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Amen

I hate it when my credit card reaches it’s expiry date and I get issued a new one. (First world problem, I know, but stick with me.) I have to update my card information on the online stores I use and if I have a regular charge on my card I have to call the company and give them my new card details. Another thing I hate is answering machines. Beep! and then it’s go-time. Get your message out, but make it snappy! Don’t forget anything or you’ll have to keep calling back and leaving messages like a crazy person! Don’t waffle and take too long or you’ll run out of time and – Beep! The pressure! And all from some little machine!

One time I had to call a company to update my credit card details. I called out of office hours, so I got both of these things at once. I hung up before the answering machine beep, but I wanted to get this taken care of before leaving the flat so I prepared myself to leave a short, concise, clear message describing the situation and asking that they call me back at their convenience so it could be taken care of. I practised what I had to say, making sure I accurately described the situation. Then I called again, waited for the pre-recorded message to finish and for the beep and then I launched into my own pre-prepared message. It went something like this:

“Hi, this is John O’Donnell, I have a standing order with you but my credit card recently expired and I was issued a new one so the details you have won’t work any more. Please call me back as soon as is convenient so I can update my details. My number is 08XXXXXXXX.

Amen.”

I finished the call with a look of frozen horror on my face as I slowly and silently hung up. I said “amen”  at the end of a voicemail like some kind of weirdo! What could I do but hang up? The message was out there now on their machine, I couldn’t take it back.

Why did I say “amen” anyway? This wasn’t a prayer. Only, it almost was… it was very like the way I prayed. Thinking about that voicemail I realised that this was how I treated prayer. Instead of a conversation with my Father, I treated prayer like a message fired off to some distant place with all of the essential information necessary to get the job done so I could get on with my day.

“Dear God,

Thanks for this, this and this. Sorry about that and that. Please bless this and him and her and me.

Okay, thanks, bye.

Amen.”

Job done. On with my day.

Prayer is not voicemail. When I pray I don’t call through to some distant office where they don’t know me or my situation — I speak to my Father who made me and knows me. I’m not leaving a message to be dealt with later — I am speaking live to a God who can speak back. There is no hanging-up with God. Amen does not mean goodbye —  it’s an affirmation that shows that I have meant what I said. My Father is still there, not just on the line but with me throughout the day. God does not go away when I say “amen”.

Thankfully, when the company called me back they were very professional and didn’t mention my “amen”. I am glad though that God did mention it. I’m glad that God loved me enough to show me that this was how I was speaking to Him and call me to stop leaving messages for Someone who is right there with me and closer than I can imagine.

Walking a Book

A Guide to the Sheep's Head Way - Eastern RoutesSarah and I are blessed to be living for the moment in one of the most beautiful parts of Ireland – West Cork. We’re planning to make the most of this and complete St. Finbarr’s Pilgrimage  (a 37km, two-day walk from Drimoleague to Gugane Barra by way of Kealkill) this summer. The Pilgrimage is a combination of five smaller walks contained in the book “A Guide to the Sheep’s Head Way – Eastern Routes” produced in 2009 by David Ross and the Drimolegue Heritage Walkways Committee. We tried out the first one of those walks yesterday – The Drimoleague Heritage Loop a beautiful 3.5km walk around Drimoleague, full of history and the legacy of people who have lived in and loved the area.

The Loop takes you up from the old former railway station in Drimoleague to the Top of The Rock, then takes you along fields and a beautiful riverside walk dotted with signs containing poetry and Scripture and benches commemorating the people who loved this place, then it’s back through farmland and the town of Drimoleague to the place where you started. The book was a wonderful companion to the walk telling us the stories of the land and its people and making the journey rich with life and history, even though Sarah and I were walking alone.

Of course a book like this one cannot be just read. However without this book Sarah and I wouldn’t have even known about the walk, nor would our experience of the walk have been as full of meaning and depth and enjoyment. The two went hand in hand, the book and the walk, one enhancing and interpreting and bringing to life the other. The book was brought to life by walking and the walk was given life as we read.

Walkers on RoadThis is the story of my life following Jesus, a life where I am constantly being drawn to (or drawn back to) the word of God. God’s word will not let me stay with my head in a book, filled with theology (and believe me, I am very tempted to settle for the head-in-the-Book life at times) it pushes me out into the world which was created by God’s words, the story that he has written. God’s Book forces me to walk the pilgrimage it describes, to see for myself how it is true, how I can depend on Him and how beautiful and full of wonder this world is. The Book demands a walk and the walk is guided and brought to life by the Book.

David Ross, a farmer and one of the authors of “A Guide to the Sheep’s Head Way – Eastern Routes” is also the pastor of Bantry Christian Fellowship, a lovely church where I have had the blessing of preaching God’s word. At one stage on our walk Sarah and I discovered that we had missed one thing that we wanted to see – a well, known as “The Christening Well”, we decided to backtrack for a little bit and I said that we should ask David about it some time. A car pulled up.

David RossIt was David.

I find in my life pilgrimage, when I admit that it is God that I need, the Author of the Book shows up.

“Introverts in the Church” by Adam S. McHugh

"Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture" by Adam S. McHughI finished reading Introverts in the Church just after midnight. This will be a short review because I’ve already written about this book as I read it and it has also kicked off a couple of posts on the topic of introversion.

Adam S. McHugh is an ordained Presbyterian minister and a hospice chaplain (he’s also an excellent writer), he blogs at Introverted Church (unfortunately he’s just about to stop posting there to focus on his next book) and he’s also been published by several journals, magazines and newspapers as well as a guest blog on iMonk. Adam’s, first book “Introverts in the Church: Finding Our place in an Extroverted Culture” was published in 2009. He has two more books on the way with “The Listening Life” due to be published by IVP next year.

“Introverts in the Church” is brilliant and I feel very blessed and refreshed after reading it. This is a well put together, well researched and well written book. As an introvert, I felt identified with and defended, but not coddled. McHugh was also very encouraging in practical ways regarding day-to-day spirituality as well as evangelism, an area of dread and even guilt for many introverts.

The book is quite packed, which is understandable – “church” encompasses many topics and areas. I did not, however, find it heavy or hard-going. Some of the chapters could be expanded into whole books, I particularly would like to see more from Adam on the topic of Introverted Spirituality and Introverted Evangelism.

I would recommend this book to every introverted Christian I know, to my extroverted loved ones and especially to everyone working in, or thinking of, ordained ministry.

An Introverted Pastor

This started as a paragraph for my review of Adam S. McHugh’s “Introverts in the Church”, but I’ve taken it out and given it its own post.

As an introvert, a preacher and a candidate for ordained ministry people sometimes bring up my introversion in relation to my ministry. It has always  been brought up as a problem. They wonder how I’ll survive as a pastor when I eventually do have my own church to pastor. During the interviews for the candidacy at Presby HQ in Belfast, I had to defend my introversion. I recently preached as a guest preacher at a church where, while I was introducing myself and sharing some thoughts on the subject of prayer, I mentioned that I was an introvert. After the service I stood at the door (which is a thing that preachers are expected to do) and a nice lady came up to me smiling and telling me that my sermon was very good. What she said was “I’m not so sure you’re an introvert – that was very good!” I’ve even had a dear friend say to me once that they didn’t think that I was actually an introvert because I “really love people”. The assumption is that it is an unfortunate thing to be an introvert, especially in ministry.

I do really love people (I’m a total softy and therefore a terrible book critic) and I am a capable preacher. This is not in spite of my introversion. God has used my introversion and has led me to be more contemplative, which has made me a better preacher and has given me a greater love for my neighbour. I have been blessed to be someone that people come to when they have deep questions and really want someone to listen to them and give them a thoughtful answer one-to-one. In quiet I have prayed with and counselled those who are hurting and confused. God has used my quietness to be a blessing to other people.

On Sundays I stand up and give my carefully prepared sermon, my thoughts on what God is saying and what that means for people today. I write it all out, I wrestle with the text, I pray and I think long and hard over what to say because I handle the word of God. Because I put so much into preparing the words that I will speak I can tell you the approximate speed of my preaching – about 150 words per minute.

My preaching and my pastoring is not hindered by my introversion, it is helped by it. What has hindered me is attitudes to introversion within a church that does not always seem to value listening and stillness as much as it values speaking and busyness. Dear church, please encourage and use your introverts as introverts, not as poor excuses for extroverts.

Narnia

“But length of days with an evil heart is only length of misery and already she begins to know it. All get what they want; they do not always like it.”

– C. S. Lewis, “The Magician’s Nephew”

I’m re-reading a children’s classic. I’ve decided to read through all of The Chronicles of Narnia alongside my regular reading. I love how Lewis communicates values, meaning and profound truth (like the example above) in ways that are not only simple enough for a child to understand, but also a challenge for any honest adult to argue with. In Narnia, Lewis doesn’t just make his arguments – he transports the reader to a world and a story where they see those truths all around them.

Marriage and Settling Down

When Sarah and I announced our engagement a few people were surprised we were getting married while we were still young. In Ireland it seems common to put off marriage until your 30s at least. When I was doing some research to prepare for my speech at our wedding reception every example of a groom’s speech that I saw on an Irish site contained a line like this: “[X] and I have been living together for [Y] years now”, and many had reference to their children being part of the celebration. (I eventually winged that speech. Nailed it too!) People say they’re not yet ready to settle down. That was one of the reservations some friends had regarding marriage – they didn’t want to settle down, they wanted to go have fun first.

What I want to know is, where are they getting this “settle down” stuff from? Why do people equate getting married with the end of fun, with growing old and ending your adventures. Sure, if your adventures consist of sleeping around then I guess a faithful marriage would mean settling down from your sleeping around, but those who are already in a committed monogamous relationship who want to hold off on marriage because they’re not ready to “settle down” – I just don’t get it. I just don’t understand why people associate marriage with the end of their fun times. When I married Sarah I teamed up with my favourite human being to go on an adventure together. I committed to sticking by her, regardless of mood or circumstance, wherever life takes us. I have no intention of settling down and marriage has in fact “shaken up” my life.

Since Sarah and I were married in August we have travelled to Malta, India, Switzerland, France and Sweden, we have also travelled to beautiful places around Ireland and plan to do some more travelling around beautiful West Cork this summer. That’s just the travelling side of things and it’s only an easy illustration of the great difference being married to Sarah has made to my life. As a married man I have been encouraged by my wife to learn to swim, learn to drive, gain a TEFL qualification and am altogether a more active and happier person. Marriage itself is an adventure. I have discovered that I will never stop discovering things to love about Sarah. She encourages me, challenges me and pulls me up on my shitty behaviour and attitudes, which frankly needs doing from time to time.

I’m not saying that these things above cannot be achieved outside of marriage, what I’m saying is that those who have reservations about getting married while in adult committed monogamous relationships are going to have to come up with a better excuse than not wanting to “settle down” yet. Change the script, I’m not buying it.

Sarah and I were kayaking in Cork harbour yesterday, on our adventure enjoying life together. Life is certainly more of an adventure for both of us since we got married.

Kayaking in Cork Harbour

Photo by Kayak Cork Harbour – http://www.kayakcorkharbour.ie

Hope in the Slums

The World Health Organisation offices in New Delhi, India

This is the office of the World Health Organisation on Mahatma Gandhi Road in New Delhi, India. A close look at this picture will show you the security man behind the window gesticulating to my friend, Lydia, who borrowed my camera, that she is not to take photographs.

Behind the WHO office is a foul-smelling, milky white, polluted river. A little further down the road, as you cross this river on the footbridge you enter the Anna Nagar slum. You may see one of the big pigs rooting among the garbage on the banks of the river. You’ll probably also see small children among the garbage and the pigs.

The Asha BuildingGo further into Anna Nagar and you’ll come to the Asha building. Asha is the Hindi word for hope. Asha works to bring hope to the lives of people living in the slums of Delhi. Asha works to empower people, build up community in the slums and helps the community to help itself.

Dr. Kiran Martin, a paediatrician at the time, began the work of Asha fighting against a cholera outbreak in 1989 at a borrowed table in the shade of a tree. Today Asha works in 50 slums in Delhi, helping to bring hope to the lives of over 350,000 people from different backgrounds, castes and religions. Asha seek to live out the Christian values of faith, hope and love, honouring the God-given dignity of every human being.

Sarah and I went to visit Asha in November last year. We were part of a team from Northern Ireland and the Republic led by my friend and pastor Monty and his wife Gwen.

We worked in the Anna Nagar slum. We painted the Asha Centre. We entertained the children’s group and joined in worship with the women’s group. We visited homes and met people that Asha was helping to keep their children healthy, checking them and monitoring for diseases like tuberculosis. We met the students that Asha was helping to go to college. We met vendors that Asha helped to get loans so they can earn a living with their own business. We prayed for those who asked. Before we left we had a party and danced in the Asha centre.

It was an unforgettable experience that I can’t capture in a blog post. My reason for posting here is not to tell you about my adventure in India. I want you to know about the work of Asha – they’re still out there working in the slums, please consider helping them. I wanted to tell you that, in a slum behind the WHO, across a dirty river, hope lives. Jesus lives.