As You Wish

Last Sunday EBC voted to call me to become Team Leader for our church ministries after what has been a testing and interesting few months following Chris Porter’s call to serve at Andover Baptist Church. So in case you missed it on the day, I’d like to say a massive thank you to all EBCers for your support over the years, months and especially recent weeks and days. It’s been emotional... and now the hard work starts!

I’ve been reflecting this week on the exciting challenges that lie ahead for us as a church, and in the many thoughts, prayers and conversations I’ve been having in recent months a couple of related things have become very clear. 

The first is that there is a very strong desire within our Elders, Leaders and Membership that we should be good, responsible stewards of EBC. It is for all of us to remember that we are ambassadors, protectors, stewards and representatives not only of a building but of our little corner of God’s mighty and everlasting church. How we speak and act tells people a lot about us – and many people come into our building – and our lives  outside - for many different reasons. What impression will we leave each of them with about us and God’s church? No pressure there then!

Secondly, when we think of good stewardship we tend to emphasize the need for us to encourage, teach and demonstrate what we might call a generous and sacrificial heart, especially when it comes to serving and giving. These are, let’s be clear, extremely important biblical principles and we have taught on giving and serving recently and will do so again soon!

However, it’s really important that we recognise that a generous and sacrificial heart, expressing itself through serving and giving, is the result of a focus on God, rather than a focus on serving and giving. So our focus (so far as I have anything to do with it) should be on our stated purpose as a church, which is: “To love God, love people and grow together to become more like Jesus.” Notice that begins with “Love God...” 

If we love God (or if we want to love God, or if we think we might want to love God, or if we want others to love God) then our focus should be on God, via prayer and reading the bible. Not just notionally or occasionally, but as priorities. A wise man once told me that whatever you soak yourself in, drips out of you. His point was that we should soak ourselves in God (through prayer and reading His word) and that the effect would be a deeper love for God, a deeper love for people and thus (by definition) we would become more like Jesus. As a consequence (albeit yes, an important one) we will naturally be challenged and stirred and inclined to give more and serve more and better represent God’s church.

So here’s my opening gambit as newly appointed Team Leader, which I’ll express in the form of a “TSP” prayer  (which Steph told me about recently and which stands for “Thanks/Sorry/Please”).

Thanks for loving, supporting and/or voting for me. Sorry for the times I have and will mess up and get things wrong – forgive me. Please devote yourself to prayer and the bible – and the rest will follow.

It was my birthday recently and one of my presents is a book called “As You Wish” which is a memoir written by the actor Cary Elwes. It gives an inside view of one of my favourite films (based on one of my favourite books) of all time, “The Princess Bride” by William Goldman. It’s essentially a fairytale love story, filled with excitement and adventure and I actually used it once at our EBC Lunch Club as a metaphor for God’s loving and sacrificial pursuit of mankind (the story’s hero, Westley  – played by Cary Elwes – even has a kind of death and resurrection experience , so it’s a pretty good fit!).

In the memoir, Elwes describes how nervous the author of the book (and screenplay) Bill Goldman was during the making of the film. The reason, as Goldman explained to the cast was that “The Princess Bride” was his “tombstone” work – the one thing he’d written that he’d really and truly loved and wanted to be remembered for (and this from the guy who also wrote “Butch Cassidy”, “Marathon Man” and “A Bridge Too Far” amongst other things!). The book was originally written as a gift to his daughters and was very precious to him – so much so that at one point the film’s director, Rob Reiner, had to stop shooting when the boom microphones picked up a strange sound that turned out to be Goldman praying, on set, whilst huddled under a giant mushroom (well, it is a fairytale!).

Goldman’s anxiety was that his inspired masterpiece might not translate into a movie that truly represented what he had so lovingly written for his children. (Are you starting to get the point yet?)

Thankfully, a wonderful director (Reiner) and a simply perfect cast (Elwes, Robin Wright, Mandy Patinkin, Billy Crystal and Andre the Giant amongst others) plus an amazing score by Mark Knopfler ensured that the film lives up to the splendour of the book.

To spell out my point, the bible is the God-breathed collection of writings (“books”) which were written out of God’s love for His children. The church is that book lived (“acted”) out in essence by His people. In “The Princess Bride”, Westley’s standard answer whenever his true love (Buttercup, the “Princess Bride”) asks him to do anything is “As you wish.” It transpires that when Westley says “As you wish” what he really means is “I love you.”
God gives us a choice (we call it free will) to love Him, to love other people, to follow Jesus and grow to become more like Him... or to not. He says, in essence, “As you wish” throughout an incredible expression of His own love for us.

He doesn’t enslave us.  He expresses His love for us, He sacrifices everything for us. He gives us a written masterpiece and He invites us to act upon it, to live it out. What we do though is up to us. Love is a two way street. On offer from God is not only His holy book written for us, but daily conversation and consultation with Him, the all powerful creator of heaven and Earth who loves us and forgives and wants us to be in a loving relationship with Him. He asks us a question, sends us an invitation (ultimately, an invitation to heaven, mind you) ... We can answer as we wish. 

See you in church!
Simon Lace, 17/03/2017