New Room 2014

Last week, as I mentioned in my last post, I had the experience of attending New Room Conference in Franklin, TN.  I blogged after the first day and made reference to the words spoken to the Conference by Ed Stetzer and the Hirsch’s.  It was a fantastic, moving and inspiring first day, but what was to come after in the remaining two days was nothing short of soul stirring.

The next two days of the conference were spent poring over the greatest qualities of the essence of the Wesleyan movement along with some serious lament as to where the movement has found itself in the latter 20th century and early 21st century world: stale, dry and lost.  The truth is that the Wesleyan movement as it is would ensure that mr. Wesley would not recognize it at all if he were to be a part of it.  But the conference was not all doom and gloom. In fact it was far from it because the entire purpose of the Conference was to challenge Wesleyan’s to seize their DNA and understand that what we have can stiff be a fantastic redemptive gift to the world.

While all this was going on, the Spirit of the Lord was doing a dramatic work in my soul.  I was moved to the place where I actually had no idea what I would preach on Sunday morning.  I had made plans to preach on the gifts of the Spirit, but they went out the window as I experienced a sense of surrender to the Lord.  This past week, I was able to lay down my thoughts and my plans and take up those of the Holy Spirit.

And it was good.

Very good.

My confession to the church i preach in, and my confession here in this place is this:  I had let my hunger for knowledge and keeping up with my peers in ministry become the identifying and marking factor in my work.  I was not taking time to surrender to God daily and seek his ways for what we are doing in this church and what He wants to do in my soul.  Don’t get me wrong – I was preaching, teaching, caring, relating and sharing in the name of Christ.  And it is clear from the testimony of folks that God has worked through that.  But I know, deep down, that I was not engaging with the Holy Spirit in the sense of being surrendered.  I was wanting to remain in control.  I was wanting to hold on to the vision.  I thought I knew what was right for this place and for the flock I am sent to. I…I…I…

The call of Christ is to follow him.  It is to leave my net, the desk at which I work, and follow him.  The call of Christ is to put my shoulder to the plough and follow him in complete surrender, and to not look back.  I have spent the longest time looking back, thinking i am clever and trying to outsmart the Holy Spirit.

But here is the good news.  God is not done with me.

Hallelujah.

The gospel is very simply this: that grace – that undeserved, unmerited gift of God’s love – can meet with any human being, at any time, and take them just as they are and transform them.  And not just that.  Grace can keep on transforming the human being again and again and again.  All of life is grace and the possibilities of grace in the life of humanity are endless.  This was the gospel that John Wesley understood, preached and embodied.  Every human was of interest to God and every human could be used by God – no matter how far they had fallen or how pride-filled they were.

Hallelujah.

Today I have read from 1 John chapter 5 and John is writing about obedience being the sign of human love and response to God.  No one is beyond the call to obey God. Today I am grateful for the grace of God and I am hungry to continue surrendering my will to that of God for my life.

Come Holy Spirit, this day, and grant me grace to surrender to you, listen for you and act with you and in your strength.

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Does ordination close us off from those to whom we have been sent?

This is a serious question.  Let me contextualize it in my experience today.

I am currently sitting in my hotel room in Franklin, TN. where I am attending the “New Room 2014” Conference.  New Room is being run by Seedbed and the Wesleyan Covenant Network and has employed the tag line:

“Let’s rediscover pre-denominational values for the post-denominational age.”

Or something along those lines.

Primarily, the conference is looking at the missional value of the Wesleyan tradition for the 21st century world.  Today we had a statistical/academic/ecclesiastical/missional master-class by Ed Stetzer. And then, right after that, we had a missional reality check and kick in the arse from Deb & Alan Hirsch.  I have been tweeting quotes from their talks all afternoon as a means of remembering and sharing what I am learning/relearning.  The call from both presentations has been pretty much the same: the Wesleyan movement is well positioned to unleash the gospel on the world, but the movement has been institutionalized and is suffering as a result.

I cannot disagree with anything that either of the presentations highlighted in terms of the plight of churches.  United Methodism’s numerical stats do not make pretty reading.  Alan Hirsch said it best when he pointed out that the world does not actually reject the message of God, Jesus and Spirituality.  In fact it embraces these three things in it’s own way.  However, it does reject the church.  In Hirch’s own words – there is no problem with the message.  The message is loved.  But the means by which the message is communicated another matter entirely.  The church is rejected and for so many in the west, it is a complete irrelevance.

The Deb Hirsch added to what Alan had set up by calling the church back to a missional existence.  She challenged by suggesting that the only way to connect with people is to do just that: connect with them.  One of the best things she said was that it is no good knowing ABOUT the people that the church has been called to.  Rather the church needs to be INVOLVED and CONNECTED to those that she is called to.

And the things is that as she spoke, she was not talking about the church as some distant entity from me and the rest of us that were listening to her.  As she talked about the need for the church to be connected, she was talking to me about the need for me to be connected to the very people I am called to.

I realized then that I am not anymore.

Through rugby I always was.  I had a place where I could be connected outside of the church to people who I was called to.  I even did my third year ministry placement in the rugby club by becoming a chaplain of sorts in that place and experimenting with forms of church and conversation in that context.

Then I graduated, got commissioned, and ordained, and got older, and got a bad back, and now I have no more rugby.  Now I have lost that place of connection and I find myself in a new country and a new community, and I am becoming more and more steeped in the every day maintenance of the institution and I am less and less connected to the everyday reality of community life.  I have forgotten that I too am called out of the church premises and into the community.  I have forgotten that I am called to be connected with real people in the real world; to be present with them.

Deb Hirsch spoke of the “6 P’s” of incarnational living: Presence; Proximity; Prevenience; Powerlesness; Passion; Proclamation.  The ugly truth of my current reality is that I only really recognize one of these right now – the last one.  My continuing fear is that in my ordination and the ordained life I am actually closing myself off from the people I am called to rather than moving closer to them.  I am leading a church and inviting them to be missional, but I am not living what I am leading and as Ed Stetzer reminded us today – that is a nonstarter of a project.

So what do I do with this?  How do I begin to find ways to connect with the community in ways that are meaningful, relational and intentional?

As I begin to think that question through some, I find myself leaning towards establishing relational connections with the school across from the church.  Either that or some kind of pub and prayer walk thing that would take me out of the church premises and into the community of which i am a part.  I don;t want to be that pleasant big pastor from Ireland who people call on when someone is sick or dying or dead?  I want to have a prophetic voice into the community.  I want to be active and relational in the community.

I need to repent of my failings and rejection of relationships and start again in connecting with the community i now find myself in.  Ordination has been getting in the way of that in as much as I have been allowing it too.  That needs to stop and I need to find places and ways to live the ordained life in the presence of the community to which I am called.  Please, Jesus lead me in this.

“Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.”  Thats what John said in his first epistle.

Jesus, you were present in the communities you ministered in and you were present with all kinds of people.  Help me to live as you did, and let my claim to live in you be true.

Holy Ghost…

I have just watched the Holy Ghost movie that is about to be put out by Bethel media.  Honestly, am having mixed response in the aftermath.  I believe that the intent of the film maker is good and true in that he simply wants people to realize the reality, power and truth of the Holy Spirit in the life of all believers.  He starts out with some solid assertions and arguments from speakers, worship leaders and teachers (notably R. T. Kendall) which lay out the case for the ongoing reality of the person of the Holy Spirit and the power-filled role that the Holy Spirit has in day to day life and in ministry.  This is to set up the main aim of the movie: to create a movie completely prompted by the Holy Spirit.  He says he had no plan and no story board and was only waiting on the Spirit’s leading and guiding to make the movie.  He then took the viewers on a journey through Salt Lake City, Monaco and finally to India because that is where the Spirit was leading him.  In each place a spirit led and infused story unravelled in which seemingly random people experienced healing as they encountered the film maker and his team.

Now I am not averse to the idea of this happening.  Healing on the Streets in indeed a wonderful ministry which is thriving back home in Northern Ireland and this was the model that they seemed to be using.  In this model, random people are encountered at the leading of the Holy Spirit and they are asked quite leading questions by the person who will pray for them.  Then when the issue is highlighted the person prays for them and asks if something has happened.  If nothing has happened then they pray again.  In one case they prayed 3 or four times for the healing which did eventually come, if the camera is to be believed.

Like I said, I am not averse to the model being used in the film, but I do find myself being skeptical over the spoken interactions between the folks who were ministering in prayer and those they were ministering to.  If I am honest, they seemed quite manipulative and leading and it often felt like the person being prayed for was cornered and unable to get a word in edgeways. Having said that, none of them ever seemed to appear to be bullied or pushed into anything at all.  And all of the people on camera certainly testified to feeling something inside.  Many were visibly moved.

I am left not really knowing what to do with it all.  This is the stuff I have longed for and I guess there is part of me that just needs to be a child and ask for it.  It really is that simple.

But then the intellectual side kicks in.  The voice of the enemy kicks in and reminds me of the reasons that Holy Spirit perhaps should not live in me. The questions kick in as I watch the miraculous seemingly take place in front of my eyes.  I do not deny that it is real (that is the power of the Holy Spirit) but I want to know what happened next.  I want to know what happened next in the lives of those young teenagers that got “saved” in the documentary.  I want to know what happened to those people at that rock concert that got prayed with, were promised that Jesus is real and then got “saved.”  I want to know what happened to the young man who was able to move his wrist in full motion after having previously been limited .  Did these guys surrender to God and go on to live lives as disciples of Jesus?  What churches did they connect people up with? What happened next?  I do not want to quash the amazing work that is done on the streets, but I do want to know what happens after it has all been prayed and done.  Does something have to happen?  Am I too blinkered by the need for church to happen after something like this?  Is my longing for the miraculous, for signs and wonders, simply a longing to have more people in my church?  Or is it really a longing to see Jesus meet with and live inside people regardless of what happens next?

So many questions in my intellect.  So many longings in my spirit.  And the call from this movie was that if I want the Holy Spirit to move more powerfully in me and through me, then all I have to do is ask.

I am asking.

Now.

I want to be filled, Jesus.  I want to be filled with you.  I want to overflow with you.  I really do.  I know I am flawed and broken and have regrets, mistakes, and shame.  I know that there are so many human reasons that you should not fill me.

But I just want it.

I just want you.

I want that amazing grace, care, compassion and power.

I want to see people healed.

I want to be the witness of these things and tell of them truthfully and with conviction.

Jesus, I am asking you:

Come and fill me please.