Morning Lilies' (C) Malcolm Duncan. Taken at Angkor Wat, February 2013.
"The Rhythm of Rest" (This is the text of a message I brought on my visit to Cambodia in February, 2013.)
'Therefore, as the Holy Spirit say,
"Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion,
on the day of testing in the wilderness,
where your fathers put me to the test
and saw my works for forty years.
Therefore I was provoked with that generation,
and said, 'They always go astray in their heart;
they have not known my ways.'
As I swore in my wrath,
'They shall not enter my rest.'"...
...So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God's rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.
Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account."
Hebrews 3:7- 4:13 (E.S.V.)
Entering God's Rest.
God promises us rest. Like a satisfying long drink of cold, refreshing water, rest nourishes, nurtures and strengthens us. Yet in Hebrews 3:11,18 and 19 the writer makes it clear that the people of Israel did not enter the rest that God had promised them. Their failure to 'enter' their rest was caused by their disobedience. They forfeited the ability to enter into the rest God had promised them because they were not willing to submit their lives to the lifestyle trust and obedience to which God had called them. Verse 19 tells us, 'they could not enter because of their unbelief'. The writer quotes from the Exodus, the Conquest (Joshua 23) and from Psalm 95:7-11. By putting these three passages side by side (passages that span hundreds of years of history), whoever wrote Hebrews is arguing that the 'rest' God had promised His people still awaits them in some way. Hebrews then picks this up when it argues 'there remains, therefore, a rest for the people of God' (Hebrews 4:9ff). God's call to rest is still valid (Hebrews 4:1) and the pathway into it is still the same - faith (Hebrews 4:3).
This is a complicated passage of Scripture, but when we explore it a little. we discover some beautiful jewels of hope and possibility when it comes to rest.
What is 'Rest'?
Many of us rest when we are tired. We rest because we have been busy. We rest because we have had 'a lot on'. We rest because we need to 'clear our head'. None of these are wrong reasons for rest, in an of themselves, but they spring from a wrong understanding of what rest is.
Rest, Sabbath and God.
The Hebrews writer places three ideas side by side. God's work in creation (Hebrews 4:10); rest from from our work and Sabbath (Hebrews 4:9). Looking at all three helps us to understand 'rest' in a completely new, and perhaps refreshing, way.
Satisfaction not exhaustion.
God did not rest in creation because He was exhausted! Whether you read the creation narratice literally or metaphorically has no bearing on the point I want to make here. God did not reach the Seventh Day and exclaim, "I am exhasuted from all of this work, I need a break!' Instead, we read in Genesis 2:1 that at the end of the Sixth Day, God looked at all that He had made and He saw that it was 'finished' or 'completed'. Some versions of Scripture translate the word 'finished' as 'God was satisfied'. In other words, God rested on the Seventh day out of a sense of completion and satisfaction and not out of a sense of exhaustion.
We so often rest because of exhaustion! Hebrews 4:3,4 tell us that the pattern of our rest show flow from God's pattern and God's pattern of rest is one of completion and satisfaction. Of course we must rest when we are tired, but when this is all we do, we are putting ourselves in a wrong place. We are resting for the wrong reasons.
God's pattern of satisfaction is one from which we can learn so much. Are we 'satisfied' with our work? Are we ever satisified? Do we work continually because we somehow feel that we are never doing enough? Do we work and work and work because we take our worth from our work rather than our identity? The Scriptures show us a pattern of rest that flows out of satisfaction and a sense of security, completion and pleasure, not just out of a sense of being forced to stop because we cannot do any more.
We will come back to the idea of Sabbath in the next post, when we look at the 'Rhythm of Rest', but for now it is enough to say that Sabbath is a principle that forces us out of the central position in our lives. When we refuse to rest, we are implicitly stating that we must keep going - that we are indispensible. What at first appears like a result of commitment and zeal is actually a result of pride and selflishness. When we refuse to rest, we are stating that what we are doing cannot work without us. That automatically also says that God is not the centre of our lives. When we refuse to rest, we deny Him the opportunity to demonstrate that the successed of our lives flow from His energy and not our own. 'Sabbath' not only provides us with a chance to rest physically, it is a reminder that we are dependent upon God and His means and strength and not independent of them.
Three Reasons for Rest.
We rest because God has shown us that His pattern is rest. We rest because He has commanded us to (Exodus 20:8, although this is the only commandment that Jesus did not repeat and I will explain why in the next post). We rest because of the plea of Jesus to us to rest. Matthew 11:28 invites those who are 'weary' and 'heavy-laden' to come to Jesus and rest, to take His yoke upon us and to learn from Him because His yoke is easy and His burden is light.'
Eugene Peterson paraphrases this beautiful invitation like this:
'Are you burned out? Worn out on religion? Then watch how I do it. Walk with me and work with me....learn the unforced rhythms of grace.'
That leads me to what I will pick up in my next post, but for now, reflect on the fact that the reasons for rest are:
A Command of Equal Force to the Command to 'Go'
One last thought, the call of Jesus to 'rest' has equal force as the call of Matthew 28 to 'Go into all the world and make disciples'. So many of us see the command of Matthew 28 as powerful and transforming - why do we treat the command of Matthew 11 as an option? Indeed, I would suggest that if we don't hold both of these commands in equal weight and worth, then we will be out of balance and will end up unable to function.
'Morning Lilies' (C) Malcolm Duncan. Taken at Angkor Wat, February 2013.
"Rest" (This is the text of a message I brought on my visit to Cambodia in February, 2013.)
Do you need to rest?
There are 168 hours in a week. We can either ionvest them or spend them, but the one thing that we cannot do is save them. Although we like the idea of 'saving time', it is actually an impossibility. So many of us, perhaps all of us (if we are ruthlessly honest) try to cram far more into those 168 hours than we should. The result is we end up not only burning the candle at both ends, but we also burn it the middle. With so much candle-burning going on, it is not a surprise that we end up feeling 'burned out'. Exhasution, overwork and stress and are all far too common for people who lead churches, run mission agencies or work for N.G.O's. Of course, I know that the tendency to over-work can be seen far and wide across society and across our churches, but many of the people that 'answer a call' to work in an overseas context also end up working far too hard. If they are not careful, they do all the right things for all the right reasons, but they do them in their own strength. Whether it flows from an old-fashioned (and very unhelpful) Protestant work ethic which drives them into the ground or it flows from an over-inflated ego and the need to be the 'hero', the results are the same - emotional and physical burn-out. There are many indicators that you are overworking, let me highlight just six. Ask yourself if you are suffering from any of these.
What can I do?
If some of these (just one, actually) fits your behaviour right now, then it is very likely that you need to do something about your working / living blend and pattern. If you don't, you will end up sliding further and further down the slipway of overwork and you will either hurt yourself or those around you. This is not a game, it isn't inevitable and it is urgent that you do something about it.
Over the course of the next few posts, I will lay out, 'The Reason for Rest', 'The Rhythm of Rest', and 'The Result of Rest.' My last blog on the subject will draw some conclusions. I do hope you will find them helpful. Feel free to pass them on. I've decided to set them out in 5 posts so that they can be read in a more relaxed context - but the five posts flow from one into the other.
Remember, if you don't 'come apart' to get the right blend in your life, then you will eventually either fall apart of tear yourself and those you love apart.
Tree in Angkor Wat
The Sap Will Rise. © Malcolm J Duncan
When the icy hand of winter
wraps its fingers round your throat
And you feel like you cannot breathe –
the Sap will rise.
When all you see is deadness
When the Spirit’s wind is biting
When the soil of your heart is ice-hard
When growth is a distant memory.
The Sap will rise.
When your words lie like dead leaves,
When your surroundings feel barren,
When the moments in your life feel dark,
When the Son shines through
The clouds of despair and doubt,
The Sap will rise.
When your reading is dry,
When your prayers are hollow,
When your praise is powerless,
When your passion has gone,
The Sap will rise.
Spring will come again.
Roots will drink from Life once more.
Hope will push through the dark soil of despair.
Green, bright, small and vulnerable
But He is here.
The Sap will rise.
'Simple Joy' (Taken on the roadside in Phnom Penh, Sunday 3rd February, 2013) (C) Malcolm J. Duncan.
Joy is a funny thing.
Joy is a funny thing. We so often mistake if for happiness or a light, Cheshire - cat like grin pasted on our faces when people ask us how we are and we want to make sure they think we are okay. We can undervalue its meaning and miss its purpose.
Actually biblical joy is much more akin to the idea of exuberance for life or irrepresible hope or tenacious determination to live or something like that. Its so much deeper- and so much more powerful than just happy. I had been thinking about that a little last Sunday when I was ministering in the morning to the congregation at Living Hope in Christ Church in Phnom Penh. Afterwards, my host, Pastor Barnabas Mamm (Read his book, 'Church Behind the Wire' if you haven't done so already - it is the story of faith in the worst of circumstances) was driving me to a place on the egde of the city where the ministry he is involved in hopes to build a new discipleship centre. On the way, we passed these two boys on the road - and they captured what I meant about 'joy'!
Look at their faces. We stopped and I got talking to the boys a little. The plastic 'hat' on the younger one's head is plastic saucepan. Here were two kids walking along a dirty, dusty road in their bare feet. No shoes to protect them from dangerous glass, snakes or anything else. The neighbourhood was one of the poorest in the city. They had so little - but look at their faces - joy! An exuberant approach to life. They were naturally - not deliberately or academically - enjoying being alive. After I took the photo I showed it them and they laughed and giggled and pointed hilariously (children always do that with photos, don't they) and then our ways parted. They taught me 'joy'. I went back to my schedule and they went on with their day.
Yet these two young boys left an imprint on my heart. Their young, hopeful, life-brimming eyes looked into my soul and left me wondering what has happened to childhood in the UK? When I was a boy, I could easily spend hours playing with a bit of paper and a pen, or an old tennis ball pushed into the bottom of a long sock. Life was there to live and no matter what happened, I had (I think I still do to some extent) an irrepressible optimism. Some pretty bad stuff happened to me when I was a kid - but none of it stole my 'joy'.
When my own children were young, they loved the paper wrapping at Christmas more than the presents, so did yours, no doubt...
So why do we, when we become older, allow this exuberance for life to be taken away, dissolved? Is it cynicism, realism, negativity, life? Or is it we fail to look at the world through the eyes of a child.
As I drove away from the boys, I remembered Jesus words that if we want to enter the Kingdom of God - the Kingdom of Life, we have to become like little children again.
I think I understand why.
"Lunch in a Rural Cambodian Village" (Taken 2nd February 2013)
So today found me up with the lark and on the road out of Phnom Penh to minister to men and women who live in villages around 3 hours outside of the city. The journey there was full of fun, laughter and genuine fellowship as I shared my story with other pastors travelling with me and they shared their stories with me.
One had been controlled by evil spirits and his life had been blighted by struggle, sickness and poverty. His whole family had been gripped by fear and sadness and loss, then he met Jesus and everything changed! Since then he has been free from fear, and many of his family have come to know Christ. The sickenesses that he was afflicted with have been lifted and he is serving the Lord with great faith and passion. Another lost most of his family in the 'Killing Fields' yet has forgiven the killers and has come to faith in Jesus and is now reaching out to the very people who attacked him years ago. These are amazing trophies of grace.
When we got the village, the whole community had gathered to hear the 'English' (!) preacher. We were met with beautiful fresh coconuts, served a lavish lunch (see picture) and honoured in so many ways. I preached on 2 Corinthians 1:10 and encouraged those present to remember that God had delivered them, was delivering them and would deliver them. They had been set free from the penalty of sin, were given power over sin and would one day be freed from the very presence of sin. We had a wonderful time of fellowship and celebration together.
What has struck me here, as in so many other countries I have visited to minister, is the utter kindness and generosity of the people. They have so very little, yet give so much away. The lunch is just an example. The best chickens prepared for us. Beautiful dressings for more rice than I have ever seen (the Khmer people have rice with everything!). Fish caught and delicately prepared. Noodles, dips, bottles of water, coconut. The table cleaned and set out especially. The room pristine and ready for respectful hearing of God's word.
It's more than just food and clean rooms though. The generosity and hospitality of the people here is seen in their welcome, their love, their attitude, their smile. You feel it when they greet you. You sense it when they give you a glass of water. They want you to know you are welcome. They aren't being legalistic, doing something because they have to. They are being generous because they have experienced the generosity of God, because they have a culture of honour that outstrips anything I have ever seen in so called 'Christian' Britain and because they believe that those who teach God's word are worthy of double honour (something deeply biblical about that and often forgotten in our churches in the UK).
They may be poor - but they are rich in their kindness. Maybe it is because they do not see their possessions as symbols of their status? Maybe it is because they are more biblical than us. Maybe they are not as caught up with 'stuff' as we are. Maybe they are just more willing to embrace the reality of being the family of God. There are many reasons why believers I have encountered in other parts of the world are more generous and hospitable than we Christians in Europe.
To be honest, the church in the UK (by and large) has nothing, absolutely nothing, to teach the church in Asia or Africa and or Australasia, or even the USA, about generosity and hospitality. Every single country I have visited over the years has been better at being generous than the UK church. Don;t get me wrong - I am not having a sideways swipe at any church that I have led or lead in the UK. I happen to think that Gold Hill is a kind, generous and open handed community and there is no other place I would rather be and no other local church I would rather lead (I miss you guys sooooo much when I am away). Yet we still have much to learn.
Real generosity - lavish kindness like you see here - is not a stifling, 'we can't afford to be kind', 'don't give them too much' kind of attitude. Real generosity, the kind that opens your eyes in wonder and leaves you speechless in gratitude springs from the conviction that Christ has been lavishly generous to us and so we should be to others. It springs from a deep understanding that it really is more blessed to give than receive. It flows from the belief that the church should be a kind, open-hearted, loving, giving, authentic community that welcomes strangers, provides food for the hungry, water for the thirsty and a warm, whole-hearted welcome to those whom we meet.
Paul told the early church to 'do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith'. I think there is something of the early church's true koinonia, genuine oneness and willingness to be a family that we in the West have lost and are losing. I also think the early church knew how to honour those who taught it, led it, loved it and prayed for it in a way that many of our churches have lost.
I thank God for the ways in which He is ministering to me through the people of Cambodia. I thank God for the church here. I pray I can be as generous in my time and sharing of my gifts with them and others around the world and in the UK as they have been with me.
And I know this - the church here will never out-give the generous, abundant, lavishing kind God that sent His Son for us.
A Viral Campaign...
Let's start a viral generosity campaign! Give something away this week. Invite some friends for a meal. Give someone a gift of time, or a cup of coffee or a smile. Bless your church leaders by praying for them. Make sure you honour them financially. Be lavish with God's resources that He has entrusted to you. Who knows - we might just change our communities one life at a time. And the world will be changed when our communities are. Let the church of Jesus be known as the most generous, kind, compassionate people on earth!
I arrived in Cambodia on Tuesday 28th January and leave on the 11th February. Until the middle of the first week of February I am serving in and around Phnom Penh then I travel by coach to Siam Reap to serve there with some colleagues.
My first few days have been days when I have seen the beauty and the depth of this land. My first lodgings (I have since moved to the next ones) were just on the corner of Tuol Sleng, the notorious prison of the Paul Pot years where thousands and thousands of people were imprisoned. Most were sent from there to the Killing Fields where they were executed. Yesterday I visited both Tuol Sleng and the Killing Fields and was deeply moved by both. The people of this land have endured much.
They have been occupied, brutalised and butchered, yet they carry a gentle, loving and gracious spirit that is deeply moving. Yet you know there is a deep wound in this land. A wound caused by decades of pain and loss. You cannot meet anyone whose family have not been affected by the history of Cambodia over the last thirty years. Whole generations gone. What for? Some for being able to read, others because they wore glasses. Others because they went to school. Needless, meaningless and indescribable. The pain this nation has had to endure is such that no nation should have to endure it.
A Cambodian Holocaust.
There is only one word for what the people here have endured - a holocaust. Conservative estimates put the deaths over the Paul Pot years at between 2 and 3 million people. I met a man today whose 6 brothers and sisters, mother and father and entire family were butchered. He survived alone. Yesterday I spoke with someone whose relatives were killed in front of them. Next week I will meet someone who was taken to the Killing Fields, hit on the the back of the head with a hoe and thrown into a mass grave, presumed dead. Other bodies were thrown on top of him, then DDT was poured over all the bodies to mask the stench. It ate its way through the bodies too - but did not reach this man. He crawled through the blood and the remains of others and now lives to tell the story of the God who rescued him. The man I met today is training and releasing many people to extend God's Kingdom.
In the midst of the terrible pain, you see, there is hope. A vibrant, red, indestructible hope that blazes out in the midst of the pain. A hope which has been born out of the blood of many, and now seeks to point people to the God who can turn this land around - no, the God is turning this land around.
We do not want to beg.
At the Killing Fields, as I left, there was a sign which read, 'We are Cambodians! We do not want to beg, we want to work!' There is a resolve about the spirit of these people - a determination. They do not want to stay locked in the past. They want to look forward. The people are blighted at the same time with a deep, deep sadness. How could they not be? A whole nation's psyche has been crushed. But if you look closley you see flickers of hope. Tiny hints that suggest the people jere do not want to stay victims.
It may take another twenty years, but I believe the sign outside the Killing Fields. I choose to believe that the people I have met are the future of this nation. Cambodia has fine Christian leaders who are working tirelessly to raise up a generation of people who can go further than they have. Perhaps the men and women of today are still too closely connected to the Pol Pot years? Perhaps they will not be the ones to lead Cambodia's church into its full inheritance - but they are working to raise up a generation who will. I see passion, faith and hope in the people here. I spent time today with young leaders and pastors who have a passion for the Kingdom and want to see Cambodia changed. I listened to them pray and cry out to God for their nation, for their family and for their villages. I saw them weep for those who have gone and cry out for those yet to be. I see faith in their eyes for a brighter future - one where justice and equity and fairness are once again hallmarks of this nation.
Bands of Hope (Taken at the Killing Fields, 31st January 2013)
Bands of Hope
At the Killing Fields, there are thousands of brightly coloured bands tied around bamboo fences which mark mass graves. They have been left by people as memories - markers of a loved one who mattered. The flutter defiantly in the wind, their colours glinting in the sun. They hang on the 'Killing Tree', a terrible spot where infants were lifted by the feet and had their heads bashed against the trunk of a gnarled tree, then their remains tossed into an open mass grave. Each brightly coloured band screams at those who visit - we will not forget them. Paul Pot could not destroy the bands of family. He could not destroy the love that existed and still exists between those who love one another. The bands that now flutter in the wind declare to a watching world that the lives of those who died mattered - the lives of those who died matter. This country has 300 such killing fields - and each is marked by great sadness, but they are also marked by what I describe here as 'Bands of hope'.
There are other bands of hope too - men and women, children and young people who love Christ and love Cambodia. They are bright, beautiful bands of people who declare defiantly to the world that God has a plan for this nation. He will turn the tide of sadness and once again laughter will fill homes, cities and this country.
I am honoured to be here and serve them. I pray that I can continue to do so.
Labels of secondary importance...
Thanks for your responses to my comments in 'Hand in Glove' my previous blog piece.
As an 'evangelical' Christian, I am used to being labelled as a fundamentalist, an extremist or a bigot. Of course all of these descriptions are false, evangelicals are historically activists, conversionists, hold the authority of Scripture in high regard and give it central shaping force in our lives and we are committed to the cross being central to our understanding of God, salvation and Christ's purposes in the world.
I am actually heartened that we are able to conduct a debate, even a public debate, without destroying one another. Perhaps the world can see that we do not hate one another, after all...
'Evangelicalism' is best defined, as much as it can be, by something like David Bebington's four characteristics mentioned above, but that is another set of conversations. I think it is important to have a discussion about the nature of 'evangelical' conviction, especially when the description is claimed by those engaged in the debate. We evangelicals claim to love the bible. Of course we are free to change our minds, to move on in our convictions or beliefs, but when we do, we must be able to ask whether or not we can rightly describe ourselves as 'evangelicals' That is a good conversation to have, bearing in mind that any label - be 'evangelical', 'baptist', 'pentecostal', 'protestant' or 'catholic' (or 'gay' or 'straight' for that matter) is at best secondary to the central identification of being a Christ-follower.
The Great Question within the question - Another Downgrade Controversy?
I think, and it is only a hunch, that we are entering a period of great possibility. Judging by the comments on my blog, Steve Chalke's, Steve Holme's, Steve Clifford's, David Kerrigan's et al, I am thrilled that we seem to be discussing and debating rather than attacking. That is terrific news for the world who watch us discussing. Well done to each and every contributor mentioned above for the grace and tenor of the dialogue so far. Yet - and here I push the boat out a bit - I think we are in the throes of a 21st century downgrade controversy. I know for baptists, that phrase wreaks of history and pain and sorrow. Reading the correspondences of the late 1800's is heart-breaking, The same is true of the late 1960's and early 1970's. I do think, however, that we are heading in the same direction...
What do we do with the bible? Wrestle - of course! Debate - of course! Struggle together - of course! Listen to one another's arguments. Think, pray, reflect. All of these are vital. New social history, nuances on words, historical and political contexts and faithful but unflinchingly brave exegesis are a vital part of the theologian's (and the pastor's) toolkit. I think that is what many of us are seeking to do - including you. Yet we are stepping further.
We are dismantling a word here, a phrase there, an inuendo in that clause and an inference in that sentence. In doing so, we are seeking to understand, but we must be careful. For without realising it, our healthy wrestling with Scripture will become a pyrrhic victory in which we build a beautiful and appealing argument to modern eyes and ears whilst at the same time undermining the foundations that hold any 'gospel' building up.
The issue of human sexuality is one of many that we must address whilst at the same time seeking to be faithful. For all the ink spilled, the words used, the arguments set out and the passion expressed, there remains this 'problem' of Scripture. The biblical story sets a direction of travel for women, for slaves, for divorce, for re-marriage, for Gentiles, for Jews and for a whole plethora of other things. It sets no such direction of travel for active same sex partnerships. Having made the argument for a better and much more genuine pastoral response; having confessed our failures to embrace and love and care for people who have same sex attraction; sought to differentiate between deep and meaningful friendships between people of the same gender (which are not forbidden in Scripture) and sexually active same sex relationships (which are, in my view clearly forbidden because the Scripture is clear about sexual union taking place within the marriage of a man and a woman) and having argued that the call to abstinence, self-control and sexual expression is not simply made on gay people but also on widows, widowers, those who fall in love with someone other than their wives or husbands, single people who do not want to be single and a number of other categories, I am still left with the feeling that this is not enough. We want the bible to endorse something that it does not. We are seeking approval from Scripture for a lifestyle that sits beyond the approval of God's Word. That is not just about sexuality - that is about a creed, a culture, and perhaps even a church, that is seeking to create a God in the image of our culture and use words that our culture resonates with to justify the God we had created.
God is more than a big version of us.
60 years ago Karl Barth, a 'neo-evangelical' warned that the evangelical church was creating a God in it's image and he pleaded with the church to avoid creating a God that was nothing more than a big version of us.
My deep fear is that the rush toward an 'inclusive' Gospel is nowhere near radical enough. If we are not careful, it will undermine the very core of truth we claim to love, it will relativise our expression of hope and acceptance so that it looks like what our culture wants it to, but worst of all, it will create a church which is detached from the moorings of truth whilst at the same time claiming to know that our compass is set. To close with the analogy, the magnetic north of our culture will set us on a path which will take us far away from the true north of Scripture -eventually.
A response to ‘A Matter of Integrity’ by my friend, Steve Chalke.
Unity and Diversity - learning the art of graceful disagreement.
A friend of mine recently used an illustration to help me understand how ‘truth’ and ‘culture’ fit together. She held up one of her hands, replete in a red glove. She explained that in any context and any culture, but particularly for Christians in regards to the process of biblical exegesis and hermeneutics, it was important to understand that ‘truth’ is always mediated into a given context, and then must be applied into another context. The glove she was wearing was the context of the truth. Her hand was the truth itself. Slowly she took off the glove that was on her hand, the original context, revealing the ‘truth’ of her hand and then she placed another glove onto the same hand. Same truth, but mediated and seen a different context.
That image has been very helpful to me over the last day or so as I have reflected on the words of a man I love and am honoured to call a friend – Steve Chalke. Over the last few days, Steve has take the step of sharing his changing thoughts on homosexuality and the way the ‘church’ responds to it. My respect and love for him has not changed in light of his words. I love him as much now as I did two days ago. In all that I am about to say, I want to plead with those entering this debate to do so with grace, love, compassion and mutual respect. Steve Chalke is still my brother in Christ. His views on homosexuality are not ones I share, but I am as convinced now as I have ever been that he loves Jesus Christ and longs to see God’s Kingdom come on the earth. Can we dialogue graciously? Perhaps this discussion can open into a demonstration to the rest of the world that we Christians really do love one another, that we are able to debate, dialogue and listen and that we do not have to destroy one another’s reputations when we disagree, even on the fundamentals.
Integrity means I too must speak – and listen.
I’ve known Steve for many years and we have discussed this issue on a number of occasions. My thinking, too, has changed over the years – but in a different way to Steve’s. I hear his heart in what he has shared, and I know him to be a loving pastor, a kind man and a courageous leader. Yet I think he’s making some basic mistakes in his thinking and in taking the position that he does in his extended article, ‘A Matter of Integrity’.
It’s because of integrity that I too, feel a need to say something. As I do, I speak as in individual. My name is associated with a number of organisations, charities and churches. I am humbled by those associations, but in this instance I want readers to understand that I speak for myself, not for others. It is the responsibility of each follower of Christ, in community with the traditions of the church and in submission to the authority of Scripture to prayerfully consider their own position on the issue of human sexuality, homosexual relationships and homoerotic practices.
I will be accused by some of being a bigot, being narrow-minded and being exclusive in what I am about to say. They will say that I have a stodgy, monolithic view of authority or that I use one set of hermeneutical principles in one context and a different set in another. I am not afraid of such criticisms, although I will be saddened by them. I have reached my conclusions through my own wrestling with Scripture, my own prayer and soul searching and my own desire to submit to God’s word. It is always dangerous for one side of a discussion to present itself as the ‘soul-searching’ side. On both sides of the debate of human sexuality in the church of Jesus Christ there are men and women who genuinely love God, genuinely love and serve people and genuinely commit to wrestling with Scripture and with Truth.
Integrity calls for us to be respectful of one another. Love calls us to listen. Grace calls us to hear. Compassion calls us to be careful how we treat others. Courage calls us to be honest. Truth calls us to be careful and obedient.
Beyond the debate about gay marriage and into the arena of culture.
Steve has articulated that he wants to speak into the wider debate around inclusion – I will come to that subject in a moment, but he indicates that his desire is to speak to that as a globally important issue rather than the domestic issue of gay marriage and all that goes with it. I appreciate the sentiment, but I wonder why he has chosen to speak now? Is it not precisely because the issue of homosexuality and the church’s response to gay people is in the public consciousness and the church’s thinking that his paper has appeared at this moment? If this was an issue that was not shaped by the culture in which we find ourselves then presumably Steve would have published his thoughts a number of months ago when he performed a blessing on a same sex couple in his church?
I am not criticizing his decision to share his thoughts now, but I am critiquing it. Surely the culture in which he and I find ourselves – or rather the cultures in which we find ourselves fashion the moments when we speak far more than we realize? Around us a debate rages about the issue of homosexuality and the church’s response to it. In the church, debate, disagreement and discussion are seen breaking out like wild fires. Steve cannot possibly try to suggest that these issues have not driven him to share his thoughts now, can he? Back to my illustration at the beginning of this article – the second glove is our context. If truth is always mediated through a context rather than in some kind of sterile, lifeless vacuum, then the truth of inclusion and what it means is affected by the culture in which it is discussed.
In the words of another friend, our words are nothing more than the clothes that our thoughts wear. So Steve’s words, as well as mine, are shaped by the culture in which we find ourselves and the world in which we live, move and have our being. So if Steve wants to move beyond the debate about gay marriage and so forth into the debate about inclusion, I want to say that the debate about inclusion cannot take place without acknowledging the plethora or words, ideas, feelings and principles that are swirling around the culture in which we live. This is not just a British question either! Across Europe, North America, Australia, and huge swathes of Asia the same conversations are taking place – and each one is shaped by the culture.
Permit me to make some simple points in my response.
1. Eisegesis is not good exegesis.
I want to make a simple point. To vault inclusion to the top of his principles and values then to seek to lean into Scripture and redefine inclusion in the light of what our society understands it to be is a masterstroke of eisegesis, but it is not biblical exegesis. I have no doubt that Steve’s intentions are good, but I believe his method is the wrong way round. I applaud his desire to wrestle with truth, to think about the bible and its messages of hope, love, inclusion and embrace in our world today. His failure, I think, is to start with what our society describes as ‘inclusion’ and it read it back into Scripture, then to use Scripture and arguments of relevance and compassion and justice and inclusion to justify the stance he now takes.
What if ‘loving your neighbour’ demands more than blind acceptance of their behavior or lifestyle? What if love means challenge? Any person who has been in a relationship of any value will know that the relationship demands the ability to talk honestly, openly and to disagree. It seems to me that morals and ethics and choices are not simply a laissez-faire affair, but that there are clear expectations of behavior and transformation articulated in the Bible – and these include sexual ethics and relationships. One cannot remove the challenge of the bible around ethics and morality, disrobe Scripture of language that no longer fits the modern wardrobe and then squeeze its message into attire that is neither faithful to nor connected with its original intent. You cannot reverse the bible’s teaching on the issue of human sexuality and at the same time claim to remain faithful to Scripture’s teaching on the same issue. You simply have to muster the courage to say you do not agree with the bible on the issue of human sexuality.
2. Is Steve’s understanding of ‘inclusion’ the right starting point?
So to some of the key issues that Steve raises in his article. I think Steve starts with an unspoken and faulty assumption about ‘inclusion.’ I have a couple of issues with his understanding of the word and how he uses it.
3. Inclusion and Invitation.
Firstly, it seems to me that the entire narrative of Israel, of Christ and of the Church’s mission and ministry in the world is fundamentally about love, service, demonstration and invitation. God invites Israel into covenant relationship with Himself. God invites us to follow Him. God invites us to embrace the message of the cross, its redemption, its hope, its forgiveness and its grace. Yet in each invitation there is a explanation. To follow Him, we are called to obey Him. To walk with Him, we must let Him take the lead. To receive His forgiveness, we must be willing to be acknowledge our wrongdoing. Receiving the grace of God in our lives and hearts is predicated upon our willingness to acknowledge our need of that grace.
I consider myself to be as committed to inclusion as Steve is. I passionately believe in a God who reaches out to where we are and reaches out His arms to embrace us. He offers us love, acceptance, forgiveness and a new start. He invites us to join Him in the task of transforming the world. Yet His invitation also requires an R.S.V.P. That response is the acknowledgement of our need of Him, our confession of our own failure and sin and our willingness to turn from those practices, habits and attitudes which dehumanize us or others such as greed, anger, prejudice, pride, self-centeredness, and yes, sexual conduct outside of marriage. Whilst some struggle with the old-fashioned word ‘sin’ I don’t. It is a word used to describe those things that we allow to become more important to us than God. Inclusion does not ignore these things. It does not brush them aside as cultural irrelevances. Inclusion is never at the expense of holiness. It is never at the expense of truth. Inclusion is never at the expense of grace.
The Bible’s teaching and the historic teaching of the church on the issue of human sexuality seem to be one of the clearest threads of Scripture to me. Sexual relationships are an expression of intimacy, love, union and mutual dependency across the genders that are given to us as a gift to be practiced within the context of a faithful and monogamous relationship between a man and a woman. The very act of sexual union between men and women is an articulation of the completeness of God, a picture of the perfect relationship within the Trinity that cannot be expressed in homoerotic relationships.
I cannot change a single person – I stopped trying many, many years ago. My job as a pastor is not to try to change people. It is however, my responsibility, to point people to the One who can change us. God’s invitation is not one that calls us to come as we are, ignore our faults and stay as we are. God’s invitation, which He has entrusted as a ministry of reconciliation, is to reach out to a world that is broken, flawed and cracked and to share His message of truth and His example of love.
The invitation of God to be included in His family requires an acknowledgement of our sin, our need of His grace and our submission to His will. He invites us to be included – but like any good host, He awaits our response.
4. Inclusion and acceptance / agreement.
I think Steve is right to highlight the mistreatment of gay people by many elements of the church. Homophobia has no place in the family of God. Yet I find myself sensing that the underbelly of his words could be interpreted by some as suggesting that if you do not fully welcome and embrace gay people into the life of your church family and facilitate their participation at whatever level they choose, then you are excluding them. As a pastor, I have no doubt that I am caring for men and women who are gay. I am sure that many of my congregation have family members who are gay. We welcome people of any sexual orientation into our church family. We are delighted to show hospitality, love, embrace, kindness and generosity to people irrespective of their sexual orientation.
We accept all people to share with us in our life as a church – but acceptance and agreement is not the same thing. This is a second area where Steve’s understanding of inclusion breaks down for me. As a follower of Christ, I am called to accept people irrespective of their lifestyle choices, their sexual orientation or their behaviours. As a follower of Christ and a leader in His church I am also called to appoint or select or recommend men and women and young people for leadership and fuller participation in the body of Christ. The latter involves a whole host of judgments, decisions, relationships and conversations. Indeed, the journey toward Christ should evidenced by ‘fruit’ that shows an increasing Christ-likeness in the follower. The absence of such fruit tells both the follower and those around her/him that their assumed ‘intimacy’ with God and love for Him may be false. When a person is following Christ and growing in relationship with God, then their lives will demonstrate the fruit of transformed thinking, behaviours and actions. The absence of such ‘fruit’ is an important alarm bell to ensure that the basic principle of Christian spirituality is protected. We are not called to a purely subjective understanding of our relationship with God. Christians are enabled by God to demonstrate objective ‘fruit’ of their self-claimed faith.
We are called to accept people into the family of faith, to welcome them, to embrace them and to love them. Yet acceptance must also allow room for challenge, for growth, for confession. An acceptance that denudes itself of the ability to be accountable and honest about mutual shortcomings and failures is not a real acceptance at all. Instead it is a paper-thin mirage that will crack under the pressure of real life and the choices that we must make.
5. Inclusion and Authority.
My third area of concern for Steve’s argument is that he seems to be defining inclusion in terms that are both loose and ever loosening. If what I have argued about inclusion with regards to both invitation and acceptance / agreement are true, then perhaps the greatest question of all is who or what decides what right behavior looks like? It is at this point that I think Steve has fallen into the quagmire of relativism that is absorbing both our culture, and sadly, much of our church life across the UK and beyond. It may be one of the points of sharpest disagreement I have with Steve.
There is a story told in Scripture of Jacob wrestling with God and walking away with a limp because God struck Jacob in the hip. My relationship with Scripture reminds me of this story. I have struggles with many passages of the bible, including to some extend its teaching on issues of sexual conduct. However, some years ago, in my own exploration of the Bible’s authority I came to the place where I realized that Jesus did not apologise for the Torah, so why did I feel I had the right to? It is often argued that since Jesus said nothing about homosexuality we should follow suit. There may be some truth in that in so far as it helps us to understand that sexual conduct is only one area of holiness and personality, it is not the full total of a person. However the fact that Jesus, a faithful Jew did not challenge, undermine or contradict the Torah’s teaching on human sexuality is a remarkable truth that should not be overlooked. If Christ came to fulfill the law and not to abolish it, then I cannot re-write it or ignore it.
As a follower of Christ and as an evangelical (the latter term is not of great importance to most people, but it must surely be acknowledged by Steve himself that he is not an ‘evangelical’ in any traditional or faithful understanding of the word) I believe in the central authority of Scripture in all matters of faith and doctrine and conduct in the church and in my life. I may wrestle with Scripture and struggle with some of it, but I have chosen to submit my life, my ministry and my spirituality to it and believe it to be the truth mediated through words. I cannot apologize for it, ignore it or explain it away. I read it through the lens of a ‘Jesus hermeneutic’ and therefore much of the Old Testament is legitimately re-interpreted through the lens of the New Testament Church as it reflects on the life, example and teaching of Christ.
It seems to me that Steve is replacing this historic position of the bible as the source of our authoritative reflections on piety, conduct and behaviour (including sexual ethics) with a lens that is shaped more by our society’s desire to be ‘inclusive’ than God’s revelation of what is right and what is wrong and His desire to ‘include’.
I respect and am grateful for the work of many of the theologians that Steve quotes in his exegesis of both the Old Testament and New Testament passages around homoerotic practice that he cites and I would be the last person to dismiss their commitment to search the Scriptures and wrestle with the truth. Yet at the same time, there is a basic principle for me that both they, and Steve, have entirely missed – the principle of the direction of travel of the Scriptural story.
Steve cites three examples of changes in social attitude – they are homosexuality, slavery and women. He argues that the church has changed its position on slavery and women and will one day do so on homosexuality. He may be right, but I think he is wrong. The role of women moves from one of strong subordination in the Old Testament (yet still within a strong framework of equality in Judaism which itself is remarkable) to one of equality by the time you read Colossians and the wider New Testament corpus. Slaves move from being perceived as ‘property’ to being described as brothers and, by implication, sisters in the epistle to Philemon. The language and approach to sexual practice and to homoerotic behaviour does not change at any point across the biblical corpus.
This is a sharp point of disagreement between Steve and me. I do not believe we are free to change this by creating a trajectory into agreement and endorsement of homoerotic behavior where the Bible does not set such a trajectory in the first place. To do so is, indeed, to move beyond the authority of Scripture and to instead hold Scripture under the authority of our culture. Such a step creates a relativist church and creates a sub-cultural Christian community with little to offer the world.
6. Context is everything.
Steve argues that the fact that some evangelicals have changed their position on the role of women and slavery is evidence that we will / should do so on this issue. Not only do I strongly disagree with his point, I think here he is guilty of unhelpful generalisations. The texts on women and submission are extremely limited in the New Testament. They are accompanied by evidence of a Christ who embraces women, a church that gave them roles and leadership and injunctions of mutual submission, partnership and leadership for both men and women. The one or two texts on slavery he cites are also coupled with a general sense of direction, not least Paul’s strong words to Philemon concerning Onesimus as Philemon’s brother. There is ample exegetical evidence in the New Testament that supports both egalitarianism in genders and abhorrence of slavery. There is simply no evidence whatsoever, not a shred, to support a re-invented hermeneutic to justify homoerotic behaviour. To suggest that those, like myself, who take a strong stance on gender equality and against injustice are somehow simply flimsy in our view of sexuality or tardy in allowing the same principles to weigh on our decisions and views in this area is unfair and less than I would have expected from my friend. Not only that, but by lumping the issues together, Steve is endangering good and faithful work by many exegetes and calling into question the integrity of others who love God and His word just as much as Steve, but have reached different conclusions.
The reality is that the context is everything. The context of Corinth strongly explains Paul’s words there; in Ephesus it shapes Paul’s word to Timothy and so forth. Yet in each and every context, the New Testament remains resolutely clear on homoerotic behavior.
My greatest fear is that Steve is speaking into a culture with which he has become so enmeshed that he is unable to see the distinction between our society’s definition or truth, goodness and inclusion and that of Scripture. There are many like Steve and I have no doubt that many will rise to defend what he has said. They will proclaim that the ‘game has changed’ because someone as prominent and well known as Steve Chalke has changed his mind. There are other lessons for us to learn here.
Why do we persistently look for men and women to be heroes in the church and take our lead from them? The best of men are men at best. Steve is a wonderful brother whom I am grateful for, but he is nothing more than a man. The best of us are people at best. Broken, flawed and in need of grace. Our words do not bring life. Our plans do not change the world. We are only under shepherds of the Great Shepherd. The impact of Steve’s article tells me that we must determine to move away from the celebrity driven culture that has invaded the church and we must each learn the art of wrestling with Scripture and seeking to live under is authority and power.
Secondly, the church in Britain and around the world is becoming what it wants to be. We stand at the cross roads of a decision which will impact all we are and all we do. The simple, prophetic question that shapes everything else is this: What will we do with the Bible? We can justify our morality, explain away our shallowness, be absorbed by our culture and became a pale imitation of the Bride of Christ that we are called to be – all we need do is place the authority of God’s word under our desire to be inclusive or loving or welcoming. It all boils down to what we understand the Gospel to be.
Christ did not come to reform us and make us a nicer version of us. He came to remake the world. We are not good people who need to be made nicer. Left to our own devices, we ignore God, turn from His ways, live as we choose and justify our behaviours and attitudes in a thousand ways.
Paul told Timothy that a day would come when preachers would tell people what their society wanted them to hear. They would shape and fashion the ‘Truth’ and the ‘Gospel’ to make it fit with their culture, their preferences and their morals. He also urges the young pastor to preach the truth in season and out of season. We need a new generation of men and women like Timothy – willing to be unpopular, ready to stand up for the truth, and not afraid to be rejected by society or the church.
Anyone who knows me will know that I am a strong believer in equality. I support Civil Partnerships and welcomed the Sexual Orientation Regulations when they were introduced a number of years ago. I stood with Steve and often alone as I faced the wrath of conservative evangelicals who thought I was endorsing homoerotic relationships. I was willing to be misunderstood, laughed at, attacked – sometimes physically – and ridiculed.
Some years have passed since then. My position on the basic dignity of ALL men and women remains absolute. My support of Civil Partnerships stands – although I do not understand why the government afford gay people this status yet refuses to offer it to heterosexual people, other than the assumption that the public agenda is driven by a vociferous lobby determined to make those of us who believe that homoerotic relationships are morally wrong look homophobic.
I am not homophobic but I know that I will be labeled as such. I am not a fundamentalist but I do believe in the authority of the bible. I am not an exclusivist, but I accept that some will fail to understand that you cannot have a conversation about ‘inclusion’ without identifying ‘exclusion’ and its consequences. Like Steve, I am the leader of a local church. Like Steve, I am involved in helping charities and working with excluded and vulnerable people. Like Steve, I am aware of my own sinfulness, shortcomings and failures. Unlike Steve, I believe that the Bible clearly prohibits homoerotic relationships.
The church must surely acknowledge that we have failed gay people. We must be repentant about this and change our ways. But the greatest dis-service we can do is to assume that two wrongs will make a right. I cannot condone what Scripture clearly prohibits – and I am not free to change its words to suit my perspective.
The coming weeks and months will indeed see debate and controversy, but in the midst of it all, please don’t assume that those of us who find ourselves unable or unwilling to embrace homoerotic relationships are homophobic, outdated or uncaring. I have afforded Steve the courtesy of not stigmatizing him, dismissing him or decrying him – please do the same with me and those like me.
Steve asks what Christ-like inclusion looks like? It looks like speaking the truth in love, holding out the branch of hope, grace and mercy afforded to us in and through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. The Jesus Steve speaks of invited all to follow Him, but He did not change the goal posts so that no one could reject Him.
Christ-like inclusion is seen in a Saviour who beckons all who will respond to Him to come and follow Him. Steve’s version of Christianity is danger of offering relationship with Christ on our terms not His. This is the greatest danger of all. Inclusion looks like a narrow road and a small gate. It looks like picking up a cross, denying yourself and following Jesus. It looks like obedience. It looks like a rejection of self and selfishness. It looks like keeping your body holy and pure. It looks like an acknowledgement of sin and dependency on God. Christian faith is not a lifestyle option to be added to the rest of our life-choices. It is a fundamental shifting of our thinking and perspectives so that we submit ourselves to Him. In all of this, it looks like hope for the broken, grace for the weak and forgiveness for those who know they need it. Gay, straight, black, white, man, woman, rich or poor – we must all kneel at the cross if we are to be followers of the Cross-Bearer.
Rev Malcolm Duncan
Just got this from my 18 year old son - makes you think. Proud to be his dad.
For the broken girl sitting at the orphanage table,
Dampened dreams caused by those who say she isn’t able.
For the Banker, the bonus larger than the moon,
Inherited wealth born mouth full already with a silver spoon.
For the degenerate, known as scum, hooked on cocaine,
Used to the coldness of government, forgotten in the rain.
For the MP whose true side has been bought to fruition,
Expenses, no reform and “no we won’t raise the cost of tuition.
For the homeless selling Big Issue, no money no sound of the change rattle,
It’s ironic that in a meltdown he’s the issue we should tackle.
For the posh kid, the one with the private education,
I don’t need to work, my parents will pay and that’s his expectation.
For the young unemployed whose housing benefits are cut.
It’s a never ending cycle, he worthless and left in a rut.
For the wealthy business man who avoids tax from abroad,
“I love this country!” while he undermines us with fraud.
For the pensioner growing cold from the increased cost of gas,
It’s all privatised, not our problem see our thinking is rash.
Cameron’s Britain, hitting the poor and helping the rich,
It’s a country that’s drowning and there’s a compassion sized ditch.
Second Part of Address to Baptist Ministers' Refreshers Course (25th September 2012 @ The Hayes in Swanwick)
In my first blog post, I looked at the need to keep Jesus at the centre of everything we are and do as church leaders. If we are to stay fresh in ministry, then we must also remember the call of God on our lives. David Livingstone once said, 'If a commission by an earthly king is conisdered an honour how can a commission by a heavenly king be considered a sacrifice.' So often, when we face hard and difficult times as church leaders, the only thing that keeps us in post is the conviction that God called us to ministry. I can think of nothing else more powerful when it comes to staying the course than simply remembering that Jesus asked us to do this. C.H. Spurgeon would tell those who came to him in exploration of their 'ministry' that they should only enter pastoral and church leadership if they knew that they had no choice but to obey the call of God.
Paul's language about God's call.
The Apostle Paul was clear that he was 'called' or 'commanded' by God to his apostleship. As an older man writing to his young protege, Timothy, Paul could say, 'I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith' (2 Timothy 4:16). His language in his letters indicated that he considered himself to be a 'slave' or a 'servant' of Christ, called by his Master into the work that Paul gave his life to. A glance at the way in which he introduces himself to many of his audiences, tells us how deeply he felt this sense of vocation (Romans 1:1; Galatians 1:1,11-12,15-16; 2 Corinthians 1:1). As he thought of his life and purpose, Paul traced it back to the conversion experience he had on the road to Damascus and he referred to this calling on a number of ocassions (Acts 9:15, Acts 18:9; Acts 22:17-21).
In a very real sense, the apostle felt 'constrained' to his ministry. Of course in one sense, Paul had a choice to say 'no' to what God wanted, but in another he had no choice at all. One of my favourtie works on Paul is the biographical tome by F.F. Buce entitled, 'Paul - The Apostle of of the Free Spirit.' What a beautiful title for a book about this great leader of the early church. Paul was 'free' precisely because he was fulfilling the purpose for which He had been made. In answering the call of God, Paul became the person God wanted him to be - there is no freerer place to be.
What about us?
So much can be made of having the right qualifications, ticking the right boxes, knowing the right things, having been adequately trained. I agree with all of that. The almost Luddite tendencies that sometimes sweep movements or churches when it comes to training, preparation and investigation of call are disappointing at best and downright foolhardy at worst. For me, preparation, submission to goldy counsel, 'proving your ministry' and continually learning, developing and changing are vital indications of a genuine call. Do we ever stop learning? I'll pick this up in another post shortly, but is there ever a sense in which we 'arrive' in our knowledge and experience of God? I hope not. We must be continually being changed and being open to learn and grow.
The problem for me is. however, that all the learning and all the studying and all the preparation in the world will not create or give you a call to pastoral and church leadership if you do not already have it. Of course, study and development may hone a call - but I am convinced that they cannot create a call. Now here is the controversial thing I want to say - there are many, many people who ended up pastoring and leading churches who have not been called to do it. They are to be commended for their stamina, but they are pursuing the wrong path.
You see it in the eyes of those who have become cynics. The women and men who look on their churches as their property, or talk about 'them' and 'us'. You hear it in phrases like 'this church doesn't understand me' or 'these people will never change' or 'this is driving me into the ground'. Of course there are times when our ministries feel overwhelming. Moments when we feel our preaching is useless, our prayers are powerless and our leadership is futile and fruitless. Yet we can, if we are not careful, allow the negative, the difficult and the hard to swallow us up - it is the 'call' of God that keeps us when everything else has gone. We do this because if we do not, we will not 'be' trully ourselves.
Personal lessons in calling.
There have been a few ocassions in my own life when I have been ready to quite this vocation. I have even, on one or two days, asked God to take the call away from me so that I can do something else. Yet I cannot. On one ocassion, many years ago, I wrote my resignation and was about to post it - but simply could not do it. Why? Because deep down in my gut, like a rock in my stomach, I knew that I was doing what God had made me to do - I still know that. It's what keeps me going in the hard and difficult times. God made me for this.
I've pastored and led churches for nearly twenty years now. I have made many mistakes. Said things I wish I had not, done things that I regret. I admire people who look back on thier lives and say that they would not change a single thing. I admire them, but I also wonder about them, to be honest. It feels a little bit like reverse pride to me, but that is another story. There are things I would change in my ministry. There are decisions I would have made differently, situations where I made a wrong response. I don;t look back and bemoan my utter failure and hoplessness, though. I look back and thank God that He never once walked out on me. He believed in me enough to stick with me when I got it wrong and teach me how to get it right. He has never stopped believing in me - and that has made all the difference. It's kept me going. It keeps me going. It inspires me.
I said 'yes' again today.
I think I haver learned that at the heart of my own calling (and I cannot speak for anyone else) lies a simply yet powerful conviction. Every day I have to say 'yes' again to Jesus. About a year ago I was leading a meeting in Gold Hill. There were about 200 people present and in the middle of a time of worship, I felt the Holy Spirit was asking me a simple question. 'Malcolm, if I ask you to stay here for 25 years and nothing changes, will you still pour out your heart to these people? Will you love them and care for them and shepherd them whether they love you or not? Will you hold them in your heart, even if the weight of carrying them feels as if it will break you? Will you weep with them, laugh with them and challenge them?' It was a powerful moment for me that no-one else knew was taking place. I looked around the room and I saw a woman whose husband was dying. A man whose mother had died recently. I say someone with learning difficutlies. I saw an older couple who have poured their whole lives into God's Kingdom. I saw two elderly ladies who are like missionary exorcet missiles but who are having to adjust to limitied circumstances physically. I looked long and hard at this small group of people and thought about what serving them for the next 25 years might mean. As tears rolled down my face, in my heart, I said to God, 'Yes - I will do whatever You want, just give me the grace to do it.'
Now I do not know if God has axctually asked me to stick around here for that length of time - but I do know that He has asked me to be willing to. Since then we have had a blast as a church - but it has not all been easy. We have made big decisions, we have lost beautiful people to disease and sickness. We have baptised many, dedicated a lot and buried a good number. There are times when it is hard and there are times when it is easy. This is the thing that keeps me here, though. This simple clear commitment that God asked me to make when He called me. I said yes to Him because He called me. I remind myself of it every morning. If I don't, I know I will end up looking at things the wrong way. I'll use the wrong lense and apply the wrong logic.
Freedom in ministry springs from saying 'yes' to Jesus not once, but every time He asks you to do something.