Calling the faithful city back to the faithful God

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Starter for Ten

Starter for Ten

Around a hundred of us thoroughly enjoyed The Big Quiz last Saturday night, the first evening of the new 2018 SPBC social programme. I’ve never gone as far as joining a regular pub quiz team or registering to ‘be on a show’ but I am an unashamed lover of all things questionable. Earlier in the month I spent nearly a whole weekend watching old episodes of quizzes on the Challenge TV Channel – including Bullseye which I never even watched when it was on originally – although this TV marathon was due to family illness so I couldn’t recommend it! The only thing to beat a quiz is the synergy when a quiz features in a cool movie – one of my other loves – such as in a Starter for Ten (University Challenge) or She’s All That (Jeopardy).

Job, whose story is told in the Old Testament, does a lot of quizzing. Most quiz questions begin with what, when, who or how, but Job also wants to know why, especially in the face of his suffering and that of his family. I think that’s something we can all identify with to varying degrees throughout our lives. I believe that God does give us answers at times, but he also has questions for us. God, for example, asked Job ‘where does light come from and where does darkness go?’, a question with an answer maybe too convoluted for your average quiz show, even for Only Connect or UC which prize themselves on being a cut above average. God goes on to say to Job, ‘you are God’s critic, but do you have the answers?’

I could endlessly swat up on trivia but I have a feeling, like Job, that I’ll end up concluding that ‘I was talking about things…far too wonderful for me.’ The Chase is great and I’ll always love pursuing learning, but the small questions in life will always be Pointless by comparison with the really big questions. If you seek you will find, so maybe go searching today?

Memories that matter

Memories that matter

It is almost Christmas Day, and the run up to Christmas has been an interesting one, not least because of all the snowfall that led to widespread disruption last week. People snowed in, cars abandoned, church services cancelled, roads as ice rinks and many schools and colleges closed, it certainly made for a less than average few days.

Unlike many parents across the county, our children were able to go in to school everyday last week – albeit with extra layers and wellington boots.

As I packed up their snow day extras – gloves, boots, hats and scarves, I was instantly swept back in time to happy memories of being pulled to school on a toboggan by my late Grandfather, him knee deep in snow and me on a red sledge with blue rope, clutching my lunch, holding on tight. I fondly recalled my named wooden peg that kept my welly boots together under my coat peg and the massive snowballs we rolled around the school field and then back through the village to the village green.

Like my fond memories, when I picked my children up at the end of a snowy day at school, they too were full of stories, of hot chocolate, giant snowmen and snowball competitions, tales of the teachers ambushing the children with snowballs, but the children claiming the narrow victory. Their faces were rosy, their noses a bit chilly, but overflowing with warmth and happiness.

The little flashbacks to my own childhood snow days and my own children’s stories of their now ‘best school day ever’ reminded me of the importance of making memories that matter.

The Bible reminds us to be careful, and watch ourselves closely so that we don’t forget the things our eyes have seen or let them fade from our hearts as long as we live. It says to teach them to your children and to their children after them.

So rather than wishing the snow away, we decided to make some new memories with our children – walks in fresh snow, snow angels and a snowman wearing Dad’s wooly hat and a carrot for a nose.

Christmas time brings with it a whole heap of worldly pressure and families feel this all too often, but the bottom line is your children and family won’t remember what kind of present you bought them, how much money you gave them. What they will remember is the time you spent with them.

This Christmas, why not focus on making memories that matter, memories that will last, memories that your children can one day tell to their children’s children.

Some memories just happen in the stories and sequence of life, like unexpected snow days, but others are more intentional, they require thought, effort and the precious gift of your time.

This Christmas I pray you will make memories that truly matter.

Seeking Guidance

Seeking Guidance

I have been a Guide Dog owner for almost as long as I have been a Christian.   But, in early August, I retired my much-loved Jay for health reasons.  This meant that for the first time in 34 years I was without a working dog, so it was time to start using my Long Cane again.

Using a cane is very different to working with a dog – I perceive the environment in a new way (becoming aware of obstacles that I never knew existed) and both my identity and the way some people interact with me have changed.

As I’ve been thinking about this it has occurred to me that our Christian faith and working with a Guide Dog have some things in common:

  • It is easy to take both for granted and to forget that many people do not share the benefits and privileges we have;
  • They influence how we perceive and experience our world;
  • They are ever present;
  • Other people see us differently if they are aware of our faith or notice a Guide dog;
  • Each gives us a shared identity with others who are Christians or Guide Dog Owners;
  • Each is so much part of daily life that we take the security they offer for granted and don’t realise the positive impact they have on the way we live.

But there is one key difference – our faithful and loving God is everlasting and will never retire,  so we will never have to cope with life without him.

So just as I will appreciate my new dog all the more when we train in January, I find myself valuing my faith and relationship with God in a new way and wanting to share this blessing with others who don’t yet have it.

Noisy good news story!

Noisy good news story!

Every October half term I am part of something very special that hits the streets of Worcester called The Noise. For three days, local young people come together to make a loud noise of love, hope and joy!

With up to a hundred young people, together with their leaders, The Noise launches with a lively worship gathering full of worship, prayer, teaching & training. Over the next two days, groups are then sent out to serve in social action & community building projects. This year we will work with our local Foodbank, unpacking donations, stacking shelves, weighing stock and making up emergency parcels. We will head out into the Arboretum area of Worcester to paint community spaces and local playgrounds. We will play music and share cake and conversation with the elderly in local care homes and serving the elderly, which is always a real treat! There will be art workshops for local families at Worcester Cathedral and opportunities to engage with those we meet through drama and street performances. We will also run a pop-up community café on Worcester Hight Street serving delicious home-baked treats and warm drinks, all for free!

The days are action packed but the evenings are fun filled too, with times to celebrate, have fun and build friendships. This year we will have a Silent Disco and an exciting UV Party!

The Noise is an action packed few days, which undoubtably takes a lot of planning and preparation, but it is one of the most rewarding things I am part of. To see a hundred young people coming together wanting to make a difference –  giving up their time and showing a passion for serving others, really is amazing!

It is a good news story! Yet in a recent blog, the London School of Economics highlighted that there is a growing body of evidence illustrating our human tendency to prioritise negative news over positive news content. We focus in on fear and destruction, where people are hurting and broken, where war reigns and where hope is absent. And when we focus on the worst of things, it becomes hard to see the good. We become negatively shaped by end-to-end bad news stories.

In a world with seemingly little love, hope and joy, The Noise is so refreshing and encouraging. In Psalm 34 v12 David wrote:

“Who out there has a lust for life? Can’t wait each day to come upon beauty?”

In a few short weeks I will get to witness first hand, a really good news story. It will be a story that tells of the care and love that young people have for other people and the passion they have within them to positively impact on their community. When The Noise hits the streets you won’t have to look too hard to see something beautiful happening; to see places and people being restored; to see the lonely people being valued and loved; to see people coming together building friendships and making a difference. It is a little piece of heaven here on Earth.

I want to be a person who chooses to do good and chooses to see good in others; to wake up each day with a lust for life, seeking beauty and joy in the everyday! Each day there are countless opportunities to live out the good that is within us. Each day there are opportunities for that which is good to override that which is bad. Each day there are opportunities for love to override hate in our world.

Right to Roam?

Right to Roam?

In the classic Peanuts cartoons, there’s a line I love about not needing a national children’s day because ‘every day is children’s day.’ To a poet every day is a poetry day but because poetry can be lost in the clamour of daily life we have an annual focal point for poetry, National Poetry Day, this year on September 28th.

Recently a friend talked to me about having the ‘right to roam’, figuratively speaking rather than the literal freedom of access to country walks for ramblers. This ‘freedom to roam’ idea made me think of William Blake’s youthful poem about loss of innocence and liberty, about being shut in a golden cage. The poem begins, ‘How sweet I roam’d from field to field.’ Tennyson’s 1832 poem, ‘The Lady of Shalott’, is also about being alive, seeming to have a gilded life garlanded with roses and pearls, yet in reality lacking freedom, existing in a half-life of shadows with ‘little joy’ or time ‘to sport or play.’

In the New Testament, we read of a counter-cultural life, life in all its fulness and of being set free to live a truly free life. I admit to sometimes choosing the seeming safety of a gilded cage over uncertain liberty. And yet, poetically in the Old Testament, God promises to look after his ‘sheep’, to lead them to lush pasture, free to roam mountain pleasures and with sufficient food, rest, safety, direction, and health.

So, ahead of National Poetry Day I’m off to my poet’s garret to do a bit more musing but I’m going to be careful not to spend too much time there lest I miss out on living. As the ever-sensible Jane Austen wrote, ‘too much poetry may be unsafe’, although I guess focussing on it once a year won’t hurt!

Embracing inconvenience!

Embracing inconvenience!

This week Team Wearing had the opportunity to host Kevin, Jackson and Uncle Ryan from the African Children’s Choir once again.

This was an unexpected return and on the face of it presented perhaps something of an inconvenience…. the juggling of cars, borrowing guest beds, Daisy moving bedrooms, a big Lidl’s shop, enlisting the help of Grandad for school runs……and yet what we discovered as a family was that this opportunity represented something that we often take for granted: Time.

In our world of pressures, it becomes so easy for us to go to work or go to school, to plan out our evenings and get into established routines… filling out each day with predictability.

However we have been reminded this past week that God often has other plans for us.

We have learnt that he gives us seemingly inconvenient opportunities, reminding us just how attached we are to our routines, and instead shows us how we should cherish every moment we have with those that we love.

For us, our routines and certainty make us effective people, but we have been reminded this week, that through embracing the inconvenient things God brings our way, we can be  truly blessed and now would do well to reflect on whether what we do each day with our time, is pleasing to God.

Life is precious because it is short and unpredictable.

Perhaps next time, you have an inconvenience come your way, something that means a bit of juggling of time and plans, you can thank God for everything he has already given you and embrace the unpredictability! Inconvenience might very well remind us of how blessed we really are, bring us true joy and even a new revelation of God, his awesomeness and his unfailing love.

Tonight our house is back to ‘normal’, the TV is on, homework is done, the dishwasher is on…. and all is predictable…. but it is terribly quiet and a little bit ’empty’.

Kevin and Jackson magnified the love of God in our home. Their sense of awe, wonder and fun… their warmth to us, and the childlike love in their hearts for the Father, has undoubtedly changed Team Wearing and will have a lasting impact on our lives.

Reflections on suffering

Reflections on suffering

I’ve been reflecting recently on my experience over this last winter, starting in October when I was diagnosed with acute leukaemia up to news of my remission several weeks ago. I’m indebted to Brian McLaren’s book Naked Spirituality for stimulating my thoughts on this subject of suffering. This has been a difficult time for me, especially after a couple of the chemo treatments when I was at my lowest, wondering what the future held and even whether I was going to come through.

It’s easy (and natural, I suppose) to ask the question ‘why’ when we go through tough times – but it’s not a very helpful question because there’s not a really satisfying answer. We know we live in a broken world where bad things still happen, so to ask ‘why me?’ is perhaps selfish. Perhaps we should ask instead ‘why not me?’

However, rather than looking for reasons for an experience like the one I’ve gone through, perhaps a better question is to ask ‘what good has come or will come out of this suffering?’ As Brian McLaren says: ‘Ultimately, when we suffer, what we need is not explanations or reasons but meaning’.

For me, the good that has come from my bad experience includes:

–  the sense of being surrounded by a loving fellowship and community that supported and upheld me in the most difficult days – and the opportunity given to so many to demonstrate that (as seen, I believe, by  others around me who are not believers). I’ve been so conscious of the prayers of so many, both locally and in different parts of the world;

–  the goodness of God experienced through the progress of modern medicine and treatments that means I am now in remission;

–  the good relationships I built up with nursing and medical staff in hospital (people I wouldn’t otherwise have met) and the way it has opened my eyes to their dedication, care and professionalism, working long hours in often difficult and unpleasant circumstances;

–  the way I can now empathize with others who are going through similar situations. For some people at least I can now say ‘I know what you’re going through’ and mean it – and hope that will be a comfort and bring hope to them.

None of us want to go through suffering of any kind but rather than being beaten by it, let’s look for the positives that come out of it – always in the knowledge of course that whatever happens God is there with us, understands what we’re going through and ultimately will bring complete healing and eternal  joy in his very presence.

 

Community, submission, transformation

Community, submission, transformation

I’m off on a cruise for a week. I’ve always said that they’d never get me on one of those huge white boats. However, I am submitting to my friend Hilary and to my husband Neil by joining them on a cruise. So, I have sacrificed my desire for green grass and isolated places with amazing views for a big white ship filled with hundreds of other people.  And what’s more, I am really excited about it! I am going to enjoy this, and not only when I find some grass, isolation and views when we dock!

God has been taking me on a journey recently, revisiting what submission is all about. I discover it is about not sticking up for ‘me’ but instead deciding to promote community. It is about putting relationship before getting my own way, even when I know I am right. It is about acknowledging, respecting and encouraging those people who are in leadership in my life, acting graciously rather than being the constant rebel who wants to cause trouble. It is about realising that even if their way is not perfect it can be better to go along with it for the greater good. It is about giving up my selfishness but not my integrity. It is about giving in with grace and love for the other, always knowing that I am a beloved child of God.

Oswald Chambers said the key to discipleship is to “become broken bread and poured-out wine in the hands of Jesus Christ for the sake of others.

When I am unsure of myself and seeking acceptance I cannot submit to others as I should. Instead I become critical and try to put forward what I think is right even when this damages community. When I am confident about who I am in God, I do not need praise from others. When I am sure about where he has placed me and what he wants me to do, I don’t need to be ‘heard’ or to be ‘recognised’. As I first seek God and to live humbly with Him, I am enabled to live humbly in community with others.

Jesus said “Whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.” We are called to submit to God so that He can create something beautiful: a transformed life and a transformed community.

Cross of Stability?

Cross of Stability?

“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Cor 1 v18)

One of the highlights of my week is getting together with a bunch of other crazy people at 9am on Saturday morning in order to attend ‘MetaPwr’ – a hit-intensity fitness class led by Spencer from Faith Within Fitness. This class requires us to subject ourselves to a tough 20 minute workout, designed to build core muscles and improve overall fitness. In theory, it is the perfect way to start the weekend, especially if followed by coffee in Eden Coffee Shop!

A recent class was held in the main hall at St. Peter’s Baptist Church, a venue which always increases the workout intensity as the room is always too hot (for me!). However, one of my fellow victims remarked that he liked the venue, as looking at the wooden cross in the hall helped him to ‘remain stable’ during the exercises.

The cross – a source of stability? That was too interesting a thought to ignore!

A quick internet search confirms that considering the cross of Christ as a source of stability is not a new concept. For example, the Rev. Tomas Bissland, Rector of Hartley Maudytt and Chaplin to Lord Bexley in the 1830s, wrote a book claiming that the faithful preaching of ‘the cross’ was not only the ‘effectual means for conversion of the sinner’ but also the source of ‘stability of the church’. Whether the sinners he had in mind where those engaged in a such a pedestrian lifestyle that a Saturday morning high-intensity workout should have been the prescribed penance I do not know! However, just as with my workout friend, it is clear that the Rev. Bissland saw stability within the story of the cross.

All that considered, as I have thought again about the Easter story again, it has struck me how the cross of Christ is something which actually causes instability within what may otherwise be considered the ‘normal’ way of the world. As a result of Jesus’ sacrifice everything is turned upside down. Weakness is shown to be a source strength. Defeat becomes victory over death. Suffering leads to salvation. I think St. Paul picked up on this too, when he wrote to the Corinthians:

“Some demand signs and others look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to some and foolishness to others, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1 Cor 1 v22-24)

The cross disrupts those seeking stability by their own means, be that through religion or philosophical discussion and the pursuit of wisdom.

So, where does this leave me? When I look at the cross and consider all that Christ has done, I find myself questioning where my hope is placed and what I hold on to in order to make sense of everything. I find I am all too easily sucked in to believing all the promises of security offered by our current culture. The cross challenges me to test again what is the source and foundation of what I rely upon for stability.

One for All

One for All

“You’ve received a free upgrade.” The words every Spring Harvester longs to hear when they arrive at Butlins. This year, for the first time in five, we were welcomed with this sentence, upgraded from standard to silver! We knew it was going to be a great week!

This is the first year we attended with two children and this meant a very different experience for us. No more after hours entertainment or leisurely lie ins, nope, up at 7.00am for breakfast in time for Big Start and back home for 9.30pm. The time in between was spent trying to persuade small children to go to their groups, going on the funfair numerous times and enduring the never ending requests for ice cream. However, all this added up to the best year we’ve had so far. What an absolute privilege to holiday, worship and learn with thousands of Christians from across the world, as well as with our own children.

The theme for 2017 was Unity under the banner ‘One for All.’ We explored John 17 with Krish Kandiah, who opened up the truths of Jesus’ final prayer. The idea that most captured my imagination was this: what if we put aside our differences, what if we agree to disagree, what if we unite in Jesus, the one whom we all strive to serve and honour and glorify? What if we were so passionate about reaching people for Jesus, about sharing his love and plan for them, that we couldn’t care less about denominations, about ‘religion’ or about which church people choose to worship at? What if we put aside our differences and put our energy into building Christ-based relationships with those we sit next to on a Sunday morning, those who worship in a different building, those who are from a different class, country or culture?

Imagine if we could offer the world a ‘free upgrade’ on their view of Christianity, the church and of God. What an incredible difference we can make, if as individual Christians, we commit to being united!

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