Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Join In!

This is the transcript of a sermon I delivered on Sunday 8th Oct 2011. I asked the congregation to listen whilst bearing in mind what God had been saying to them in recent days/weeks/months.
Some of you were here the other week when I talked about thread and joining in. Well this is something of a follow up from that. This is a reflection on stuff I have heard, read, talked about, prayed about and have been processing for a good few weeks now if not more.
I want to start with the words of Jesus. Not all of them! Just these 2 very important, life and world changing words: Follow Me.

In the western post-modern culture there has been a tendency to make this a Clarion Call to Watered-Down Evangelicalism (read the full article here). ‘All’ that’s needed is a personal decision to ‘follow’ Jesus: to agree with him, to confess our sin and to receive redemption. Follow me, after all, isn’t all that difficult. It doesn’t include awkward commitments like:  ‘go to church’ or ‘know your bible’ or ‘have quiet times/pray’ OR DOES IT?

Biblical disciples would have grown up being taught scriptures, learning it off by heart probably. So they already had the ‘know your bible’. When the Holy Spirit was given they ‘went to church’. It was probably different to what we do, but they were faithful to teaching on the words and life of Jesus, singing psalms and praying together as well as going out and telling others. The early church grew from around 120 people in one city to around half the Roman Empire within 250 years, a truly phenomenal growth rate! What was happening? The followers were applying their knowledge of scripture to the stories that Jesus told and the person He was and passing it on, along with the Holy Spirit. I’m pretty sure each of them prayed not only with their fellow followers but on their own too, not necessarily on their knees with their heads bowed, but nonetheless prayer: seeking forgiveness, giving thanks and petitioning God.
Reading your Bible, going to church and praying on their own are not going to make us followers of Jesus – we also need to JOIN IN!

Our western culture has made us very individualistic in our faith: I believe in Jesus, I study the bible, I pray, I go to church, this is what Jesus calls ME to do. I’m beginning to think this is NOT what Jesus calls any of us to, not in the first instance.  I believe this is a very important change in our thinking about our faith. We need to stop thinking: ME – my faith, my relationship with Jesus, my salvation, my ‘journey’ my prayer times – is the most important thing, get ‘ME’ sorted out, saved and growing in my faith before then finding a CHURCH, finding something that ‘suits’ ME, in this model often ‘MY role in church’ becomes attending, worshipping, giving money, listening to the sermon and then going home. In this model a successful church is measured by the number of people in a Sunday morning service. Once we have found a CHURCH where we are comfortable and happy we then consider the WORLD and here then can be a temptation for it to feel as if we’ve put our heads above the parapet of CHURCH life and look at the outside WORLD: making occasional evangelistic forays and thinking ‘EEK! How are we going to make any difference to a world that’s in such a mess??!’

Rather I think we are being pointed towards a different way of looking at faith and religion and the interaction between ourselves and our faith. My own reading/talking/reflecting is leading me much more towards this different model: the WORLD is God-created, Man-spoiled, Jesus-redeemed. Our world was made perfect and then spoiled by mankind, to the point where we are now looking at some scary ideas like extreme poverty, economic instability and societal breakdown. As human-beings we are consuming more than we can produce and the result of this is more waste than we can handle as a planet. Jesus came to redeem not only us as individuals but the WORLD: Jesus came to build his CHURCH: redeemed people; followers of The Way; a body, fully functioning meaning every member involved in ministry (there’s a loaded word! What do I mean? I mean every member using your own God-given gifts and abilities to serve him wherever He calls you, wherever He has placed you). CHURCH has been happening for centuries, Jesus’s body has been at work since he left this world and, I would venture to suggest, only sometimes on a Sunday!
I was quite caught by this image of a body. Every single part of a body is useful, and if we believe God made us, even the appendix must have a role to play! We only have to think about what life is like when one part of our body goes wrong (did you know that you need your little toe to balance properly?!) to know how important the WHOLE body is. Jesus is calling us to not be ‘bums on seats’ on a Sunday morning but to become fully participating followers of the way. Being in church every Sunday is not enough, it never has been and it never will be! To attend church is part of being faithful but if we are not actively engaged in this body, if we come expecting church to ‘give‘ us something, and feel cheated when we don’t get our needs met by a Sunday service then something is WRONG and I suggest it’s not with church, but in our own hearts and minds. We are NOT called to be Consumers of Church! I came across this quote on twitter by someone called JonathanDodson 
Church is not a vending machine where you come to pick what you want; it is a family to whom you give what you have.

Into this body of Christ he calls ME, he wants ME, to join my heart, soul, body and mind to his body, to be consumed by the things that consume him, to reach out to the broken-hearted, to bring comfort to those who mourn, to raise up the widows and orphans in distress, to show his love and mercy to all sorts of people: from the poor and sick, to the wealthy and the healthy! The gospel isn’t just for ME or YOU, or just for the poor and the sick, it isn’t just for a select group of people, it is FOR ALL.

[This model of World Church Me isn't my own idea, but came, I believe, from Brian McLaren via a friend]

So let’s just go back to Discipleship and Mission. Discipleship is important, if we are going to be of any use to God in mending his broken WORLD we need to know about Him, what He has to say about his world and the people he has created. Learning about God and Jesus from the Bible is an important part of following The Way. Mission too is crucial and the Bible has some very strong words to say about this:
James 1 v 27 – looking after widows and orphans
Matt 19v16 – rich young ruler. Entering the kingdom of God is not easy, and Jesus doesn’t try to make it easy for this man. Although the Kingdom is for everyone, not everyone will want to meet the standard, which is…
 Rom 12v1 – offer yourself as living sacrifice
1 Thess 5v14 – warn the idle and disruptive. Paul’s words here suggest that those who do nothing within their faith community (or Church) should be told to get moving, to either join in or be on their way. This is the same passage from The Message:
13-15Get along among yourselves, each of you doing your part. Our counsel is that you warn the freeloaders to get a move on. Gently encourage the stragglers, and reach out for the exhausted, pulling them to their feet. Be patient with each person, attentive to individual needs. And be careful that when you get on each other's nerves you don't snap at each other. Look for the best in each other, and always do your best to bring it out.

Rev 3v 14-22 Full passage from The Message:
 14Write to Laodicea, to the Angel of the church. God's Yes, the Faithful and Accurate Witness, the First of God's creation, says:
 15-17"I know you inside and out, and find little to my liking. You're not cold, you're not hot—far better to be either cold or hot! You're stale. You're stagnant. You make me want to vomit. You brag, 'I'm rich, I've got it made, I need nothing from anyone,' oblivious that in fact you're a pitiful, blind beggar, threadbare and homeless.
 18"Here's what I want you to do: Buy your gold from me, gold that's been through the refiner's fire. Then you'll be rich. Buy your clothes from me, clothes designed in Heaven. You've gone around half-naked long enough. And buy medicine for your eyes from me so you can see, really see.
 19"The people I love, I call to account—prod and correct and guide so that they'll live at their best. Up on your feet, then! About face! Run after God!
 20-21"Look at me. I stand at the door. I knock. If you hear me call and open the door, I'll come right in and sit down to supper with you. Conquerors will sit alongside me at the head table, just as I, having conquered, took the place of honor at the side of my Father. That's my gift to the conquerors!
 22"Are your ears awake? Listen. Listen to the Wind Words, the Spirit blowing through the churches."

Friends, a person can believe in Jesus, has confessed their sin and been redeemed by Jesus’ death on the cross, they can have a ‘personal’ faith that is closeted away. As I said earlier, it is possible to be a Xian without going to church, reading your bible, I could add to those, without telling anyone else, without talking to others about your faith. This is like being given a skein of thread and then hiding it in a drawer for careful preservation. You might take the thread out once in a while and ponder what could be done with it; eventually it’ll get forgotten about. But imagine using that thread for an arguably greater, definitely more colourful more public purpose? Use the thread in an embroidery and suddenly we see a MUCH bigger picture, one with all the colours imaginable glowing together. This, my friends, is what Jesus calls us to – a life lived out as part of an embroidery piece, or to put it another way: part of a living, breathing, practical, efficient, purposeful, well-designed BODY of Christ.

So how do we do this? I don’t think much of this will be surprising to many people here. After all, every member ministry is very much a part of the Living Stones creed.

I read something just the other day which I thought was particularly relevant, the language is a little Americanised but there are some good ideas here!


If these things frighten you then let’s pray for boldness and an awareness of God in the ordinary. Remembering that when we join our seemingly ordinary thread in with God’s weaving pattern of saving his broken world, it becomes something EXTRAORDINARY.
As we take communion together this morning let’s re-dedicate ourselves to follow Jesus: in all the fullness of his BODY; to follow The Way, wherever it make take us; to become part of something MUCH bigger than ourselves, or even just this congregation. As we take communion we take part in something that joins us with every saint or believer who has ever lived and celebrated the same meal.

As a visual element to this message I’m going to invite you to bring the thread you were given as you came in this morning up to the table. Swap that thread for one of THESE (friendship bracelet). Your thread will be used in the border of this embroidery piece and you can take this bracelet home to remind and challenge us to not just be hearers of the word but doers also. 

Sunday, 18 September 2011

The importance of being thankful...

For a while now I've been thinking about the need to be thankful, and I know I’m not the only one! Not only is it biblical:

Col 4 v 2 Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. 
2 Cor 4 v 15 All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God. 
Phil 4 v 6-7 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

It’s also very healthy! I’ve heard many medical people comment that those who are ‘positive-thinkers’: those whose mindset is one of looking for the positive in everything, therefore those who find the time to be thankful for the good in amongst life’s rubbish, these are the ones who recover quicker from surgery, who overcome major physical hurdles and who have a strength that could otherwise go untapped.

This is not to say we should deny the reality of life. It is important to be realistic and honest with those around us as well as ourselves. I came across a blog the other day (joyinthisjourney.com) in which Joy encourages her readers to be real. Not a cleaned up version of our own selves, not pretending to be someone we are not, equally though not being moany or petulant, not being self-indulgent or navel gazing, simply being real. She calls it Life: Unmasked and this struck a chord with me. So here is my ‘Life: Unmasked’.

I was recently on camp with our church and some good friends from another. The first night we spent there was mostly interrupted sleep as our 2 year old tried to make sense of sleeping in a travel cot borrowed from Grandma in a strange room, with all the other members of his family and we tried to make sure his crying didn’t wake everyone else up!

I was up at 6.30am, feeling very grumpy and bleary eyed. Now, it is my experience that getting a group of Mums together can result in a level of competition as we try to ensure that other Mums realise just how difficult it is to be us: with our child/ren who don’t sleep/eat/behave well etc (part of me hopes this is just me – but a much larger part of me needs you to recognise this!). I felt competitive that morning! And as it happened I was due to be leading the All-age time in that morning’s meeting. The theme? Being Thankful!

As I was getting ready to face the day I began to realise that being grumpy about my lack of sleep and my youngest child’s desperate need for Grandma at 3.30am was not going to get me anywhere other than MORE grumpy and making it harder for everyone else to be around me. Did I want to be that person? No, most definitely not. I want to be a happy person, who wants to take the world on and do it with a smile and an encouraging word. God wants me to be a thankful person, not out of some over-inflated ego that makes ridiculous demands on those around him, rather because actually that’s what we were created to be. Being thankful makes me happy and encourages all manner of people around to be happy.

A good friend of mine came up with a new Twitter idea back in the summer. He encouraged those of us who ‘follow’ him to think of and tweet 3 good things from the day which we would give thanks for.

That morning on church camp I borrowed this idea and got everyone in the room to think of 3 good things from the day so far or the previous one. Then take a paper chain strip, write them done and then join them together to create chain of thankfulness.

And I’ve committed to doing it each day. So if you tweet, follow me on Twitter (scroll to the bottom of this page for the button) and look out for #3goodthings. If you are friends with me on Facebook then look out for the statuses and join in! 
Why not give it a try yourself?
 What would be your 3 good things from today?

Monday, 12 September 2011

3 Word Monday

I have had such a lot going on in the last month or so that I haven’t had time to write. Indeed even now I’m not sure what there is to say! I wanted to write about the children’s worship stuff I looked into, but that just hasn’t coalesced into anything publish-able. Must try harder! I’ve had a lot going on, a lot that God has been showing me and helping me understand. But much of this is still on-going and so I’m reluctant to share too much right at this moment. Sorry!

So, what then?

A friend wrote about Read, Watch, Listen and I got thinking about other 3 word phrases I might use. So here we go:

Eat If you know me you know I’ve been losing weight since my 2 and a half year old was about 6 weeks old. In the first 2 years I lost 4 stone (yay!), and then seem to have stopped. When I started I remember telling God: I’ll be happy to be around 13 and a half stone (having been over 17 stone at the time). And guess what? That’s where I am and have been for the past 6+ months. It turns out that it’s also the weight that brings me (a ‘large build’ apparently) into my normal BMI range, for a large-framed female! So the debate rages (inside my head if nowhere else): do I struggle to lose more or do I try to stay the same??

Live Of course, all this to-ing and fro-ing over weight is more than a little annoying; even if it is just inside my own head, perhaps more so because it’s just inside. I have always tried to keep my worrying about it down to a minimum, though this has resulted in serious gain previously! Aaahh, more obsessing. I honestly don’t think about it THAT much, it just feels like it. So living is carrying on around all the weight stuff. Living that includes being Mum, being wife, and being me! Baking (for a local coffee shop not to tempt myself!), gardening (both now top of the things-I-like-to-do list, a change to this time last year), singing, cooking etc etc!

Pray The faith stuff continues to be interesting over this year. I started out praying that God would show me His path, one step at a time. So He has, just one step at a time. A friend recently told me about the ‘invention’ of a torch that can shine a dot onto the moon! His reflection on this was that the Bible only talks about lanterns, not mega-candle strength torches. There are times when God only shows us the pool of light immediately around our feet, so we can take that next step. We can’t see the road far into the distance, we can’t see whether the road is straight or winding, whether it is free from blockages or full of them. We just have to trust Him. And that has definitely been my story, not only this year but for a couple now. I have been keeping a prayer journal, (not very well of late but the intention is there!) in it I write out my prayers and bits and pieces of liturgy or verses that have been helpful. I have another book where I write the stuff I think God has said (this needs some serious updating now I think about it!) to me, either through stuff I have seen in my head or things people have said to me. For me this is a valuable thing: it means I set aside time to write, it means I have a record of my praying and God’s answers, writing gives me a discipline to the praying that I wouldn’t be able to sustain without it. It might be something that would help you.
My prayer for you is that the God who guides through rocky terrain would give you peace in your heart and the strength to keep going, one step at a time. 

Monday, 13 June 2011

The Armour of God - from a female perspective!

Events of the last week or so have left me reeling, emotionally and physically as well as spiritually. I got up on Saturday morning and decided I was going to need make-up on to be able to face the day and the world of people out there wanting to know ‘How are you?’ If I was going to have even the smallest of chances of getting through the day without another meltdown I needed to at least look like I was fine! How many of us have done this at some point in our lives? There are A LOT of things we use to ‘shore ourselves up’, not all of it not good for us.
Now I happen to be very firmly in the ‘less is more’ camp when it comes to beauty products and the wearing of make-up. God definitely made us all beautiful, regardless of what the world and its horrendous attitudes will have us think. We do not need to plaster ourselves in anything to be worthy of love, and there’s a whole other blog just right there!
I also know that there are times when we need to protect our own sanity by building (albeit temporarily) a wall around us that protects us from the ‘slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’: the rubbish that life hands us! For me Saturday was one such time. As I applied my make-up it struck me that I was donning armour, and that I ought to apply it with prayer…
So, Lord Jesus as I put on the Foundation of righteousness, the Concealer of faith and the Powder of truth, may I remember your promises to me; as I apply the Eye-shadow of  peace, the Liner of salvation and the Mascara of the Spirit may I be ready to battle through the day in Your name. May this armour provide me with the faith I need to stand in your Holy Presence today and receive your protection from those who would seek to undo my defences.
I’ll bet that Paul never thought of it like that!
PS: Our fight against the enemy is not to be trivialised, please do not read that here. I love the Message version of Ephesians 6…
A Fight to the Finish
 10-12And that about wraps it up. God is strong, and he wants you strong. So take everything the Master has set out for you, well-made weapons of the best materials. And put them to use so you will be able to stand up to everything the Devil throws your way. This is no afternoon athletic contest that we'll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels.
 13-18Be prepared. You're up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it's all over but the shouting you'll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You'll need them throughout your life. God's Word is an indispensable weapon. In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other's spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Ten Things to be Thankful for on a Tuesday!

(with thanks to a new friend who started me off www.beccaislearning.com)

1.       1. My family: 2 small boys who are truly delightful and a husband who loves me lots. Along with a whole load of other wider family who are fantastic.

2.      2.  TV shows that make me giggle: Friends; How I Met Your Mother amongst others.

3.       3. My food processor that makes cake-making a doddle!

4.      4.  Watching Veggie Tales: these guys have such creativity in making the Bible relevant to my kids (and other kids too!).

5.       5. Our beautiful house, made possible by a fantastic God and a wonderful Grandma.

6.      6.  Sunshine and rain! Our veggies look amazing despite the lack of rain, being a new gardener means I get as excited about the rain as I do about the sun these days!

7.     7.   My washing machine. Sometimes our other Grandma offers to do washing for us, whenever I thank her she says ‘It’s not me that does it dear, the machine does it all for me!’ I’m SO very grateful to live in an age and a place where we don’t have to wash clothes by hand.

8.       8. Grandmas. I didn’t really have Grandmas growing up, one died before my parents got married and the other went when I was small (much missed!). When I married my hubby both his Grandmas were still with us and took me on as their Granddaughter, it has been lovely to have Grandmas again and to have lost ‘Big’ Grandma a year ago is still a great sadness.

9.      9.  My job. Another one directly attributable to God (but then they all are really!). I love my job, despite all the frustrations of the nitty gritty, I know I’m where God wants me to be right now.

10.   10. The NHS and in particular the Eastbourne District Hospital, who have been utterly brilliant in the last year!

A lot to be thankful for, and plenty more besides. Phew, just about finished on Tuesday!!

Friday, 27 May 2011

My God is a good God!

Alternatively titled: God’s wonderful world – that we live in and that we love to learn about! So what is your favourite view on the whole earth? Where is your favourite place to be? God made that place, and all the places in fact. What have you learned about this week/month/year that surprised you? Here’s just a few facts for you and you can probably give me hundreds more!

·         On average 100 lightning strikes occur worldwide every second.
·         The oceans contain 99 percent of the living space on the planet.
·         The Nile River in Africa is the longest river (6,825 kilometers) on the earth.
·         The human eye detects 10 million colours
·         Your thumb is the same length as your nose

If our world is so amazing now, what might it have been like without the stuff that goes wrong?

God’s plan for his wonderful world is something debated by people all over the world from all nationalities, backgrounds, faiths and theological views! I’m not going to pretend I know better than any of them. However I think we can probably agree that God wants us (all of humanity) to live lives that are God-centred, that love Him wholeheartedly and that glorify Him in ALL circumstances.

Jesus is the key to this plan. Many of you reading this will know of Jesus but do you really know Jesus for yourself? Have you looked for Him? Have you stepped out in faith?
Who introduced you to Jesus? Maybe it was your parents, maybe your grandparents, your best friend, your spouse or partner, your kids, your teacher. Those of us who know Jesus, who walk the walk of faith, were introduced by someone. So the fact of the matter is that each of us who know Him have the responsibility to pass that on to someone else. How will people meet Jesus unless we tell them about him? After all “Faith without works is dead”. If we say we believe but do nothing we are just a shell of a person, just a clanging bell or crashing cymbal on its own.

Christians in schools, whether they are pupils, teachers, head teachers, governors,  readers, cleaners, dinner servers, playground supervisors or visitors, have a role to play in helping their friends, charges and co-workers find out about Jesus. And there are lots of ways we can do this! Talking to our friends about Church, about the things we believe in, about the things that Jesus has done for us; offering to pray for people when it’s appropriate; being a good friend to others, even those we find difficult; being a responsible colleague or worker, going the extra mile in our work.

Finally if you are a youthworker and not involved in your local school can I urge you to find out about how you can get involved? Maybe you have a schools work organisation in your town you could turn to. Maybe you have contacts within your church who are teachers or other school people you could ask how you might best serve your local school. Ask God to direct you and start by making enquiries.

And may God bless you as you work out your own role in telling people about Jesus!

Thursday, 19 May 2011

We love our Youth Worker!

I am, at heart, a youthworker. I have been one all of my adult working life. Even through 5 years as a teacher I was still a youthworker. Even though now my average contact hours on a weekly basis with those over the age of 10 is in single digits, I am a youthworker. I believe passionately in young people: their outlook on life; their energy; their honesty. I have been in the privileged position to stand alongside a whole bunch of teens who are now in their twenties through some hard situations.

So youthworkers don’t do politics right? Especially Church Politics… Except that if we have our eye on the long game, if we want what we do to last, to be sustainable, Church Politics aka Working With Others, should be the first thing on our list. I have been reading ‘Sustainable Youth Ministry’ by Mark Devries and honestly if you are in youthwork, especially (though not exclusively) if you’re in Church based youth ministry, this is a book to be read. With a notebook and pen next to you, one chapter at a time while you pause in between to decide how the bit you’ve just read relates to your own group. It is fantastic and one of the things that the book recommends is learning to play ‘Church Politics’.

So much of what we think do and say is about or affected by expectations. Whether we wear them on our sleeves or hid them under layers of politeness and/or insecurity, what we expect of other people in our lives makes a massive difference to our overall outlook and attitude to life. Learning to live without expectations of others can mean success instead of failure, across the whole spectrum of life.

Knowing the people you work with enough to be able to get alongside them and encourage them in what they do is a sure way to make life much happier! Understanding what makes people tick and how to work with them instead of having to fight a battle to get your opinions heard has got to be the best plan for working relationships. Now don’t read me wrong, I’m not talking about manipulating people, I’m not suggesting we simply get to know someone so that we can get the best out of them in a selfish way. I am saying that we ought to get to know those we work with and for in order that those relationships can work for the best for all concerned.

I am a youthworker and I will play the ‘politics’ game, but call it Working With Others and do it in love and out of respect for those I work with and for.