Tuesday, May 29, 2012

CP 178 'Installing' the wrong message

CP 178 ‘Installing’ the wrong message
I’m beginning to be a grumpy old man. Either that or I have lost patience when things are said and done which aren’t true to belief. One of my beloved sons told me the other day that, “In your twilight years (sic) you probably realise you don’t have much time left so you have to say what you have to say right now!” You’ve got to love the young, don’t you?  Anyway, I’ve had a few grumpy attacks recently. Today’s CrossPurposes is about one that occurred last Sunday. It all started when I attended the installation of a Pastor in his new congregation…
There are 175 people present. The place is crowded to overflowing. It’s a pretty happy gathering because this congregation has been without its own shepherd for 2 ½ years. Other churches, Lutheran and local, are represented too. Almost the full complement of nearby Lutheran Pastors is in close attendance, fully and resplendently robed. Apart from the President and the newly arrived shepherd there are eight, who occupy the front pew like too many reserves at a game of footy. The service unfolds as services of worship do, with significant involvement from the joyful congregation members. There are hymns and songs, readings and prayers, and the sermon. Now the moment has arrived for the new relationship to be formally established and blessed…
The imposing cluster of fellow Pastors stands as one, and gathers around the new man. And to all intents and purposes that is where they stay for the rest of the rite. Their ranks open only briefly to allow the symbols of the Pastor’s ministry of Word and Sacrament to be presented to him by members of his new flock. The new incumbent makes his sacred commitments and is formally commissioned, prayed for, and blessed. One by one the eight extra Lutheran Pastors greet him with a word of scripture and the handshake of peace. The next hymn is announced…
And I am distressed and angry. Not one single member of his new church has been offered the privilege or responsibility to come forward and pray with him or for him! Not one single member of his new church has been asked to come forward to welcome him with scripture or greet him with even a handshake. The impression is that the Pastor has come into a relationship with his fellow Pastors rather than his new flock…
Maybe you don’t get my distress. This was all done according to the book – according to the right rite. But this has not been about the Pastor and his flock. It’s been about the Pastor and his fellow Pastors with the other 165 as observers / spectators. The message is wrong, wrong, wrong. As a church we have been talking for more years than I care to remember that the ministry of Jesus the Christ in each place is about all its people, with all their individual gifts and abilities. Yes, the Pastor has a special charge in responsibility for proclamation and sacrament. But it is the congregation and its Pastor who are called into mission together. That was not conveyed during this rite. We may as well been installing a Pastor in 1912 rather than 2012. I couldn’t help but be reminded of the opening of the new Church building in my first parish in 1980. 600 people packed the church. What a celebration. But the only photo that made the church magazine was a photo of the Pastors who were present!
Some observations. First, change the rite! It’s not written in stone. Let’s change it to ensure that the focus is truly on the new relationship between the Pastor and his people. Set it up so that the congregation representatives are the first to greet their Pastor. Let it be their call and joy to pray for him and to welcome him.
Second, if the brother Pastors are going to be present, as is truly fitting and right, let’s have them stand at the edges of the congregation as a powerful sign of the wider church wrapping its arms in support of that congregation and its Pastor.
Third, let’s make sure there is a note in that service order for other local church representatives to be given an opportunity to bring a greeting and blessing as well.
There it is. Sorry about the ranting. Perhaps I really am a grumpy old man. At least you know why I refuse to gown-up at installations.
Have a good week in Him.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

CP 177 Checking out the Holy Spirit

CP 177 Checking out the Holy Spirit

Many years ago, (many, many years ago!) I came across the inspired bit of writing you find below. I suspect that what grabbed my attention so powerfully was the thought about shyness. It just carries the truth that the Holy Sprit has a holy obsession, and we have the privilege, joy and call of being similarly obsessed! Obsessed with what? Wrong question! Obsessed with whom? Right question! And the right answer is?  Jesus the Christ, Saviour of the world, Lord of all. The bottom line is, the Holy Spirit has “CrossPurposes”!

“The work of the Holy Spirit is simply to thrill us with Christ, to infect us with enthusiasm for all that Christ can do for men and women and for the world to change things, …to salvage lives. The Holy Spirit is shy about absolutely everything except Christ, but about Christ the Spirit is downright bullish. 

Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, Peter, and all the rest were united in one great fact: they believed that Jesus was central, and they never stopped pushing him. Irenaeus, Athanasius, Chrysostom, Augustine, Anselm, Thomas, Luther, Calvin, Bengel, Wesley, Schlatter, and Barth all shared this Christ-passion with the apostles. They shared a common enthusiasm for the raw relevance of Jesus to the deepest needs of human life and society. More than anything else, they cared that Jesus be preached, believed, and obeyed. And that caring is exactly what it means to be filled with the Holy Spirit: “Here is God’s priceless Son, with whom God is deeply pleased. Listen to him!”

It is the great work of the Spirit, then, that Christ be known. Therefore, when we too make this our great work, we find ourselves filled with the Spirit whose great work this is. We make this our work”.

(Frederick Dale Bruner – “The Holy Spirit” Pg 23)

But now I have a pressing question for us. Is it possible for us to be properly engaged in the kingdom work of Jesus the Christ without the Baptism of the Holy Spirit?

Never forget… Jesus is Lord!


Tuesday, May 15, 2012

CP 176 Death by nonsense

CP 176 Death by nonsense

Hello friends… in last week’s CrossPurposes I mentioned that I’d written a personal psalm/prayer about some of the deeper things that can go on inside. I’ve been encouraged by some of you responses to what I wrote last week, so I thought I’d take a risk and share the psalm/prayer with you. It was penned on April 3 at 2.00am. I finally typed it up on April 10. Please note the Postscript.

Death by nonsense

Messiah Jesus, my Lord:
I’m confused.
More than confused, I’m hurting, aching in the heart.
More than aching in the heart
there are long moments it feels like I’m dying,
dying from unfulfilled longing for you.

And what is my problem?
Your nonsense!
Your non-sense.
Rather, my non-sense of you.
There doesn’t seem to be any sense of your shepherd-voice-for-me.
There, Lord, I’ve written it, finally written it.
I’m grateful for the freedom to acknowledge it.

Where are you Lord?
Will you not respond to my heart-cry?
You are silent, Lord Jesus, and I am silenced.
Still I ask… why, why why?

This pain of your non-sense
is more than this bruised reed can take.
The smouldering wick is almost extinguished.
Where are you in my personal life,
in that inner place,
that secret place where I am who I am,
in my heart of hearts?

I know your promises very well.
Doubting those promises is not part of who I am.
“I have come that you may have life… abundantly.”
“My joy will be in you so your joy will be full.”
“My peace I leave with you…”
“My sheep hear my voice…”
“Nothing can separate us from the love of God which…”

How is it Lord,
that the people I shepherd in your name
can receive these promises,
and sense them fulfilled through my words and care,
and yet my own heart perceives only speechlessness?
Sadness threatens to overwhelm me…
isolation and loneliness are my friends.

I’m sick to death of this non-sense, my Lord.
For your name’s sake,
your kingdom’s sake,
for my sake… have mercy on me.

It cannot be in you Lord.
That is simply not how you are.
It is not how I know you,
or how you have revealed yourself.
You are not un-caring, un-heard, un-sensed
by those who call on your name.

Whatever the cause,
I have no idea,
no idea at all,
how to journey on from this strange place,
Except to hang in, hold on, and trust.
Yes, Lord, I know…
I know full well it’s called faith.

There are moments, Jesus, when I realise
I’m sliding on the edge of panic.
I have no ‘centre’ apart from you.
Where then can I go in the face of this silence,
this non-sense?
Only to you, only to you…
You were in this place before me.

“I need your presence, every passing hour,
what but your grace…”


Postscript: Strange how light comes. See that line above, “You were in this place before me.” In the early morning hours on April 11, I was thinking about Jesus being unheard on the Cross. Being unheard like that was part of the Lord God’s salvation plan for us. He was unheard so that we could be heard. I can accept, deep within, that my own ‘unheardness’ is used by our Father to help others in their salvation journeys.

Have a good week.


Wednesday, May 09, 2012

CP 175 Are we there yet?

CP 175 Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we th…. !!!

Yesterday I chanced to be seated in the back seat of one of these flash new cars which has a drop-down-from-the-ceiling screen for games / DVDs. We (5 adults, 4 of whom now have adult children) were instantly reminded of the days when our kids used to drive us nuts from the back seat with their, “Are we there yet? Are we there yet?” What was particularly galling was that the blighters would begin asking that irritating question when we were just 20 minutes into a 10 hour trip! Modern families don’t have a clue how good they have it!
As often happens, the words found their way into my semi-dream, semi-sleep as I lay in bed this morning. I started to think of what it must be like for our Lord God to have his people in his ear like that all the time, every day. A bit later it occurred to me that Moses had to put up with constant whinging of the Israelites in the desert. They were grumping about the journey from Day One. From my reading of the story it doesn’t seem they ever got over their muttering and murmuring. Did you bring us out here to die? Don’t like this bread. There’s no water. I’m sick of quail. The leeks in Egypt were great. Why did you bring us here? Where’s God? Are we there yet? Why aren’t we there yet? Poor, poor Moses!
I hope the Lord is not sick of me and my questioning. In 1977, I was a vicar, (trainee pastor), with late Pastor John Sims. During a class he taught a longing came into my heart, which I put to Jesus Christ as a statement. “I want to know you. Lord, I know a lot about you, but I want to know you. I know you know me, but I want to know you. It became the heart-quest of my life. There trouble is, it still is my quest.
35 years ago I asked to know him. 35 years? Isn’t that long enough Lord? Yes people, I do think I have a sense of the Father’s heart. I’ve learnt much of that from the Calvary story and the New Testament. But, you know, I still struggle, every day, with what it means to know Jesus. Believe it or not, the other day I wrote a sort of personal psalm which I headed, “Death by non-sense”. Often it hurts. Many times I feel dead. Sometimes it does feel as though my Lord is killing me! So I keep asking…
I keep asking to know. I want to know. Why does it take so long Lord? Isn’t it your will? When will you answer my prayer? Why do I not ever feel some sense of your presence? Why do I find personal prayer difficult, if not impossible on some days? Why aren’t I there yet Lord? I keep asking…
The kids ask, “Are we there yet?” I suspect I’m not alone in asking why it sometimes / often / usually / always feels like our Lord is a million miles away and not responding. David wrote, “Why are you so far…?”
Ah, well, in his time. In his time.
Please know that I know I am ‘in Christ’. Yes, I am in the presence of Immanuel. He’s my Lord and I have no doubt that I’m on his radar. As my shepherd, he looks after me. As my rock, he’s the foundation of my life. He is my way, my truth and my life. He is my shelter in the storm. In him I’m forgiven. The scripture does not lie about these truths. My king is the king of the only eternally unshakeable kingdom. And yet, every day I ask to know him. I don’t believe I am an annoyance in his ear either.
You know what I have learned along the way? Among other things? The NT reference which triggered my searching, my quest, has four parts. Here it is:
“…I want to know Christ
and the power of his resurrection
and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings,
becoming like him in his death…” (Phil 3:10)
What did I learn? As the song says, you can’t have one without the other.
Be blessed in Christ Jesus the Lord.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

CP 174 Then came the day of the accident...

CP 174  Then came the day of the accident…

Here’s a true story for you:

The local newspaper in a little country town in South Australia carried a weekly Christian column called “JUST A MOMENT”. Each week there was a challenging thought to deal with, and nobody knew who wrote them. Since the articles had commenced around the time I arrived many people assumed it was me. The only thing I knew was that it wasn’t me! About 8 years after I left town the paper printed its usual column. It is reproduced below, in full.

 “Some time ago Joe applied for an insurance policy for accidents. In the interview the agent asked him if he had ever had an accident. Joe thought for a moment and said, ‘Nooo, but a horse kicked me in the ribs, and another time a snake bit me’. ‘Wouldn’t you call those accidents?’ replied the agent. ‘No’, said Joe, ‘they did it on purpose’.

That may be an amusing story, but the truth of the Bible remains that there are no accidents in the lives of God’s children. In today’s Bible verse, Joseph interpreted a dreadfully trying time in his life as a great test of his faith, and from a human standpoint it appeared to be a case of injustice and not a blessing at all. But Joseph learned that God had planned the whole experience.

Maybe you are having a time great hardship in one way or another. Maybe your children have done the wrong thing to you, or you have suffered an accident and are feeling absolutely miserable. Sometimes these trials are for a special blessing. Be patient and trust God. Even try to praise him for the trial. It may be the hardest thing you have had to do for quite a while, but it will work and God will transform your trial into a blessing. ‘God meant it for good…’ (Genesis 50:20.)”

The item was in the paper on June 28. The author’s husband was killed in an accident on his way home from work on that very day! You and I can hardly imagine the pain of that coincidence of God. Rose and I sent a card expressing our sadness. In her reply she included the clip from the paper and a brief written message from the funeral.


Fred’s comment? I share and confess the belief that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ works all things for the good of those who love him. I don’t believe his purposes would necessarily be obvious at any time in this life. Certainly praise would not come easily. I reckon I could get to say with Job, “The Lord gave. The Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” I would have to move on in faith. What I do believe is that our heavenly Father does love us, and will, on occasion, test our convictions in order to strengthen us and grow us ever deeper in HIM. Jesus is Lord!

And by the way… be prepared!