Setting sail

image

I love my Saturday morning lie-in, it’s one of my favourite parts of the week. This morning, however, I voluntarily gave up my weekly bout of laziness in order to get up at 8am and drive the hour and a quarter journey to Perth. The reason was the Vocations Conference organised by the Church of Scotland.

This conference is organised to help those who are looking to train for some form of ministry within the Church to get the information they need to decide either what to apply for or whether to apply. There was information given about various types of ministry; Ministry of Word and Sacrament, Ordained Local Ministry, Diaconal Ministry, world mission, social care, mission and discipleship and, the reason I was there, Readership.

I met people from all over Scotland, plus some from further afield, with many different gifts and callings. Some had a very clear view of what they were being called to do, whilst others really had no idea and wanted to know where their place may lie. It was a really interesting time to chat with a group of very ordinary people, all prepared to allow God to do extraordinary things through them.

For my part, as I said, I was there to learn more about the Readership. Readers are people who can lead worship within the Church, preaching and teaching in place of (or alongside) a minister. They can also officiate at funerals and take services outwith the Church setting (schools, care homes etc.). The guy who spoke to us about it was a Reader from Dundee called Tim. He explained the history of the Readership, including why they are called Readers (they started off by literally reading the service off of a pre written script, including the sermon, when there wasn’t a minister available), then spoke about the options available in terms of either doing pulpit supply or being attached to a specific Church.

Now, to be considering something like this is, to say the least, a bit of a change for me compared to the person I once was. When I was a student I was elected to the Student Union council as Education Officer. At the start of the academic year  every member of the council gave a speech to the first year students about themselves and their job. In one of these I was so nervous that I opened my mouth and… nothing. I froze. I’d love to say that I relaxed and finally made my speech, but that’s not how it played out. I stood there looking like an idiot for a while, then sat down, utterly humiliated.

At my wedding the only part which stressed me was having to give a speech at the reception. Doing it was terrifying, but at least words came out this time and the world didn’t end.

Basically, I have moved on from being somebody with a massive fear of public speaking to somebody who now trains people for a living and now wants to train to preach to church congregations on a weekly basis. What would have scared me half to death 20 years ago is now the thing I want to do more than anything.

I’ve been given a gift and given a desire to use that gift. Now, I’m setting myself on the road to learn how to use that gift in the way God wants me to. I don’t know where this is going to lead me, but I can’t wait to find out.

It’s a leap of faith to do this, but it’s one which everyone in the church needs to do. The amount of people training for full-time ministry within the Church of Scotland is falling, as is the number of full-time ministers. Other denominations are seeing similar drops. This is going to mean that the church will need to change its current model of a minister at the top, predominantly responsible for worship, admin and pastoral care, with the congregation filling in some of the gaps. The general membership of the church will need to step up to the plate and take responsibility for all aspects of church life and mission. It feels as if we are moving to something closer to the type of church Paul wrote about,

“The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit. Yes, the body has many different parts, not just one part. If the foot says, “I am not a part of the body because I am not a hand,” that does not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear says, “I am not part of the body because I am not an eye,” would that make it any less a part of the body? If the whole body were an eye, how would you hear? Or if your whole body were an ear, how would you smell anything? But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it. How strange a body would be if it had only one part! Yes, there are many parts, but only one body. The eye can never say to the hand, “I don’t need you.” The head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you.” In fact, some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary. And the parts we regard as less honorable are those we clothe with the greatest care. So we carefully protect those parts that should not be seen, while the more honorable parts do not require this special care. So God has put the body together such that extra honor and care are given to those parts that have less dignity. This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other. If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad. All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it. Here are some of the parts God has appointed for the church: first are apostles, second are prophets, third are teachers, then those who do miracles, those who have the gift of healing, those who can help others, those who have the gift of leadership, those who speak in unknown languages. Are we all apostles? Are we all prophets? Are we all teachers? Do we all have the power to do miracles? Do we all have the gift of healing? Do we all have the ability to speak in unknown languages? Do we all have the ability to interpret unknown languages? Of course not! So you should earnestly desire the most helpful gifts. But now let me show you a way of life that is best of all.” (1 Corinthians 12:12-31 NLT)

We are one body. We are all parts of that body and we have all been given a job to do. It’s time we all started doing that job, whatever it is, to keep that body alive.

I heard a line at the conference today that a ship is safest in the harbour, but that wasn’t what it was built for. I wasn’t built to sit in a pew. None of us were.

It’s time to set sail.

Lent Day 37: John 15-16

20140415-125151 pm.jpg

I have come across a lot of anger towards religion, particularly the Church recently. Anger caused by the actions of people down the ages who claim to be acting in God’s name. To be fair, I can fully understand where these views come from, after all, religion has been used as the justification for much evil; holy wars, witch hunts, persecution, brainwashing, legal control, psychological abuse, sexual abuse, physical abuse, slavery, racism, greed, subjugation of women, terrorism and many other horrendous acts have been perpetuated by the Church or those acting on its behalf for centuries.

It’s shameful, disgusting and evil.

But it isn’t the fault of religion, or of Jesus. It’s the fault of human beings.

These acts were carried out by people whose motivation was not holy, no matter how warped their idea may be. Their motivations were power, money, control and hatred, all of which would have found another outlet had religion not been there. In many cases these acts have been carried out with no use of religion as a tool at all.

So, I can understand the anger towards religion, towards the Church, for the evil done in their name down the years. But it’s misdirected anger.

The church is not a bunch of power crazed people at the top, controlling the masses (although it has looked like that in points in history and in some parts of the world today). The church is simply the people of God. Each of us who follows Jesus.

Jesus is the founder, focus and direction of the Church. He is the leader and commander, and his command is simple,

“This is my command: Love each other.” (John 15:17 NIV)

Love each other. Not abuse, persecute, control, lie to, hate or kill each other. Love each other. Simple as that.

If we love him, as he says, we will obey his commands. We will love each other. If we are in him and him in us we will bear fruit. We will love each other. If we love him then we will love the Father and do his will. We will love each other.

But, if we don’t obey his command, if we don’t love each other and act accordingly, then we don’t love him. Then he isn’t in us. Then we’re not in him. Then we don’t love the Father. And if this is the case, if we don’t love, but are moved by hatred and self interest, then he will say to us that he doesn’t know us. He will tell us to get away from him. We will be like branches which bear no fruit, are pruned, thrown away and burnt. We are not his Church.

Anyone who acts in their own interest, with their greed, lust for power, hatred and prejudice are not the Church. Even those who are “the Church” as people understand it are not his Church. He doesn’t know them. He shuts them out and cuts them off.

Whenever evil has been, or is, carried out in the name of the Church, then Jesus will say that they aren’t his. They aren’t the Church. They are liars and frauds who the rest of us need to call to account for their actions and refuse to follow.

His church is built on one main principle. Love each other. If we don’t do this, if we don’t live, breathe, eat and sleep this command, then we need to stop calling ourselves part of the Church and look at how we can change.

The church is not a lie, an instrument of evil or control. It’s the bride of Christ. It is steeped in love.

So should we be. Love each other.

Encouragement

On Sunday I ran a session with the youth group in my Church around Acts 9:19-31. In it, the newly converted Saul (soon to become Paul, author of a large bulk of the New Testament) starts preaching the Gospel. Many of the believers are terrified of him because he had previously persecuted Christians and was present at the killing of the first Christian martyr, Stephen.

The session looked at how many of us, if not all of us, have at least occasional feelings of not being good enough. Of worthlessness. Of being no use to anybody, let alone any use to God. All of the kids in my group admitted that they felt that way about themselves occasionally and sometimes felt it about others.

The irony of this is my own frame of mind. For a while now, although it’s only recently been diagnosed, I have had depression. Thankfully it’s not severe to the extent of some people I know. I manage to get out of bed in the mornings, go to work, do my job, look after my family, go to Church, run the youth group and do all the things I need to day to day. However, my emotions are rarely above flat and very often hit horrible lows. I feel worthless, not good enough, no use to man or God, and feel that other people have that view of me too.

The thing is, Saul was good enough, despite his past. Despite what fears other believers held about him. Despite the feelings of despair he had about himself at times. God decided that even Saul/Paul was good enough to bring His good news to an almost global audience and establish Christianity throughout the Roman world. He is viewed as a man who shaped the faith in a way which is second only to Jesus. Not bad for a guy whose main intent on the road to Damascus was to kill Christians and destroy the faith in its infancy.

Saul didn’t do it alone though. He had an encourager. Literally, as it happens, as the name Barnabas means “he who encourages”. Barnabas stood up for Saul at a time when others wanted nothing to do with him. He convinced the others, and Saul himself, that he deserved a chance. His conversion was genuine. He is worth taking the same risk on that God himself did.

We all need a Barnabas. I have mine. I have an incredibly supportive family, for a start. That’s only part of the story, though. In the last few weeks it has been as though people are going out of the way to boost my self confidence and self esteem. I’ve had loads of people letting me know how much better I look recently (I’ve lost 3 1/2 stones in the last year). I’ve had so many positive remarks about things I’ve done in Church. My last blog post really struck a chord both in the way I wrote it and what I wrote. It feels almost as if people are being prompted in some way to improve my self esteem. Most don’t know about the depression, but I believe they are being prompted. I feel that God is telling me that, while I may not feel it to myself, I am worth it to Him. I am His child and He loves me unconditionally, like I love my own kids, but in a more amazing way. He loves me enough to have sent His son to die for me.

I still feel low and flat. I’m taking the right medication to help. I also know that the feelings of worthlessness are depression lying to me. I am not good enough for God, but I’m good enough for Him at the same time. We all are. And that helps.