I’m So Proud

Tonight I am going to watch my son perform in the final of local Band Wars competition and I couldn’t be prouder.

My son and his friends made it through the heats and because of their excellent performances and they are now deservedly in the final.

As a dad, I want to support my children in anything they do but what makes supporting my son easier tonight is that he is a really, and I mean really talented musician.

When we turn to him, God adopts us into his family and we become his children.

God cheers for and supports us because he loves us but there are also moments when he celebrates with us when we do well or acheive something.

It’s an amazing feeling seeing someone who we care about achieves something amazing or that we know that they found difficult.

God’s love for us is everlasting and unconditional but God loves it when we find fulfillment and when he sees us grow and change.

Do you know you are loved by God?

What have you done recently to make God proud?

If your instinct is to say nothing, then I would encourage you to think about it some more and even ask someone who knows you well and I think you will be surprised. If God is at work in you then there is a good chance you have made him proud in some way.

However my son performs tonight, I will be cheering him on.

However we perform today, God our father cheers us on and I hope that we can live in such a way that we make him proud.

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Looking for God Moments

When we serve God and create our own definition of success, it can lead to us feeling we have failed when we should be celebrating the amazing things that God is doing!

Last week, I spent a few days at the Breakout Pioneer Gathering which was an encouraging and inspirational time! (Pioneers are people who are trying to work in new and creative ways to help people who don’t know Jesus yet to have opportunities to connect with him).

It is so helpful to have time to stop and think and as a result of having some space by being at the gathering, I stopped worrying about something that I didn’t know was even troubling me. Better than that, I even began celebrating something I had been discouraged about.

At Orchard Baptist we have been encouraged by lots of new people joining the church in the past year. Because of the relaxed, down to earth and creative way we do church, some of those people are reconnecting with church life or their faith. Orchard is becoming a home where people can explore what it means to be a follower of Jesus in the 21st Century and this is very encouraging.

Despite this growth, I have been discouraged because we haven’t had many people who are new to the Christian faith.

One of the things that I remembered and re learnt at the Breakout Gathering is that God is at work in everyone’s life in different ways. It’s natural to want to celebrate someone coming to know and follow Jesus because they have discovered hope and life. Alongside this though, we also need to celebrate when we see God at work in the lives of people who are on their way towards him

In the past year, we haven’t seen many new Christians but we have seen many, many, and I mean many God moments.

One of the things that I have been intentionally trying to do is to say something like ‘that reminds me of something that Jesus said’ if it seems appropriate in a conversation. As I have done this, the thing I have talked about the most is Jesus calming the storm with the words ‘peace be still’. As I speak with people who are stressed or afraid of what lies ahead, I have told the story and have encouraged them to hear the words of Jesus, ‘peace be still’ speaking to the storms and stresses in their minds and circumstances. None of these people have become Christians that I am aware of but the have all had God moments as they have been given the chance to encounter Jesus and to receive his peace.

How about you? How do you measure your success in sharing the good news?

If we look for, join in with and celebrate God moments in the lives of people who don’t know Jesus yet then we will realize that we have so much to celebrate.

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Growth Is Happening Even When We Can’t See It

Jesus said that the Kingdom of God is like a tree that is growing, so why do we expect everything to happen so quickly? I mean, have you ever stood and watched a tree grow? Growth is evident over time but in the moment, trees and plants just look like nothing is happening.

Jesus said, “How can I describe the Kingdom of God? What story should I use to illustrate it? It is like a mustard seed planted in the ground. It is the smallest of all seeds, but it becomes the largest of all garden plants; it grows long branches, and birds can make nests in its shade.” Mark 4.30-32

A tree is constantly growing even if we can’t see it and it’s encouraging to be reminded that the Kingdom of God is growing constantly even if we can’t see it.

Are you frustrated by slow spiritual growth in yourself and others?

How can we learn to look for and to celebrate what God is doing even when things aren’t happening as quickly as we would like?

How can we help create the right conditions for spiritual growth?

Trees grow towards the light!
Are we looking to and trying to become more like Jesus, the light of the world?

Trees need strong roots to grow.
Are we rooted in God and his love or are we drawing our nutrition and resources from other places.

Trees need water to grow.
Are we open to receiving the living water of Holy Spirit and the refreshing and life that he will bring into our lives?

Sometimes we are clearly surrounded by Gods presence, life and vitality but at other times it feels like God’s presence is far away. In these moments of disappointment, will we give in to despair or will we give thanks that the Kingdom of God is growing (even if we can’t see it!) and do what we can to make a difference. We can pray and remind people that God is there and we can pray some more.

I hope that we will never come to believe that God CAN’T change something!

Thank you God that your Kingdom is growing constantly even when we can’t see it.
Please, help us to look for and to celebrate what you are doing instead of complaining that nothing is happening because it doesn’t appear dramatic enough.
Help us to work with you to become the people who you call us to be.
Amen

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An Unexpected Visitor

Several weeks ago we discovered that we had a mouse in the house and so we bought some mouse poison which the mouse ate and so we assumed that was the end of him.

In the intervening weeks various people in the family had, ‘I’m sure there is still a mouse in our house’ moments.

Tracey was sure she had seen it a few times and some of the children thought that they heard it scratching around but I was a lot more skeptical having neither seen or heard it.

We knew that the mouse had been living in our piano as a patch of the floor underneath had been covered with mouse droppings. We had cleared up and they hadn’t reappeared over the course of a few weeks and so as far as I was concerned, the evidence pointed to us being a mouse free house :).

Then the night came when everything changed! Tracey and I were watching TV and suddenly the mouse appeared and walked behind the TV cabinet.

We blocked the routes out from behind the cabinet, called our teenagers, armed ourselves with some fishing nets and an old hamster cage and then we were ready to pounce.

Because the mouse was in a confined space it was actually fairly easy to capture it in one of the nets. We then got him into the hamster cage and took him to some nearby woodland to release him.  (I’ve included some video footage of the moment of his release which I have posted below).

A day or two after this and I was talking with someone about moments when we feel that God is far away or not there.

God’s presence can feel a lot like having a mouse in your house. Even when the majority of the evidence pointed to the mouse not being there, he still was.

God is with us always, but sometimes we forget he is there. I think this is why Jesus said ‘where 2 or 3 of are gathered in my name, I am in the midst’. I don’t think he meant that if there is enough of us then he will turn up, rather I think he was saying ‘when you talk among yourself as my followers, don’t forget I am in the midst’.

God is ever present and so when we can’t feel his presence he is actually still there. In these moments, we need to learn to focus on him and to look for signs of his presence.

In my experience, it is often when I am overwhelmed with other things that I can’t feel God with me. When I remember what God has done and focus on him afresh though he can then help with what I am feeling.

God is ever present! How can we be more focused on him?

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The Happy Song that is really Desperately Sad

A few weeks earlier we had heard school children singing it enthusiastically but as we walked around Carlisle Castle we discovered that the song was the result of a desperately sad story.

Perhaps you’ve heard the song:

O ye’ll tak’ the high road and I’ll tak’ the low road,
An’ I’ll be in Scotland afore ye;
But me and my true love will never meet again
On the bonnie, bonnie banks O’ Loch Lomond.

I have heard it sung many times and I have not yet heard it sung as a lament. It is always happy, always hopeful, always enthusiastic.

Astonishingly though, according to a display in Carlisle Castle, the words were written by a captured soldier who had been sentenced to death.

The unnamed soldier had joined Bonnie Prince Charlie in the 1745 uprising and had been involved in many victories as their army made it all the way from the Highlands of Scotland to Derby. Things went wrong though and the Jacobite army ended up retreating to Scotland and the writer of the song was captured and imprisoned at Carlisle Castle.

The prisoners were kept in horrendous, dark and cramped conditions and there was so little water that they licked the moisture off the walls.

This soldier had fought for something that he believed in but it had all gone wrong. As he lived out his last days in darkness he wrote these words for his true love who he would never meet again.

The most likely interpretation of the high and low roads is that he believed that he would travel back to Scotland on the ‘low’ or ‘spirit’ road following his death.

The story behind this song is so moving, meaningful and powerful but for me and perhaps many others we have only ever heard it as a happy song.

I think this is an example of a prevalent attitude in our culture. We don’t want to focus on negativity or sadness, everything needs a positive spin on it, every story needs a happy ending.

Jesus said, ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted’ (Matthew 5.4)

God is willing to meet with us in our pain but in order for him to do so, we actually need to embrace our pain rather than trying to gloss over or to hide from it.

There is no blessing on pain and sorrow but there is a deep and powerful blessing in the presence and comfort of God in times when we feel lost, helpless and broken.

Life today will inevitably involves pain and I hope that we can learn what it is to embrace and to accept it and to open ourselves up to the comfort of God who loves us more than we know.

 

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She Came Last but the Crowd Cheered Loudly

I had never been to a school sports day like it.

The largest cheer of the day was for someone who came last in what was the slowest time of the day by a very long way.

My daughter attends a school for children with learning difficulties and recently it was their sports day. It was a real joy to watch these young people taking part and it was refreshing to hear how much someone had improved being celebrated alongside who was winning the various races.

The highlight of the day came during the 200m when one of the runners sat down on the track with around 100m to go. A member of staff made their way over to the runner and helped her up and they both began walking towards the finishing line.

The girl involved was clearly distraught and she looked down at the ground as she trudged along the race track

It was especially impressive that she was going to finish the race even if it was in the slowest time of the day and so as she neared the finishing line the crowd began to clap.

As we clapped, the girl looked up and began to grin. The misery faded, the trudging stopped and the girl began to run and as she did the crowd began to cheer!

As we began to cheer, the grin gave way to a beaming face and the girl began to wave to us as she ran along. As she was about to cross the finish line she stopped, faced the crowd and bowed and in that moment the crowd went wild.

There were some great sporting moments that afternoon. I was immensely proud of my daughter who ran with joy but my dominant memory of that sports day will always be of the girl who took great delight in finishing even though she came last.

The Bible compares the way we live out our faith to running a race and the language is always about finishing the race, not coming first or beating everyone else.

Sometimes I feel as if I am running well in my faith whilst at other times it feels more like I am trudging along the track.

It was wonderful to be reminded that we aren’t running the race alone and that as we do our best to live out our faith there is a real opportunity for us to cheer one another on.

Without a cheering crowd, the runner would have finished but she still would have felt miserable. As we cheered, she found value and self-worth in who she was and what she was doing and this surely should inspire us to cheer one another on in life.

How can we cheer someone on in their life of faith today?

How can we encourage someone and encourage them to keep going?

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King For A Day?

On Father’s day my family presented me with this mug which on one side says:

‘TO THE BEST DAD EVER
HAPPY FATHERS DAY’

On the other side it says

‘KING FOR A DAY’

I was drinking out of this very mug this morning and I started wondering if we ever treat God like this?

Christians say that Jesus is the King of Kings but do we really treat him like he is King for a day?

Perhaps we honour him on Sundays but then largely ignore him for the rest of the week?

Perhaps we are happy for him to be King as long as he agrees with us, although doesn’t that put us in charge?

Perhaps we love him being King until things appear to be going wrong and then our trust reverts to ourselves?

Perhaps we are happy for him to be King of our spare time but not much more?

If any of these things describe our attitude to God then it is fairly bizarre because:

Jesus created the world

Jesus is the all powerful God who knows everything and can do anything

Jesus loves us and he chose to come into this world as one of us to show us. He came to show us what God is like and to open the way for us to know God through his sacrifice on the cross.

Jesus is the King of Kings but we can make a choice as to whether we want him to be our King or not. Jesus is supremely qualified, he has the authority and power to rule and he also loves us and is wanting us to find fulfillment in life as we discover who he created us to be.

Is Jesus your King?

Is he King for life, King for Day or King sometimes?

Posted in Faith, Following Jesus, God is powerful, God loves us, Jesus, Kingdom of God, Saved by Jesus | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Are we Listening?: A Modern Parable

The Church was on a mission and they were excited following the launch of several new projects. One Saturday morning they decided to go into their community to tell people about what they were offering. Peter couldn’t wait to share the great news about his church and so he made sure that he was first out of the door. As he walked along, he noticed a young woman trying to carry some bags full of toys.

‘Hello’ he said. ‘I’m Peter from your local Baptist church and we’re out and about today to tell everyone about the projects we are running to bless the community’. ‘I’m jus…’ said the woman but Peter cut in ‘you need to come to our new toddler group, it has the latest in toys and play equipment and we’ve even turned our baptistery into a giant ball pool. What did you say? … You couldn’t come to that …. Okay, you probably have older children and so you need to bring them to our summertime activities. We are offering a holiday club with free lunches so you can be free from your little horrors for a few hours each day’. Peter then thrust some leaflets into the woman’s hand and sped feeling very pleased with himself at having shared the gospel.

Mary wasn’t as keen as Peter but she knew that it was important to talk about her faith with people outside of the church. Mary was the last out the door and as she walked along she met a lady clinging to some bags full of toys and some church leaflets as she cried. Mary was supposed to be talking about church projects but instead she decided to try ‘Are you okay?’

Later that day, Peter was walking back to the church to get more leaflets when he noticed Mary coming out of the coffee shop with the young woman. Peter heard Mary say ‘nice to meet you Karen’ before seeing Karen hug Mary tightly as she said ‘thanks for listening, it was just what I needed’.

As Peter and Mary walked back to the church together Mary told him that Karen was on her way home from the contact centre where she had gone to meet her children who had been removed by social services. Tragically several buses hadn’t arrived (apparently the drivers were on strike) and so Karen had missed her appointment and she was on her way home carrying the toys that she had carefully selected for her children so that they could have something familiar with them in their foster home

Karen accepted that she had made bad choices in the past but she was also trying so hard to turn her life around but she felt like it all just kept going wrong. All that changed though as Karen got to know Mary and she even began to help at the church lunch club. The food hygiene certificate was her first ever qualification and she cried when Mary gave it to her. Her experience at the lunch club even gave her the confidence to apply for a catering course in the local college. Whenever she sees Peter she tells him that she is hoping and praying for a day when she can bring her children to the church holiday club.

We may not have all the resources that we would like but we are all able to listen.

To consider:

People are more important than programmes. How do we keep this important emphasis central in our outreach programmes and strategies?

Do our church programmes help or hinder us from building relationships with people? Do we see ourselves just as service providers or as people who will offer time, care and friendship? Would we be more missional if we gave up all of our outreach activities and spent the time befriending people instead?

 

This is one of a series of parables that are being written for the churches in The Eastern Baptist Association to provoke us to consider who we are and how we engage with the world around us.You can look at the previous parables by visiting the EBA website.

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Praying for People Affected by the Grenfell Tower Tragedy

I’ve been thinking about the best way to pray for people affected by the tragic events in London this week and especially how to pray about the anger that is currently being emphasized by the media

As I considered this earlier today, I remembered the five stages of grief which is a model created by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross to help us to understand how people grieve.

The five stages are:

   Denial

In these past few days I’ve heard many people use phrases like ‘This shouldn’t have happened’. It was with a sense of disbelief that many of us watched this tragedy unfold and I can’t begin to imagine the shock that the survivors of this disaster are feeling at this time.

We should pray for those in shock that they would know God’s comfort and we can also give thanks for the many people who are offering practical love, help and support. We can pray that these people who are offering care would be strengthened and that they would be given the resources that they need.

   Anger 

As we have seen, denial can be swiftly followed by anger. ‘It’s not fair’ is a common reaction in any bereavement but for a tragedy on this scale it is not surprising to see eruptions of intense anger.

We should pray for the peacemakers in the community. I was impressed with this interview with Swarzy Macaly who took questions about anger and responded with a message of love and compassion. We should pray for her and the hundreds like her who are bringing love and not hatred to a damaged and hurting community.

   Bargaining

This stage centers around the hope that we can somehow get our loved one back. The thought process of the person grieving might be ‘take me instead of them’ or a plea to bring them back in exchange for a change in behaviour.

As people enter into bargaining, we should pray for them that they would find peace and acceptance at the end of the turmoil of these thought processes. We should also be praying for people who are already living with survivors guilt, wishing they had died instead of the people who have been lost.

   Depression

Bargaining is a stage that will inevitably lead to depression and darkness. Despite all of the what if’s, those who have died have not returned and as this sinks in people who are grieving will reach their lowest point. Often people get to this stage after funerals have taken place, when they are no longer busy and when their support may have diminished.

In a few more days or weeks, the media attention will die down and the relief being offered will also diminish. We need to especially pray for those who are mourning at this time that they would find a light in the darkness. We should also be praying for the churches and the people in the community that they will continue to see the importance of offering love and support when the practical help of finding of homes and feeding people is no longer needed.

   Acceptance

When you lose a loved one your life will never be the same again. Although it is not something  you can get over, it is something that you can accept.

In the TV show Call the Midwife there was an episode where Jenny was distraught at the death of her boyfriend and as she wept over his loss she is given some advice. ‘You will feel better than this. Maybe not yet, but you will.‘ Jenny asks ‘will I’ only to be told ‘Yes, you just keep living until you are alive again‘.

The people who lived in and around Grenfell tower will never be the same again but they can reach a point of acceptance. My prayer for them in these coming days and weeks will be that they keep on living until they feel alive again.

The media has already moved the focus on to ‘why’ and ‘who is to blame’ but I believe that this is still a time for offering comfort to the broken and the hurting. Of course we must look for answers as to why and we should want justice to be done when those answers are found but if we focus only on these areas now then we will be failing to care for those who are affected by this tragedy in their hour of need

Jesus said ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted’ (Matthew 5.4)

The blessing that Jesus speaks of is the comfort that can be received. In the depths of our greatest pain, God walks with us and offers us comfort and my prayer is that many people would know the love and support that God offers at this time.

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God Carries the Anxieties of the World

Anxiety is a real problem for many people. According to recent research, 6% of people in the UK suffer with a generalized anxiety disorder¹ and most of the rest of us will have to contend with different levels of anxiety as we navigate our way through life in this stressful world.

Anxiety is only likely to be heightened by depressing and heartbreaking events as people begin to worry about whether those same things might happen to them or their loved ones It is certainly true that we live in very anxious times!

I was reading the Bible today and part of my reading said;

Cast all your anxiety on God because he cares for you.
1 Peter 5.7

As I pondered this verse I found it comforting to be reminded that God cares enough to want us to give him our anxieties; As I thought some more,  I was left in awe at the God who can actually manage to carry the anxieties of the world.

Miraculously, God can hear and see all of our concerns and he is at work in amongst the pain and chaos of this world. So,

If you are feeling anxious today, will you tell God?

If you are feeling anxious today, will you trust God?

If you are feeling anxious today, will you allow God to give you his gift of peace?

If you are feeling anxious today, will you cling to God until you find freedom?

Anxiety is a real problem but God wants to help us to be free from it. God’s gift of peace can mean instant freedom from feelings of anxiety but sometimes a longer process is required to find freedom. The road to peace begins with us giving over our worries and cares to God, after all he is waiting to carry them!

¹ https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/statistics-and-facts-about-mental-health/how-common-are-mental-health-problems/#.WUKlypDyvIV

 

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