  ....  It takes the persistence to be a truth dentist and the courage to pull one's own teeth.  It takes the determination to keep going when you are the only one who can see the point of the story."


Where do we need to develop our capacity to be truth dentists?

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Prayer - a few thoughts

I have been reading Dave Tomlinson's How to be a bad Christian (Hodder, 2012).  It has some really good and interesting advice about down-to-earth Christianity - but I was particularly interested in some of what he says about prayer.  Prayer is the way in which we engage with God.  It is how we communicate - the expression of the relationship.  Tomlinson makes the point that God can cope with how we are feeling - "Sometimes prayer means having to shout at; at other times, someone to lean on; most times, a mixture of both."  Another time he says: "Prayer is one of the most democratic activities I can think of.  No one owns prayer.  No one can dictate how prayer should be offered, or by whom.  Anyone can pray: anywhere, anytime, and in any fashion they choose."  And one more comment - "I think most of us already pray quite often, whether we think of it as prayer or not: the stammer of pain at someone else's pain; the sparkle of joy at someone else's joy; the silence within when something very beautiful is happening, or something very bad; whatever it is we feel when we sense deep longing or deep happiness.  All this in its own way is prayer - the soul talking."

The wonder of prayer is that God is really interested in what we have to say!

Saturday, 19 July 2014

When Prayer Gets in the Way of Praying ...

Henri Nouwen, in his journal from his months in a Trappist Monastery, The Genesee Diary, does quite a bit of reflecting on prayer - how it can be a struggle, how much it is  needed, the ways in which it enhances our living. 

However, in the end, perhaps it is simply something we need to do.

We like to explain things, but there is a sense in which prayer is beyond explanation.  Equally, we like to understand things, but there is a sense in which prayer is to be experienced, rather than understood.

Nouwen writes this: "Writing about prayer is often very painful since it makes you so aware of how far away you are from the ideal you write about.  ....  While it is true that in order to pray you have to empty your heart and mind for God, you also have to empty your heart and mind of your feelings and ideas on prayer.  Otherwise, prayer gets in the way of praying.  ....  It is hard not to desire good insights during prayer and not to fall into a long inner discussion with myself."

Of course, it is good to reflect about prayer sometimes - but the really important thing is to pray.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Prayer as a Sneeze

I really like Rowan Williams' image of prayer as a sneeze in his little book that covers the essentials of the Christian faith - "Being Christian".  He writes: "Prayer .. is .. like sneezing - there comes a point when you can't not do it.  The Spirit wells and surges up towards God the Father.  But because of this there will be moments when, precisely because you can't help yourself, it can feel dark and unrewarding, deeply puzzling, hard to speak about."

It is interesting that so many people would admit to struggles in prayer - and yet it is through prayer that we can actively engage with God, listening as well as speaking.  But, yes, it is true - sometimes we just have to pray!

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Men Behaving Badly

I have been reading John Goldingay’s ‘Men Behaving Badly’ (Paternoster, 2000) in which he explores the male characters in 1 and 2 Samuel.  The third chapter talks about the Philistines and their god Dagon (1 Samuel 5 – 7).  It points out that politics and religion often get mixed together.  In particular, Goldingay comments on our many attempts to pin God down, trying to enforce a conformity to what we want.  But God is always beyond.  God is not to be bound by our restrictions.  As Goldingay puts it with reference to the desire to restrict God to God’s house: “The nature of a house is to be in a fixed location.  Yahweh liked being flexible, being on the move, able to go off and do new things.  Human beings prefer God to be predictable.  If you can get God to settle down, then you know where you are with God.  ……  When a human being like David wants to build God a house, that implicitly reverses the relationship between God and human beings.  It turns that relationship into one whereby you look after God instead of God looking after you.  It is another aspect of control, of the human desire to domesticate God.” (p. 41/2)
 
We might think that our understanding has moved on from such ideas – but is that really so?  Are we not still just as inclined to want God to do things our way?  So how can we break out of that kind of thinking?

Sunday, 6 July 2014

A General Assembly

I have just returned from the bi-annual General Assembly of the United Reformed Church which has been meeting in Cardiff.  We have been thinking a lot about water, its life-giving nature and the need to drink deeply.  We have had a range of interesting, and sometimes challenging discussions, not least a difficult conversation around same-sex marriage.  We have talked about many of the critical issues in society at large, the wider church and our own denomination.  We have learned a lot, felt both pain and joy, but, above all, been aware of the presence of God.

We talked about the future of the denomination and the gifts it offers to the wider church, particularly those of conciliarity and eldership.  We have talked about the riches to be gained from expansive and inclusive language.  We have remembered the 100th anniversary of the outbreak o World War 1, hearing from both a German pastor and a serving forces chaplain.  We considered the education of those training for the ministry and how it is funded.  We have recognised the pain of the people of Scotland, including those not now living there, whatever the result of September's referendum on Scottish independence.  We talked about foodbanks and mental health and the challenges faced in those two very different areas. 

What am I left with?  Perhaps a couple of sentences from the Synod Moderators' report provides a summary: "Confidence in all that God is and all that God promises us through Jesus Christ is at the heart of our discipleship.  The refreshing and renewing of the Holy Spirit received as a gift to individuals and to churches is the key to our renewal."

Sunday, 29 June 2014

A Welcoming People

Matthew 10:40 offers us a massive theological statement – whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.  There are fairly strong echoes of Matthew 25 here – for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.  And the puzzle is how this was so – until Jesus explains: just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.  The big message from Matthew 10:40 and from Matthew 25 is that we serve Christ by serving others. 

In a sense this is one of those obvious things that we have heard so often and that comes through the Biblical account in so many places.  The law in the Old Testament urges on us the care of those who will otherwise struggle.  Jesus, in one of the most famous of the parables, that which we usually refer to as the good Samaritan, encourages us to love our neighbour.
Yet, if we are honest, it, too often, remains as something that we find challenging.  We don’t mind loving nice neighbours.  We don’t mind loving those who do things the same way that we do.  We don’t mind loving those who are our kind of people.  But Jesus doesn’t allow us to put on those kinds of restriction.  As one commentator[1] says: “Sometimes love is met with crucifixion; yet we are called to love in the midst of hate – even in those times where it appears that hatred has won.”

So one of the main things to draw from this verse, perhaps the main thing is that we are to be a welcoming people.  We are to be people of hospitality.  We could even go further and say that we are called to be people who offer compassionate hospitality.
But then, and I find this a little bit surprising, and so interesting, Matthew goes on to say something about the rewards we will get for doing this – whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward .. etc..  We all like rewards, don’t we?  Gold stars on our school papers as children.  Praise from parents and teachers as we get older.  Perhaps a medal or a plaque or a certificate if we do something special.  We all appreciate recognition.

But why does Jesus offer this prospect of rewards in this context?  That’s an interesting question – but perhaps it is the wrong question?  Perhaps the important question is rather about just what Jesus means?  Is it that the kind of reward to which he is referring is something like getting a special certificate – or even like getting a bonus with our pay?  Or is it just possibly the case that Jesus wants to remind us that living the right way, living a life of compassionate hospitality, being a welcoming person, carries rewards within itself.[2] 
Thomas Merton, the American Catholic and mystic, said this: “Love seeks one thing only: the good of the one loved.  It leaves all the other secondary effects to take care of themselves.  Love, therefore, is its own reward.”  And a minister and writer called Hugh Prather similarly said: “To live for results would be to sentence myself to continuous frustration.  My only sure reward is in my actions and not from them.”

If we are in the right place, if we are doing the right thing, then that in itself will provoke a sufficient feeling of wellbeing as to be its own reward.  Let’s look at it another way. 
In Matthew 19:27 Peter says to Jesus: Look, we have left everything and followed you.  What then will we have?  It is the kind of question that any disciple in any situation might ask.  What am I learning?  What does it mean to me and for me to be a disciple?  Although in terms of Matthew’s written Gospel this question comes in a later chapter, the words that we have quoted from Matthew 10, and indeed much of what is in chapter 10, answers such a question.  In this chapter Jesus says lots of things that help the disciples to understand something of what is involved in their discipleship.  Essentially Jesus is saying that God values us and our contribution – and surely that is reward enough.  Earlier in the chapter, and particularly towards the beginning, Jesus has talked about various possibilities for discipleship, some of which will have seemed quite challenging to some of the people.  But in the final three verses of this chapter is a reminder that discipleship is for all, and that there is a role for each one of us.  Here is a description of something we can all do, welcoming people, even if it is just offering a cup of cold water, more likely a cup of tea in our terms. 

And when we welcome as we should, who knows what will happen, what we will discover?  A widow in Zarephath offered to share her last tiny bit of food and discovered she was sharing it with God’s prophet.  A little boy gave his lunch to Jesus and discovered he was sharing it with a crowd of five thousand.  And two people arriving home at Emmaus invited the stranger they had met on the road to stay only to discover, as bread was broken, that they had walked the road with Jesus himself.  As St. Francis reputedly said: “it is in giving that we receive,”


[1] Emilie Townes in ‘Feasting on the Word’
[2] Some of this thinking was inspired by Alyce McKenzie’s ‘Edgy Exegesis’ which I accessed via www.textweek.com  The two quotes in the next paragraph are re-quoted from there.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Renunciation & Detachment

In The Genesee Diary Henri Nouwen writes:
 
“In the writings of the desert fathers there is much emphasis on renunciation and detachment.  We have to renounce the world, detach ourselves from our possessions, family, friends, own will, and any form of self-content so that all our thoughts and feelings may become free for the Lord.  I find this very hard to realize.  I keep thinking about distracting things and wonder if I ever will be “empty for God.”  Yesterday and today the idea occurred to me that instead of excluding I could include all my thoughts, ideas, plans, projects, worries, and concerns and make them into prayer.  Instead of directing my attention only to God, I might direct my attention to all my attachments and lead them into the all-embracing arms of God.”
 
We live in a society of acquisition.  Getting things is the name of our game.  This reflection on how we empty ourselves for God is timely, as is the suggestion that, rather than getting rid of everything, we give it over to the service of God.

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Francis of Assisi

I have just started reading Andy Freeman’s little book of meditations, Francis: Stories and Reflections (Proost, 2014).  He tells something of the story of Francis, but then uses that to encourage us to reflect on what is involved in effectively being the church today.
 
For example, he suggests we think about the church buildings of the community where we live and how they are used – but then prayerfully asks the question as to whether we have reduced the church to bricks and mortar.  As has been well said, ‘We don’t go to church – we are the church!’
 
In his introduction he reflects on how Francis provides us with a model for living and ministry:

̴   Francis is something of a pioneer minister.  “He got something started, from scratch and appropriate to his context.”  Where might God be calling us to do some pioneering?

̴   Francis is an artist – in the widest possible sense.  How do we communicate our faith.  Do we paint good pictures, whether using words or other mediums?

̴   Francis provides us with a model of pilgrimage.  He was ready to be on the move for God.  Are we ready to go where God wants us to go, whether that is across the street or across the world?

̴   Francis provides us with a prophetic model.  He was ready to proclaim God’s message for his day.  Are we ready to do the same for ours?

̴   Francis was a disciple of Jesus.  What does 21st century Christian discipleship look like for you and for me?

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Church conflict isn't new!

One of the things that I find most encouraging about Paul’s correspondence with the Corinthian church is that it provides us with a clear indicator that church conflict is nothing new.  Paul, in these letters, is largely dealing with the problems with which the church was struggling, perhaps most notably the way in which they behaved at Communion services (1 Corinthians 11).  We sometimes think that church must have been wonderful in the past, not that it can’t be good now – but in days gone by we assume it just really worked. 

However, if you don’t want to go back quite as far as Paul’s Corinthian correspondence, listen to what the Congregationalist theologian Daniel Jenkins wrote seventy years ago.  In 1944 Jenkins wrote this: “The Church Meeting in a Congregational Church is an indispensable part of the Church’s life.  A Congregational Church does not make sense without it.  …..  But in many of our churches it has ceased to be a living force and is maintained, often only by a few faithful people, out of respect for a tradition which no one understands very clearly any longer.”  (Quoted in Reports to General Assembly 2014, United Reformed Church.) 

I have to say that I don’t know many churches where the Church Meeting is the vibrant centre of all they do.  I don’t know that I can say that I am encouraged to know that Daniel Jenkins faced the same issues that I do, but at least I know it is not a new phenomenon.  I often wonder what we can do to refresh the Church Meeting and give it the centrality and vibrancy that it ought to have.  Also I can’t help wondering what the church meeting attendance was like in Corinth in the days when Paul was writing to them.  Or did they just do things a different way?  I am inclined to think that business and worship were more linked and more likely to happen on the same occasion – but that is just speculation.  It is certainly clear that they had things to sort out – and I wonder just how they made their decisions?

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Jesus the Zealot

Just finished reading "Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth" by Reza Aslan, a slightly different and interesting take on the life of Jesus and its impact.  Aslan suggests that we have diminished the impact of Jesus by making him appear gentler than he really was.  I am not sure I entirely agree, but I do agree that we, too often, don't let Jesus have the impact that he ought.  The Zealots were revolutionaries and that bit fits.  I certainly agree with Aslan's conclusion that "the one thing any comprehensive study of the historical Jesus should hopefully reveal is that Jesus of Nazareth - Jesus the man - is every bit as compelling, charismatic, and praiseworthy as Jesus the Christ.  He is, in short, someone worth believing in."

Monday, 9 June 2014

Reflecting on Mary

We sometimes seem to think that God just reached out and did stuff for the Biblical characters and all was well.  But the reality is that many of them struggled with all sorts of things. 

In "Gracias" Henri Nouwen reflects on the impact that the news of her impending pregnancy must have had on Mary.  He refers to a helpful address given by a Roman Catholic nun at a service he attended while learning Spanish in Bolivia – “She helped me see Mary through the eyes of the poor people of the third world.  Mary experienced uncertainty and insecurity when she said yes to the angel.  She knew what oppression was when she didn’t find a hospitable place to give birth to Jesus.  …. She lived as a refugee in a strange land with a strange language and strange customs; she knew what it means to have a child who does not follow the regular ways of life but creates turmoil wherever he goes.  …. Mary is the woman who stands next to all the poor, oppressed and lonely women of our time.  ….. Every word in Scripture about Mary points to her intimate connection with all who are forgotten, rejected, despised, and pushed aside.  She joyfully proclaims: “He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly.  He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.”  …..  She gives hope, inspires the fight for freedom, and challenges us to live with an unconditional trust in God’s love.” 
Mary surely raises for us the question as to just what we are doing to stand alongside those who are at the margins.  Mary helps us to see that it is OK to have a doubt or two – and to struggle with our faith.  But Mary also helps us see what an ordinary person can do when that person is ready to commit to God’s will. 

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Pentecost in Bukori

In the early nineties my wife and I spent three years in the Republic of Panama where I served as a minister within the Methodist Church there.  During that time we lived in Panama City, certainly a city in what might be described as the developing world, and a range of challenges that brought, the biggest one perhaps being that for most of our time there the water was switched for around nine hours a day, in our case, fortunately, usually overnight.  However, shortly before returning to the UK in 1994 we spent five weeks in a remote area towards the Costa Rican border supporting the work and ministry amongst the indigenous Guaymi people.  With the constant company of the mobile phone, it is hard to believe that, just twenty years ago, we spent five weeks with no phone at all, five weeks when our water supply depended on the immediate rain, five weeks when the only local means of transport was foot or boat.  I ran a week’s training course for the lay evangelists who led the twelve Methodist churches that were dotted around that peninsula and then we spent some time going out to some of the communities leading what we might now call awaydays at home.
 
Arriving by boat, we would clamber up the hillside to the little local church and the people would gather.  I still remember the day we went to Bukori.  Their evangelist was so excited.  Apart from their own minister visiting something like once a quarter, who happened to be another missionary, nobody from the church leadership ever went to their village.  They would all always have to go to the central village.  He rushed round telling people: Pentecost has come here today!  Well, on the one hand, I am not sure about that – but, on the other, isn’t it precisely the case that we are to take the love of God to those whom we encounter?  Isn’t it true that we can only do that in the power of the Spirit?  And when the Spirit comes, isn’t that Pentecost?
 
Let me explore another Latin American connection.  Henri Nouwen is one of my favourite writers.  He was a Dutch Roman Catholic priest who left an academic career to go and live with a L’Arche community of people with serious disabilities.  Earlier in ministry he explored a call to Latin America and spent some time in Bolivia and Peru.  His book, ‘Gracias’ – thank you, in Spanish – offers a record of and reflection on some of those times. 
 
I was reading a reflection in the book about the beginning of Isaiah 11 – but just as new branches sprout from a stump, so a new king will arise from among David’s descendants.  The spirit of the Lord will give him wisdom ….  It is a reading that we are more likely to associate with Advent or Christmas – but then I would want to suggest that Advent and Christmas and Lent and Holy Week and Easter and Pentecost are all bound up with each other.  And this particular image fits with Pentecost because it is an image of hope.  This is a picture of promise.  One of the things to be aware of is that we are sometimes looking for big things to happen, when God is actually calling us to do little things.  In a brief comment in his journal on this sentiment from Isaiah, and very much rooted in the Bolivian context in which he was then living, Nouwen says this: “When I have no eyes for the small signs of God’s presence – the smile of a baby, the carefree play of children, the words of encouragement and gestures of love offered by friends – I will always remain tempted to despair.  …..  The work of our salvation takes place in the midst of a world that continues to shout, scream, and overwhelm us with its claims and promises.  But the promise is hidden in the shoot that sprouts from the stump, a shoot that hardly anyone notices.” 
                  
Our problem can be that we are so busy looking for the Spirit to come like a mighty wind that we miss the gentle breeze that is the slow, gradual, but tremendously important work of the Spirit.  I love it when I see God doing big things, and I do see that sometimes, often unexpectedly.  But I love also all those little things that actually pile up and make a great deal of difference, but they also are so much more manageable because it is little by little, sometimes almost imperceptively, but still heading towards the big result.  I don’t for one moment think that my visit to a very remote village in Panama called Bukori in the early months of 1994 was a matter of major importance.  But it was good to see the Spirit at work in that community that day.  Indeed, Pentecost had come.  How great when we can see God working those little bits of gradual transformation.