Surprise! Bet you weren’t expecting to hear from me after such a long period of silence. You could be forgiven for thinking I had fallen off the edge of the planet but, no, I’m still here.
I just heard a few hours ago that a beautiful friend of mine, Verlie Ellis, has suffered a serious heart attack and is in Westmead Hospital in the high dependency unit. If you would, please be in prayer for her. When I first came to Sydney back in 1978, Verlie became my ‘Sydney mum’. Her husband was the Principal of the Bible College I had come to Sydney to attend and she took this young 19 year old under her wing. Years later in 1985 I became her pastor at Telopea Church of Christ. For the next 15 years she prayed for me every day. Every. Single. Day. How amazingly faithful is that?! Then, although she was formally released from her covenant to pray for me, she has continued to support me in prayer from time to time ever since. Old habits die hard I guess. Verlie is not a perfect person but, by golly, she comes close in my estimation. She has such grace in dealing with awkward people, such patient perseverance in handling her afflictions, such humility in giving all the credit to her Lord Jesus Christ. Here’s a cheer for Verlie Ellis, faithful servant of the Lord and one of my absolute heroes. They don’t make ‘em like that anymore and we can’t afford to lose her just yet. So pray, friends, pray.
Have you ever been on a pilgrimage? I mean a real one, where you walk for a significant distance for a spiritual purpose. I’ve read about people who have experienced this and been impressed by their stories of deepening connection with God along the way. In July last year my friend Martin Robinson asked if I’d be interested in walking the Camino de Santiago de Compostela with him. My immediate reaction was a strong ‘yes!’ It was so clear that this was exactly what I wanted to do. Later on I realised that God had been drawing me into this adventure for a while. So it’s an 800km walk from the Pyrenees on the French/Spanish border across Northern Spain to Santiago near the Atlantic Ocean, just north of Portugal. Obviously, that’s going to take a while – 30 days or so – and some serious preparation and training is required. They say looking after your feet is the key on this kind of journey. As a start I’ve bought some good quality boots and the ‘proper’ socks. I’m now walking every day, building up slowly so that I can sustain walking 25-30kms day after day with a 20kg pack on my back. I’m finding the sheer physicality of this effort is a great way to connect with God. But it’s early days. I’ll let you know how I go.
Jesus left his followers with a very clear job to do – make disciples. The trouble is, even with all the talk about mission in recent years, I’m not so sure we’re doing very well at this. We tend to veer off into making converts instead of disciples, or worrying about church growth. And when discipleship dumbs down to simply telling people what they have to believe we end up with churches full of people who are well-taught and badly-behaved. I’ve been trying to get some fresh imagination about what goes into making disciples by thinking of it as a culinary exercise. Every recipe has a list of ingredients and a method. Sometimes you get a picture of the finished product. What are the ingredients necessary to make a disciple? What methods need to be employed? What should a disciple of Jesus look like when properly made? I’ve had a lot of fun using this metaphor with groups across the UK and now in Australia. We’ve agreed that God supplies the active ingredients of His Word and His Spirit. The disciple supplies the ingredient of a life; a life comprised of heart, soul, mind and strength, all of which must be formed according to God’s design. The heart is formed in terms of desire; the soul in terms of identity; the mind in terms of thinking; and the strength in terms of obedience. The two aspects that I believe are typically underemphasised are the formation of desire and identity. These are critical because there are other formational forces at large in our culture that are shaping the desires and identities of followers of Jesus in ways that ruin the recipe for mature disciples of Jesus. I may have lost you, but if you’re still with me I’d love to hear how you’d expand further on this metaphor.
I’ve just come back from the UK where I’m working with an organisation called Together in Mission to establish a mentoring service for Christian leaders. It’s all going ahead positively, but there are massive challenges ahead. Meanwhile, back home here in Australia, I’m working part-time with ACOM on some exciting, demanding projects and also carrying on my freelance mentoring, training and consulting. It’s all a bit of a juggle, but it’s working well and is consistent with my call to strengthen Christian leaders trans-locally. I’m feeling both stretched and fulfilled. Many days I have my heart in my mouth wondering how on earth I’m going to be able to meet the challenges in front of me. What I really need is the grace and empowerment of God, and that’s where you might possibly come in. I really do believe that the key to accessing the flow of the power of the Holy Spirit is prayer. That means my personal prayer life to be sure, but it also takes the prayers of others who intercede for me. So here’s the question: Would you consider being a prayer partner with me? It’s okay if you can’t manage it. I understand you can’t do everything. But maybe you would be prepared to get an email from me every now and then when I really need some prayer cover. If you’re up for it, send me a message and I’ll include you on my prayer team.