#51 – January 2013

Red-rooster_0789

I hear him before I see him. He’s greeting the morning loudly, enthusiastically, defiantly. And why not? He’s won his bid for freedom and set up home for his family in the park at the top of the hill behind my home. I pass by him each morning on my exercise route and, my, he does look pleased with himself. This rooster with his hens has been making his own, independent way in the world for a few months now. I guess they must have escaped from a chook house somewhere nearby but no-one has come to collect them and so they continue to enjoy their liberty. This must come at a price. No-one is supplying their feed anymore; they must forage for their food, hoping for scraps left by picnickers. The hens can’t have an easy time trying to hatch their eggs when there are foxes and other predators about. Their makeshift nests in the dirt, gum leaves and twigs look pretty vulnerable to me. I wonder how this Watership Down-style adventure will end? In the meantime, musing on what might be going on and where it’s headed serves as an analogy for my own responses to matters of constraint, freedom, risk, resourcefulness, pride and responsibility. Does anyone else have thoughts like these? No? So, it’s just me then…

Smh_article

“Spiritual people predisposed to psychological problems.” So reads the headline in today’s Sydney Morning Herald Life & Style section. Link to article A study was conducted by University College in London and published in the British Journal of Psychiatry. People were asked to identify themselves as ‘religious’, ‘spiritual’, or ‘neither religious not spiritual’. Right away I’m thinking there’s some slippery methodology here. The meaning of the words ‘religious’ and ‘spiritual’ is not at all precise, so how accurate can any of the conclusions be? To make it worse, Sarah Berry, who wrote the SMH article, easily labels those who describe themselves as ‘neither religious nor spiritual’ as ‘atheists’. Oh dear. That really doesn’t follow, does it? Is this yet another attempt to drum up some sort of pathetic ‘evidence’ in support of the anti-theists? Perhaps not, as the SMH article does make glancing reference to an academic paper proposing that regular spiritual/religious practices have positive psychological benefits. Once you get past the headline and read the full story, you discover that the research from University College, flawed as it may be, does not actually give the atheists much ammunition. Quoting from the SMH article, “Religious people and atheists were on par in regards to prevalence of mental disorders, but the religious were less likely to have ever used drugs or be a heavy drinker. The spiritual people, on the other hand, were 50 per cent more likely to have an anxiety disorder, 72 per cent more likely to suffer from a phobia and 77 per cent more likely to have a drug dependency.” So what do you make of all that?

Saviour

Flicking through stations on the car radio just before Christmas I briefly caught an announcer saying that he’d asked several church leaders if the world really needed a saviour, as the angel said that Jesus would be. The very question saddened me for two reasons. First, the question hints that many of us have no idea how messed up this world has become and how tragic is the plight of the majority of people around the globe in spite of our own excessive affluence and comfort here in the ‘lucky country’. Second, the question betrays an abject failure of imagination for how wonderful God’s intentions are for his creation; a devastating ignorance of the glorious possibilities there are in the kingdom of God, all of which hinge on the coming of Jesus who is the King. Does the world really need a saviour? Oh yes indeed! We need a saviour and only One will meet that need. He is the Prince of peace and the Lord of justice who will put right the evil still rampant in this world. He is the King of love and the Master of hope who has the power to bring into being the perfect expression of God’s rule in which all of creation and every human being flourishes for the glory of God. Jesus is that Saviour and his first coming assures us that he will return and deliver on the promises made by the angel all those years ago.

Boots

On a personal note:

·       Ryan’s wedding to Miriam on 18 December was fantastic. What a great day in every way. Heather and I are delighted for them both.

·       My preparation and training for walking the Camino de Santiago de Compostela in May/June is on track. The only unexpected thing is that after nearly 1,000kms of training since July, I’ve begun to wear out my (once) new boots!

·       On 5th January Heather and I celebrated 33 years of marriage. Her choice of a perfect way to celebrate? Day 3 of the 3rd Test against Sri Lanka at the SCG. Yes!

·       At the end of January I’m off to Bangkok to take part in the second ISUM Summit. This is the group for which I chaired the inaugural gathering last year. I’m very excited that it has grown and developed to include many more leaders from the majority world.

·       Anamcara, my consultancy business in Australia is still in its fledgling stage. I’d appreciate your prayers that I’ll get enough work to help make ends meet.

·       My work with Together in Mission in the UK moves into another phase on my next trip in February/March. I need to develop a team of trained mentors to take my place at the conclusion of my contract. Again, your prayer support is greatly appreciated.

 

If you’ve read this blog, I’d love to hear from you. Just a short note would be most welcome. I really do want to keep in touch, so post a comment and let’s have a conversation.

 

Grace and peace,

Rick

 

 

#50 – December 2012

Castle Hill Community Church, where I was in ministry for nearly 12 years, has just announced the appointment of Adrian Jackson as their new Senior Pastor. The outcome of that decision has been very much on my mind and in my prayers – you can’t spend that long pouring your heart and soul into a place without being deeply invested in what happens after you’ve gone. I am absolutely delighted they have gone for Adrian. If I had had any influence over this appointment – and I didn’t – this is exactly what I would have advocated. Adrian is a different kind of leader to me – different in precisely the ways that will be important for Castle Hill to move forward. He’ll be able to achieve things that I never could, and I am quietly confident that his leadership will be a crucial factor in that church emerging into a wonderful new era. The picture is of Adrian and me at his graduation earlier this year, fooling around in our ‘Batman capes’. I’m really looking forward to being present at his commissioning on the 3rd of February next year.

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‘Mentoring Matters’ is now an e-book. It’s been available in Kindle edition from Amazon for some time, but now Koorong have it as a download. The book has been selling steadily for the past three years – nothing spectacular, just ticking away. I hope this gives the old girl a new lease of life. A few weeks ago I met some church leaders for the first time in a little coffee shop in Market Harborough in Leicestershire to discuss how I might be able to help them build strength and resilience in their staff team. To my surprise they were well aware of my book and said they had been using it for the last couple of years as their standard text in their leadership development courses because it was the best resource they had found. As you might imagine, I was a little dumbfounded at that. On reflection, I feel humbled and grateful that such a thing could happen.

 

Mm_e-book

 Our eldest son, Ryan, is to be married to Miriam Harwood on the 18th of December. Heather and I are so happy about this. All the wedding plans seem to be in hand. I don’t have any responsibilities beyond paying certain bills – oh, and being appropriately interested when asked to comment on various aspects of the day, especially the attire of the mother of the groom. It takes me back thirty-three years to the time Heather and I were married. So much excitement, anticipation, a few nerves but mostly tremendous confidence that everything was going to turn out brilliantly. And why not be confident? Why not be over the moon with joy? There are those who feel it necessary at times like this to speak a cautionary word about the difficulties and challenges ahead to bring things back into perspective. No doubt that’s all true, but there will be time for that later. Like that occasion at Cana we read about in John’s gospel, this is a wedding at which Christ’s presence and power brings a resounding affirmation of the festivities. Let’s party!

I recently visited Ffald y Brenin, a retreat centre and house of prayer in western Wales that has become known worldwide through Roy Godwin’s book, ‘Grace Outpouring’. Roy and his wife along with several volunteers run this small, beautiful centre following a daily rhythm of prayer and worship built on the foundations of the ancient Celtic saints intertwined with simple songs from more recent times. They don’t do anything special, but God has done some amazing work in people’s lives in terms of healing, revelation, repentance and renewal. I went with an open heart and mind, not knowing what to expect but anticipating that God would meet me there in some fashion. I did not experience anything stunningly miraculous but it was nevertheless a deep and precious experience. Over the years I’ve had several episodes of God showing up in powerful ways. But these days his close presence with me is mediated more through the small, ordinary things of life than in visions, shaking, prophetic words or miraculous answers to prayer. To others, perhaps it seems that I’ve ‘lost my charismatic edge’. But from my perspective, I have never been so settled in God, so sure of his grace, so confident in his care, provision and guidance for me, so aware of the power of the Holy Spirit enabling me to speak and serve others in the normal flow of my ministry. Don’t get me wrong; I’m still up for the fireworks if that’s what God has in mind! But I’m really not hanging out for all that like I used to. Maybe it’s part of getting old that I’m more enamoured of consistency and beauty than excitement and spectacle in spiritual things.

 

 

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Snap Printing at Norwest have produced some new business cards for me as I try to establish my new enterprise brand, ‘Anamcara Consulting’. Honestly, this feels pretty strange promoting myself in this way. I realise it’s what you have to do when you’re going freelance as I am, but after 30 years of being a local church minister and being gloriously insulated from the world of commerce, it’s a bit of a jolt. I bumped into some former ministry colleagues in a coffee shop yesterday. They were having a meeting about a Carols event and asked what I was doing these days. When they learned I was not leading a church the reaction was surprised/disappointed/puzzled/negative. The immediate assumption was that I am ‘no longer in ministry’. It takes a while to explain that I am, indeed, still in ministry, just not the local church leadership kind of ministry. It was an awkward moment, and threw me back on my conviction that I am pursuing God’s call as best as I can, without fully knowing what this is going to look like even a year or two from now.

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 Just finished reading an advance copy of Sheridan Voysey’s forthcoming book, Resurrection Year. Wow, what an amazing book. I am so impressed. He documents the extremely painful journey he and his wife Merryn have been through dealing with infertility. This is personal spiritual memoir mixed with robust pastoral theology. He does not evade the awkward issues for a moment and, while there are no pat answers and no happy ending where everything works out, nevertheless a beautiful hopefulness rises up out of the intense disappointment and pain. Just an excellent read for anyone wrestling with suffering and unanswered prayer of any kind. Can’t recommend it highly enough. Resurrection Year will be released 28 May, 2013.

 

 

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 As Christmas approaches I’m thinking about the astounding vulnerability of the newborn Christ. What a way for the all-powerful God to enter His creation! In the incarnation I am squarely confronted about my tendency to stride into a new context with power, reputation, self-protection, clever plans and back-up resources. Forgive me if I sound like I’m starting to preach – these are simply matters pertinent to my current personal circumstances. I pray the Lord will be near you through Advent and speak to your heart about how and where He is leading you and working within you.

 

Grace and peace,

 

Rick

 

#49 – October 2012

In just over one week I’ll be on a plane headed back to the UK. Heather came with me for part of the last trip but this time it’s five weeks on my own. Even though I expect to be lonely, the time will pass quickly because there’s so much to be done – mentoring appointments, speaking at a conference, seminars to teach, two church consultations to carry forward, meetings to attend and many books to read in preparation for future speaking and writing commitments. And, of course, there are Skype calls to Heather every day to get me through.

 

Ryan moved out of our home last weekend; the first one to leave the nest. This is in preparation for his marriage to Mim coming up on 18 December. He’s now in a very nice little unit in Gladesville and discovering the joys of independent living. He’s only popped in a couple of times during the week but already there’s something different going on. Previously when he was home he would generally be in his room and we wouldn’t get much conversation from him. Now he’s only around for a short time but there’s no room to go to and in any case he’s keen to chat. We’ve been told that an adult child moving out can be a very positive move for all concerned. What I feared might be a loss of connection might turn out to be a maturing and deepening of relationship.

 

When I left Castle Hill Community Church my sense of calling from God was to ‘strengthen leaders translocally’ through mentoring, consulting, training and so on. Launching straight into that full-time would have been too difficult, so I took a part-time faculty role with ACOM, a Churches of Christ Theological College operating throughout Australia. I thought that role would give me plenty of scope to pursue my call while adding value to ACOM’s objectives. But the fit became more and more strained over the past 15 months. So a little over a week ago I finished my work with ACOM, leaving me free to concentrate fully on mentoring and consulting.

 

To facilitate that transition I have registered a business called Anamcara Consulting. ‘Anamcara’ is a Celtic word meaning ‘soul friend’. I hope that’s what I can be to my clients, while at the same time delivering a high quality, professional service. Under the Anamcara banner my main emphases will be mentoring for individuals and consulting for organisations. Alongside this I will also offer:

  • training for mentors
  • leadership and team development
  • conference and workshop facilitation
  • building self-awareness in leadership
  • help to work through conflict and change

If you know anyone who needs assistance with any of these areas, I’d be grateful if you would point them in my direction.

 

Training for the Camino is coming along nicely. I promised back in July to let you know how I went with preparation. I’ve been building up my training route and I’m now walking a little more than 8kms most days. Twice I have done an extended walk of 28kms with a small pack. The first time was painful. I believe the reason for that was not drinking enough water. More recently I walked from Woodford to Glenbrook with a friend and felt great afterwards. The only problem was with chafing which will be easily solved with some bike pants. When I get to the UK next week I’ll have to check up on my friend Martin who is planning to do the Camino with me. He’d better have his training schedule on track. I don’t want to have to carry him!

 

Amazon has become a force to be reckoned with in bookselling. I had a message from them the other day to say that of all the authors they sell, I was ranked at #63,699 in the ‘Religion and Spirituality’ category. Were they trying to encourage me? Depress me? Goad me into marketing by book more effectively? At least they are helping my cause by recently releasing Mentoring Matters in a Kindle edition. I don’t have a Kindle myself, but those of you who do can pick up an electronic copy for US$9.99. Come to think of it, my mum has a Kindle. Christmas present sorted!

 

I’ll conclude with a ‘private’ rave I sent off recently. It was to a friend of mine with a 9-year old boy who has expressed his desire to be baptised. She was delighted about the inclination of his heart, but uncertain about how to respond since he’s so young. In response to her request, I wrote down a few thoughts that I’ll share with you in case you might find them useful. This has already appeared on Facebook, so if you’ve read it there, I apologise for the repetition.

 

I’m getting back to you about your son and his desire to be baptised. It’s wonderful, of course, but I sense you wanting to make sure he doesn’t later regret having taken this profound step when he had only a limited idea of its significance. It would be a shame to pour cold water on such a pure and holy desire on his part, but wouldn’t it also be a shame to allow him to go through with something so meaningful without a deep appreciation of what he’s doing? So you have to balance these things and there’s no standard answer. I do think that the first thing you can do – which you’ve no doubt already done – is to warmly affirm his desire to show his loyalty to Jesus in this way. Then I think it would be responsible of you to slow things down a bit, not to frustrate him, but to help him appreciate what he’s doing at maximum depth. All the way along I think you’re best to take a very positive stance towards his baptism and talk about it as a done deal in principle – all you’re doing is working through the detail.

 

You could say something like, ‘Baptism is such a good thing to want to do, and Dad and I are going to help you do this and do it really well in a way that will honour the Lord. We know that you do love the Lord and that you’re very serious about this. We can see that this is not something you’re going to change your mind about, and we respect the faithfulness that is growing in your life. Now, there will be some preparation required. Are you ready for that? Can you be patient enough to work this through? Baptism is as serious as getting married, maybe even more serious than that, and you know that only people who don’t understand the importance of these things just go into them without proper preparation. When Dad and I got married we had a period of engagement. Do you know what it means for a man and a woman to be engaged? They buy a ring and the woman wears the ring to let everyone know that they have promised to get married and that they are preparing for their wedding. As you are preparing to get baptised, you’re in a period like an engagement. What do you think you would like to do to show everyone that you love Jesus and that you want to follow him for the rest of your life?’ [This could be something like putting some stickers on his books, or wearing a cross – it would have to be your son’s idea and be something he can really relate to.]

 

These are just some starting thoughts. But it doesn’t really answer the question of how long you make the preparation phase. It’s not a matter of him being a particular age; it’s a matter of being ready and having good reason to be confident that he can follow through on the extraordinary promise of loyalty that baptism signifies. You probably need to think about the sort of benchmarks you’d like to see – and that he would like to see – evident in his life prior to his baptism. What those are will be up to you to sort out with your son. But I’d suggest they not be merely intellectual benchmarks, like a list of things he needs to know or verses he needs to have studied and be able to explain. Better benchmarks are evidences of your son surrendering to the work of the Holy Spirit in his heart – ability to love people who are nasty to him, to hand over his worries to the Lord and find peace through prayer, to bear with situations that would have made him impatient or angry in the past, to enjoy being generous and kind towards others without expecting anything in return.

 

 

 

#48.5

Last time I posted here, it seems that most people who signed up for Rick’s Rave ages ago did not get an email alert that there was a new ‘Rave’. I have no idea why that shoud be. Anyhow, let’s see if it’s working. If you get an alert about this post, can you shoot me a quick ‘hi’ to let me know we’re still in touch. Hey, have a great day!

Rick

Rick’s Rave #48 – July 2012

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.

Verlie

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.

Camino

 

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.

 

Discipleship

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.

 

Rick’s Rave #47 – February 2012

So many things happening at the moment! Mostly I feel excited, but there are also elements of fear and sadness. Here’s the lowdown.

Last Sunday we shared a wonderful celebration with our eldest son Ryan and his fiancée Miriam. About 100 people landed at our home for the engagement party. Everything went like clockwork. Amazing teamwork from everyone involved and we were blessed with excellent weather. I had to make a little speech and spoke of the nervousness all parents have when watching our kids choose a life partner. We are deeply invested in a good outcome, but really have no say in the matter. What a joy (and a relief!) that Ryan has chosen such a fantastic girl as Mim. Heather and I couldn’t be happier and will be delighted to welcome her as our new daughter when they marry on 18 December this year.

 

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I only just made it to the party because that morning I was preaching my last sermon for Liberty Church of Christ. I’ve been serving that church as an interim pastor for the past six months. It’s a fascinating church – seven congregations in five locations! Very occasionally all the congregations come together for a combined service. We arranged one of these to coincide with my final day with the church. The Menai congregation hosted us at their local Public School where they hold their weekly café church. People came from the Strathfield, Villawood, Carramar, Greenacre AM, PM and Arabic congregations to make up one big, diverse crowd. Lunch afterwards was a fabulous time of meeting people and enjoying the sensational coffee they do down there at Menai. I will really miss working with the elders and staff team of Liberty Church. They are currently interviewing for a new Senior Pastor. From the little bit I know of the candidates I’d say it’s looking good!

 

Isum_bangkok_feb_2012

Last month I travelled to Thailand for a couple of important meetings. The first was the inaugural meeting of the International Society for Urban Mission. That was an initiative of Ash Barker, founder of UNOH, who lives and works in the Klong Toey slum of Bangkok. He’d called together a bunch of people who are either involved directly in urban ministry to the poor or who have some investment in resourcing those who do this kind of work. I felt so privileged to be among these folks and to strategize ways to promote and strengthen ministry among the poor in majority world slums. We laid some good foundations and those present have now gone off to work on their parts. A journal called ‘New Urban World’ is in the pipeline, a website is being developed and a Summit is being planned for early 2013 in Bangkok.

 

I’ve been loving my part-time role at ACOM. Although it’s just a small portion of my total work life, its one of the most rewarding because I’m part of a great team and we’re preparing the next generation of leaders in ministry and mission. There’s not much more important than that! My boss, Steve Smith, said a while back that he wanted to ‘blood’ me into the world of academia by getting me to represent ACOM on some committees at the Sydney College of Divinity. Well, he has his wish. I’m now part of the Doctor of Ministry Committee and a member of the Subdiscipline Coordination Panel for Christian Spirituality. That’s the ‘esoteric’ side. The ‘grassroots’ side will be interacting with students via Moodle (our online education portal) and mentoring some students, which I’m looking forward to very much.

 

 

Today I need to pack. I’m heading off tomorrow to the UK for 5 weeks. This will be the first of nine trips over the next three years. I have a contract with the mission resourcing agency Together in Mission (TiM) to establish a mentoring service for Christian leaders. In the beginning I will BE the mentoring service, but over time I will train others so that in the end there will be a network of mentors available through TiM. Alongside mentoring I will also have the chance to work with TiM’s training arm, Springdale College in preparing students for ministry and mission. This might turn out to have some good synergies with what I do for ACOM. Also I will be available to do some church consultancy – the first church is already lined up and I have a session with them in Birmingham this Sunday. These trips will be 5-6 weeks in duration, so I will end up spending a third of my time in the UK. So much time away from Heather presents some challenges for us, but we have a great oversight team in Ray and Gwenda Cheal and Barry and Dorothy Rice who will keep an eagle eye on us and make sure we don’t fall apart. I return to Sydney at the end of March.

 

In the periods I’m back here in Australia I’ll be picking up my ACOM responsibilities, doing some freelance mentoring, training and consultancy, and trying to find a bit of time to write. I have an idea for a book that my publisher thinks has promise. All I have to do is write it!

For those of you who have been reading ‘Rick’s Rave’ for a while you’ll notice this one has been a bit different. It’s been all about the facts of what I’m doing rather than reflecting on the significance of those things and their connections with larger issues. I apologise for that. Perhaps it’s an indication that I’m just running from one thing to the next right now. I’m trying hard to resist the tendency to skim across the surface of life. My daily devotional time has been a real anchor for me in recent months. Praying the Lord’s Prayer without fail every day has been a very good formational discipline. I’m still loving reading God’s Word using the One Year Bible – even though I’m in Leviticus at the moment and it’s pretty heavy going! I’ve been experimenting with praying for particular people every day for a month at a time. This has been tremendous for my sense of connection with those folks. Right now it’s my immediate family and the eldership teams at Castle Hill, Liberty Church and the Pavilion Church in the UK (where I used to be pastor many years ago.) These habits of the heart take me deeper than would otherwise be the case with the busy schedule I have at the moment.

 

Hopefully, next time I’ll do a bit more ‘raving’ about what it all means and where God is in the midst of it all. Until then, I pray you may know His presence with you as a daily reality and be filled with hope for what He will do in and through your life.

 

Rick’s Rave #46 – December 2011

What a whirlwind of a year 2011 has been. As the last few days tick away and I look back on all that has happened, I have a very strong sense of being guided, protected and supported by my Father in heaven. This is very humbling because, honestly, I have hardly been the most devoted disciple this year. But, of course, grace doesn’t work like that does it? Like a good father, God doesn’t watch over my life just when I’m particularly well-behaved, devoted or holy. Just as well, really. When I finally recognise his faithfulness (which can take a while sometimes) it stirs up a desire in me to seek his face all the more – not to seek his favour but to respond to it. I’ve developed a good routine now, sitting out on our new deck first thing in the morning with my One-Year Bible, Shane Claiborne’s Common Prayer and my journal. The only downside is that is when I used to exercise. I need to find another time to do that – or get up at 5.00am. Hmm.

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 For those who have not yet caught up on what I’m currently doing the short version is:

·      Interim team leader at Liberty Church of Christ (formerly Greenacre Church of Christ) 3 days per week

·      National faculty with ACOM, overseeing the area of Pastoral Theology, 2 days per week

·      Freelance mentoring, consultancy and training approximately 1 day per week

Up until 12 December one of those freelance consultations was taking a big chunk of time. This was the piece of work I was doing for Stirling Theological College (formerly Churches of Christ Theological College or CCTC) in Melbourne. I had been asked to review the processes by which they ‘form’ students in readiness for ministry and mission. It was a fascinating project. By the time I reported to the College Board on 12 December I had interviewed dozens of people – faculty, students, ministers, Conference partners, and local church leaders – and learned so much along the way. One of the side benefits was getting to know the Principal, Andrew Menzies. He’s an inspiring leader and someone I think will make a major contribution to the church in Australia in the years to come.

On the home front the BIG news is that Ryan is engaged to be married to Miriam Harwood. Ryan proposed on 18 December, the first anniversary of them going out together. He had thought it all through very carefully and apparently it was all very romantic. Miriam is the most delightful young woman and a perfect match for Ryan. Heather and I are so pleased for them both. After Tom was born and we had three young boys people would often say to us, ‘Aren’t you going to try for a girl?’ We were quite happy with three boys, thank you very much. However, the prospect now of having a daughter (albeit a daughter-in-law) is very welcome indeed!

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Reading is back on my agenda and I’ve been getting into a stack of interesting stuff. James McClendon’s 3-volume systematic theology is surprisingly engaging. (No, really, it is! Honest!) A black American, recently deceased, his work brings a fresh approach to theology that resonates with me. He starts with ethics, which is usually where most systematic theologies end up. As a practitioner, I find that a much more satisfying way to go about it. For a bit of light reading there’s Alexander Macall Smith’s The Charming Quirks of Others. He’s always witty and entertaining, even if Isabel Dalhousie’s proclivity for jumping to unwarranted conclusions is a bit irritating. I guess that’s precisely the reaction he’s aiming for. Richard Rohr’s Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life has plenty of worthwhile insights. I’m seeing him quoted all over the place recently; he’s quite the flavour of the moment. I agree he’s got some great ideas, but has anyone noticed he’s not exactly orthodox in his interpretation of scripture? He’s way more out there than, say, Brian McLaren. This isn’t going to stop me reading him or to write him off as a heretic. I just think we need to read fashionable Christian writers with some discernment. Last book I’ll mention here is historian and New Testament scholar Ken Bailey’s Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes. What a great gift this is! Ken lived and taught in the Middle East for 40 years and has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the culture and customs relevant to the interpretation of the Gospels. I’m learning so much from him.

 

 

My work at ACOM has been a grab bag of various bits and pieces. I’ve spent quite a bit of time setting the foundations for courses that will be taught in 2013 and beyond and have to be validated through Sydney College of Divinity by Higher Education (part of the Australian Government Department of Education that administers the Australian Qualifications Framework.) Sounds a bit dusty, but it’s quite absorbing getting down to the detail of planning the architecture of courses that really matter for training people for mission and ministry. I just got news today that I am to be invited on to a committee that oversees the SCD Doctor of Ministry program. Hmm. Committees. I have an aversion to those things. I got off a bunch of them about seven years ago when it dawned on me how stultifying I found sitting around a table discussing and deciding things while other people were actually doing stuff. So I will be treading warily.

Next month I’ll be travelling to Bangkok for a series of meetings connected with UNOH (Urban Neighbours of Hope). The first lot of meetings are on the 12th and 13th, when Ash Barker has asked me to chair the first meeting of the International Society for Urban Mission. Ash has called together this group of theologian/activists working in slums from far and wide to plot and plan how they can raise the profile of Christian mission among the world’s urban poor. Already ideas are forming of a website, an e-journal and various events. The thought is that if we can get the word out then we might open people up to the possibility of hearing God’s call to serve among the poor. Needless to say, I find all of this very challenging personally, and I’m amazed that I should be asked to be involved in this way. Following on from these two days is a two-day meeting of the UNOH Reference Group. These meetings usually take place three times a year in either Melbourne or Sydney. This time we wanted to include those UNOH workers who usually miss out because of the cost of travel. And we felt that we would benefit from actually being with the team-members from Bangkok and Mae Sot in their context as we hear their stories and seek to bring godly counsel. Each of the Reference Group is paying their own way to be there, which sends a message of genuine friendship and support.

Once I return from Thailand I have just over a month to get my UK Ancestry Visa sorted out, ready for working in the UK. The plan is to conclude my interim ministry at Liberty Church of Christ on 19 February, then fly out to the UK on 22 February. I’m there until the end of March, commencing a role with Together in Mission / Springdale College setting up a mentoring service for Christian leaders. That is going to be a BIG adventure. I have only the vaguest idea of how that is going to work. I have a few contacts and a few people lined up to use my services as a professional mentor, but nowhere near enough to make it a viable enterprise financially. The rest will have to come from me drumming up business. Not looking forward to the ‘sales’ aspect of that. However, I do have other strings to my bow. As well as mentoring I will also offer consultancy services (one church has already signed up for that) and I can do training seminars, preaching and teaching (a few places up North have booked me up so far). In spite of the openness of it all, I just believe it’s going to work out somehow. Maybe that’s naïve. I like to think it’s part of trusting in the One who has called me to this.

I wasn’t going to rave on for nearly as long as this, so enough! As I sign off I want to wish all of you reading this a wonder-full Christmas. May the wonder, the mystery, the unutterable grace of God stepping into our world to save us brighten your imagination, fire your passion, and strengthen your efforts for the coming Kingdom of Christ who is the Lord of Christmas.

 

With love,

 

Rick