Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Prayer Works, Keep Praying!


This is a very different post to the one I've been dreading writing for the last few days. 

Many of you will have heard over the weekend, the devastating news that we expected our eldest son, Timothy, to be diagnosed today with leukaemia - it was just a question of which type. Since Saturday he had been given fluids, antibiotics and a unit of blood to prepare him for chemotherapy this evening. Those who had heard, assured us of their prayers, even members of staff who quietly noticed him as he quickly became a loved part of the children's haematology oncology unit at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children. 

But we're about to bring him home! 

Test results show that either he's in the process of shaking off some post-viral something, or he's in the very early stages of leukaemia. He'll be kept at home for this week, and receive further tests in coming weeks, to see which it is. 

If this is all news to you, please pray protection over his life. If this is good news to you, praise God and keep praying for complete healing. Please pray for Timothy's blood and bone marrow to return to normal in coming days. 

Timothy is not out of the woods yet. But tonight, our family of six gets to sleep under the one roof for the first time ever (what a great first weekiversary present for Ethan and us all!) and we will have at least the next two weeks to enjoy being all together. Please pray that it's much, much longer than that. 

If you would like to stay in the loop about Timothy and our family for prayer purposes, we've set up a wee e-mailing list - it was becoming difficult to stay in touch with everyone who was asking about him, so we'll send notes to this list to keep you informed: http://bit.ly/2gc5LL9

PS Thank you to all of you who already were bringing us food, offering support of different sorts, we appreciate it so much! For now we'll go back to the normal life of caring for a newborn and three boys :) 

Friday, 24 June 2016

Brexit

So we're leaving the EU. I'm not impressed by that decision, but we live in a democracy, and I've been disappointed by pretty much every election I've participated in since I turned 18. Some initial thoughts: pants. flip. a holiday abroad next year is going to be more expensive. bye bye peace money. are we really a nation of racists? something tells me the NHS isn't going to get significantly more funding any time soon. we'll never score in eurovision again.

Now, some more reasoned thoughts: God is still on the throne. He's a good father, and we are still loved by him. There is still Hope. Europeans are still our friends. I am still Northern Irish. And as far as it is possible for us, we must live at peace with one another.

Living at peace with one another, is the original principle for the EU to exist. It's our core challenge - to recognise every human being as precious and loved by God, worthy of his and our attention. If this vote makes us more insular and selfish than we already are, then literally, "God help us". But what if we go into this new era with the attitude of "How can we bless the world?" Ok UK, now it's time to show what we can contribute.

Monday, 14 March 2016

Soul Mates Weekend 2016

Last Friday night, as I lay down in a sleeping bag and on an airbed in a church hall, knowing I'd have to get up several times to quieten the boys in the next room, I found my heart and head simply filled with praise to God for the privilege of being there.

['There' was the annual Irish Methodist weekend for kids aged 9-13 called Soul Mates, and we brought a group from Ballynahinch and Newcastle plus some friends]

I was so thankful that my son and his friends were on the weekend, thankful for the energy of young people, and the creativity of the young adults running the event.

I was so proud of our group, for their behaviour and openness. They won a quiz and stood on the platform in front of a few hundred other kids and leaders, laying hands on the speaker and praying for him. They are willing to explore faith in Jesus through participation, asking questions, and forming new friendships.

Kathryn and I have been involved in these national youth and children’s gatherings for over twenty years. Methodist young people and their friends are seeking God earnestly, they want to meet with God in a real and honest way. At Soul Mates so many kids wanted to be prayed with after one session that extra people had to be called in to help.

There is a vulnerability, passion and joy that we encourage in youth and children's ministry, but which seems to be actively discouraged once they 'graduate' to grown-up church worship. By the time they're 25, all that passion seems to have been quietly discarded. Those who refuse to give up on David's quest ('O God, you are my God; I earnestly search for you. My soul thirsts for you; my whole body longs for you...') tend to drift to other churches - or nowhere, because they miss the intergenerational family they grew up with.

My nine-year-old is already asking why we _have_ to go to church on a Sunday morning. Because while we say we're a family, we don't act like it. We don't quickly forgive one another when we're offended. We don't eat together. We rarely pray together in a mix of generations. We aren't willing to be inconvenienced by one another's questions or tastes. We welcome new folks to our meetings but not our kitchen table. Church seems designed to squish life rather than nurture it.

Can we be an extended family on mission, sharing life together, for God's glory?

I know I'm the minister. I have the responsibility and final authority to make changes. Most of the things I've identified in this post are things I have influence over. I don't intend to offend anyone. Can we just agree that knowing Jesus, and making him known, to every generation and people, is the main thing? Something that's worth making some sacrifices over?

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Refugees

I just signed a few petitions and sent a letter to our MP regarding the mounting crisis facing people attempting to escape war, persecution and poverty in their own countries, by travelling to Europe. What if every church in the UK and Ireland took in just one family?

Here's the letter:
---------------------------------------

Dear Mr Shannon,

My name is Ross Harte, I'm the minister of Ballynahinch Methodist Church. I've just signed a petition on the Parliament website urging the government to allow more asylum seekers into the UK, and to better provide for the refugees fleeing war in the Middle East and Africa.

When I was on holiday with my family this Summer we travelled twice through Calais. At the time, I was grateful for the fences separating our car and caravan from desperate people camped in the vicinity of the port - I didn't want my children to be scared or my property damaged. I can understand why many people fear an influx of strangers into the UK.

However, this fear of the unknown cannot allow us as a nation to shut down our compassion,  stirred all too briefly by the sort of images currently circulating the Internet, of drowned children and hopeless parents.

Of course, there are root causes to this current predicament, and our country while wielding well-trained, effective armed forces cannot force a change of heart in those determined to follow the cause of IS or despots or insurgents. But a transfer of funding within the UK government, for instance from nuclear weaponry to further intelligent compassionate foreign aid, might help.

At a local level, as people who follow Jesus Christ, whose family were also refugees during his early years, we hear the affirmation that, 'God is love' and 'perfect love casts out fear'. I will do my best to encourage the Methodist people in Ballynahinch to embrace the strangers amongst us; we will be ready to welcome and accept any people fleeing from war, persecution and poverty, to our small town.

Please do all you can to ensure the government hears the voice of ordinary people in this constituency, who are horrified at what is happening at Calais, in the Mediterranean Sea, and on the ground in Syria and many other countries. We are ready to play our part in sharing the burden of this human tragedy.


Yours sincerely,


Rev. Ross Harte

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

A Discipline Disaster


I had a birthday recently - not a particularly significant one but it's been well celebrated and I've appreciated the warm wishes coming from friends and family that we've connected with over the years. I have a facebook policy where I don't tend to post birthday greetings on other folks' walls because I'd only miss people out and don't want to appear unthoughtful. But that makes it all the nicer (my P7 teacher would shudder at the use of that word) that people have taken the time to write on my wall, knowing it won't be reciprocated!

It takes a certain discipline to look every day at your facebook birthdays page and then to greet the birthday boys and girls in your circle of influence. It's a discipline I don't have - I have enough difficulty remembering to buy a Valentine's card for the lovely Kathryn! - but this birthday has prompted me to think about the disciplines I do practice or would like to, perhaps even for the rest of my life.

Twenty years ago I was a member of the Methodist Team On Mission for what was perhaps the most formative year of my life - maybe it's because the balance between worship, witness and wholeness was better than at any other point, or maybe because I was part of a close-knit group of four people on mission together, or perhaps even because people around the island were praying for us. But that year was one where prayer was particularly vital, grace was evident in difficult relationships, and joy overflowed.

Ten years ago I was preparing to go to Edgehill College to train as a minister. The disciplines of study and prayer, eating together as a community, and taking breaks to play table tennis meant my body, mind and soul were being renewed and enlivened. I was filled with hope for the church to whom Kathryn and I have been called, and delighted in our son who was born during that time.

And now another ten years have passed, a birthday with a zero approaches: we're living in our second circuit appointment, we have three kids full of energy, and I find some of my former disciplines have slipped. I look at some retired colleagues and friends and hope that when I'm at their stage I'll have the same love for people, passion for Jesus and delight in their grandchildren as they do now. But equally I see people who have been worn down by life, their hope has waned and perhaps even their faith has grown cold. That could happen to me. Maybe it already has.

So during Lent, that season of self-denial and soul-preparation for the events of Holy Week, Good Friday and Easter Sunday, I started to compile a list of habits and practices that I think might help me to be/become the person in Christ that I want to be. I'm putting the list here on my blog so you can keep me accountable - if you've taken the trouble to read this, either on facebook or the blog website, you have my permission to ask me about these things. At appropriate times of course - not during a sermon, for instance (as one son in particular tends to do!)...

  1. Devotion - because a closer walk with God empowers any other activity and gives God his place:
    • one trap for a preacher is to read the Bible only in preparation for the next study or sermon. To help me continue reading it daily for my own edification and guidance, I'll tweet a verse every day as an image using the YouVersion Bible App and the hashtag #toknowthislove (that comes from Ephesians 3:14-21). And I'll attempt to use a journal morning and evening to follow a pattern of bible reading and note significant insights.
    • I intend to follow the Wesleyan Pattern for Prayer and Fasting (more about that here).
    • plan a day every seven weeks for prayer and reflection
  2. Worship - Kathryn and I love to sing in worship, but it can be a bit weird when we do that on our own at home. So we're going to open our house to anyone who'd like to join in, usually on the last Sunday evening of the month (check first in case you hit a holiday!).
  3. Justice - I won't ignore e-mails and mailings from agencies calling for action to help them in their advocacy for the poor, the oppressed, those in slavery or tragedy. I'll sign the petition, post the card, e-mail my political representatives. In particular, I'll support JMA's Children in Cambodia project for 2015.
  4. Compassion - I'm going to downgrade for mosquito nets. Instead of getting a large latte, a normal-sized filter coffee will do. When it comes to 'upgrading' my phone - I won't if the current one still works. And I'll take any other opportunity to stamp on the lure of 'more' and 'better'. Any money I save will go to buy mosquito nets for people whose lives can be ruined by one little bite. Read more and donate if you like, at www.bit.ly/40nets.
  5. Family - I'm going to pray with Kathryn more, and give her a 20-second hug every day. And I'm going to stop yelling at my children. Those of you with perfect family lives may find it hard to believe, but we find raising kids is tough work. They can wind us up something shocking, and do things that could hurt or annoy themselves and others, but we love them with an undying, unquenchable love. So I'm going to pray for patience and grace, and stop yelling. I'm inspired by The Orange Rhino (look it up!).
  6. Health - my job involves a lot of sitting: sitting on people's sofas, sitting in committees, sitting in the car, sitting in the study. So I need to exercise more and lose a little bit of weight. I'll walk where possible to meetings, and exercise in some way every day - I'd like to get to the middle of my normal BMI by next year. I'll turn off screens by eleven every night to ensure good sleep. I'll read a book every month.

The title of this post is 'A Discipline Disaster' - and for good reason. There's no way I'm going to manage all of these things! I accept failure now. And I won't feel guilty about that. But I want to try. Success won't be a chart full of ticks for tasks completed, but a warmer relationship with Jesus, a calmer response to children being children, some kids in Africa saved from malaria, and a life lived with more purpose, hope and health - a blessing to others and bringing glory to God.

[If you've read this on facebook, you won't see the links to different resources on this post - just click through to the blog to get them if you're interested]

Monday, 2 March 2015

Every Little Thing's Gonna Be Alright

Allow me to let you into a secret - I'm shy. I know in the past I've found an outlet for humour, creativity and energy through drama and kids' action songs on a conference stage, but those days are a fair bit into the past now. I enjoy preaching and leading worship and pastoral calls, but those activities seen by many as the main 'work' of a minister drain me and I need space afterwards to be renewed. It takes me a while to make friends, and to be honest I tend to be overawed by any 'famous' people who happen to be in the same room as me. Getting an autograph (or these days, a selfie) isn't particularly on my agenda at festivals, concerts or cafes when I'm in their presence.

Which is why you're getting this picture instead of one with Martin Smith and me looking like bosom buddies:
He was playing in Belfast at the weekend, singing solo with a great team of musicians who aren't Delirious?. The venue was intimate, not at all like the large-scale performances of the past at the King's Hall or Belfast Waterfront Hall. The musicianship was fantastic. And as the night continued I enjoyed listening to Smith's new material as well as singing along with old favourites. At the end of the evening he hopped down off the stage and chatted with folks who had gathered to greet him. Not including me of course - I'm shy!

But I also tend to linger at the end of things, whether church services, movies or in this case, concerts. And as I chatted with friends, some of whom I hadn't seen in a long time, I became more aware that it might be possible to also have a quick word with Mr. Smith. It struck me that the Cutting Edge, Delirious?, CompassionArt and now Smith's solo works had all affected me positively for a long time.

For instance, rewind a good few years to a summer day in Belfast, Kathryn and I are in town doing some shopping only to return to our car to find a window smashed in and our digital camera (which in the early noughties were fairly expensive items) stolen out of the glove box. The sense of loss and violation, combined with the hassle of contacting police and driving home with a bin bag taped over the glass (not a pleasant experience in the rain!) would have justified a nice quiet night at home. But we had tickets to see Delirious? at the Summer Madness festival so we halfheartedly headed back to the city. My wife was understandably upset but gently encouraged as the band started singing, 'Every little thing's gonna be alright... There is someone who can carry you'. It was like a shot in the arm, though, when in a repeat chorus, Martin Smith sang, "Every little thing's gonna be alright, KATHRYN..." What a wonderful combination of circumstance and listening to the Spirit, for a simple song to communicate God's loving presence with his children. Yes, we had lost some photos and it was awkward dealing with insurance to restore the car and the camera. But we left that place knowing God cared for us and was with us in the little things.

So last Saturday night I pushed back on my introversion and shook hands with Mr. Smith, and told him how I felt (other introverts will recognise that I had spent a few minutes rehearsing in my head the exact words I would say!) - "I just wanted to say Thank You. Your songs have nourished my soul for twenty years."

And that's all I've got to say about that.

Here's a version of that song (not from Belfast!), and you can find the lyrics here:


Friday, 21 November 2014

The Story of My Life through The Best Songs Ever

An OHP - found on http://www.bentleyav.com/

Well, there's a title to get the twitter bots to follow me!

As anyone who has ever played or sung with me in a band will tell you, I can't remember lyrics. I wouldn't stand a chance on the X-Factor/American Idol/The Voice. It doesn't matter whether it's the fifth or the five hundredth time, or how passionately I sing, I still don't get the words to 'You're the Lion of Judah' right (I can just about manage 'Be still and know that I am God' - at least the first verse anyway)...

But that doesn't mean the words aren't important. In fact, one of the most helpful things I ever had to do was back in the late nineties, when I was responsible for leading worship at the Queen's University Belfast Christian Union. Thursday afternoons were spent in the Elmwood Building, pre-Google, copying song words from Songs of Fellowship 2 or Spring Harvest '98 into a word processor, resizing to at least 24pt, printing onto paper, then rushing to the basement of the Administration building (because I'm a last-minute kinda guy) to get the pages copied onto acetates for use on an overhead projector.

That practice cost me sweat and tears: sweat because it tended to be a Thursday afternoon when the fans in the computer lab would stop, the network would go down, the printer would seize up, or the nice people at reprographics would have a ten million page copy job under way and were about to go home for the day. The tears, however, were for a different reason. As I typed out 'And can it be' word for word, I engaged with that hymn in a way I never had when singing it. Simpler 'spiritual songs' resonated with me as my heart cried out, "Yes, Lord!"

As I look back over time, whole songs or simply phrases here and there from specifically Christian sources as well as the pop charts and random radio-listening have struck me powerfully. I've created a playlist of those tunes, the 'Soundtrack to My Life', and every now and again I remind myself of the selection. In the coming months (and let's face it, with my blogging track record, years) I hope to share some of those lyrics and the meaning they hold for me. I'll try to find a video on youtube so you can experience the songs too.

Meanwhile, are there any songs or portions thereof that are impacting your soul at the moment?


(PS - if you're ever responsible for operating words on a screen during sung worship, I found this article helpful over 15 years ago - it still works! - http://www.worship.co.za/pages/w98dme.asp)