It is wonderful to be here in Arran. It hasn’t quite registered fully that we’re not just here on a short break or holiday. The last year has meant several trips back and forward visiting Sannox Christian Centre and also Arran Baptist Church who, between them, will have a good chunk of my time in this new season of ministry. I’ve begun to get an insight on what’s happening at Sannox, and my induction to the Baptist Church ministry on the island is later in the month. Quite nice not preaching every week at the moment!
Since arriving, some wonderful news has encouraged us no end with regards accommodation. And, whilst our removal company are a bit on the busy side to enable them to deliver our possessions to us on the island, we hope to be in and settled into our new place by the end of August.
We do have some very interesting (but friendly!) neighbours in our new home. We will be living in a house by Kilbride cemetery in Lamlash. Less than 200/300 yards away from the front door are the resting places of my great-grandparents, my great-great grandparents and several other family members. Just down the hill and along is the parish church where my grandparents were married, and behind that, the home where my gran’s 14 brothers and sisters were brought up. Round the corner from there, the birthplace cottage of my great-grandfather. The roots are quite literally in the soil here and I feel quite at home. There are, of course, living family members on the island and hopefully we’ll catch up with them before too long.
There will be, in time, lots of of things to say and updates to bring. Needless to say, life and ministry will be very different here in this unique situation. I already know something of the challenges that we’ll face, but beginning to dream with others what opportunities we can create to serve this ‘island parish.’
An Arran Blessing:
“Bless, O Lord, the thing on which my eye doth rest. Bless, O Lord, the thing on which my hope doth rest. Bless, O Lord, my reason and my purpose. Bless, O bless through them, O Lord of life.
Now Bless, O Lord, the Isle of Arran And bless thy people here before thee. And make they face to shine upon us, And bring us closer, Lord, to Thee.”
As I bring ministry to a close at HBC, we’re following a series exploring disciplines that shape the life of the church in the world in a way we can carry and proclaim his presence in the world. I prepared this simple hand out for the church to reflect on which may be helpful to some.
Jesus trains up his disciples for the practical work of mission and sharing the gospel. In Luke 9 we see he sends out the 12 disciples. Hands-on training for his key soon-to-be movement leaders. In Luke 10, he sends out the 72 on a very similar mission. By the time we get to the day of the ascension of Jesus, Matthew 28 gives the command to all of the disciples to live on this same mission. So, how does Jesus’ insight help us with our own task?
1. PRAY (Luke 10: 1 – 2)
All of Jesus disciples, regardless of circumstance, can engage in this first principle: pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers. We need to pray that God will raise up the church to bear witness to his name.
2. EXPECT SOME OPPOSITION (Luke 10: 3)
Jesus expects that, as people opposed him, they would be opposed. The good news is good news to those whose hearts are ready, but an insult to those who are self-sufficient. We need to toughen up and be prepared.
3. GO SIMPLY (Luke 10: 4)
Many turn the simple work of the gospel into a multi-thousand pound enterprise. Jesus tells the disciples to go simply. This is, firstly, a reminder that as they go they will be guests to people, not hosts. Secondly, it is a reminder that we have a people centred gospel – it’s all about relationships.
4. SEEK THE PERSON OF PEACE (Luke 10: 5 – 6)
Jesus is saying that the Spirit will have prepared people to hear the message. Seek after them – don’t be too disheartened or distracted by those who are not in the place to hear. Pray! A person of peace can open up opportunities to particular groups of people, families or places, so the gospel can often be spread to more than one person. Note it is a household that Jesus instructs the disciples to engage.
5. LONG TERM VIEW (Luke 10: 7 – 8)
Note, again, that those who share the message are guests. Mission happens on the turf and terms of those who are receiving. We are so bent on an invitational mode that this can be a challenge for us to know how to ‘go’. Where are the places God might be sending you to go to build up relationships on the long term, eating and drinking as you go?
6. IT’S GOD’S MISSION (Luke 10: 16)
Don’t take rejection personally. The gospel can be a hard pill to swallow. Those rejecting you will be rejecting Jesus and His Father who sent him. We are but the messengers. Out invitation is to keep heart and move on with grace.
Questions to consider
1. Could you set an alarm on your phone at 10:02 (mirroring the verse numbers) to remind you to pray to the Lord of the Harvest about the harvest field and home and abroad?
2. Do you feel equipped to be able to speak for the Lord? Could you explain the gospel to someone who’d never heard it? Could you lead someone through a confession of faith and help them have a ‘good birth’?
3. Are there people in your life who may be ‘people of peace’ – people who would be open to hearing from you? If not, how can you move into places where this is a possibility?
4. If you are really unable to engage person–to–person, are there other ways you can work? Could you increase your giving to enable mission? Could you put pen to paper or use your social media creatively?
5. Reflect on what it is that stops you taking the steps in sharing faith. Having identified them, what steps might you take to over come them? You might like to speak to a pastor or other trusted leader who could guide you.
Yep – I’m in that ‘neither here nor there’ place. I’m seeking to do what I can to fulfil and round off ministry at HBC and also got half an eye to work that I’ll pick up in Arran in August, whilst also thinking through logistics of moving, somewhere to live, and all that. It’s definitely not that there’s a lack of stuff to do, but these in between spaces are very strange places to inhabit. You’d think I’d get used to it, but you really don’t.
There’s something very resonant in the scriptures about this in-between place. The Israelites ate the passover in their travel clothes and wandered the desert for a generation. We read that the Son of Man had no place to lay his head. We read that we inhabit the Kingdom of God which has come but not fully. We are ‘in Christ’ and ‘seated in Heavenly realms’ but also living fairly regular lives here on earth.
We are in-between people.
The gift of the in-between is the gift of being able to hold things lightly – to recognise the impermanence of everything around us. Soon not only our location, but our roles, our relationships, our priorities, and pretty much everything else will be in an entirely new place. Not only are we evaluating our physical stuff – what we will take – but I’m also evaluating ideas, ways of being and thinking, modes of mission and ministry…even various aspects of theology that are long overdue a revisit.
I’m having a right good clear out – and that feels good. I’m a fairly eclectic person in that I appreciate all sorts of things from all sorts of traditions, backgrounds and perspectives, but there are times when that feels very cluttered. Spiritually speaking, I’m in a season where I’m after a new simplicity. It’s not that I don’t want to think things through or become close-minded…what I mean is that I am in a season of holding many things more lightly, but delighting in the simplicity of the things that just are.
For me, theologically, that’s the Lordship of Christ and obedience to him. It’s his saving and sanctifying grace, the power of the gospel as real good news, and the privilege of co-mission with God. For me, that’s the foundation of everything – the foundation for discipleship, marriage, family life, ministry and everything else. There’s a great freedom in this.
I’m in-between all sorts of things, but Jesus is the solid foundation.
There’s lots of transitions and significant moments happening in life in general right now, but it wouldn’t be right if I didn’t take time to write a few lines on my experience of being welcomed, given the ‘right hand of fellowship’, and commissioned as a Fully Accredited Baptist minister this weekend at the Baptist Assembly in Bournemouth. My stay in the Baptist Union of Great Britain will be very short as I transfer to the Baptist Union of Scotland in the summer, but it was so good to mark this stage of my journey in ministry. In many ways, I always had a sense that going through the process of accreditation here in England was, at some point, always going to be a hopeful gateway back to ministry in Scotland – both unions have reciprocal arrangements for the transfer of ministers between the two organisations in the wider Baptist family – and its another one of things that has fallen into place in the most timely manner for this next season of life and ministry.
The process of accreditation was a reasonably simple one for me, having been in ministry for 22 years and transferring in from another denomination. Yet, a short module of study on Baptist History and Principles and a series of interviews led to being added to ‘the list’ back in October 2021 and the welcome on Saturday 14th May in the evening session of the Assembly. It’s a blessing when others can hear and affirm your journey, and humbling that they ‘let me in’ without any sort of probation or need for any ‘extra’ requirements to be filled.
It was great, too, that the new Baptist President, Rev Hayley Young, was one of the hand shakers! I’ve had the pleasure of being Hayley’s colleague when she was pastoring a church in the next town to us before moving to another role up North and taking on the presidency of Baptists Together. Totally wonderful to know there are women of my generation like Hayley offering bold leadership in these days.
If you’d have asked me back in 1998 when I was starting out training for ministry at the International Christian College in Glasgow if I’d ever thought I’d end up a baptist minister, I’d have laughed with incredulity. Not only because I was a committed Salvationists at the time and couldn’t imagine life outside the Salvation Army, but because I was always so impressed by the strong faith, commitment, theology and heart of my baptist friends. I always felt a little inferior, and still the ‘impostor syndrome’ kicks in! Bit, it is a privilege to serve and I’m looking forward to getting to know the Baptist family in Scotland having been away from there for some time.
Yet, here we are. After a long theological, practical, and ecclesiastical search and exploration since leaving the Army I’ve found a new spiritual home for the long haul. There’s something radical at the heart of the baptist charism that sings to me – the simple covenant commitment to the Lordship of Christ, being a believers church discerning God’s voice and direction together, and that deeply missional pulse at the heart of it all. Like other families of Christians it has its own unique challenges, but there is no group of Christians who doesn’t have that…just ask the apostle Paul!
I’m so thankful to all the folks who’ve encouraged me on the journey: the fellowship and leadership team of Hertford Baptist Church; Spurgeon’s College; Churches in Communities International, and especially the Rev Trevor Howard and the Rev Agnita Oyawale; the Central Baptist Association; the Revs Geoff Colmer, Stephen Copson, Simon Carver, Maureen Hider, Andrew Hemmens, Simon Cragg; the Rev Martin Hodson of the Baptist Union of Scotland; the fellowship of Arran Baptist Church…and countless other friends who speak into my life with encourgment and challenge. Here begins the next chapter.
You’ll probably know two things about a ceilidh: 1) its hard to spell if you aren’t familiar with Scottish Gaelic; 2) modern versions involve some pretty energetic dancing which requires vigour. Contrast it with ‘Scottish Country Dancing’ – which is more of a ‘Royal Family at Balmoral’ gentile affair than a real good ceilidh.
The word ceilidh means something much broader than its more modern usage as a Scottish dance night. It means ‘gathering’, and ceilidhs have been a part of Scottish, Irish and even Northumbrian and Anglo-Saxon history for a long time. Ceilidhs were at the centre of the community – gatherings for story, song, a tune, food, conversation, warmth and community…and maybe the odd dance if there was room.
Fast forward to the late 20th century growing up in Scotland, whilst we didn’t call them ceilidhs, they were part of my upbringing. Extended family and friends gathering on a Saturday night – food, drink, songs, uncle on the accordion, lively conversation and just generally being family. It died out along with some of the elder members of the family and they rarely happen in the same way now.
I think, looking back, I’ve always been trying to see if the ceilidh can be replicated in the the context of the church. Here’s why I think the model lends itself:
Multi-voiced – everyone brings something or contributes something, whether that’s food, drink, music, story, song or [insert your own]. The church at its fullest in scripture, I believe, in its open participatory nature. We see this in 1 Corinthians where everyone has something prepared to bring to the gathering, in partnership with spiritual gifts, teaching, worship and the Lord’s supper in the context of the agape (love) meal.
Informal – order is important for gatherings, but they’d never have worked if everyone was sat in rows watching granny at the front. The gatherings had a dynamism and such a warmth and spirit. They were in the round, everyone seated in the front room, spilling into the kitchen or the hall. If you’ve ever sat in church and wondered ‘what on earth’, then you know what I mean. I’ve had the privilege over the years of seeing and encouraging glimpses of this emerge in churches I’ve been a part of. It looks nothing like a church service…but should that really be the normative experience of the people of God? I’m just not sure it’s what Jesus had in mind.
Relational – I grew up in a community where I had close relationships with great-aunts and uncles, first cousins once and twice removed, across all generations, and where that extended to neighbours and friends. A really close knit community where, even now, I can go home and still be surrounded by family but people in the community we knew really, really well. That did spill into the churches that existed in my home town, and those folks became family too. Relationships are where it’s at. And it is relationships that pull people together. It is the quality of the relationships that make the party. You’ll never build an authentically attractive church community without a deeper camaraderie. My granny built a closer community than any parish church could.
Hospitable – you just always get fed and watered. I was once part of a church where we had the policy of ‘no eat, no meet’ – eating together was at the centre. This was especially important when including people who maybe, because of social circumstances, never ate with their families. Food is a great leveller, and it is key for church. In Luke’s gospel, Jesus is either at a meal, leaving a meal, or heading to a meal. It’s biblical to eat… and it’s missional!
So – who knows? I’d like to explore and maybe plant a ceilidh church. Maybe each surrounding village could have one. Jesus loved a party, and I’m sure he’d come.
It isn’t a surprise to anyone that I’ve been longing to get back to Scotland since the day I left in 2010! Ministry opportunities invited us ever deeper south, but I’ve always had a strong pull to Scotland. Even at bible college, when all the mission agencies would come in to entice you of to some far distant land, all I wanted to do was work for the gospel in Scotland! However, travels to different places have been a valuable learning experience!
I wanted to take the opportunity to share the testimony of these last 9 months or so as God has stepped in with a jolt to catch my attention. I made the journey to visit the Isle of Arran last year as a result of a vision that came to me in prayer which featured Arran like none I’ve ever had.
The vision was like this: from the beach at Irvine, my home town, I was carried over stormy seas and placed in the bay at Sannox, in the north east of the island. Before me were the small, homely cottages, and the path leading from the beach up towards Glen Sannox that I was to take. I passed some oaks, and headed towards the foot of a mountain and rested on a rock.
Asking the Lord about this, he said, ‘I am carrying you beyond the storm. You will embody warm hospitality for those journeying on. You will be a deeply-rooted oaky guide, accompanying people through the Glen to ascend the hill of my presence. You are Sannox.’
In obedience to this, I formally applied to add Sannox to my middle names, along with McDowall, my grandmother’s maiden name, who is an Arran native…born just a few miles south of Sannox in the village of Lamlash. I understood this vision to be God using familiar places and ideas to just refocus me for the next season. I fully believed, and still believe, that this vision can serve me as a picture for ministry regardless of where I am.
However, several weeks after this, I shared this experience with a group on an online retreat. The leader of the retreat, amazed, said I should speak to him about Sannox, after which he introduced me to Sannox Christian Centre – a Celtic retreat/prayer centre – right in the heart of the hamlet at Sannox at the foot of the hill. So, I decided I should head up, check it out, and spend some time in prayer there to hear what God was saying.
I made my pilgrimage and, arriving on the Island and driving up to Sannox, I stopped at the beach in my vision, ascended Glen Sannox, passed the oaks, up the path and sat on the rock, amazed that this landscape that I’d never walked in was as in my vision. I know the island well, but I had never been up Glen Sannox before!! There, I worshipped and prayed for the blessing of salvation for Ayrshire, Scotland, and the nations. I turned back down the hill when, suddenly, the wind fell and there was a silence. The Lord said ‘you are my son, and with you I am well pleased.’ I thanked God and headed down to the centre for evening prayer – the scripture reading chosen was Jesus on the mount of transfiguration: ‘This is my son, and with him I am well pleased.’
I then took up my room in ‘Dundarroch’, the centres accommodation, which means ‘hill of the oaks.’ On leaving, I signed my name Andrew Sannox McDowall Clark in the visitors book and offered a blessing. Translated, my name means ‘clerical man, son of a dark stranger in the sandy bay’. Seems apt!
Conversations with others means all of this has gone from what I assumed was a vision to cheer and encourage, to a strong possibility of living and serving the Lord on the Isle of Arran, the home of my ancestors for many generations. There are a few live conversations going on just now, heading towards something reasonably concrete!
Do you know what? Even if circumstances and practicalities should prevent us living and working there, the voice and movement of God in these last 10 months is all the encouragement I need to know that the Lord has me in his heart and in his hand. I’ve come home to myself, regardless of my geography. Having said that, we are trusting him in the conversations we are having and praying ‘your Kingdom come, your will be done.’
So, in the words of Dougie McLean ‘Caledonia is calling and I’m going home!’
Moving to Arran will involve a significant degree of pioneering and, by nature of mission in reasonably far flung island communities, I may need to raise some of the finance I need to be able to live and minister there. I am exploring a few different possibilities, ranging from some work I can do to support my ministry, to being a ministry recipient via Stewardship, and a few other entrepreneurial ideas which will add up to what we will need as a family. Leaving the details to God at the moment until we know a little more. I look forward to sharing in more detail exactly what I’ll be up to when the conversations are sufficiently finalised.
So, there you have it recorded – it has been an exciting journey and I’m looking forward to seeing what God will do. From the rising of the sun to the going down of the same, the Lord’s name is to be praised.
Life is changing once more: after nearly five years in Hertford, and 12 years ‘down south’, the hopes of returning north which have fuelled many an hour of prayer are opening up in some spectacular ways. With every thought of moving to the next chapter there is a grieving to endure and that is real right now – the pull of the familiar is always strong, even when the opening of the new chapter is thoroughly and divinely compelling!
The reality is that in each place we have been in ministry over 20 years, relationships go deep and the level of personal investment in a situation is deep. As soon as an announcement is made that you’re moving on, the game shifts. You’re then into handover mode for the ministry as well as transition mode for yourself. In addition, you’ve got another eye on practicalities and transitions to be made. That really does involve a particular mindset in order to get the balance right for the transition.
Whilst the call to be ministering on the Isle of Arran off the Ayrshire coast has been an amazing story in and of itself, I am moving into a pioneering setting and there are many unknowns as far as the details are concerned, although much of that will become clearer sooner rather than later. I’ve sought to prioritise the strength of call, believing that God will provide the necessary things we need in order for this to come to full fruition.
So, here are the ways we need some prayers right now:
ongoing discussion about how my time will be spent on the Isle of Arran, and the financial resources for that to happen. We are open to initially raising part of our financial support if needed in order to be faithful to the call God has given to see the ministry launch and transition. More detail to follow!
an opening for Tracy to teach in one of the island’s schools, or in other suitable work.
for good transition for the girls into new schools and for a good round off to their year where we are now
a good end to this particular chapter so far as it depends on me.
I am really looking forward to sharing more detail of my future work once the details are fixed. It is so exciting! I pinch myself every day that God has called me to this opportunity – a role which it feels God has been preparing me for over a decade and which dovetails perfectly into who God has shaped me to be over many years. Let me put it in context: the essence of the kind of ministry I’m hoping will emerge first started as a seed in my heart back in 2007! It is a long-burn of a vision and it appears the time is now right!
I will be eternally grateful to the people who discipled me in my early days as a Christian. They managed to instil in me some really fundamental things which really have stood me in good stead, no matter the season of my life or part of the journey.
The most significant things set deep with in me, I’d say, are these:
Love for the Bible. It has taken me years to get to an even reasonably grasp of this book and, whilst like many others there have been times I’ve struggled to make it a part of the daily routine, the older I get the more I find myself living in the Bible. Exposure to this book has and is changing my life.
The need for prayer. Again, haven’t always found it ‘easy’, but there are people who modelled a simple yet earnest prayer life that has made me want to delve more. I witnessed a deep prayer life in men and women who, without a shadow of a doubt, are becoming saints! What I mean by that is that God is clearly well on in the work of transforming them from one shade of glory to another!
The call to witness. We’re not all natural evangelists, but it was ingrained in me of the privilege and joy to speak of the Lord, not only to those who aren’t yet Christian, but to other believers – our testimonies build up faith as well as inviting people to faith.
Assurance of faith. Through many trials, my faith has remained largely strong. I put this down to a ‘good birth.’ I was helped to understand the heart of the gospel; repentance and faith, and how to grow in that; to confess and put away sin; to seek after the presence of the Spirit; how to recognise the witness of that same Spirit within my heart; to know what God thinks of me now as a regenerated and redeemed person. All of this grounds me in Christ.
To have a heart for the poor. I was helped to see God’s bias towards the poor, the marginalised, the down-trodden and the ‘underdog’ – in part, this was once me, coming from a poorer working class background. I could see the gospel in action in my own life and the freedoms it brought, as well as the opportunities. But more than that, I learned of the grace that could transform and free from restrictive experiences.
Vibrant worship. I don’t particularly care when the song was written, but if it’s a singable tune, some good solid lyrics which help sing the faith, I’m there with gusto. I learned how to celebrate faith, and actually learned a lot of my faith and theology through good songs before I learned to discern it from the Bible. Perhaps something we miss in these days (I sound like an old man now, I know).
Call to the holy life. I know I’m called not to tolerate sin, to compromise or make excuses, and to pursue the holiness of God in my own life. Do I give myself a hard time over this? Well, I trust in Jesus and his grace, but I seek to discipline myself. It’s a two-way street that I’m invited to cooperate with God’s spirit on.
Spiritual warfare. I was schooled in the reality of the battle; the work of the enemy; and to pray down the strongholds of the enemy. Unfashionable in these days, but still so important. The world is more influenced by the intercessors that we know! The world is more transformed by the praying person that anyone would understand or care to admit.
The person, work and gifts of the Spirit. I wasn’t brought up in the charismatic/pentecostal movement, but in the context of the holiness movement – it’s precursor! My conversion introduced the supernatural presence and power of God at the opening moments, and I’ve never had trouble believing that the Spirit is active in our lives. I’ve always had the heart to pursue the gifts of the Spirit, understanding that they are there for the church to advance the Kingdom. God has been gracious.
The Power (and foolishness) of Preaching. Hearing preaching has been transformative. Being a preacher has been transformative, and largely uncomfortable! It is no small thing to proclaim the good news of the Kingdom. I know all the reasons why preaching shouldn’t work, and more than once have sensed it has been futile or fallen on deaf ears, but also know that God can use the simplest word for transformation. Before I even had a full appreciation of the call to ministry, I was taught, enabled and released to speak in public from the age of 15/16. I’ll always be grateful for that.
I recognise that not everyone has the privilege of this kind of Christian formation, but I so hope that I can impart, even in the smallest measure, the witness to and the importance of these basics. I mean, there are probably others – these are just the things that stand out to me as I write now.
In many ways, these things can be an affront to 21st century Christian people – maybe it represents to much of what some might call ‘enthusiasm’ (careful, now!). It might seem a bit rough and ready to hold these experiences, convictions and formation as vital exprience that others should aspire to. But yet, I do. I may have got educated and all that, but the simple passion of my early days, though sharpened, refined and re expressed in some ways, is still at the heart of all God is doing.
I pray that even now, you’d be growing in these things for your own walk with Christ.
In my head, I’m an avid, regular blogger. In reality, I’m pretty terrible! (Note to self: must do better!). This little blog here isn’t too far off being 20 years old…and it tells the rather adventurous ups, downs, ins and outs of ministry and much of God’s leadings along the way. A look back over this more public record is in many ways a testament to God’s faithfulness much more than it is to mine! With hindsight, I can see the hand of God as the Divine Author of my story, in spite of my tendancy to tear out a page or write unhelpfully in the margins most of the time!
What I am learning right now, is that the ‘skill’ to steady progress in ministry and discipleship is to integrate learning as you go. What do I mean? Well, sometimes there are seasons where one particular idea or ‘flavour’ of ministry dominate and provide great opportunities for growth. When the ‘next one’ comes along, it’s easy to disregard the former.
More and more, I recognising that the skill isn’t to just move on from one thing to the next, but to try and keep the gold of each piece of learning and build. Somethings that I’ve been recovering recently and reintegrating into my life in a more way isa good grounding in the subject of spiritual warfare, intercessory prayer and the prophetic. In addition, refreshing my perspective and use of spiritual gifts that sometimes I can lose sight of. In other seasons, it may equally be the ministry of spiritual direction, expository preaching, or leading musical worship that I need to reintegrate.
The reality is that we go through phases, and this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Different seasons demand different resources. The big this is not to throw any proverbial babies out with the bathwater, but to review, to renew, re-evaluate and take inventory of all God has done and wants to do.
I’m so thankful that God never puts me on the scrapheap. In fact, it is over due that I mention the fact that I was very pleased to recently have been affirmed by the Baptist Union of Great Britain’s Ministerial Recognition Committee, and have been enrolled on the list of Fully Accredited Baptist Ministers. In the midst of all that is going on in life (busy ministry PLUS catching Covid19) I just haven’t had time to reflect on just how much of step this is for me both for my current journey and for whatever God may have for me down the line. Its also a testimony to the gentle working of God – I’m sure if you look hard enough in this blog you’d likely find somewhere an ungracious rant about sacraments from my Salvation Army days. As I said, we grow, develop…and we sometimes move on from positions we once thought natural and tenable, but which, somehow, stop making sense.
This is part of the journey onwards. A new season for me, a new family to settle and belong to….and a whole load of things to review and re-learn.
One of the most striking images in my mind about the life of Jesus is the once where he’s standing before his Roman accusers on all sorts of trumped up charges. I’m sure you know the story. And, like a lamb before the shearers is silent, so he stands.
I guess there’s two ways to view this. Firstly, you can say that Jesus is being pathetic – he has nothing to say for himself, he’s caught out, he’s at the end, he’s failed…and there’s nothing he could say anyway to stop this particular stone rolling along the path of time. His road is set and they’re going to have him anyway. This is the nature of being caught up in the dramas of other people’s agendas. Jesus is a stone in the shoe of the system and he needs to be maligned and ejected.
Secondly, there’s the idea of Jesus knowing full well that this is the way it will go, and realises that his composure, dignity and stance through the whole debacle will ultimately give way to his death, and this is the path he is deliberately choosing. This is his ultimate destiny, but God will vindicate him by the power of resurrection. Not only will the resurrection be a vindication, but so will his feat of endurance through the ridiculousness of the circumstances.
I feel closest to the sheer strength of Jesus when I abide with him in this place. My lot is nothing like his…I don’t think many are baying for my blood these days (although it has been known). But just sometimes, you come to that place where you know that there’s little likelihood that anything you say in response will be heard because the law of assumption is firmly in place and there’s little that can be done to change anyone’s mind. This is both a disempowering place and an empowering place in equal measure.
There’s some injustice and falsehood, but there is also the grace of God. Surrounded on every side, but I’m in the stronghold of loving embrace.
And so, I find myself being ridiculously joyful in this season, whilst humanly being at the bottom end of a proverbial rope related to all things navigating through the whole coronavirus landscape. I am overwhelmingly grateful that God knows this heart of mine. I’m also grateful for the beauty of the psalmists’ quill, who is able, in so many ways, to capture all the range of human emotion and experience and still raise a hallelujah, however broken.
I’ve always tried to keep this little blog honest. I mean, it is of no real significance in the grand scheme of things, but it is, however, a window into many stages and acts of pastoral ministry and missional leadership over 20 years – in season and out of season. It is time to go on the record (again) and say that no pastor has been 100% equipped for this last season of ministry, and absolutely none will be getting it right. Even fewer will be able to ‘please anybody’ (let along everybody). But there you go. But it is fine for the ‘buck’ to stop here.
There’s a lot of pain in this, to be sure, but we’re in the pathway of Jesus. My own experience is nothing compared to his. The amount of ‘buck’ that stopped by him at Calvary is overwhelming…and from THAT hill, flows grace to me. And it is that grace that is fuelling a joy in my heart that is totally beyond circumstances that we are all facing at this time. Even in a time of recent paralysing sickness that few will have any appreciation of in reality, there He was in the pit with me – not patronising, pulling me together, smoothing my brow or drawing his sword…but in strengthening silence. Just standing. That is more than enough for me.
So, I guess this is the sanitised ‘blog’ version of current experience. Always happy to have real, open, vulnerable conversation with those who want to get to the heart of things. Richard Rohr, one of my favourite heretics, says about human pain: “If we don’t transform it, we transmit it.” This is the world we live in – the world where people don’t know where to take their pain. All I can say is the best place to take it is to Jesus, and if you need help to get it there, I’m more willing and familiar with the landscape that you’d believe.