Diary of an urban parson

In which one such pilgrim records a month’s worth of the blessings and travails of daily Christian service, and in which he demonstrates for us his theology in action.

Thursday 1

Thursday is my day off, and I love it. Sometimes I crawl towards it like those men in the desert.

Today is slow. Is it wrong to read the paper before my Bible? Is it wrong to have a day with less zeal and prayer?

It seems to me that the day off is a gift to enjoy with no obligations except godliness—and availability.

Lunch with Kathy and then home for a sleep.

Somewhere in there, I read my “one year Bible”. But I’m a free man.

Friday 2

This morning, I did more work on Zacchaeus for a guest Sunday.

Even with a line through the morning for ‘preparation’, three people turned up separately to see me. Having prayed for help with the passage, it’s amazing how these interruptions contribute to the preparation by forcing some application.

Lunch with a ‘new father’. He looks about seven sleeps short of full strength. My new resolve to talk straight to men about their commitment flies out the window as I realize this guy is hardly coping with life.

Or is commitment the way to see problems more clearly? Still, Jesus took people as individuals.

Much convicted by a tape on Acts 6:4: must give myself to the ministry of prayer and the word of God.

Saturday 3

Met for breakfast with 10 other ministers, talking about this year and last year. Some are bearing scars. Others are already aware of spiritual opposition, but full of enthusiasm for the work.

Working bee, then sermon work.

I keep Saturday afternoon free to hang around the home with my teenagers. Asked my son if he wanted a treat, and he chose “Crouching tiger, hidden possum” (or something like that). Slow movie! But he loves the ‘time’, which is nice.

Spent the evening putting notes together for the morning. Three surprises from Zacchaeus in Luke 19:

  1. He seeks because Jesus ‘seeks’.
  2. Knowing he’s a ‘sinner’ makes response to Christ easier.
  3. When Jesus is welcomed, so is ‘salvation’.

Sunday 4

Morning guest service. Can the Spirit work through 99 per cent humidity? We believe so.

Good to see people bringing friends to hear their own minister speak. Good to see how some ring the fringe members up (who are probably fringe because they don’t yet belong to Christ).

We had lunch in the grounds with a water slide for kids (and adults) going down the lawn. As soon as I have preached and talked to lots of people, I am ready to hide somewhere. (I revive in solitude.)

The guest service is simply lifting the ‘oar rate’ of our boat. It makes the believer glad and the unbeliever (hopefully) clear. But it’s not the full picture.

Same in the evening. Good number signed up for Christianity Explained.

Monday 5

Breakfast with wardens. These guys are always thinking ‘people’ while not neglecting the ‘property’—a privilege to be with.

The week is looking busy, and then a rare funeral comes along for a saint departed. The non-Christian daughter insists the service be on Thursday (my day off). Will I guard the day and get her offside, or do it and get tired! Decide to do it for the sake of Lois (the departed) only.

Staff meeting and great discussion on 1 Corinthians 13. (One former worker wrote to tell me that grappling with Scripture on Mondays was the best aspect of training.) Who can overestimate the value of God’s word? It brings light and life—even while we seem to be struggling.

First meeting with new Ministry Training Strategy (MTS) workers. These three take notes while I speak!! Perhaps I’ll keep a book of quotations hidden on my lap. Spiritual hunger is wonderful to see. Am I still hungry?

Wednesday 7

Two tricky conversations—one with a couple whose daughter feels neglected by the church. How do I solve this? Then talked with a guy who has turned up for baptism of his daughter. He professes faith, but I know there are no fruits or lights on. Hope I got through.

Prepared talk for business lunch—the first for 2001. A good crowd, and much joy in John 6. Interesting that the Jews would “search for Jesus” (v. 24) but didn’t want him really. How contemporary!

I still write out our church notice sheet content for typing. Is this good use of time? It seems to me the one way I can communicate with everyone (what we support and what I’m thinking, in a letter), but would a great pastor do this?

Full of ‘success’, I go to the prayer meeting—a quarter of the normal size. Go home discouraged.

Thursday 8

I am plotting revenge for everyone who didn’t come to the prayer meeting:

  1. I won’t speak to them.
  2. I will tell them they are spiritual pygmies.
  3. I will burn down their houses.

Talked with a young man about his failure at Moore College. He is gifted but wants to ‘work’ a bit. How do we persuade without giving commands?

Prepared the funeral for a few hours. Because Lois was 84, there will be plenty of elderly there. About 100 come.

On to the cemetery for a burial. Without God’s promises, what do we have? Even the Christian seems to have lost to death! But ‘no separation’ is promised—and Jesus proved it. Who listened today?

Worked on Luke 20.

Friday 9

A tough day off.

Surfing at Manly. Read half a biography. Taken sailing on the harbour, with BBQ to follow. (I don’t think I’ve sailed for 35 years.)

Sunday 11

8 am service on a rainy day. A reduced congregation affects the enthusiasm unless I act deliberately keen.

After the service, disappear to pray re sermon for next one (on Luke 20) . Realize while praying that the priests offer Jesus a lose/lose situation, while he offers them a win/lose situation. Typical of God, but people don’t take up the hope. We are perverted.

Some people much moved by this. I am too.

Return home a spiritual giant and soon get crabby with two kids for small reason.

Wednesday 14

My first ‘Seniors’—great bunch of 16. We studied John 1, then talked about outreach and fellowship. I plan to enlist their prayer for specific issues.

A guy came to see me to tell me that he and his wife are leaving St Thomas’. Caught between saying “All the best” and “You probably got out what you put in—very little”. Tried a friendly mixture of both.

Spoke at the business lunch, very badly prepared. There was a larger group that heartened and worried me. The Lord was very gracious, and the word went out.

Met with a staff worker, then did the Sunday sheets.

Took Rachel, my daughter, to the Retro (18-24 year olds), and gave an overview of Romans and a challenge to study it deeply.

Thursday 15

Hard to read or pray with concentration.

Pottered around the house.

Rented a movie—The Skulls. Great commentary on “What does it profit a man?”.

Went to dinner with daughter Rachel. What an astute and lovely girl. She wanted me to see Remember the Titans—great action and much pathos.

So today I saw two movies. What would JC Ryle think?

Saturday 17

A wedding couple in the morning to fill in forms. Our ‘friendly policy’ keeps us free from too many of these!

Sweated over Luke 20. To ‘listen’ to God’s word until it is crystal clear and fires the bones is a taxing work. I hate sermons that cost nothing to give or hear.

The famous parable to the tenants is finally broken down into weighty truths:

  1. God the owner has real authority.
  2. God the Saviour has patient authority.
  3. God the Judge has final authority.

After lunch, went bowling with Beth. Should the teenager be chatty? Caught between silence and dumb talk. I stayed quietish. I am an old dag.

Finished notes for the morning and prayed. Why don’t sermons get easier?

Sunday 18

Am I too charismatic or can I tell if a sermon goes well/badly?

At 8 am, seemed to just fill in 20 minutes; then at 10 am, was caught up in the importance of the subject. Is this the Spirit wind? Is it the congregation? Is it preaching after a practice?

Anyway, a good morning, and time to interview one of our missionary links. Went to a family function, then took kids to youth groups.

Evening service seemed down in quantity, but up in quality. People are keen, and God’s word changes minds, priorities, directions and families.

Walked home giving thanks for obvious blessings, and then started to think of people gone missing. Just lucky that I’m an optimist!

Monday 19

Because I see the cardiologist in two weeks, decided to walk the 45 minutes to work. (This is like cutting out gum two weeks before the dentist.)

Staff are ‘thinking out’, which is exciting. Ideas for website, mission school and TAFE evangelism are bubbling around.

Short staff meeting because we had one of our quarterly ‘outings’, so down to park and beach for fun and fellowship.

Wrote letters in the evening. What do you do with couples—two lately—who have left because you challenged them? Should I wish them well or (also) challenge them again?

Tried to do both in letters. Jesus was innocent in suffering—but like the two thieves, I may get what I deserve.

Wednesday 21

Wardens at 7.

(My diary is not sounding pious or wise. I think I may plagiarize some paragraphs from Whitefield’s journals.)

A whole morning of administration, letters and writing. Someone has asked me for a ‘What we believe’ creed. I think I may plagiarize the Apostle’s Creed.

To ‘Bible Means Business’, where Jonathan Dykes gave his first talk. It was clear, faithful and very powerful. I think I may plagiarize his notes for my sermons.

Late lunch with a missionary director. Realize how many wounded saints there are (two more).

Wrote notice sheet, and headed home. I’m behind on Job, so caught up a bit. Prayed from 8 till midnight. Sadly, I didn’t—but Whitefield would have, wouldn’t he?

Thursday 22

A good day off.

Went at 10:30 am to visit my mother. It was hot, so I soon drove off to Bondi. Picked up the neighbour (in his 50s) who I had grown up beside; he was waiting for a bus to go to the doctor. A great conversation opened to explain the gospel in 10 minutes. He asked good questions, and I left him with a tract. Amazing. Took my 20-year-old nephew to the beach. He is a great guy. Where is he spiritually?

As planned, I went through 20-30 old photo albums to see into my grandparents’ world. Ended up in the 70s—20 albums still to go. A profound experience.

My mother gave me an album she had prepared of photos from my paternal side. Beautiful and lovely.

Home to relax and read.

Friday 23

Worked on Job.

So much to say, but I want to hear the text, and not all my ideas and baggage.

Met with property manager for prayer and Bible study. He is growing. Then with MTS workers for lunch and listening to a sermon tape.

Home to pack for Men’s Convention. Drove to pick up Steve, who is new to St Thomas’s, and we had good fellowship in the car for two and a half hours. Stayed at home of a great couple who have moved to the mountains—ex St Thomas’s.

To first session from Phil Jensen on ‘be a man’ and fight with prayer, Scripture and godliness.

Talked with friends till 11:30. To bed.

Saturday 24

To second session of Men’s Convention. Phil Jensen on working for ‘Babylon’ (short-term), then working for ‘Jerusalem’ (long-term).

Ray Galea on Father and Sons.

Grant Thorpe on marriage.

Drove home listening to Phil Jensen’s Talk 3 in car—tape from last weekend on being a brother.

Very good issues tackled. However, not sure these guys sympathize with men in pain/confusion/paralysis.

Home to implement high standards. Met a small backlash; probably my manner!

Sunday 25

Incredibly humid day, but still a day of fellowship and good proclamation.

Talked with a lady after 8 am who is in her early 50s. She has been coming to Christianity Explained, and yet cannot see. She told me she knows that “Jesus died for our sins” and I said “What about yours?” The idea that “Jesus died for my sins” seemed wonderfully new to her!

Good crowd at 10 am meeting, and a strong word from Steve Young on the ‘coin’ of Luke 20. Many new people, but many away. The Men’s Convention has obviously “done good” for many men.

Staff lunch, and away for a very rare baptism for Christian couple. Private baptisms are now 1 in 100—praise God.

Preached tonight on Job 1-3. Those who’ve been through deep waters found Job very helpful.

Tuesday 27

Prepared Bible study ‘session’ on John 2 and a program for February to June.

Also prepared funeral address for a service at 1.30 pm.

Lunch with a dear and generous brother in the congregation; says he prays for me every day.

On to the funeral, did the best I could with 1 Thessalonians 4 to explain the essential Saviour.

Went in to Christianity Explained at 7:30 pm. Tough battle as last week’s ‘convert’ didn’t show, one girl announced she was always a Hindu, then met a couple (she, Christian; he, non-Christian) who told me (he) “Christianity is like Little Red Riding Hood—a fairytale for people in Cuckooland”!

Rang the boy I’d prayed with last week. He told me he’d changed his mind and didn’t want to be a Christian.

Wednesday 28

Read through the feedback sheets from Christianity Explained. There are about 12 who seem to have made a new start!

Breakfast with my prayer triplet—one guy in great despair.

Met with Seniors’ group for Bible study and a look at my Poland slides.

Lunch with a guy who is finding St Thomas’s hard to get into. Why do some hang off and others jump in?

Wrote letters and notices.

Meeting with three men to discuss men’s ministry. Very good initiatives.

Feeling seedy with a ‘cold’ and hot with humidity; not a good time to decide to be a postman.

How much I have to thank God for.

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