10 things to do before you die?
Apparently cycling through the Rotherhithe Tunnel is one of the "ten things to do before you die" – or, possibly, one of the ten things that will bring this moment forward. It is one of London's 42 river crossings, but one of the scariest – a 1½ mile tunnel under the Thames designed for horse and carriage (small bore, narrow lanes – cyclists and pedestrians allowed).
I cycled it last night as I was in the area and it was the only way to get across the River where I was without taking a ferry (cost £5). There are two ways to do it. You can cycle on the pedestrian pavement. It is 4 foot wide. There aren't many pedestrians (according to Transport for London only 34 use it each day!). You do have cars hurtling by you, but at least you have a lane to yourself. However, strictly speaking, that's illegal.
You should cycle on the road holding the traffic up (although it's only a 20mph limit, so you should only hold traffic up right at the top of the climb). That's legal and that's what I did.
Cycling websites tell me I was mad to follow the rules. It would actually be safer/easier/funner if I took the pavement. And part of me thought that safer/easier/funner certainly had appeal. But I decided to keep to the rule book. And I lived to tell the tale. It was OK!
it got me thinking about law. All believers are under the royal law of Christ. As our spirits wrestle with the mighty Spirit of God, the truth is that doing things our way is often, we think, safer/easier/funner. But ultimately Christ's law is for our good. Even when we don't see it. Keeping off the pavement was actually a very safe option. No one can overtake you in the tunnel. You can set the pace. You're actually safest on the road.
Christ's way is ultimately for our good and even though my spirit tries to persuade me otherwise, I must do what the Spirit (capital S) wants me to do.
I love reading and spend a lot of my time reading, as do many pastors. So what do you do over the summer break?
I leave the Christian books at home. At least, when I'm on holiday I take books that are Christian and devotional only – good for my soul – rather than work related review books or books about preaching. I need to do that in order to relax, refresh, unwind and recharge. I also take some escapist books: so here's my summer list.
- For Christian devotion I'm taking Richard Sibbe's sermons Josiah's Reformation although I see on Amazon that Mike Reeves is the joint author (Dr Who has nothing on Reeves' time travelling skills).
- For education I'm going to finish Windbag Montefiore's Jerusalem – which to date I'm only struggling through
- For escapism, I've got Jasper Fforde's latest, One of our Thursdays is missing. If you've never seen these books, they are odd, stupid and enormous fun.
- For sheer adventure, I've been reading through Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey novels. There are 20 and I've been reading them a few months and I'm up to number 12. Real boys own stuff. Perfect for sitting by a French river.
- For emotion, I'm going to try Mendlessohn is on the roof by Jiri Weil.
Oh, and my Bible (reading through updated NIV at the moment). Thank goodness for the kindle….
Keswick delight: Word to the world
I'm away from the office at the moment speaking at the 2011 Keswick Convention. This is my first time, and it seems to be a great occasion, though obviously I am biased. Keswick in the sun is simply stunning with Skiddaw in the background. My cottage overlooks Helvellyn. Gorgeous. Yesterday's Radio 4 service was reecorded at Keswick last week and you can listen in for a while on the iplayer here. Worth the time. Apparently Helen Rosevere last week was outstanding. Patrick Fung and Ajith Fernando (who speaks on the recorded service) were also exceptionally good.
The value of a good no.2
It's all over. For the one regular reader (hello, PS!) who loves cycling too, the Tour de France is gawn. One of the best that I can remember with twists and turns right up to the end. But, at the risk of repeating myself (I think I may have said this last year), it has reminded me again of the need for a good no.2. Teams in the tour are made up of nine cyclists with, mostly, one leader (sometimes two – a climber and a sprinter). The rest of the team exist to pull the leader along, protect him from the elements and other riders and make sure he gets to the finish first.
Their is hardly a glorious job. But it is important – so important, in fact, that they have a name – domestique. Domestiques are well paid and may be required to do all number of things for their team. For example, if the main rider crashes they may be required to give up their bike or wait behind to pace the leader back (this happened to Sky's Geraint Thomas who lost so much time doing so, he was out of the running for his young rider prize). They are not the glory boys – but they make the teams work. All fascinating stuff and what makes the Tour so intriguing.
And it's not a lot different in church life. Leaders need good no2s. That will look different in different models of church. In a small village church with a single pastor it may be a good lay elder or churchwarden. In a large church it may be a good assistant or associate – or the role that US churches sometimes have Executive Pastor. Such men are relatively rare. That is because those who go into church ministry are often leaders in their own right (by definition) and so taking no.2 spots is hard.
But, I would suggest, it is also Christian in the sense that not wanting glory or standing for ourselves and considering others before ourselves are all great Christian virtues. Maybe you're this kind of person? Maybe you've always wanted your "own" church? Maybe you've always wanted to be chairing the meetings and setting the agenda? But perhaps you'd be a really good no.2? We need those too.
The picture shows Mark Cavendish (British rider) with his lead out man, Mark Renshaw. (background) who pulls out of the race at the last minute to let Cavendish through.
For the last few weeks I've been trying out a new iPhone app designed by our IT manager here at PT, Andy Geers. This is the sort of thing he knocks up in his spare time (in fact it was a holiday project) to keep himself from getting too restless. I am one of those people (you probably are too) that is never satisfied with my prayer life and needs to constantly juggle things around to keep it fresh. I have a paper prayer diary and used to tear it up every few months just because I knew that if I prayed for Aunt Edna on Tuesday every week, even that kind of regularity would drive staleness into my praying.
So, I've enjoyed using PrayerMate although I have had to be adaptable. The app allows you to set up categories and then determine how often you want to pray for items in that category. You want regular prayers? Just a few items in the category. Church members (I'd love to be able to upload a list, but it's not quite that sophisticated) and a larger category means items don't come around so quickly.
But adapting has been good for me as it has ignited some freshness into praying. There is also the option to include Biblical prayers, which functions as another category, but I could cut and paste prayers from my Bible app.
It's an administrative tool of course. It's not going to make an unprayerful man prayerful. But as an administrative tool I've found it really helpful. It's replaced my little notebook and means, because it's on my phone, it's with me whereever I am. And at $2.99 (about £1.85) it's even cheaper than my little Molesekine notebook….. Follow the link above.
Sex, marriage and ministry
Another day. Another fall from grace. I'll spare you the details. But it is another marriage and another minstry ruined. Tears. Grief.
It brings into sharp focus a seminar that Mrs R and I ran at our recent summer wives' conference entitled Sex, Ministry and Marriage. In it we tried to outline the importance (well Mrs R did, I only stayed for part of the seminar) of healthy sex in a ministry marriage. For my part, I got to the man bit – and here it is. Sex is essential (not too strong a word – see 1 Corinthians 7.1-4) in any marriage, but it is brought into sharp focus in ministry marriages. Here are my six reasons why this is so (bear in mind that this was written for ministers' wives, but you will get the point):
- he needs reminding about his work. If, as I believe, sex is a picture of the intimacy that exists between Christ and the church (Eph 5) then, properly understood, sex should act as a reminder to a minister about the nature of his work – i.e. it is about Christ and the church. It is not about him.
- he must model godly marriage. Ministers must watch their lives and doctrine closely. By them he will save himself and his hearers. The minister's marriage must model godliness to the congregation. He is not perfect of course, but he must seek to teach others by his life and his proclamation.
- he faces very focused temptations. Satan will try to trip up the minister in this area because it always has devastating consequences.
- he has unusual female relationships. Even if the minister (and I hope this is true) does not counsel women directly, he will know things about them that would not be part of a normal relationship. He may be aware that there are problems in a marriage, childlessness, temptation, sin, a sinful past and so on. These bits of information make the relationships he has with women in the congregation unusual (though not wrong). That unusualness brings intimacy which can lead in all sorts of unhelpful directions.
- his position makes him particularly attractive. Leadership involves power (of the good kind) necessarily, Power of any kind makes a man attractive.
“I’m the fattest, ugliest pastor I know. But when I stand up the front, for reasons that are beyond me, I become strangely attractive to some women in the congregation” (anonymous pastor)
- he requires emotional and physical release. Many preachers can't sleep, especially on Saturday evenings. Sex is for mutual comfort as the prayer book says – and this includes the very scientific fact that it is both an emotional and physical valve.
“My husband preaches his best sermons when we have good sex the night before” (anonymous pastor’s wife)
The tender heart
I've just finished reading one of Sibbe's sermons kindly sent to me by Mike Reeves (one of next year's EMA speakers). It has been produced by Banner of Truth in one of those little pocket books and its 65 pages have thoroughly warmed my heart. It's one of the sermons that is part of a larger collection "Josiah's Reformation" which might at first sound unpromising, but is in fact a series of expositions on the relationship between God and Josiah because King J had a tender heart towards his people. The little booklet costs £3 full price, but you'll be able to get a discount. Last time Banner produced one of these I bought them as Christmas presents for nieces and nephews. It may be a bit early to think about that – but they do make nice little gifts to pass on. Here's a taster:
How many have melting hearts when they hear God blasphemed and the religion of Christ wronged? How few are there that yield to the motions of the Spirit! We may take up a wonderful complaint of the hardness of men's hearts in these days, who never tremble at the word of God. Neither his promises, nor threatenings, nor commands will melt their hearts…..
…But there may be another question asked, How shall men recover themselves when they are subject to this hardness, deadness and insensibleness?…As when things are cold we bring them to the fire to heat and melt, so we bring our cold hearts to the fire of the love of Christ; we consider of our sins against Christ, and of Christ's love towards us, dwell upon this meditation. Think what great love Christ has showed unto us, and how little we have deserved, and this will make our hearts to melt and be as pliable as wax before the sun.
Le Tour, c’est ça
OK, OK – this has nothing whatsoever to do with preaching (though I can make a connection….don't tempt me). However, I love cycling and I especially love the Tour de France. Not only is gargantuan strength, stamina and delicious team tactics the order of the day, but the backdrop is wonderful. As the Boston Globe puts it, this is the largest stadium in the world. My dream holiday is hiring a motorvan and following the tour around. I'm easily pleased.
For those who are not persuaded, here's a montage of photos, though I ought to warn you that the shot of George Hincapie's leg (for it is he) is really very unpretty. I know it's the reality, but it rather spoils the montage.
Booking is now open for the Autumn Ministers Conference. It runs from 7-10 November at Hothorpe Hall in Leicestershire and is a good mix of teaching, group work and fellowship. This year it's a pleasure to welcome back (with some persuasion!) Dick Lucas to take the main expositions and then Carl Trueman to teach on Preaching the Trinity. Should be very stimulating. Charles and Tricia Marnham will be leading some sessions on parenting. Given the comments made by Carl recently, it will be good to have a FIrst XV reunion in Leicestershire. We might even get to throw a ball or two around….
It is interesting to read Vaughan's testimony on conferences. It's quite long, but worth repeating in full:
If you’re anything like me, then in the few days leading up to a preaching conference, you’ll be thinking, ‘Why on earth did I sign up for that conference?’ It is very hard to get away in the midst of busy lives. It’s hard for the congregation; there is always a crisis you are leaving behind. It’s hard for your family. But if you’re anything like me, then you will always get to the end of the conference thinking, ‘I’m so glad I came’.
I find that, almost without noticing, my standard in preaching declines. After you’ve been preaching for a little while you can always get up and speak – we all know it’s not difficult to have words coming out of your mouth. You can tell a few good stories and illustrations; you can have something that even looks as though it has something vaguely to do with the passage. But the standards have dropped. And this is not what your people need from you.
I always find it’s a tremendous challenge just to make sure I am preaching what the passage is saying rather than preaching something which is perhaps biblical and true, but vague and not rooted in the text.
So preaching conferences raise my game. I also find that they raise my game spiritually. In the midst of the busyness of life, rushing about, it’s great to spend time away from the front line and think ‘What do I need to change?’ in terms of my pattern of prayer, Bible study, godliness, relationships and all such things.
So if you’re like me and have had that experience, let me encourage you to book in the date in your diary early. There are plenty of other things that you can fill your time with, of course, but here’s one that will actually do you good. And, if you’re anything like me, you will find that if you leave it too late, you never have time.
Culture and (not) Christianity
Had a day off this week (it's one of the Ten Commandments, don't you know?*) because of a heavy up-coming weekend. Did some real culture-things (apart from watching some of the Tour de France (Come on Geraint!) which is the epitome of culture). First, in the morning, Mrs R and I went to the British Museum to see the new exhibition on relics and medieval Christianity. It was fascinating and a little depressing.
Fascinating for a number of reasons:
- I hadn't fully realised the extent of the relic worship. It was extraordinary and a sign of the state of the medieval church leading up to the Reformation
- I hadn't fully anticipated the art of the reliquaries. They were astounding. There can be beauty in heresy.
- I hadn't realised that Charles I was the only saint ever created by the Anglican church, though a brief look at Wikipedia would have told me this useless piece of trivia. He was un-canonised by Queen Victoria. (I rather like the fact that you can unmake a saint…)
- It was nice to be reminded of Luther's quote about Saint Barbara – and I paraphrase: if all the part of the skull of St Barbara were collected together she would have seven heads!
But it was also depressing: Christianity as presented in the worship and adoration of relics is so far from Biblical Christianity it made me want to cry. In fact, the exhibition dwelt very little on an assessment of this practice – it was descriptive rather than analytical. Nevertheless, that so much power, superstition and wrong thinking could be so prevalent made me realise how good the Reformation was all over again.
I had a similar experience in the evening at the National Theatre watching Emperor and Galilean – Ibsen's play about Julian the Apostate and his struggle with doubt, eventually rejecting Christianity and trying to bring back the old pagan gods. It was a riveting play (though long – 3½ hours). Again, it was both fascinating and depressing. It was only a play of course, though Ibsen did base it on extant writings of Julian. Nevertheless, the portrayal of institutionalised Christianity just a few centuries after Christ gave me some sympathy with Julian, at first, at least. How quickly the truth gets distorted!
[By the way, the play was difficult to take seriously when Maximus, played by Ian McDiarmid of Star Wars Emperor fame shouted out in his Emperor voice "Give way to the other side. Find your destiny." Sniggers all around the auditorium.]
In both cases I saw clearly what Christianity was not…..and it made me grateful for our little local church which, though being far from perfect, seems to have to have the big things right.
* this a deliberate dig at over-working pastors who should know better…..