Identity

For the benefit of those who hadn’t noticed, I have horrendous self-esteem problems.

And it’s taken me this long to work that out.

It’s helped me understand a lot of things. Why I respond the way I do to things, why I feel particularly put down if I feel ignored, and so on. Why I grab onto any increased form of self-esteem and hold on for dear life, and collapse when that crutch is taken out from under me.

The only place I can get proper self-esteem is from God himself, the one who really values us, who loves us and so on. Self-esteem in humility, where we know how much we are wanted, but it’s really about God.

In my last relationship, one of the things I wanted to do was to help improve my then girlfriend’s self-esteem in such a way that if you took me out of the picture, her self-esteem would still hold up. I have learnt that only God can do that properly, much as we can try to prop each other up – because it’s like a stool or a tepee. Two people can still fall over, but add in a third leaning against each other, and the whole
will stay up. Or a cord of three strands.

We live and learn.

Next step: seek my identity in God alone, and make sure it’s who I am, not what I do. Watch this space.

Grace and holiness

I’m more than slightly behind on my Bible readings, and it’s of course one person’s fault: my own.

So I’m reading my notes (Lucas on life every day) for Monday 14 May, which are on Proverbs 6:12-35, and Jeff is talking about grace against holiness.

And I have to think about my own life.

That God loves me, and gives me his grace and mercy is amazing. I’ve messed up badly in assorted ways at assorted times throughout my life, to the point of abusing his grace (sinning, knowing that it is sin, and knowing that God will forgive me anyway, and St Paul has a few things to say about that in Romans 6), yet this God who is holy and calls us to be holy, and indeed can’t abide unholiness, because of Jesus, does accept me.

God is astounding, and it humbles me. Wow.

Gardening

No, I haven’t been out mowing ourgarden. Or my grandma’s, which needs a petrol strimmer since it hasn’t been mown since last year (she’s moving house tomorrow).

Strand Presbyterian Church has been running a short series on Encouragement, and tonight we were looking at 1 Corinthians 3:1-9, which tells them off for saying they follow Paul or Apollos instead of Christ, and compares them to gardeners.

Paul deliberately uses hyperbole, but one thing he speaks of is how he sowed the seed (planted the church), Apollos watered it (maintained the church) and God made it grow (speaks for itself).

In discussion, someone linked it to the Parable of the Sower, and that set me thinking of our friends the street preachers in Cornmarket.

They remind me of men sowing seed so that it falls on the stony ground or among weeds, where it never gets a chance to grow. All the water in the world won’t make it grow.

What really bugs me about street preachers is that they always seem disconnected from their own story, the reality of what God has done for them as individuals. It’s always about what God has done for everyone else, almost as if (and yes, I know this is unintended) he didn’t need to do it for them.

I don’t pretend to be a post-modernist, although when life is bad, I deal best with those who have stories to tell, rather than presenting objective truth, who talk about the
reality of God in their lives. People who show their integrity by what God has done for them, whose every word you know is true, and that they will help you find solid backing for it in God’s word.

Another point David made was that people speaking don’t attract a great audience – even at Speaker’s Corner (yes, I’ve been there – not as a speaker though!), but people doing something – think unicycles, jugglers etc – do. The impact of the visual, and he remarked that Paul had done many things to reach out with the gospel.

Don’t get me wrong, there is no suggestion here that doing is more important than preaching – it is more a reflection that what we do should reflect what we say and vice versa, and the two together will have an impact far greater than words alone.

Especially if you don’t put them off with words first.

Strand Presbyterian Church

Back in April, I saw a ad in Wesley Owen in Belfast looking for a pianist to lead Sunday worship in Strand Presbyterian Church in East Belfast.

I rang the minister, who met me for lunch, and promptly played two services (Palm Sunday and Good Friday evenings) for them.  I came back at the start of May to do two full weeks before the Kirk Session decided if they wanted to keep me on.

So I got a phone call tonight from the minister – and they want to keep me on :)

It’s going to be a real challenge, because the worship group needs some encouragement, I’m looking for a djembe or bongoes player, hoping to find new musicians, to give the existing ones new vision (particularly a couple of guitarists who haven’t been around much!), to teach them new songs over time, to change things bit by bit working with them, bringing them on board, and so on.

It is actually really exciting :)

Spring Harvest 2007

Spring Harvest 2006 was fairly rotten for me, with problems with my team members (don’t ask), and my dreams for my last girlfriend being totally shattered. I therefore approached Spring Harvest 2007 with some trepidation, but being on a new team with different hours and people brought new hope. I was serving alongside my friends from the last four years, which counts for an awful lot as well.

Anyway, being on Night Security (we manned the exhibition area and the Big Top overnight, taking turns to sleep), I found myself able to go to worship every evening, and spend plenty of time with God at night. It was a responsible job for the event, but easy going with great people – and I got time with my friends from the Stewarding team. Quality.

So, each night I got to sit in worship, and also got prayed over several times. Evening worship was on the theme of Peter: breakfast on the beach (John 21), “I want you” (Luke 5), the Transfiguration (Luke 9), the expansion of Christianity beyond Judaism (Acts 10 – the vision of the sheet), real world (Acts 12 – parallels between either end of the chapters), and on the last morning, the theme was “Will you follow me” (John 21 again), referring back to Peter’s walk through the rest of his days, through bad days and good.

Just focussing on what Mark Madavan said that morning… he told the story of a holiday in Cyprus where they had to take a particular road to where they were going, and it suddenly stopped and became a dirt track. They checked and found it was correct – and eventually the tarmac road started again. This happened several times during the journey. Our challenge was to go on beyond the end of tarmac, just as Peter had had to do; to choose between compromise and standing firm, and between excusing one’s own behaviour or turning to God for help.

Jesus prayed that Peter’s faith will not fail, and that when he would turn back, he would strengthen his brothers. God is not results-driven, but restoration-driven (and don’t I know it!).

Mark’s own parallel is that he is going unstoppably blind. He has 6% vision now, but eventually it’ll be total blindness. Everything changed when he and Cathy found out, but also nothing changed. They were both still there, and so was God. Keeping your eyes on God would keep you focussed on the end.

I came back from Spring Harvest refreshed and somewhat decisive, which is good. I resolved to go for the job at Strand, and I also set out (in careful consultation with God) what I believe his call is for me. I can tell you that when I was prayed for, I was told that specific bits of this would happen eventually (everything in the right order!)

These are some thoughts on my calling I scrawled down late one night:

“My calling is fundamentally to live out God’s love. To see ways. To make them happen. To speak for God’s love and justice.

“And to love my wife with God’s love, as he has called me to.

“To show people where to find refuge in God, under the shadow of his wings.

“To speak God’s love, to sing and play God’s love, to write God’s love.

“Taking the pain I’ve known, my shattered life, my utter brokenness for God’s amazing glory, all the rejection I’ve ever been through, all my frustrations.

“Taking my past, spreading the story.

“So… where shall i start? Where’s the cliff I need to jump off?

“Where do I start spreading God’s love and justice?”

Two months on, I think I know some of the answers. Strand is part of the cliff, so is moving to Belfast. I think!

Time alone will tell.

Where I’ve been…

It’s been an interesting three months.

First of all, I’ve quit as an Ignite moderator, and I’m going to remind rm that I also quit as a Summer Madness moderator. It had long ceased to be enjoyable, and I think I’ll get a lot more out of working on the main Ignite site and on the Summer Madness website – as well as being able to put a lot more in. My blood pressure went up too much in 2005 for it to be worth the hassle, and I simply won’t have the time any more.

Out in real life, things could be getting interesting. I’ve taken a job playing piano at Strand Presbyterian in East Belfast (to be formally decided by the Kirk Session on the 14th, so I mightn’t actually get the job!), which I started today. I played on Palm Sunday evening and Good Friday evening as well, and so far they seem to like me.

The big things for me are that having prayed about it and become decisive (whatever next?), I’m (a) getting to lead worship every week and (b) getting paid for it. Over time, I’m going to build up the worship group if I can, and build their repertoire. For now, though, it seems to be a case of building up my own repertoire…!

Truthfully, it’s fantastic to be doing it, and not relegated to playing bass all but one service a month. I love playing bass, but I was really short on opportunities. In saying all that, though, I can’t say enough good things about the Church of the Resurrection. It nurtured me well through some very dark times, and I still have plenty of very good friends there. If I get the job permanently at Strand, I’ll go back to the Res and say goodbye on the 3rd of June.

I also met my housemates from August at the Res, or specifically because they were students living in the Church of ireland Centre (one still does live there). I’m moving into Donnybrook Street, which is rather cool – and the first time I’ve lived away from home for some years. It’ll be interesting, and I’m sure I’ll talk about it further on this blog.

I’ve other things to talk about here, but manana. Posts of mine on the aforesaid forums that I want to talk about in greater detail – but not tonight.