By now you will most likely have heard that I will be concluding my ministry at Castle Hill Community Church later this year. I’ve taken a long time over this decision, holding it before God in prayer and seeking godly counsel. As a result, I am very settled that this is the right decision both for me and for the church, but I’m keenly aware that the consequences are unsettling. I don’t have any other ministry option lined up, so I’m flexible about exactly when I conclude. I’ve left that matter in the hands of the elders and will trust their perspective on the wisest timing. Last time I sent you a Rick’s Rave I wrote, “God is teaching me about the grief of letting go familiarity and the joy of embracing uncertainty in a journey of faith.” I meant that.
Our church is going through a period of major change. It’s been stirring for about a year now and I see my leaving as just one part of what God is doing in the midst of this ‘shaking’. I think it’s vitally important that we understand this shaking is not a sign of God’s frustration or his discipline. In fact, it’s not a negative thing at all – it’s a hugely positive thing. The analogy of ‘shaking’ arises from a prophetic word we received in church about a year ago, and connects with the message of Hebrews 12:26-28. In the light of what we’ve heard has happened in the Christchurch earthquake, this analogy could conjure up all sorts of wrong impressions for us right now. Perhaps another Biblical image that may be helpful is that of the vine and the gardener in John 15. Jesus says that even productive branches need pruning from time to time to encourage even greater fruitfulness. That’s how I read what’s going on.
What I will be doing in the next season of my life is not entirely clear. However, at this stage I see myself launching into wider kingdom ministry, moving between churches and Christian leaders in many places rather than in a pastoral role in one location. I am passionate about mentoring leaders, speaking, teaching and consulting with churches and Christian organisations. I also feel constrained to write again, although I admit to having some deep self-doubts about whether I could pull off writing another book. Mentoring Matters has done quite well, but I do wonder if that was a one off that I can’t repeat. I’m not going to die wondering. I’m going to give it a shot. After all, you’ve got to go after your dreams don’t you? But for now, I’m leaving all that thinking about the future on hold because I want to give 100% to Castle Hill.
During January I had some holidays and got down into my shed to do some woodturning. I learned some things about shaping wood that seem relevant to shaping lives. The big factor with this hobby is patience. You just can’t rush a good job. If you try to go faster by digging the chisel in harder it just damages the wood. Taking the surface down below the level of damage takes ages and can cause you to rethink the whole design. Also, differently shaped chisels are required for different stages of the job. There are no hard and fast rules for choosing which chisel to use. The right chisel is the one that works for you to achieve your intent. If the initial shaping is gradual, the finishing stage is slower still. Sanding is 80% of the job. If you don’t finish a piece thoroughly the result is always disappointing. As I reflect on this I am reminded that God isn’t finished with me yet. Abrasive things in life have their purpose – to bring me to the finished article that my heavenly Father can be proud of.
Also during my time off Heather’s dad passed away. It was the 5th of January, our 31st wedding anniversary. Over the past few months several of my friends have had parents pass away. The most recent was Adrian Jackson who lost his Dad on the 9th of February. Carrie Sparey went to New Zealand today to see her Mum and Dad. Her Dad is very close to death and her Mum just had a worrying report from the doctor about her risk of having a stroke. We all know this is coming but, my goodness, when it hits, it’s just overwhelming. Maybe we should be better prepared (should we?) but I don’t know many people who get that one down pat. I am so, so grateful that Heather’s Dad had a strong faith in Jesus. If fills me with hope when I remember what he said about looking forward to seeing the Lord face to face. Adrian didn’t have that blessing; neither does Carrie. If your parents are in fine fettle physically, but don’t know the Lord, can I just urge you to not let this drift along? I don’t have any sure-fire evangelistic methods to give you. The very thought of inflicting such a thing on one’s parents is disgusting anyway. But it’s surely a matter for earnest prayer and, where you get a chance, the subject of a genuine, heart to heart conversation. Oh Father, I pray for all those reading this whose parents are far from you. Please fill them with loving wisdom for their parents, the opportunity to express it, and the courage to do so.
I’ve been wondering whether or not to share one of my concerns with you and, if so, how much to share. The issue is problem gambling – poker machines in particular – and proposed poker machine reform legislation that will be dealt with over the next few months in both State and Federal spheres. Some people might think this is a bit political, but it’s not for me. It’s a matter of advocating for social policy that reflects the kingdom values of justice, compassion and restraint for the sake of others’ welfare. In any case, at the State level in NSW where the election is almost upon us, there is little difference between the positions of the major parties on this issue; both are extremely disappointing in my view. Anyhow, I’ve decided simply to provide you with a link to Canon Sandy Grant’s website (he’s from the Anglican Cathedral in Wollongong) where you will find accurate information, much of which the pubs and clubs don’t want you to know. If you want to follow it up, here’s the link http://www.wollongong.anglican.asn.au/2011/02/22/fact-sheet-regarding-problem-gambling-and-poker-machine-reform/
You might find this difficult to get your head around, but since communicating that I won’t be seeking a further term of ministry at Castle Hill, I have been more energised than ever about the ministry here. Truly! There’s mentor training coming up next Monday night in the Education Centre, open prayer night the Monday after that; all stuff I love. AND! This new series starting 6 March leading up to Easter – I’m very pumped about that. I love how at the elders’ retreat last year there was such a strong conviction about setting ‘making disciples’ as the central priority in 2011. I was playing around with other ideas for this first term series, but once we’d had that experience of a collective YES! at the retreat, there was no doubt about this topic we’re covering. ‘The Road’ looks at the subject of making disciples and becoming a better one. I love it that this is a team effort, with sermons, studies and daily devotionals written by all four of our pastors. That hasn’t happened in previous series and I see it as a sign of the tremendous depth of spirituality and ability of the pastoral team.
The other thing I’m really looking forward to now is Table. Quite appropriately, I will have just a small part of that night in which we look ahead at the future together. Somewhere in the not-too-distant future I will not be part of the scene here at CHCC. But in this last phase I believe the Lord has given me a clarity of understanding about the issues facing the church, and a message of hope that I’m very keen to share. Table is on Saturday the 12th of March, starting at 5.00pm with an early dinner and concluding at 8.30pm. The arrangements for the night are very simple. There’s no cost, no sign-up or anything like that. You just turn up, bringing with you something to contribute to the main course (low-key dessert options will be provided). If you know what you’d like to bring, please let Gayle know at the church office; if you’d like a bit of guidance about what would be appropriate, same thing. Gayle will help sort out any questions you might have. After the meal the children will be looked after up in the Education Centre by people who will have massive stars in their crowns in heaven. Meanwhile, we will be updated about plans for the future and celebrate so many good things about this church we’re a part of.
Enough for now. It’s time for me to cook up dinner for Heather and me. The boys have all flown out the door leaving us to a very welcome evening home together. Mmmm; nice.