My time in Wester Hailes has been inspirational to me. I have come to see that often some of the best Kingdom of God work is happening in what we tend to call Priority Area situations in Scotland. From time to time there are gatherings at which ministers and members from these types of parishes meet together for mutual encouragement, and mutual encouragement happens every time these gatherings happen. There is no jealousy or insecurity which one can often experience when minsters gather together but a genuine rejoicing with one another in every encouraging story shared as well as a sharing in some of the pain and challenges and disappointments of ministering in such places. The stories are wonderful and are told warts and all without charismatic or “evangelastic” exaggeration or a liberal peppering of facts with the overuse of the word “Awesome!!” Yet many of the stories truly deserve that word to be attached to them. It is truly inspirational to hear of what extraordinary ordinary people can do for the blessing of others in their community in far from enviable situations when others might just sit back and do nothing.
Well, if Wester Hailes has been inspirational for me, this blogging thing is becoming so. You have amazed me with some of your responses and stories which confirm what I am learning myself that there are truths about God that are best learned in situations which are far from enviable. I find an absence of self pity and a gratefulness toward God that moves me in responses you have sent to me. Some of you have written to me from a background of emotional pain or turmoil, some from a place of physical suffering and disability, some from situations of being more or less housebound. When you do, I feel a bit overawed, and I want you to know that as I read what you share I feel as though I am standing on some of the holiest ground I have ever stood upon in 34 years of ordained ministry.
When I think of my own life of Christian learning, I see it has been constructed a bit like the letters of Paul. He tends to put most of his doctrine into the first half of his letters and then along comes the application in the second half. It makes sense. Well, it is not that doctrines have ceased to matter to me, far from it, nor am I saying I did not live out what I was learning in the earlier decades of my Christian life, but somehow in a place of not being as strong as I would like to be, I have really needed help in applying the old truths to new situations. I think that is why I appreciate the writings of people that I often mention in my blog like Henri Nouwen (by the way his name is pronounced as it is written, he was not French!) and Jean Vanier (whose name is pronounced in French, preferably with a delicious French accent!). Through leaving very successful careers (H.N. as a lecturer of legendary fame and popularity in the finest universities, J.V. as a naval officer from a privileged diplomatic background) to live with people facing immense challenges physically and mentally, they have helped me in discoveries they made to apply familiar truths of Jesus Christ to my current situation. To put it more accurately they have shown me truths I have known but with a depth of compassion and tenderness in their telling and application that I had neither seen nor touched before. In the past I threw their books aside with frustration because they were not heavy or precise enough in doctrine for my liking not zealous enough for the things I was zealous about. They have become invaluable to me now and I actually see that if I had stayed zealous in my former way only, my ministry and life would have been less fruitful.
When I was younger, doctrine and expository preaching was enough to transport me to heaven. I thrived on it. That was the be all and end all of ministry in my thinking. I still love to hear it when someone is gifted in that way. However in my earlier church background I had never really encountered or faced need other than spiritual need. To preach biblical error was a sure sign to me in these days that a person was not even a Christian and should really not be read or listened to; they were false prophets – actually in those days I thought all prophets were false prophets – and false teachers, full-stop, end of story! Now however, I can see where someone may indeed be wrong biblically about some things and though I do feel sorrow and regret about clear errors in doctrine and know such things can be dangerous spiritually, I know that their hearts might well be more for the Lord and for people than is mine. Indeed there is a very good chance that is so. I once was younger, stronger, more able than I am now. Unless you are a Moses or a Smith Wiggelsworth you know the same is true of you: believe it or not there was a weird teaching going around in some circles about ten years ago that as believers we should get younger looking as we get older! It was a teaching espoused by the same people who told us everything would crash in the year 2K and how we had better buy in bulk quantities of rice etc. Incidentally, Y2K was not a disaster and they themselves are looking older apart from the mega-rich who can get regular face lifts and a few other lifts as well, but they have never apologised for getting it wrong! From where I am living now, well it will confirm the suspicions of some about me when I say this: doctrine is not enough for me now. I need the help of God and insightful believers to help me apply the truth as I walk a path I did not need to walk before.
I am learning much and simply want to end with what I am learning or relearning continually in this phase of life more than any other precious truth. Though it might seem an odd collection, expository preachers of various hues, the Toronto blessing, Henri Nouwen and Jean Vanier, as well as you my fellow bloggers are helping me to know this in ever increasing certainty; as a believer, security in the love of God is the only place from which life can be lived well. Ian MacDonald, the wonderful associate pastor at Holy Trinity Wester Hailes said something in the morning service yesterday which I found quite profound, in fact that was a typical Kenny/Scottish use of the word “quite” as by “quite” profound I really mean “very”profound! I put it right up there with lessons learned form H.N and J.V. et al! He said that as believers, as God’s children, we are not always guaranteed safety in life but we are guaranteed security. To continue in a non Scottish way, “Wow” and “Awesome!”
I needed to hear that. None of us really know what lies ahead: even those who are among the most prophetically accurate people I know sometimes don’t see things coming . As a now old fashioned more modern hymn puts it, “I do not know what lies ahead, the way I cannot see,” but “I know who holds the future.” My life is secure in a love from which I can never be separated by anything seen or unseen, past present or to come. Paul was sure of that. He didn’t always have complete clarity even on whether he would live or die, or whether he would or would not be able to reach ministry destinations that he carried in his heart, but he could say, “I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him until that day.” You can check these words out in 2nd. Timothy. I won’t give you chapter and verse; read the whole thing when you get the time; it won’t take you long. In the midst of everything, including chains and suffering mentioned in the opening chapter, in the midst of desertion by erstwhile friends, betrayal and injustice and feeling cold mentioned in the closing chapter, Paul was secure in a grace that had been there since before time itself, which he had discovered in the course of his life here on earth and which would still be there long after the earth has been rolled up like a worn out coat to give way to a new heavens and a new earth where righteousness and peace kiss one another.
So thank you Ian Nouwen MacDonald or Ian Vanier Macdonald – that one comment yesterday puts you right up there in my estimation, though actually you have aways been right up there as far as I am concerned. I have always greatly appreciated your preaching and Ollie’s preaching and others who preach from time to time in Holy Trinity and those who minister in other ways too. I hold you all in tremendously high regard.
For some of us, the idea that we are not guaranteed safety but we are guaranteed security may seem a bit scary. I hope you come to the point of experiencing that the bible is thankfully, realistic: security in the love of God is a greater treasure to discover for living as more than a conqueror in a world such as this world is or may yet become. One day you will be grateful for Ian’s insight as well.