Sample Chapters! The Peg and the Pumice Stone

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1

A Broken Candle

It is better to do something with what you don’t have, than to do nothing with what you do have. 

I was driving home. It was early November and it had been a glorious sunny day. It was that time of year when you make the most of those good days, and I pulled over to snatch a stroll in the park before the last of the sunlight faded. I felt grateful that day; grateful for my family, my kids, my friends and my job. I had nearly lost it all ten years earlier, until an unexpected hope burst into my life. This hope had changed everything for me. Acutely aware of my good fortune, I gazed across the empty park, brimming with gratitude.

I sat down on a bench. I felt an urge to kneel down and say thank you to God for everything, but felt awkward even though no one else was around. What if someone saw me? I overcame my nagging pride and knelt down on the ground. I leaned on the bench and gently closed my eyes. As I thanked God, I heard the birds arguing on the branches and the leaves rustling in the trees, announcing the arrival of wetter and windier weather. As I prayed, an unexpected sound interrupted the moment – it was the sound of gravel underfoot. Someone was approaching. I began to picture the scene of me kneeling on the ground and realised how odd this might look to a passer-by. I panicked.

It was too late to stand, and I experienced that momentary irritation when someone spoils an especially good moment. It was a big park; why couldn’t they walk somewhere else? Why did they have to walk past me and interrupt my moment? I weighed up the options – I could pretend to be looking for my keys to make this look slightly less weird, or just keep my head down and hope for the best. I figured most people would be too embarrassed to interrupt and so I froze with my head down and eyes tightly closed. The footsteps approached – crunch, crunch, crunch – and then continued past me in a regular fashion, without pausing. They petered out into the distance, leaving me alone with the sounds of birds.

I peered out of one eye – all clear. I stood up, stretched my stiff knees and walked on with slight relief. As I strolled towards the car, I spied in the distance the gravel-cruncher ahead of me and instinctively dawdled – no need to hurry now, was there? However, as I slowed, he too seemed to be moving at a snail’s pace and the distance between us diminished with each step.

I loitered even more, but despite a sterling effort, I began to gain on my companion. He was a tall man, wearing a dark jacket with the collar turned up. His shoulders were hunched and his hands were tucked tightly into the coat pockets. The north wind was not far away. There was nothing for it; I was going to have to make a dash past him and pretend that a man kneeling at a bench, praying, was a normal thing in these parts. I accelerated.

As my pace quickened, something deep inside me groaned for this man. It formed as a whisper in my heart: ‘Give him what you have.’

I know this whisper and I know the thought process that follows, all too well. It starts with me considering that God may be speaking to me and finishes with me proposing logical and rational reasons why this course of action would not be feasible or appropriate. I then propose another alternative, to appease any sense of my unease or guilt. God and I are well rehearsed in such routines, much, I am sure, to the frustration and amusement of the Almighty. ‘Give him what you have’ – honestly!

I checked my bag, and except for a broken candle and some crumpled papers, I had nothing meaningful. No money, no Bible and nothing remotely spiritual. Only my car keys and he certainly wasn’t getting those. No, I had nothing to give this man. I mentally explained to God why I wouldn’t be able to help him out on this occasion and even started to hum to myself to drown out any other unreasonable suggestions from the Supreme Being. ‘Give him what you have’ – the words stirred in my heart with gravity.

I was only yards behind the man, but the sense was so urgent now that I looked again in my bag. I rooted underneath the broken candle. The reason I was carrying a broken candle is not entirely without interest. I had spent the previous day taking photographs of people holding unlit candles – they were to be used in an exhibition entitled ‘You are the light of the world’. People have the potential, like a candle, to emit light and warmth – once lit by God. However, this candle had broken and it didn’t seem fitting to photograph someone as a broken candle, so it had been consigned to my bag.

I toyed with the candle as I passed the dawdler, and rehearsed my lines: ‘Hello, I’m the weirdo who was kneeling down in front of the bench back there. Just in case you thought that wasn’t weird enough, here is a broken candle as a gift.’ No, no, no, far too weird!

I cleared my throat and took another tack.

‘Erm, would you happen to know if there is a bonfire being held in the park this year?’ I asked, in a casual kind of way. My voice came out two octaves too high. I dragged it down and kicked some gravel in a more masculine way.

‘No,’ came the indifferent reply. There was an unimpressed look in his eye of ‘Weren’t you that weirdo back there?’

Now I could see him face to face. He was a broad fellow with a donkey jacket, tidy stubble, and a look on his face that said, ‘I’ve no time for fools.’

‘Listen, I have something for you,’ I said, with all the seriousness I could muster, and looked squarely at his feet. I stretched out my arm and held out the broken candle as it drooped over the side of my hand. I looked up slowly to gauge the response.

He looked at it, and looked at me, and then back at the candle. ‘Why you are giving me a broken candle?’ he said, blankly. A fair question.

‘It’s hope,’ I blurted out. ‘Yes, hope.’ I repeated it as if that would make it normal.

He looked at me, expressionless.

‘Look,’ I explained. ‘I’ve been walking in the park this afternoon with an overwhelming sense of gratefulness – grateful for all that’s good in my life, grateful for something that happened to me nearly ten years ago that changed my life. It gave me hope at a time of despair, and I wanted to give you some of that hope – this candle represents hope.’

Silence. He pondered.

And then I saw a change in his eye, a glimpse of his heart. A tear formed and then tears in both eyes. The big guy now looked at my feet. And then he did something I never expected. He leaned forward and put two big arms around me and held me. I felt like a little boy in his dad’s arms. After what seemed a lifetime, he let go and dried his eyes. I said nothing.

He began to talk. He told me how Novembers loom for him with a sense of foreboding. How he had lost a family member years back in November in tragic circumstances and how every November a cloud settles over him and he dreads the month to come – it was 4th November, the eve of Bonfire night.

With growing animation, he explained, ‘I am walking through this park, wondering how I will make it through November this year, and you walk up and give me this, and tell me it is hope.’ He looked almost ecstatic.

I felt sad, humbled, and stupid for doubting God.

We walked on a little as dusk advanced and sat together on a log. We talked about his life and his loss. I told him about Jesus, who has a hope for us all. He had a pen and I went to write my number on the paper in my bag and found John’s Gospel in the back pocket – odd I hadn’t seen that before – so I gave it to him.

He took it, and I said a prayer for him. We shook hands and parted ways.

 

So often we think that we lack what we need to bring good news to people. We will be able to do it when we have more training, when we get the new minister, when we have the new materials, or the new youth worker, when the church roof is fixed, and so on. It becomes a well-oiled excuse for why we can’t share the hope we have. It never seemed to stop Jesus.

Jesus had an uncanny ability to use the everyday things that surrounded Him – He gave thanks, blessed them and did the most extraordinary things. He took some mud from the ground and the blind man regained his sight, some loaves and fishes and hungry thousands ate plentifully, some ordinary fishermen and a Church was born. As my wife prays, let us see the extraordinary in the ordinary. It may be unorthodox, but it has a precedent.

We see Jesus, time and time again, doing remarkable things with everyday objects and not waiting for the resources He does not have. It is better to do something with what you don’t have, than to do nothing with what you do have. As Madeleine Delbrêl says, ‘We lack nothing essential. If we needed it, God would have already given it to us.’

The problem arises when our faith lies in our resources and not in God. We should be grateful for all the things we have that are gifts from God, but when they become an excuse for inertia, we need reminding once again of the Giver and not the gift. This is a lesson that the Church comes back to every once in a while. We see it actioned in the lives of people such as St Francis of Assisi and Mother Teresa, who functioned with the bare essentials that God provided for them. Not all of us are called to live lives such as theirs, but we can practise the same principle of reliance and dependence on God. I’m going to call this the ‘Bread and Fishes’ principle of evangelism: look in your pocket, give thanks and bless whatever you find, be willing to ask God to use it – and expect the unexpected.

 

2

Car Boot Sale

Any church committed to making followers of Jesus will sooner or later have to deal with the likes of Boy Genius and the Virgin Mary – better start sooner rather than later, in my book. 

Most years, with a group of friends or a local church, I run some kind of introduction to Christianity course: Alpha, Pilgrim, Christianity Explored, that sort of thing. I ask some of the students with whom I work to help me out, and often we tinker with it and tailor it to suit the people who have shown an interest in faith. I must admit, I love these times. In the patchwork of things I do, these are often the places where people take significant steps and where faith becomes theirs, personally. We have baptised many people following these courses – in churches, rivers and the sea – and they remain for me a key piece in the jigsaw puzzle of discipleship and evangelism.

However, while they remain an important part in people exploring faith, they can sometimes be quite heavy and intellectual in their content and, for some of my friends, they don’t offer the right context. A while back, inspired by a TV documentary on Channel 4 called Make Me a Christian, we ran a course that involved not only examining the key ideas of Christianity, but also trying them out in practice. We got people to write prayers, try leading a church service, serve at a soup kitchen, take part in a prayer walk and, my personal favourite, design an evangelism event. All this, before any of them had signed on the dotted line of faith.

This particular year, we were joined by Boy Genius. I didn’t know Boy Genius personally – he was the friend of a friend who thought that this might be a good place for him to field his questions. This guy was something else: Nietzsche, Aristotle, Plato, Socrates – he knew them all inside out. He could talk philosophy and religion like a Frenchman talks cheese. I suspect that he had polished off a few pastors and youth workers on his way to us, and his friend had probably sent him our way in desperation. In honesty, we all felt out of our depth and some of the discussion was, frankly, a little shallow for him. We skipped through the normal stuff and he single-handedly tossed around the topics like a circus juggler. As we met each week, it appeared that he was just nibbling and the subject matter was mere finger food.

While we couldn’t match his IQ, he clearly enjoyed the time together and the friendships that developed. Reading Psalms at the summit of Snowdon and serving people in a soup kitchen clearly affected him. As a group,

we began to bond, and a trust developed as the weeks went on. The last sessions were about grace. We discussed the concept over fried rice and argued about what it would look like today if we were all people of grace. And so the idea of the car boot sale was born. We all committed to playing our part and set the date to meet.

It was a cold, crisp Sunday morning, and one which promised to warm up gently as the day advanced. We met at 7am sharp and paid our £10 entry fee to the car boot sale. In terms of Sunday morning commitments, this group were showing great promise. We set our tarpaulin out amid the career car boot sellers and started to arrange our wares.

The week before at church, I had asked if anyone in the congregation would be willing to help us out by donating valuable objects to our car boot sale. I explained it was part of the course that I was running and gave my apologies for the following Sunday service, as I planned to be recovering in bed after an early start. Several people kindly pledged a variety of interesting objects including a painting, an iPod, and a pewter pot. These things, along with all the junk from my garage, were carefully placed on the tarpaulin in front of my car, surrounded by our bleary-eyed faith explorers.

We had agreed as a group together that if people wanted to buy something, we would sell it. But, if they wanted one of the donated items, they could only acquire it on one condition – that they received it as a free gift. They could give us nothing in return. If they wanted to know why, we would explain about the course we were doing and how we were trying to demonstrate the Christian concept of grace.

Soon people began to drift along and glance over the goods. We sold some bits and bobs; a book and some hand tools. Before long, a guy came over and asked about the painting. He was from Spain and we explained to him the deal. He seemed amused and pleased with the whole transaction, probably thinking what a strange bunch the British were. We told him about a guy at church who had painted it. It was the only painting he had ever done and it was a precious object for him. The Spanish guy loved the painting and was clearly moved by the gesture. He received it with great joy and gratitude and gave us a message for the artist. He was touched and so were we. Boy Genius seemed amused.

Shortly afterwards, a couple in their fifties meandered along and eyed up the pewter pot. ‘How much for this?’ they asked.

‘How much is it worth to you?’ we joked, clueless to the actual value of the object.

They looked at each other.

‘I’ll give you £20,’ the man offered.

For a split second, I questioned why on earth I was a Christian and considered taking the money. Then Boy Genius piped up, ‘You can have it.’

The guy paused, glanced at his wife, smiled and cautiously counted out £20.

‘There you go,’ he said, and handed Boy Genius the money.

Boy Genius didn’t budge and his hands remained firmly in his pockets.

‘You can have it,’ he repeated.

The man paused again. He glanced at his wife and the look in her eyes indicated that she wanted it.

‘OK, then.’ He added £5 to his handful of notes and held them out.

‘Sorry,’ I interrupted. ‘You can’t have it for £25 – but you can take it for free, if you like.’

He tried pushing the money towards me, not amused.

I too, remained motionless.

‘Sorry,’ Boy Genius apologised. ‘That’s the condition – take it freely or don’t take it at all.’

‘You can’t do that,’ the man snapped.

He said it with such conviction that, for a split second, I wavered and nearly sold him the pot. Boy Genius didn’t. He held his nerve and I could see that he was starting to enjoy this.

By this point, a small crowd had gathered to see what was going on – was a fight starting? Nothing like a little commotion to stir interest.

‘I’m afraid we can,’ Boy Genius insisted.

The guy’s expression changed from indignation to almost hurt and he remonstrated with us.

People in the crowd egged him on, some to take it, some to up the offer.

Amid this little commotion, quietly and without a word, a young lady made her way through the milling crowd and drew close to the couple.

‘Mum, Dad,’ she said, gently, ‘they are not going to give it to you. They don’t want your money.’

The couple looked at us with an expression that suggested they felt genuinely robbed. With a note of resignation and bewilderment, they asked, ‘Why?’

Boy Genius, who was not, and still is not, to my knowledge, a card-carrying Christian, stepped forward and addressed the crowd. With clarity, sensitivity and coherence, he explained to the whole group of gathered listeners what we were doing – everyone followed intently. A group of people standing silently naturally attracts others and, as he spoke, more people approached the stall. He explained that this was a picture of grace and how grace was crucial to what being a Christian means. The moment was priceless.

As he finished, people quietly began to confer with each other. I noticed the couple slowly withdrawing, leaving the pewter pot on the tarpaulin. Their daughter smiled apologetically at me and followed them. As the others began to drift away, a man who had been at the back of the crowd pushed his way forward. He had the wily face of a veteran car boot-seller. He picked up the pewter pot and turned it in his weathered hands. He looked it up and down, and with a cheeky little smile, he said, ‘I’ll have it.’

‘Then it’s yours,’ we smiled back.

He grinned and walked away.

Boy Genius was thoughtful for the rest of the morning.

 

Now, I realise that you could raise valid objections to this approach to discipleship or evangelism, and you may be right. How can non-Christians present genuine faith authentically? What about sin and forgiveness and all the other bits about Jesus? Well, you are both right and wrong.

Faith is lived, not just explained. The reality is that Jesus Himself took a group of people who were willing to come with Him; I don’t think the penny had dropped for most – if any – of them. What is more, not only did Jesus allow people to participate in His work, He also seemed quite comfortable with the notion of relying on them to complete His task. Jesus needed the guy with the boat to address the people on the shore, the woman to give Him a drink at the well, even the tax collectors to feed Him. You may argue that He didn’t really need them, that He could have done a swift miracle or two to arrange things – but He didn’t. He chose to involve and rely on broken people, to let them participate in His mission and His good news – just like He does with you and me.

I call this Participative Evangelism and while I don’t suggest it is the only way, I do think that it responds to a need many people have as they grapple to make sense of God. It’s the need to work some things out in the doing of them, as well as trying to make sense of them in our heads. As a Church we often talk about belong before you believe, but in my experience this often turns into attend before you believe. We assume that if people come to church on a Sunday morning then they will learn everything they need about being a follower of Jesus. The problem with pure attendance is that it soon becomes passive, and unless you take part and live it out, faith becomes an abstract idea. The good news was never given to people on a quest for clever ideas; it was given for those in desperate need of life. So why not start out as you mean to go on? Let people see from the outset what this following Jesus entails – you never know, they might like it and it might teach us something in the process.

Participative Mission it is not without its challenges. At one of my live nativities in the centre of town with donkeys and hay bales, children were asking why the Virgin Mary looked so drawn and tired and had a cigarette falling out of the side of her mouth. In reality, this Virgin Mary was a recovering addict, on her fag break. She was also my friend, trying to fathom an enigmatic man called Jesus and what it meant to follow Him. Being part of that piece of evangelism was crucial for her, even if it may shock and baffle some of us.

This highlights another very real hurdle that we all should encounter as Church: the messiness of integrating new believers into the community of faith. Any church committed to making followers of Jesus will sooner or later have to deal with the likes of Boy Genius and the Virgin Mary – better start sooner rather than later, in my book.

 

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  • Glyn Jones

    Glyn lives in Chester and is married to Raphaëlle. A storyteller, everyday evangelist and lecturer, Glyn helps lead The Light Project College, a theological centre training pioneers and evangelists for ministry. He wrote, lectures on and leads an undergraduate degree course in Theology and Evangelism, and works with local churches to develop their own missional ideas.

  • The Peg and the Pumice Stone

    Glyn Jones

    Do you long to share what Jesus is really like, but struggle to know how? Do you feel like a weak link when it comes to evangelism? And do you wonder what a peg and a pumice stone could have to do with it all? Then this is a book for you!