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A WORD IN TIME: TUESDAY

This is today’s study in the Methodist Church’s A Word in Time series.

Mark 13:5-13

5Then Jesus began to say to them, ‘Beware that no one leads you astray.6Many will come in my name and say, “I am he!” and they will lead many astray. 7When you hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. 8For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.

9 ‘As for yourselves, beware; for they will hand you over to councils; and you will be beaten in synagogues; and you will stand before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them. 10And the good newsmust first be proclaimed to all nations. 11When they bring you to trial and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say; but say whatever is given you at that time, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. 12Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death;13and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.


“Then Jesus began to say to them, ‘Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, “I am he!” and they will lead many astray.’” (vv. 5-6)

Background

In the media race for our attention, the crucial thing is to build up an online profile. Using Facebook and Twitter (both probably too old school now), Instagram, Snapchat and many other platforms, anyone who aspires to be a superstar has to be followed by millions.

It’s impossible to opt out and retreat into anonymity if you want people to follow you. Of course, if you don’t keep your latest exploits where everyone can see them, you will fast become irrelevant.

Today’s conversation between Jesus and the disciples came about because his followers were being seduced by the opulence and grandeur of the temple.

“As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!’ Then Jesus asked him, ‘Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.'” (Mark 13:1-2)

Instead of believing the Jewish religious leaders’ publicity machine, they needed to realise what mattered: did they want to defend the symbol of faith or the one the symbol was pointing to?

“Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray” (v. 6).

Jesus knew that his preaching of the kingdom of God had angered the Jewish priests and leaders. He knew the pressure would be on his followers to recant their stories as false teachers and even family disputes threatened the in-breaking kingdom of God.

We read later in the Bible: “Whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance” (James 1:2-3).

It’s difficult to “consider it … joy” when you feel all the media messages are against your way of life, but while our Instagram account may not be followed by millions our Saviour’s profile is one we are urged to share.

To Ponder

  • Is it a problem or a bonus that the Church doesn’t have money for multi-million pound publicity campaigns? Why?
  • How do we help people “consider it … joy” when they face trials in their life? What pastoral gifts have you found helpful?
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On the radio: panto and Pontypool

Panto pioneering (Thursday)

Church leaders like me have to handle a number of different tasks, like public speaking, leading worship and organising events, but until I worked in one particular job I had no idea it included being the Wizard of Oz!

For a few years, I worked as a Pioneer Minister – doing church with people who don’t do church – in a community where there were no Methodist buildings. It meant I had to build links with the community through other means and so Joy and I decided to join the local panto group.

We’d spotted a poster advertising the start of rehearsals and nervously walked in one evening. We needn’t have worried. Instantly we were welcomed in, ‘adopted’ by a friendly group member and helped through our first visit. When we went for the second rehearsal we were greeted with a delighted: “you came back!”

We were part of the society for three years: performing in the chorus, playing in the band and, yes, I was the Wizard of Oz! There are even a couple of embarrassing photos on Facebook. Now, even though we don’t live in the area, we still keep in touch with people from the society and go back a couple of times a year.

I learned a huge amount from the panto gang about how churches can be better at welcoming and keeping people. We were simply accepted for who we were and what we could offer, encouraged to offer our best and challenged to grow. We were welcomed back every time and reminded about the core purpose – to play our part and get the show on stage.

Although only one of the company had any kind of church connection, a number began to refer to me as “our minister”. It felt as though I was doing my job too.

 

Pontypool rugby (Friday)

This time of the year is one of my favourites. It’s got nothing to do with the weather but everything to do with the Six Nations Rugby tournament which this year is turning out to be one of the best in a long time.

I grew up in Pontypool in the Welsh Valleys, home to the Pontypool Front Row and a whole collection of Welsh internationals. In my teenage years we lived alongside our heroes and on more than one occasion I would travel to school with Terry Cobner, captain of Pontypool and a future Welsh skipper, sitting in the front seat of my Dad’s car.

My own rugby ability didn’t amount to much. The nearest I got was as understudy to Pontypool full-back Peter Lewis … but that was as an actor in our school production of Oliver!

Anyway, back to rugby. I’ve got my Welsh rugby jersey, hat and scarf – I’ve even got some Welsh cakes – and I know which of my Scottish friends I’ll be exchanging banter with on Facebook tomorrow morning before kick-off.

When Wales beat Scotland I will, of course, be generous in victory. Should the unthinkable happen … well, I’m not thinking of it!

Of course, at the end of each game someone chooses the Man of the Match, the player who outshines everyone else.

The Bible tells of how God used prophets and others to try to get his message of love across but in the end needed Jesus to come and demonstrate that love by teaching, healing and ultimately through his death and resurrection.

The salvation of the world needed someone to reflect God’s glory and bear the imprint of God’s character. It needed God’s Man of the Match, living alongside us: modelling heaven’s love on earth and defeating death for all.

Oh, Cymru am byth, by the way!

Lost for words

The arrogance of having a blog is thinking you should have something to say. Sometimes you don’t but wish you did.

Our political world has moved so quickly: in one day we watch a Prime Minister leave, a new one move in and a zip-wiring former Mayor of London become our new Foreign Secretary – one of the great offices of State.

Twitter and Facebook are incredulous. Do I get angry, do I find a snide comment, do I encourage Christians to pray (as I probably ought to), do I remember all the damaged lives that still need championing?

Or, more sensibly, do I let the wiser words of the Psalmist speak? After all, when I am lost for words, the Word can speak wonders and wisdom.

shhhh-1433634-639x852Psalm 62

Truly my soul finds rest in God;
    my salvation comes from him.
Truly he is my rock and my salvation;
    he is my fortress, I shall never be shaken.

How long will you assault me?
    Would all of you throw me down –
    this leaning wall, this tottering fence?
Surely they intend to topple me
    from my lofty place;
    they take delight in lies.
With their mouths they bless,
    but in their hearts they curse.

Yes, my soul, find rest in God;
    my hope comes from him.
Truly he is my rock and my salvation;
    he is my fortress, I shall not be shaken.
My salvation and my honour depend on God;
    he is my mighty rock, my refuge.
Trust in him at all times, you people;
    pour out your hearts to him,
    for God is our refuge.

Surely the lowborn are but a breath,
    the highborn are but a lie.
If weighed on a balance, they are nothing;
    together they are only a breath.
10 Do not trust in extortion
    or put vain hope in stolen goods;
though your riches increase,
    do not set your heart on them.

11 One thing God has spoken,
    two things I have heard:
‘Power belongs to you, God,
12     and with you, Lord, is unfailing love’;
and, ‘You reward everyone
    according to what they have done.’

1 Corinthians 13 … the online version?

I’ve been musing on the topic of love ahead of preaching at the weekend. The Gospel lesson is John 17: 20-26 where Jesus prays to God that those who come after him would be one, and known for their love.

It set me thinking about the many times that Internet discussions get way out of hand. So here is an adapted 1 Corinthians 13, the famous Bible chapter on love.

If I speak in the tongues of Google and of LinkedIn, but do not have love, I am a noisy ringtone or a nuisance call. And if I have blogging powers, and understand all mysteries of code and all knowledge of hashtags, and if I have all Facebook, so as to ‘friend’ many, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my PayPal balance, and if I hand over my smartphone so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on having the last word; it is not interested in a flame war; it does not rejoice in cyberstalking, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.

But as for updates, they will come to an end; as for multiple online identities, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we tweet only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I Snapchatted like a child, I thought like a child, I shared like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish updates. For now we see pixels in a screen, dimly, but then we will see Facetime to Facetime. Now the Wikipedia page is only a stub but it doesn’t stop me writing about it; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known – and will know when to be offline. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

Stories of hope across Europe

Day two of the Extended Cabinets meeting in Braunfels, north of Frankfurt, included a time of sharing stories.

The reason I’m here is that three of us from the Methodist Church in Britain have been asked to come and share about Fresh Expressions. I’m with Stephen Lindridge, the Methodist missioner from the Fresh Expressions initiative and one of the initiators of Mind The Gap in Gateshead, and Peter Hancock, Northampton District Chair and a founder of The Bridge in Hinckley, Leicestershire.

I’ll be talking about Tubestation in Cornwall, not surprisingly.

But yesterday we sat in small groups and heard stories from Siberia to southern Germany of how God is inspiring people to plant new churches and risk new things.

  • The Belarus pastor whose work isn’t officially recognised by the government because she’s not allowed a sacred space but where the children go to school and tell stories about how they love their mothers because they pray for them.
  • The church in Finland slowly being brought back to life after one old man sustained it and believed in his vision from God that people would come. Now they are, one by one.
  • A German church where a pastor heard the call to go and rescue a dying congregation and moved home. Now the fellowship has grown from a handful to a systainable church, mainly recalling former members but beginning to impact its community.
  • A teenager who used the Latvian version of Facebook to bring together 30 unchurched young people to begin a youth group. Now some of them are inquiring about baptism.

There were many more stories but that’s a flavour of what was shared yesterday. We also heard two lectures on why adults came to faith, much of it interesting but probably too rooted in the German cultural setting to need repeating here.

Today we tell our stories, thrilled to know that we will simply be adding to the good news others have already shared.

Christmas letter 2009

A man decided to buy his wife a really special Christmas gift and visited a posh department store. The assistant showed him a bottle of perfume for £150. ‘I’m not paying that,’ he spluttered. ‘Have you got a smaller bottle?’

After rejecting the £75, £35 and tiny £10 bottles of the same brand he demanded to know the cheapest thing they had in the store.

The assistant reached under the counter and handed him a small mirror. She said: ‘I believe if you look in there, sir, you’ll see the cheapest thing we have in the shop.’

The Bible says that when Jesus came in the stable at Bethlehem he came as the ‘exact representation of God’s being’ … God’s mirror image, if you like. Our prayer is that you find time this Christmas to find the real Christmas in the middle of all the other great things that go on.

Joy and Gareth Well, we’ve had an amazing year. Not just getting used to being in our new home and Gareth’s new job, but three family weddings to enjoy and another one in the planning!

Siân and Damien married at the end of May (more of that below) but also both of Gareth’s sisters got married – and neither of those were expected when we wrote last year’s letter!

The first was Claire who married in St Ives at the end of March. She and new husband Dave Walter now live in Braunton, Devon. Youngest daughter Sarah is with them while Rachel and Hannah are in St Ives with their father.

Then Betsan married Steve at the start of August. She managed to begin the day as Miss Hill and ended it as Mrs Hill! Steve is a Methodist minister and within very few days Bee, Steve and Chloe had moved to Crosby near Liverpool where Steve is the Superintendent Minister of a Methodist Circuit. Gareth was thrilled to be asked to conduct the service.

The weddings meant that both Gareth’s sisters moved out of Cornwall within a few months of each other – he wondered whether it was something he said! – and contact is now through Facebook, text messages, phone calls and the occasional visits.

But we all work hard at keeping in touch and, during a holiday trip to Merseyside, also saw Gareth’s brother Mike and his family.

Gareth has had some preaching invitations this year including at Llanyrafon Methodist Church, which his parents helped to build, and at Park Road Methodist Church, Hastings, which meant that we could spend the weekend with Joy’s brother Pete and his family. That included the obligatory dip in the hot tub!

For Joy, the highlight of the year was her 50th birthday which featured a 70s disco. It was lovely to see friends from her childhood and from recent years coming together for the evening.

It also brought her back in touch with Lynny (pictured below), her best friend through the 70s, and they’ve been in virtually daily contact since through Facebook, despite Lynny spending many weeks out of the country.

In April we celebrated our Pearl (30th) wedding anniversary and went to London to see Les Miserables – an amazing show.

Next year Gareth has a sabbatical, the gift from the Methodist Church of three months paid leave. He’s aiming to do some more hymn writing and to try to build a book around some of the hymns he’s already written (you can find them on http://www.cybervicar.com). We’re also looking forward to taking our ageing caravan to France for an extended break.

Before that there’s still plenty to do at work. Joy is into her 11th year on the children’s unit at Treliske Hospital, Truro; battling with a new system for serving food.

There’s also more involvement in village life. We’re firmly established in the Clockhouse Players and rehearsing for next year’s panto with Gareth in the title role as The Wizard of Oz. And there’s pub quiz on Sunday nights.

Both of these are a key part of Gareth’s work – doing church for people who don’t do church – and led up to the pub hosting a link-up with the BBC in the South West for a interactive carol service in Christmas week.

We also now have a LIFE group that meets at our house twice a month and are looking at how to develop contemporary worship in the area. A very successful Alpha group has just finished in a pub in St mawes.It’s been a year of major change for our children in all sorts of ways.

Siân and Damien The end of May brought Siân and Damien’s big day.

They were married at Llanyrafon Methodist Church on the most perfect sunny day. Gareth had been asked to write a hymn for the day.

They had already made the decision to move back to Cornwall after their jobs in Wales ended around Christmas last year – but while they were with us for the holiday were both offered their old posts back!

So Damien is now Head Chef at The Pickwick in St Issey, near Padstow and in the final six competitors for the Great British Pub food awards 2010. Siân is working on the reception team at The Metropole in Padstow.

They now live in a mobile home in the grounds of The Pickwick.

Andrew and Rose It’s also been a momentous year, one way or another, for Andrew, Rose and the boys.

This time last year Andrew was effectively the number 2 at a kitchen design and suply company on the edge of Plymouth but it was becoming increasingly clear that there were money problems in the company – particularly when Andrew didn’t get paid!

Eventually, Andrew made the brave decision to go and it proved to be wise. Soon afterwards the company went bust.

After a while looking at what he wanted to do he decided to try his hand at his Dad’s old career and is now a reporter at the Cornish Times in Liskeard. He covers Callington but also writes for the West Country Sunday paper The Sunday Independent, which is published from the same office.

Rose is continuing her degree studies in Child Development and also working part-time for the NHS – we don’t know where she gets the energy!

They have booked their wedding for August next year and we are really excited about that!

Rhys is six next March and has been doing really well at school, regularly bringing home certificates for his spelling and being congratulated for his behaviour.

He is having swimming lessons in the same pool that Tom Daley started in – and is eyeing the diving board rather too keenly!Matthew looks frightenly like Rhys did at the same age and loves calling his Nanny and Papa on the phone; especially leaving messages: “Hello! Hello! Hello! Bye!!”