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My dad turned 80 in January and we had a big family party for him. He has 6 children, of whom I am the eldest, plus 19 grandchildren and 2 great grandchildren. It was a big party and a lot of fun 🙂

My mum died 11 years ago so he has been at a bit of a loss for a decade or so without her, but the community of old folks he lives amongst now all support each other wonderfully and he has been reasonably well and happy, until the last couple of weeks. Suddenly his health has broken down and he is presently in hospital, although hopefully he will be discharged this week.

I wrote this for him:

Dad,

My memories are of you in shorts

On Hahei Beach,

With a transistor glued to your ear,

Listening to cricket,

Or teaching me to body surf.

 

Digging in the garden,

Pricking out plants in the nursery,

Loving Mum,

Yelling at us kids,

All of the above.

 

Where have the years gone?

Your skin has lost its dark brown lustre.

Your knees and other joints are knobbly,

Your lush black hair is now grey, white and thinning.

But I remember.

And love you.

Thank you.

 

 

 

Sharing my Faith

A couple of days ago I went on a date to a shopping mall with my youngest son. Jonny has recently graduated from a “fluffy” on these occasions to a full-blown hot chocolate with all the trimmings. It’s fun to watch him enjoy it 🙂

While we were drinking and chatting I was watching the people stream past me, away from the Warehouse, where they had been shopping. Some of the people I knew; most I didn’t. Occasionally people would speak to me.

While I had been on study leave during June, I had been examining the topic of discipleship, and also thinking about a sermon series on evangelism that we are starting in the second half of this month. As I watched these people stream past me last night, I was pondering on how to tell people about God.

You see, the thing I most value in life is my personal relationship with God. That is, I spend part of each day talking to Him in prayer (and listening), I read the Bible because it tells me about Him, and I spend a lot of time in my job telling people about how amazing He is. This relationship with Him is as real as anything in my life; more real in fact because nothing can take it away, short of me turning my back on Him, but even then He would hang around quietly loving me.

The problem with trying to tell people about my relationship with God is that it is so subjective, because He speaks to me in my heart, not with an audible voice. Hearing from God is so open to being misconstrued that I am suspicious myself when other people tell me, “God told me this,” unless I know them, know their character and their heart. Everything that we believe God tells us needs to be run through the grid of what the Bible tells us about God, to make sure we are not being deceived by our own thoughts or dark spiritual forces (which are real whether you believe in them or not.)

This makes it problematic to tell people about God because God does not just suddenly appear on cue, like a scripted movie stand-in. He is His own being. If we seek Him, we will find Him, but it requires some effort on our behalf. It is a journey that has winding paths, dead ends, desert places and wonderful green fields. I have been on this journey for more than 30 years, so how do I connect with someone who has not even taken the first step?? How can I describe how much He means to me? How can I create interest in Someone that many people don’t even believe exists?

I would be interested in your thoughts on this topic,

Blessings, Robyn

Encounter

Grant and I spent some time away in a quiet place last weekend and it was wonderful! This place had a lovely lot of books and I ended up having a bit of an encounter with Thomas Merton. Do you know who he is?

Thomas Merton was a writer and a Trappist monk who lived from 1915 -1968. His parents were artists and he was raised in Europe. There were a few interesting things about him:

  1. His Dad was a New Zealander.
  2. He was a loud & vibrant, talkative person who struggled with authority and yet he felt called to join a silent order monastery which was very strict!
  3. His writings have had a profound effect on so many people. There are SO many authors I have read this year who attribute Merton’s writings as being especially crucial to their personal spiritual growth.

I find some of the things he says helpful, and some not so much. Here is something I liked:

“To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything is itself to succumb to the violence of our times. Frenzy destroys our inner capacity for peace.” from “Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander

Thomas Merton had a lot of different facets to his character, so many that one of his biographers said that at his funeral there was such a wide range of people that some people couldn’t believe that they had known the same person! It is Merton the writer on matters of the heart that I am most interested in, rather than Merton the peace activist or Merton the monk who was interested in linking Eastern & Western spirituality.

When I was young, I quickly judged people as worthy of listening to or not listening to, depending on whether their theology fitted mine. (I think I was afraid of people who were different.)

Now I find that I can read the writings of people who I don’t necessarily agree with, and still find kernels of truth and helpful comments on subjects I am interested in, such as the transformation of the heart. Merton is one such person. I think I will take some time over the next little while to work my way through one of his books. (He was a prolific author!)

What about you? Do you read people you don’t agree with or do you only let people speak to you whose theology completely agrees with yours?

I have been thinking this week of the difference between being 40 and being 50. It doesn’t seem like much of difference yet a lot can happen in ten years.

I turned 40 in 2001, six months before 9/11. We were living in rented accommodation in Hamilton. We had four children aged 4-14 whom we were homeschooling. We did not have a connected TV, although we did have an old one we watched videos on. We had one computer, a Compaq…, which the children were only allowed one hour per day on. The kids spent a lot of time playing outside with the neighbourhood kids. We attended a large Christian homeschooling group every second Wednesday, and each Monday a friend and I shared teaching; I taught the morning and I had the afternoon free. We were attending a small Bible church because we loved the pastor’s expository teaching. We lived in the same city as my parents and younger sister, whom we caught up with regularly.

I turned 50 in 2011. In the interim we had had another child, my mother had died, and I had trained to be a Baptist pastor. On my 50th birthday, we were living in our own house in Lower Hutt (OK, the bank owns half!) We had 5 children aged 8-24, 1 grandchild plus another on the way. The 2 oldest children had grown up & left home and were living with partners of their own – 1 in Australia and 1 in the South Island. We had 2 TV’s plus an extra for gaming. We had 4 computers for 5 people. Our 2 younger boys were at school and the next oldest at university. We attended the local Baptist church where I was the sole pastor. We lived miles away from any of my family although Grant has a brother who lives nearby.

A number of changes in ten years!

What about you? How much of a difference has ten years made in your life?

What are you grateful for in the last ten years?

I am so grateful for God’s care over us and His faithfulness in calling me closer to Him. SDG.

 

Study Leave part 2

What a gift it has been over the past month to have time to read and think and pray and write! But wow the time has gone fast 🙂

As part of my preparation for this time, I talked to a number of people, including other pastors, asking for their thoughts on my topic of discipleship, plus book recommendations etc. Some of the suggested books have proved very useful. Some I have only read a chapter or two then put down.

I have found today’s read fascinating: “Dedication and Leadership” by Douglas Hyde. This book was first written in 1966 and has been reprinted a number of times. The author was a Communist for twenty years, before converting to Catholicism in the 1940s, and leaving the Communist Party.

This book is a series of lectures given as a Leadership Training Seminar to an international group of missional Catholics. The author explains the efficient process of the training of followers of the Communist Party and his surprise at finding that the Church, who has the greatest message of all, is less skilled in the making of disciples than the Communist Party was in the making of their disciples.

He lists several reasons for this, but the one I found most interesting was that they sent recruits out onto the streets very early in the recruitment process, to sell Communist pamphlets and newspapers. This was a fairly scary process for the recruit as Communism was not favoured among the general population, and the recruit couldn’t answer very many of people’s questions. But through this, it was thought that the recruit learned moral courage, learned what it was like to be persecuted for their faith, and developed so many questions about their ideology that they were very keen to learn when they started being tutored in small groups. (Maybe this is why the JW’s & Mormons send their people door to door, for similar reasons?)

It’s an interesting book that shows that passion is catchy, and that certain principles apply, no matter what your ‘-ology.’ I have found it helpful.

What about you? What’s the most interesting book that you have read this week? When is the last time that you read a book written before 1970 (apart from the Bible)? I would be interested to know.

 

Study Leave part 1

I’m on study leave at the moment. The Baptist Union guidelines suggest that pastors take 11 study days per year, to keep up on reading, take courses etc. I have been in my present job for 4 ½ years without taking any time to study, so when a mentor suggested taking a block of time, I jumped at the chance.

It feels like a delicious luxury to have so much paid time to read and pray and reflect! In the morning I take my time with prayer and Bible study, then I read for a couple of hours, maybe write something, then go for a decent walk and think, then repeat the process. Lovely!

The topic I am specifically studying is discipleship: what are the key components of discipleship that lead people to become radical disciples of Jesus Christ? It has been interesting discussing this subject with friends and family; no two replies have been exactly the same. I am also reviewing some books plus doing some reading on other topics that I normally struggle to find time for.

One of the books on leadership that I am reading is “Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership: Seeking God in the Crucible of Ministry” by Ruth Haley Barton. I have borrowed it from the Carey Baptist College library.  Something interesting I read today was: “When we are depleted, we become overly reliant on voices outside of ourselves to tell us what is going on. We react to symptoms rather than seeking to understand & respond to underlying causes. We rely on other people’s ministry models & outside consultants because we are too tired to listen in our setting & craft something that is uniquely suited to meet the needs that are there. When we are rested, however, we bring steady, alert attention that is characterised by true discernment about what is truly needed in our situation, and the energy & creativity to carry it out.”

What a challenge to get plenty of rest so that we are able to discern fresh new ways that God would like to guide us, without being overly dependent on how other people do things.

What about you? Do you find yourself overdependent on outside voices or do you find it easy to find the way ahead through life?

CHANGE

This week I have been part of a pilot scheme, a course for women, looking at change in our lives and learning to take small steps which will eventually lead to a significant change. This has got me thinking about change.

I read on a blog a couple of weeks ago that most of us fall into one of two groups: we are either moderates or abstainers. Abstainers prefer to cut things out completely. Moderates prefer to just cut back.

I think I probably am an abstainer. I have found it easier to cut sugar out completely than to be moderate about it. It is easier for me to make a rule in my mind “none of that” and follow it, than to allow a little, because a little soon becomes a lot.

One of the things that I wrestle with is talking too much. It’s pretty hard to be an abstainer from that unless you go into a monastery (which I do do a couple of times each year 🙂 So how do I moderate that?

Talking is part of my job. I am a public speaker and people come to see me to talk through their problems and issues. I also have long chunks of quiet when I’m writing messages, planning etc. which I love, but I also love people.

One of the most significant struggles I have had in ministry is waking in the night going into panic mode and thinking “I shouldn’t have said that!” I used to do it so often that I lost a serious amount of sleep and was heading for burnout. I am better these days but I have this deep fear of being overheard saying something I shouldn’t. On the other hand, I can’t do my job unless I speak.

Add into this the fact that I am an external processor – sometimes I don’t know what I think about something until I’ve talked it through with someone. That means I need trusted people to process stuff with who are safe and won’t pass on what they hear.

One way I counteract this is by talking things through with God – writing in my prayer journal and writing what I hear as His response down and then pondering it (Luke 2:19). Through doing this, I have come to see that what I fear, God is not necessarily worried about; that my fears come more from a childhood where so often “Shut up, Robyn, you are too loud,” was said to me.

Like everyone, I am a work in progress…

What is something about yourself that you would change if you could? Do you think God, your Father in heaven, thinks the same about that as you do? How about spending some time talking to Him about it today…

Pauses in Life

Some time ago, I went to visit a friend on a Saturday afternoon. (Sometimes Saturday afternoons can be a bit flat for me, as everything in me is starting to tune toward Sunday morning, which is usually the most intense part of my working week.)

We had a lovely visit and as I was leaving, she called me back and said that she was giving away a box of books and I was welcome to take any that I wanted.

I didn’t have to be asked twice! They were my favourite type of books: books on spirituality and our inner life with God. I tried not to be greedy, but did take a few home 🙂

One that I started reading shortly afterward was “The Reflective Life” by Ken Gire. It had some good ideas, but one funny part in the middle of a chapter was an excerpt from one of the author’s other books. It was in tiny print, with no paragraph spaces!! I found it so hard to read!

That, of course, was the point. After the excerpt, the author commented on reflection and how we all need pauses in our lives. He said (p. 102): “The pauses give resonance to the words, giving them a place to live in our heart. That is why it is important to schedule pauses into our day.”

Imagine if pieces of music had no pauses? Imagine if your teacher or uni lecturer taught without taking a breath?

Pauses are important in our lives. We can only take in so much information at once. To really hear God and what He wants to say to us and to our world, we need regular pauses.

Today is the day I take as Sabbath rest. I’m not super religious about it, but it is usually the day I go slow, try not to think about work, rest a lot, try to get out into creation etc. Having a whole day’s pause helps me to get through a busy week.

How about you? Do you schedule regular pauses in your day and your week? What do you do to pause?

 

Running the Race

Yesterday I took a day to hang out with God. We hung out at a café, we hung out at the beach and later in a prayer room at a friend’s house.

God is always with me; it’s just that I don’t stop often enough to listen to Him. I talk too much. I read too much. I think too much. I am too easily distracted. I slow my body and mind to listen to Him, too rarely.

I try to take one day per month to deliberately spend listening. I’m not always successful. But when I do take the time, God always shows up.

He shows up in different ways. Sometimes I hear his voice in my heart saying something in particular. Sometimes I have a picture in my mind that develops into something He wants to say to me. Sometimes nothing happens but a sense of peace that carries over into the coming week. Whatever happens, I’m always richer inside for having taken that day to listen.

Usually on these days I take a book with me to read and reflect on. Yesterday I took Parker Palmer’s “Let Your Life Speak.” A friend lent this to me a couple of months ago. I save it and savour it on these retreat days.

Here’s the quote that stuck with me yesterday: “It took me a long time to understand that although everyone needs to be loved, I cannot be the source of that gift to everyone who asks me for it. There are some relations in which I am capable of love and others in which I am not. To pretend otherwise, to put out promissory notes I am unable to honor, is to damage my own integrity and that of the person in need – all in the name of love.”

Who are you pretending to love this day? Are you honouring this person by pretending? Do you think they can’t see through it?

It is a far more honest thing to admit to God that we can’t love a person and ask for His strength than to go around pretending to love…

I spent the last part of the day talking to someone wise about what I felt God was saying. She asked me a big question: what is love?

What do you think? How would you define love? What does love cause you to do that you wouldn’t otherwise do?

Time Alone

“Let him who cannot be alone beware of community…Let him who is not in community beware of being alone.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer

I grew up the eldest of six children, spaced over 9 ½ years. There was very rarely opportunity to be alone and mostly, that was the way I liked it. Sure, I had quiet times lying on my bed reading but most of the time there was someone else around.

When I was nearly 17, I left home to go and train as a registered nurse. I finally had a room of my own in the nurses’ home, only it felt a bit strange. I often checked under the bed or in the wardrobe, spooked because I was by myself.  I really only used my room to sleep in and could often be found hanging out in the corridor or in one of the other girls’ rooms, wearing out my welcome.

At the end of my first year, my best friend and I went flatting. She had a boyfriend back in our hometown and we both worked shift work, so I was often alone in the house. I didn’t like it. I didn’t know what to do with myself so I often visited some nursing friends next door. There is a proverb in the Bible that says: “Seldom set foot in your neighbour’s house—too much of you, and they will hate you.” Prov. 25: 17 A bit of wisdom there! I sometimes wonder if I got married the first time just so I didn’t have to be alone. Not very kind, but possibly true.

I have really only become happy with my own company in the last few years.

In retrospect, I wonder if I could have been better prepared for adult life if our parents had made sure we each had our own space? This is not a criticism, just an enquiry…

In adulthood, I wonder how much the Christian “deny yourself and take up your cross” contributed to me ignoring my own needs until they were fair screaming at me?

Thoughts? Is this just an introvert, extrovert thing or is there more to it?