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?

Posted in Blessed to be a blessing, discipleship, Faith, Life experiences, Life in all it's fullness | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Being honest about our faith, church, Faith, modern parable, Parable | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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.

Posted in acceptance, depression, Faith, God is with us, Life experiences, Relationship with God, restoration | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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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It’s time to play together nicely!

It was surprising, and very encouraging!!!, to see Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn walking next to each other laughing in Parliament.

One of the things which I have found especially sad about the recent UK election campaign is the hatred and anger that has been a central part of it for many people.

You know the sort of nonsense and lies that have been spouted:

‘Corbyn is a Jihadi sympathizer’

‘Dianne Abbott is incompetent’

‘The Conservatives are the nasty party’

I hope that one of the consequences of our hung parliament is that our politicians might learn to respect each other and to cooperate again. This is why I was so encouraged by what I saw in Parliament yesterday as the speaker of the house was elected.

It was great to see Theresa May congratulate John Bercrow following his unanimous appointment by joking “At least someone got a landslide.”

Jeremy Corbyn congratulated the Prime Minister and said that “democracy is a wonderful thing and can bring up some very unexpected results.”

A short while later they walked out together smiling and chatting and this was a wonderful picture of what things could be like.

This Parliament could be a real opportunity to discover what it means for politicians from across the political spectrum to learn from each other.

In life we all work and live alongside people and we are all expected to get on and to try to be productive together whether we agree with them or not.

I hope and pray that over these next few years that politicians can travel together down the road of respect, listening and cooperation that the rest of us walk along each day.

If people could have been spared the spin, hatred and accusations then the election would have been so much more constructive.

Instead of hearing ‘Labours sums don’t add up’, it would have been great to debate which parts of their costed manifesto were causing the problem for people and to consider how these areas could be improved before dismissing their plan.

Instead of hearing that ‘the Tories only care for the rich’,  it would have been good to have debated which of their policies appear to favour the rich and to consider how these policies could be modified before stereotyping them.

Instead of focusing almost exclusively on the Labour and Tories shouting at each other, it would have been good to have had a debate about Taxation and the Lib Dems proposal about raising tax by 1p. With the rising costs of the NHS I don’t think it is sustainable to run it without cuts or raised taxes and this needs thinking through rather than juts shouting at each other about it.

I think that the spin and lies ruined the election and they also have potentially .damaged lives

Ironically, the person who was most vilified in the campaign and painted as being unfit to be an MP was also the person who got a record 35000 majority proving that she is in fact an extremely competent and well respected public servant. It is also now emerging that Diane Abbott has type 2 diabetes and the way that the press has hounded her is even more upsetting knowing it was her illness that was causing her problems.

I believe it’s time to put aside party politics and to campaign for what we think is good and important for our country. It is possible that the Government may need votes from opposition MP’s to get laws passed and this provides a real opportunity for people to have some input into shaping the Governments agenda.

For me, I want to see the country run in a financially prudent way. I think that we need to move towards reducing the national debt but I do not want to see us do this at the expense of the poor and vulnerable n our society.

I will be praying that our MP’s would learn what it is to play and work well together as they work for the good of the country rather than the advancement of their own political party.

You may think that this is all wishful thinking but I believe that miracles are possible.

Central to the Christian faith is the command to love one another.
When we love people, even our enemies, it makes it possible to work alongside and cooperate with them.

God, please make Great Britain truly Great again!

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Looking through the lens of life or the lens of God?

Often we look at God through the lens of life.

How different would things be if we looked at life through the lens of God?

Our circumstances and how we are feeling can make a difference to how we view other people and it is no different with God.

So, instead of letting our circumstances dictate our view of God, why don’t we let God dictate our view of our circumstances?

We are living in extraordinary times where there is so much pain and darkness in the world. Will we allow that darkness to skew our view of God or will we allow the light and hope that God embodies to fill us and to spread out to those around us?

Are we doomed to be crushed when things go wrong or do we still believe that God is all powerful and that he is at work in every situation even when we can’t see it clearly?

Is our faith determined by what we see around us or by our view of who God is?

God, help us to look to you and to see who you really are.
I thank you that you are good and that you love the whole world and I pray that you would help us to look to you when everything around us is in chaos.
Thank you God that you do not change. Amen

 

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Hopeless or Hope?

It’s possible that following the General Election result in the UK that you are feeling despondent today?

A few weeks ago I produced this design for a prayer card that we are going to circulate to the homes around our church.

The wording on the back says.

We live in a world that can feel confusing and
sad but we believe that God can change things.

I think that I needed to hear these words this morning and perhaps you do as well?

As Christians we can just despair when things seem go wrong or we can cry out to God in faith calling on him to continue to be at work in the midst of the hurt, confusion and disappointment?

Which will it be?

I’m praying for our country today.

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The people who don’t usually vote have the power to win the election

The stats are from the 2010 General election but the principle is the same. Please vote tomorrow, your vote really does make a difference

Honest about my faith

So, if just before the 2010 general election I had started my own political party and if everyone who was eligible to vote but who didn’t on that day had changed their minds and voted for me, then I would have won.

Let that sink in and see why your vote really does matter.

Some people don’t vote because they think it will make no difference, but the numbers show that a huge amount of the population of the UK don’t understand the power that they have.

2010 general election share of vote pie chartLet’s look at the numbers.

The percentage share of the vote from 2010 is shown in this pie chart. (The percentages are taken from the BBC website).

At the last general election the Conservatives got the largest share of votes which was 36%.

The turnout at those same elections was 65.1% which means that 34.9% of people who were eligible to, actually didn’t vote.

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Grow Towards the Light

As I prayed with some friends recently I looked out the window (you don’t have to close your eyes to pray you know!) and I noticed the tree in the next door garden.

As the tree has grown, the main trunk has split into two and the two trunks/branches look as though someone has prised them apart.

At the time we were praying about spiritual growth and as I looked at the tree, it occurred to me that growth isn’t always straightforward or even straight.

As I talked with my friend later about why the tree hadn’t grown straight, his theory was that it had grown towards the light.

This seemed like a helpful reminder to us. There is so much uncertainty in the world and at times it is unclear what we should do and how we should respond but if we are growing towards the light then we will be heading in the right direction.

Jesus, light of the world may we be drawn to you and may your light shine on, in and through us. Amen.

Posted in discipleship, Faith, Learning, Life experiences, Listening to God, Prayer, Relationship with God | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment