Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Top 5 Favourite Walks

I'm thinking about walks you do on an early summers day, staring out of the office window at the distant Surrey hills shrouded in warm, hazy sunshine.
Actually, it's not my fault - We have a babysitter tonight for Caz's birthday. I had a collection of exciting plans stuffed up my sleeve, but rather than suggest we go to see Russell Crowe in Robin Hood I thought I would leave it to her to come to the same conclusion! She stopped the world spinning though by saying she would like to go for a walk. A walk? No CGI, no surround sound, no credits, no popcorn. A walk, hand in hand, talking, listening, work, the kids, friends lives we ought to sort out, putting the world to rights, you remember how it works, yeah, me too......even feelings, honesty, perhaps some kissing...maybe we're back to my agenda again!

So, in preparation for my evening stepping out with a beautiful older woman, here are my top 5 walks. As with any top 5, there are truely great walks that don't quite make the cut. My choice is entirely arbitary & personal. No room then for Python's Ministry of Silly Walks, nor Mandela's Long Walk to Freedom. Bill Hybels 'Just Walk across the room' gets an honourable mention alongside the lyrical magic of 'Walking in Memphis' or the Bangles 'Walk like an Egyptian'.

1/ Northampton town centre circa August 1990.
Not featuring regularly in beauty spot articles, a late night walk through the empty streets of Northampton was for me a pivotal moment. Having just returned from a couple of months away around the world with a choir, Caz came to meet me at our final concert. This story is set in the days before Sat Nav, & Caz had inexplicably parked her car at least an hours walk away. None of this mattered. This was the classic love walk, I'm almost sure Billy Ocean songs were playing in the air around us. It was one of those long nights where the place didn't matter, nor did the pace. As we caught up to date we both knew that we would spend the rest of our lives together - it was THE night where we knew there was no turning back. Northampton will always be number 1 for that reason.

2/ 9 Paulden Avenune, Waterhead, Oldham, 1997
There is nothing to compare to this kind of walk & it involved 2 people coming in different directions. I was walking up the hill from Oldham Mumps station, arriving home from the office in Manchester. 1 year old Noah was running across the lounge to the front door, only having eyes for one person as my key turned in the door.....'Daddy's home!' was the shout, & I would be knocked off my feet with snot wiped down my suit. Every day that summer, until he discovered Toy Story & forgot all about me. Happy days, when life was simple & the important things mattered!

3/ Pot's & Pans
High up in the Saddleworth hills, up above the town of Oldham, you will find my perfect safe place. These strange shaped rocky outcrops, fashioned unseen by ancient glaciers also bear my footprints. These rocks have hidden me from the harsh winds that blow, the breeze carrying away my prayers & cries at times. These views have stirred my heart, inspired my ideas, raised my spirits. These paths have been my meandering thoughts as I have sometimes trudged, sometimes run,often just sat. Pot's & Pans, I've yet to replace you down south.

4/ Lyme Regis
The prom at Lyme Regis in the August evening Sunshine is just about the perfect English seaside walk. The unspoiled seaside town, the chippy, the slot machines, the pebbles, the salt tang in the air & the threat of a shower. Summer nights don't get better than this.

5/ St Pauls to Victoria
The magical history tour, London at her finest, every era, great buildings, streets packed with people to watch if you slow down & go against the flow. From the cathedral, down Ludgate Hill, the ghost of the old city still evident if you look for it. Across into Fleet Street, no longer home to the press but brooding magnificently, the scent of the river if the wind blows right. Past the Law Courts & on into the Strand. A diversion up into Covent Garden for a drink, or continuing down to Trafalgar Square for the National Portrait Gallery & a salute to Nelson.

For the Royalists....carry on down the Mall for your Daily Mail moment at the Palace. For the rest of us, a left turn down Whitehall, past Downing Street, the place of history in the making only last week. More salutes to Cromwell, Churchill et al outside the Palace of Westminster, then across Parliament Square to Victoria Street. There's still time to marvel at Westminster Abbey, further down to the hidden gem that is Westminster Cathedral, then finally, into Victoria Station for a train home.

Why not slow down & take a walk with your eyes & ears open this week?

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Meet the Good Shepherd

Read John 10.9-16 / Psalm 23
This strong biblical imagery of sheep under the care of the shepherd is key for us in realigning our thinking about who we are, who He is & what we can expect Him to do.
We don’t understand this picture in 21st C west – who after all has ever actually met a real shepherd? The nearest I've got was having to watch 'One man & his dog' on a Sunday evening before Songs of Praise! Regardless of the culture leap, these ideas of shepherding have a radical impact on how we live in the world

There is tremendous pressure on the church. We have an enemy. He is a thief who comes against the sheep. V10. He comes against us to rob, steal & destroy. This is a real threat. His strategy works in the world. There are many who are like sheep without a shepherd & they become scattered.
Jesus however wants to strengthen us with His strategy. V9-10. As we enter through Christ, we enter into safe pasture, pasture where we have abundant life, where we grow in His purposes for us.

One of the ways God enables His sheep to withstand pressure is to release shepherds.
It’s the order God established. He shepherds His people, but He does it by enlisting under shepherds, those who will fulfil the shepherding role on His behalf, under His authority.
Abraham, Moses, David, were all shepherds when God called them. They all looked after sheep in the natural. The scriptures promised a descendent of David who would come as the perfect shepherd-King.
That King came in the person of Jesus, & He trains His disciples, sending them to make disciples from the nations, teaching them to observe everything He has commanded them.
As the Apostles go out in Acts, their strategy in obeying His commands is to plant churches, to establish flocks & to appoint shepherds to care for them. That’s what’s in the foundations of a biblical church. This is God’s pattern, His natural order, a reflection of His heart.

Paul later reminds the Ephesian Elders that the Holy Spirit has made them overseers, to shepherd the church of God (Acts 20.28) The goal was always to invade pagan cultures around them, to establish God’s flock & to live under His rule & care- lives which shine into darkness & attract others.

So we may have never met a real shepherd, but we can all become more familiar with these biblical ideas of shepherding. Here are some headlines-
God isn’t going to leave a flock on their own, at the mercy of the enemy, trying to protect themselves.
Nor does he leave us treading water, frustrated that we can’t quite become all that we want to grow into. ‘Do not be afraid little Flock, your Father has been pleased to give you the Kingdom.’ Luke 12.32.
It is possible for us to be just as we are now in terms of our size, yet healthy, safe, & producing Kingdom fruit. However gifted the Shperherds may be in a local church, it’s not even their responsibility to make us fruitful. It’s their call to be faithful & obedient to the Good Shepherd.
The Lord reminds us – He is the Good shepherd. As He comes alongside & encourages us, know that it all starts & finishes with Him. He is taking the weight,
He is standing in the gap. He has laid down His life for us & that deep commitment to our cause is effective here & now.

Contrast this attitude with the hired hand - V12-13.
If you've been around the blck long enough in church life, you will have seen & experienced examples of bad shepherds. Heavy shepherds, weak shepherds,temporary shepherds, even mercenaries who come for the money, the glory, the power, but run when the going gets tough.
I can think back to times where the pressure to run away was so intense it was almost unbearable. Times when it was all I could do just to stand. It seems even then I was reflecting God’s heart in His commitment to His people,even though my heart was weak, my knees knocking & my mind confused. But even at my best & strongest as a Shepherd, thankfully I am not all that the sheep have. As true under shepherds, we are simply obedient stewards of the one who cares for the sheep with all authority.

We already have a shepherd who is so committed to us, a shepherd whose heart is for us, a shepherd will not let go of us, not forget us, never leave us alone as orphans, no one will snatch us out of His hand.

This incredible commitment comes from His ownership of us – v12. It’s an issue of ownership. As a people, we belong to God. He has bought us, we are a part of His Kingdom purposes – over us He declares –
‘You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God.’ 1 Pet 2.9-10.
So, whatever size we are, we are gathered around Him, sheep in His pasture.
His ownership is all we need right now. Hired hands are great, but the strength of men alone is not sufficient.
A hired hand who cares nothing for the sheep runs when the wolf threatens & exerts pressure. Hopefully God has given us good shepherds who will stay firm, but our ability to rest secure doesn’t come from looking at them – We look behind to the greater one on whose call they are standing. In whose authority they govern - Here is your Good Shepherd.

These are more than just theological ideas about Christian leadership – they actually change the way we behave & do life together.
v14-16 If we see that we really are dependent on Him right now, then what are we to do? Know Him. Know His voice, respond, follow Him. It’s much more about being than doing.
This is not frenetic life, this is life in Christ. Matt 11. Come to me. Learn from me. He has much to teach you about knowing Him, abiding in Him, resting in Him, knowing His voice, living in security not in fear.
He’s not looking for busy sheep or for under shepherds who keep the flock moving. He’s looking for Shepherds who are after His heart, who will follow His pattern & rhythm.
He’s looking for men & women who will simply be with Him, know Him, enjoy Him. These are the people who will bring in other sheep.

Thin sheep follow fat sheep. Sad sheep follow happy sheep. We often think we need superstar shepherds & clever programs to grow a church – no – we need faithful called stewards after His heart, & we need happy sheep. As the Meerkats would say 'Simples!' We don’t actually have to do anything other than live contentedly in His provision & goodness in order to be a provocation for the kingdom to the world around us.

So what are the Kingdom promises the Good Shepherd will lead us into? John 10 & Psalm 23 hold the clues.
He is the gate. V7/9. He leads us into safety. He lays down His life for us.
Ps 23.4 He protects us in the face of the enemy with His rod & staff. It’s about His authority, it’s because we belong to Him.
He shuts out the enemy, he just has no right to touch us & no access. No need for anxiety. No fear – ‘I will fear no evil’ Ps 23 .4 - rather, confidence of a secure Kingdom people who are in Christ, unafraid of the world, the enemy or the size of the task.
Ps 23.5 He prepares a table for us in the presence of our enemies. We’re aware of our security in the care of the Shepherd & so we can live confidently in the open rather than hidden away.
We are free to venture into the world under His protection, free to touch, engage, bless, live abundantly. Unafraid of loss, contamination or disease, rather,we are expecting to take our secure space with us, taking the presence of the Shepherd, increasing His spread & influence – we are bold, secure sheep.

2/ Growth.
Not about numbers. We measure success in church on the wrong scales when we use only numbers. It’s about health & nurture.
A healthy church is what matters, & a healthy plant grows naturally without requiring the chemical stimulant of programs & driven leadership.
Rather, the Good Shepherd leads us into pasture, he leads us & we learn to follow His voice. We grow in maturity, strength, vitality as His followers – such people have life & have it to the full v10. Ps 23.3 He restores our souls, revives us, refreshes our spirits by His presence with us.

3/ Rest.
Not striving, not working. Rest in God, all the heavy burdens of expectation are coming off. He has done the work. We are following Him, He has opened the way, He promises to lead & teach us, He relieves us of the burdens of our wrong thinking & relating to Him wrong.
He calls us to be with Him, walk with Him, learn from Him. Matt.11.
Ps 23.2 He makes me lie down in green pastures. I shall not be in want.
I’m content to trust Him for His promise. Ps 62.1 My soul finds rest in God alone.
Busyness, activity, trying hard to do things that are the Good Shepherd’s responsibility (like growth) are all less important than abiding & simply being fruitful in Christ. We don’t have to do it all, we are free just to be who He has made us to be.
Relaxed & able to play to our strengths, trusting Him for fruit. As an under shepherd or a sheep it’s simply not my job to wear myself out trying to add people into the church –
It’s my call to know Him, to live an open attractive life, to open my home, to mix up my world & to be like the Good Shepherd & so to allow Him to do the work. He works – we rest in what He has done!

4/ Water.
He leads us besides streams of water. Ps 23.2 Health again, but also the dynamic of His presence. He promises to refresh us, wash us, overwhelm us, carry us. There’s so much water. V5. He anoints our heads with oil & our cups overflow – same picture, different imagery.
Some of us are so dry, so thirsty, longing for greater intimacy. He offers us water. He wants shepherds who know how to help their sheep to drink.

And this is more than just a healing stream for God’s people – this river brings life outside of our world, it carries the Kingdom promises out of the fold, it has a fast current.John 7.37-38 In Christ we are now free to live with the river 24/7. It’s a now promise for us, streams of living water flowing out from us. A river not a reservoir.
It was never meant just for the sheep in the fold to drink, we must take it out!

5/ Multiplication.
There are new sheep, those who are not yet in the pen. John 10.16. This is the result of healthy church, happy sheep, wet sheep!
It’s not our job, our activity. It’s the shepherd who goes to get the sheep, it’s His voice which calls them, His call they respond to.
We concentrate on being with Him, getting filled with His presence, He brings others alongside us & leads us into growth.