The God of small things

The case for being on the back row, third from the left

Though famous speakers and evangelists today can reach thousands of people with one telecast, discipleship is done one relationship at a time by those we will never read about. Their legacy is seen in the lives of those they touched. Perhaps I will never find the spotlight. But my value to the kingdom of God is not determined by my ability to attract or hold the spotlight. Instead, it is determined by my willingness to listen, learn, and be used by Jesus, whenever and however he desires.’

(Losers Like Us: Redefining Discipleship after Epic Failure
By Daniel Hochhalter)

I’m grateful to my colleague Miriam Cowpland for (reading this book and) digging out this quote.

Losers Like Us: Redefining Discipleship after Epic Failure

by Daniel Hochhalter [David C. Cook]
Price: - - - -

Frustration, difficulty and pain: God’s gifts to us

icu wordcloud
This particular wordcloud came from a coma-survivors’ focus group (of which I am a member)

Here’s a quote about what it means to stick with our friends while we also try to follow Christ.

‘Frustration and pain are essential features of incarnational ministry.’

It goes on:

‘If we are to truly identify with our people, we must expect frustration and pain. If we don’t, we may be taken by surprise when we encounter it and be tempted to leave this work for an easier path or be so disillusioned that we lose the joy of ministry. I think many people are suffering unnecessary pain in ministry today because they did not fully anticipate the suffering that ministry inevitably involves. This pain has caused them to be discontented when actually they should be rejoicing in tribulation.’

‘As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.’ (John 20:21)

‘That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.’ (2 Corinthians 12:10)

(Quote from popular Sri Lankan evangelist and teacher Ajith Fernando in his his book Jesus Driven Ministry. I’m grateful to my colleague Miriam Copeland for digging out this quote.)

Jesus Driven Ministry

by Ajith Fernando [IVP]
Price: £11.99 - - -

Vocation: allow some wiggle room

Just read a lovely blog post by cartoonist Jessica Abel that adds a healthy corrective to the business of not-dying-with-your music-still-inside you.

Don’t get too hung up on the idea is possibly the take-home. Or maybe, don’t make an idol out of it.

It is wonderful, and energizing, and satisfying, to launch out to do the thing you’ve always really wanted to do. But, she counsels wisely:

  • allow yourself some wiggle-room: You need not feel trapped by whatever you think you “must” be doing creatively. Maybe you want to be a musician. That can play out in dozens of ways. Some more likely to pay the bills than others.
  • Vocation doesn’t have to be epic or worldchanging: look for what you can do that’s useful, that gives you pleasure, and do more of that.


Do try this at home

Get out of that one

Love letter/Around 2008 an atheist SF writer named John C Wright prayed this:

Dear God. There is no logical way you could possibly exist, and even if you appeared before me in the flesh, I would call it an hallucination. So I can think of no possible way, no matter what the evidence and no matter how clear it was, that you could prove your existence to me. But the Christians claim you are benevolent, and that my failure to believe in you inevitably will damn me. If, as they claim, you care whether or not I am damned, and if, as they claim, you are all wise and all powerful, you can prove to me that you exist even though I am confident such a thing is logically impossible. Thanking you in advance for your cooperation in this matter, John C. Wright.”

Three days later he had a heart attack.


Secret of moving big things: stand still

Pretty cool.

Is this a law of the universe?

To make the maximum impact for good with your life:

  • keeping doing the simple things that you love and are good at.

It might be called the ‘horse chestnut principle’. If a conker can avoid being stolen by squirrels or collected by children, it can become a horse chestnut tree, huge and lovely.

horse chestnut tree
Attached by fungus, but still doing the business, the horse chestnut outside our our house

Here’s an open letter, from a much-loved Sri Lankan Christian leader Ajith Fernando, to elderly theologian J I Packer. It’s a testimonial to Packer’s long lifetime, to Ajith Fernando’s consistent service, and to the compounding power of faithfulness.

A little glimpse of a new world

It’s really like this.

… It’s a place of welcome and laughter, of healing and hope, of friends and family and justice and new life.

Happy parishioners‘It’s where the homeless drop in for a bowl of soup, and the elderly for someone to chat to. It’s where you’ll find people learning to pray, coming to faith, struggling with temptation, finding new purpose and a new power to carry it out.

‘It’s where people bring their own small faith and discover that when they get together with others to worship the true God, the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts. No church is like this all of the time. But a remarkable number of churches are partly like that for quite a lot of the time.’ (p 105)

by - [-]
Price: - - - -

p. 105.

Vocation – refocussing in mid-career

An overworked leader changes course


TurnMy colleague Flora, from the mission where I work, wrote this:

Two years ago I took time out from ministry, having got near breaking point. This was the result of at least 8 years of trying to cover more than one leadership role. My time out enabled me to recognise that I also have an inbuilt tendency to fill gaps rather than let things fall apart. It has been hard to step away and see others struggle because I am no longer picking up pieces.

Five months of rest and reflection led me to realise I could not go back to team leadership. One of the problems when you are gifted in different areas and good at multi-tasking is discerning what God wants to do through you. In recent years I had come to recognise that at heart I am a mission mobiliser, encouraging people into the adventure of sharing the gospel cross-culturally. Part of my struggle was that I had become tied to a desk. Also, I knew that as a mission mobiliser with no time or opportunity to develop personal experience of cross-cultural evangelism I was at a severe disadvantage.

As I laid this before God I found Him opening up areas of ministry I would never have imagined. Eighteen months on I am in regular contact with refugees and asylum seekers of different nationalities in my city and have a number of Muslim friends. Through my church I am now involved in evangelism and discipleship, primarily with Iranians. Recently I had the joy of helping to baptise six new followers of Jesus!

At the same time God has opened up doors of opportunity and influence locally and nationally as a mission mobiliser.

Flora’s story echoed with me. Perhaps there are seasons when we have to fill gaps and serve our organisation. But it drains us, and it we know it. Unless gap-filling is our particular gift,  there comes a time when we have to get out, rethink, and get into what we love and are good at. For Flora, it took a sabbatical; for me illness.

Either way, a good move.


When the door is shut to truth, try a story

A Closed Door‘Once upon a time, Truth went about the streets as naked as the day he was born. As a result, no-one would let him into their homes. Whenever people caught sight of him, they turned away and fled. One day when Truth was sadly wandering about, he came upon Parable. Now, Parable was dressed in splendid clothes of beautiful colors. And Parable, seeing Truth, said, “Tell me, neighbor, what makes you look so sad?” Truth replied bitterly, “Ah, brother, things are bad. Very bad. I’m old, very old, and no-one wants to acknowledge me. No-one wants anything to do with me.”

Hearing that, Parable said, “People don’t run away from you because you’re old. I too am old. Very old. But the older I get, the better people like me. I’ll tell you a secret: Everyone likes things disguised and prettied up a bit. Let me lend you some splendid clothes like mine, and you’ll see that the very people who pushed you aside will invite you into their homes and be glad of your company.”

Truth took Parable’s advice and put on the borrowed clothes. And from that time on, Truth and Parable have gone hand in hand together and everyone loves them. They make a happy pair.’

Yiddish Folk Tales (Pantheon fairy tale & folklore library)

by Beatrice Silve Weinreich [Random House Inc]
Price: £39.54 - - -

(Yiddish Folktales, Pantheon Books, New York, edited by Beatrice Silverinan Weinreich, ISBN: 080521090)

As we read the four gospels, we see that Jesus never used scripture as a starting point except in the synagogue. He always used stories about everyday things. Perhaps surprisingly, it is never recorded that He even used a short narrative story from what we now call the Old Testament.

Jesus was not a theologian; he was God who told stories (Madeleine L’Engle)

Both quotes from:
at Internet Evangelism Day
Under Creative Commons License: Attribution

How to bury a non-churchgoer (part 3)

I asked my former church leader Canon Stephen Leeke this question:

Because I am a Christian and am occasionally found doing ‘religious stuff’, I have twice been asked to do funeral services for family members. These family members did not want a Christian funeral. I want to help the best way I can. What should I do?

In previous posts Stephen suggested four guidelines:

  • All human life is precious and God loves us all.
  • I am not the judge and he knows all the thoughts of our hearts.
  • I am a minister of the gospel and a servant of Jesus Christ.
  • A funeral is primarily for the benefit of the living.

Here are his final three:

  • The deceased’s opinions should be respected but not be paramount.
  • Funerals don’t have to be funerals!
  • Jesus said, ‘Let the dead bury the dead’.

    The deceased’s opinions should be respected but not be paramount

Only a couple of days before writing this I was in conversation with someone who had asked me to do his funeral. He gave me details of the Bible reading and hymns he wanted and I carefully filed them away. But he now informed me that he has since talked to two other ministers, asking them to do his service, and choosing different hymns! Unless the details are specified in a will (and sometimes that is not read until after the funeral) they should not be too influential.

It is more important to consider those who are present. So he may have been a determined atheist, for example, but his wife and children may be devout Christians. Their wishes should be taken seriously. Even practicalities like travelling difficulties are important.

He may have wanted his ashes to be scattered in their back garden, but his widow may be planning to move and wants somewhere to lay flowers.

By the way, make sure they decide what is to be done with the ashes. Too many ashes sit around on the shelves of Funeral Directors or in the cupboards of relatives or are fought over or (heaven forfend) even split up and shared out. Urge them to make a proper decision.

Funerals don’t have to be funerals!

I recently presided at a memorial service for a popular man in a packed village church. His ashes were present, and buried afterwards, but the funeral had taken place the day before at the crematorium with only the undertaker present! A memorial service can start with a blank sheet and can be held at any time after the death.

Jesus said, ‘Let the dead bury the dead’

Jesus’ quotation does give one the opportunity to turn down an invitation to preside at other-than-Christian funerals. Our calling from Christ is clearly not to bury the dead but to minister to the living, indeed to preach the good news, in season and out of season, to the living.

It would be entirely appropriate to say, ‘If I am leading it will be a Christian service, if you don’t want a ‘religious service’ I won’t do it’. I will happily lead a funeral for someone who is not a Christian, but it will be a Christian funeral.

‘That’s my advice, Glenn.’

… and many thanks.

How to bury a non-churchgoer (part 2)

I asked my former church leader Canon Stephen Leeke this question:

Because I am a Christian and am occasionally found doing ‘religious stuff’, I have twice been asked to do funeral services for family members. These family members did not want a Christian funeral. I want to help the best way I can. What should I do?

In a previous post, Stephen pointed out: 

  • All human life is precious and God loves us all.
  • I am not the judge and he knows all the thoughts of our hearts.

This second post adds two more principles:

  • I am a minister of the gospel and a servant of Jesus Christ.
  • A funeral is primarily for the benefit of the living.

I am a minister of the gospel and a servant of Jesus Christ

    The assumptions I bring to any funeral are Christian ones. I can’t help it. They knew that when they asked me. And the words I use will be scriptural ones. I won’t assume they agree with me, but I will speak about the hope that is in me. The CofE service is again helpful here, giving prayers which are full of meaning and express the thoughts that many have but in a Christian language.

It also helps by separating the ‘Words of Tribute’ from ‘The Sermon’. The tribute comes at the very beginning of the service and is about  the life and achievements, character and qualities of the deceased. The sermon comes after the Bible reading (a requirement). It is best done as a short explanation of the chosen reading and the good news of Jesus.

The service can take the congregation from mourning their loss of an individual to a realisation of what faith in Jesus has to offer them. It ends with a powerful prayer commending him or her to God our merciful creator and redeemer, because it is God who will judge.

A funeral is primarily for the living

   The minister’s job is to minister to the congregation there. The service should help them. I usually say at the beginning:

       We have come here today to remember before God our brother/sister N;
  and to give thanks for his/her life;

    To pay our respects to someone who was important to us [and to our community];

       To pray for those who mourn and to comfort one another in our grief;

       To consider our own lives in the light of death and to prepare ourselves to meet our maker;
       To commend him/her to God our merciful redeemer and judge;
  and to commit his/her body to be buried/cremated.

I think this gives a right balance.

There is usually an enormous sense of relief and completion after a good funeral and often a desire to do better. I have known people coming to faith through the words they have heard.

One congregation for a funeral I did included a man who had unwittingly caused a young girl to commit suicide, and the girl’s father, who had vowed to kill him. I spoke strongly and prayed about forgiveness and was overjoyed to witness the two embracing after the service. A good funeral can bring about real healing.