Time to Reflect: Running Away from Responsibilities or doing something Really Important?

Although I have so much to get done and there so many possible things that could occupy my time, over these next few days I’m taking some time to pause and reflect.

It started this morning with a gathering to reflect on the life and work of CYO, an amazing charity of which I am a trustee which exists to help young people to grow in life, hope and faith. We spent time, sharing stories and hearing good news as well as reflecting on the way forward for the charity.

From Monday to Wednesday I’ll be at the Eastern Baptist Association Ministers conference where we will be reflecting on what it means to survive and thrive in ministry.

For many of us, the main problem with stopping to reflect for any period of time is that it can lead to us becoming more conscious of the many important things that we could be getting on with. This can lead to us feeling too busy to stop which then means that we end up running around like headless chickens doing them same things that we always have done.

alone-space-to-reflectWhat do you think?

When I take time out over these next few days, am I Running Away from my Responsibilities or doing something Really Important?

Is pausing to reflect on life Essential or just a bit of Escapism?

Jesus often made time to be alone, to rest and to pray.

On one occasion the disciples come to find him while he is taking time out and they try to draw him back to the busyness. Instead Jesus told them that it was time to move on and preach the good news in other places (Mark 1.35-39).

I must confess that this often feels to me like a strange choice from Jesus. He had crowds of people who wanted to hear the good news, but he left them to go throughout the region before returning to where he started several days later (Mark 2.1).

When we get caught up in busyness it means that we usually respond to what is happening in front of us. In contrast, when we pause to reflect and gain a better perspective then we can make choices for ourselves. Jesus shares the gospel effectively with a wider area before returning to where the crowds were still waiting to hear the good news.

Because he gained a better perspective, Jesus was effective rather than just feeling beholden to the nearby crowd.

The crowds didn’t set Jesus’ agenda, his heavenly father did. Jesus took time to pause, reflect and pray so that he might understand the bigger picture of where he was meant to be and what he was meant to do.

Over busyness is the destroyer of creativity

When I am too busy, often the work I do is often mediocre.

If we feel the need to be busy in order to be valued then we doom ourselves to a life of mediocrity.

Over busyness gives us tunnel vision rather than the healthy perspective that we need to live well.

When we are too busy we primarily respond to what is in front of us rather than looking at the bigger picture.

If we feel the need to be busy in order to be valued then we doom ourselves to a life where we try to meet people’s felt needs rather than what may really matter much more.

Over busyness leads to us doing what is urgent rather than what is important

When we are too busy we often just meet the needs of the people with the loudest voices. New opportunities and work with the most vulnerable people is often lost as we leap from one demand to the next.

If we feel the need to be busy in order to be valued then we leave ourselves more likely to serve the articulate and powerful than we do the vulnerable and the broken.

Pausing to reflect and pray is Essential

God has given us the Sabbath which is meant to be a day of rest and so as a minimum, we should be pausing to reflect and to gain perspective once a week.

Perhaps it’s time for any of us who are busyness addicts to realize that pausing and reflecting is essential to life.

On one occasion, Jesus sat by a well because he was tired and a day or two later most of the local village had been converted and you can read more about that story here (John 4).

Pausing for perspective and to work from a place of rest can make us more effective.

Please pray for me as I take time out that I might meet with God and regain his perspective and clarity for what he wants me to do.

Please also pray for Orchard Baptist Church. We have started 2017 with the theme ‘New Year! New Start?’ and we are taking time to try to discern what God is saying to us.

During the past month some new people have joined the church. They haven’t come because we are busier, rather they have come because we are trying to pause and to understand what God is saying.

As you pray for me and the church I serve, I would also like to pray for you that you can know what it is to pause and to find space to reconnect with God and to gain his perspective.

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The One About Labels

dsc01618Whilst I was helping to run a prayer space recently I was given these three stickers.

It started with someone giving me the one that says Graeme and this was closely followed by my daughter giving me the crazy man label. A few moments later, one of the children from the school in which we were running the prayer space  gave me the third sticker which says ‘the best thing God created’.

This young girl saw that I had been given a sticker that appeared negative and this inspired her to say something positive. Her actions were so kind and they encouraged me immensely. My only regret was that I didn’t think to offer her the sticker back to reinforce her self-worth because I believe that we are all the best thing that God created.

We all wear labels that define us.

Some of these labels are descriptive of our circumstances. For example I am a husband, father and church leader.

Other labels are things that can stick to us if spoken to us enough times, even if we know that those labels aren’t true. Perhaps we have come to believe that we are ugly, worthless, stupid or hopeless and these or perhaps other negative words are things that we believe define us and that shape our everyday lives and experiences.

Labels can also be positive and perhaps we have come to believe that we are creative, clever, beautiful, generous, kind or encouraging. Perhaps these or other positive words are things that we believe define us and that have a real impact on our everyday lives.

How will we choose to label others today? Will we speak positive blessings over each other or will we stab people in the back with negativity?

If we are put in a position where we are forced to criticize people, we can choose to do this in a positive way that shows people who they have the potential to be or in a negative way that causes someone the maximum amount of pain.

Constructive criticism is always specific, ‘if you could have added this it would have been even better’ and in contrast negativity is always general ‘it was just no good’, ‘you can’t do it’, ‘you really are hopeless’.

So, how will we choose to label others today? Will we speak positive blessings over each other or will we stab people in the back with negativity?

I hope and pray that we can all look for opportunities to bless and to encourage the people around us by speaking positive truths to them. The Bible encourages us to build one another up and I hope that we can make this a priority.

If you want to think further about these issues then I would suggest reading Stop calling him Doubting Thomas, God doesn’t like it! or My Greatest Creation is You.

Posted in encouragement, Everyone is valuable, Faith, Life experiences, Loving one another, self worth, Treat one another the way you want to be treated | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The One About True Love

I recently came across the picture ‘Love that Lifts a Child’ by Kristi Valiant which is I think is a beautiful image and illustration of true love.

The picture is inspired by the story of the Prodigal son in which a son asked for his inheritance early and then he left home and began a new life which was really great until he spent all his money. Eventually he was left destitute and homeless and he was so hungry that he even thought about eating the food he was supposed to feed to the pigs. In that moment of utter desperation and brokenness, the son decided to return home. He planned to tell his dad that he was sorry and that he was no longer worthy to be called his son and to beg that he might be allowed to become a servant in order to survive.

As the son made his way home feeling broken, lost and dejected he was probably expecting rejection or perhaps to be looked down upon or mocked. After all, how can you go to the father who gave you half of everything he owned in the knowledge that you spent it all. The son didn’t feel worthy to look his father in the eye but he also knew that he didn’t want to die and going home felt like his only option.

prodigal-son-love-that-lifts-a-child-kristi-valiant

Kristi Valiant, ‘Love that Lifts a Child’ http://www.KristiValiant.com Used with permission.

As he neared home, the son must have been astonished to see his father running to meet him and I love the way that Kristi’s picture captures the amazing love of the father for his son.

This is her inspiration statement for piece:

What inspired me most from this parable was the father’s loving heart. The shadow represents the father’s view that his son will always be his little child. Even when his son basically said, “I wish you were dead and I had your money,” the father handed the money over without bitterness. In the culture of that day, the son should have been disinherited or even stoned. A father who loves his son that much had to have had high hopes for that boy. Did he pray for his baby son? Did he watch his son’s heart grow harder through the years? Did his own heart mourn for those younger days? When the rebellious son finally took some steps back towards the father, did the father run to meet him and lift him in the air with such overflowing joy that he couldn’t contain himself?

You can read more on Kristi’s blog.

The story and the picture should remind us of the great love that God has for us. Even when we stray from him and make mistakes, he will always love us and accept us back.

It is heartbreaking to know that some people try to gain God’s approval and love when God wants to freely accept us whenever we turn to him.

We shouldn’t serve God to gain his love,
we serve God in response to his love.

Can you accept that God loves you or are you trying to earn his approval?

If my children spoke to me the way that the son spoke to his father on his return, it would break my heart. The son is declaring that their relationship is broken in contrast to the Father who is delighted that their relationship is being restored.

This is a picture of true love. Love that is freely given rather than being based on what might be given in return. This is true love and not a contract of agreement, this is acceptance and not disapproval even when disapproval would be an appropriate response.

Do you identify with the son today? Do you feel far from God? Are you convinced that you aren’t worthy to be his child? If this is your attitude then I hope that you can realize that it isn’t God’s! He longs to run and meet you as you turn to him! So what is stopping you?

You can read the story of the prodigal son in the Bible. It is in Luke 15 starting at v11.

If you want to think about God’s love and our response to him some more then you might find The One About A Special Moment helpful.

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The one about showing people how to find the way?

follow-line-in-hospitalI had been in the hospital before with my son and had followed him to the correct department. Now I was back a few months later without him and unfortunately I couldn’t quite remember the way. Fortunately the receptionist told me to simply follow the right coloured line.

After several twists and turns, the line (I think it was yellow but can’t remember) got me to the right place.

As I followed the line back out at the end of my appointment I thought about how I had been so focused on following my son during my previous visit that I hadn’t even noticed the lines. My son had been to the same department several times before and he has such an amazing memory that it was just easier to follow him without paying attention to which way I was going. I attended his last appointment with him and I wasn’t expecting that I might have an appointment there for myself at a later date.

It occurred to me that whilst it is good to travel with people who know the way, that it is even better to travel with people who know the way who are willing to teach you how to find the right way for yourself.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how we can help people to become disciples of Jesus. Does our approach require new disciples to always have someone else to help them to find the way forward in every situation or are we trying to teach people to learn from the experience of others as well as to give them the tools to find their own way?

If we encourage new disciples to be overly dependent on mature Christians then it may ultimately stunt their faith in Jesus as they learn to put their trust in and to follow people rather than God.

What might we consider helpful tools?

The Bible: I would always want to make sure that a new Christian has modern copy of the Bible (I would recommend the New Living Translation which is easy to read and understand). I would generally encourage people to start with one of the four gospels and I usually suggest Mark as it is the shortest. The Bible is God’s manual for life and so we need to read it to discover how we should live and relate to God as followers of Jesus

Talk with God: New Christians need to learn to talk with and to develop their relationship with Jesus. As they get to know him and learn to hear his voice then they will grow in faith.

Church: God wants his followers to meet with other disciples of Jesus. We ideally need to be part of church communities where we hear the Bible taught and are encouraged to pray. Finding somewhere which is accessible and understandable is important but I would also encourage people to find a church where you have opportunities to hear about the experiences of others. To hear what God is doing in other people’s lives is so important and yet many churches leave very little or even no space for people to talk about how they have been living out their faith.

To be in a discipling relationship: To meet regularly with others to talk about what being a disciple of Jesus means and how it is working out in your own lives is essential for spiritual growth. It provides an opportunity to ask questions about parts of the Bible you are finding hard, to pray together and to talk about particular issues you are facing. This could be achieved in a one to one meeting or in a small group, the key is to meet with people who you an be honest with.

Understand what it cost Jesus to save us: Jesus died to remove the barrier between us an God. He chose to die an agonizing death in order to make it possible to save andyone who wants to turn to God. When we realize what it cost Jesus to save us, it will radically change the way we think about, regard and follow him.

Learn to Love Jesus: Sometimes churches put the emphasis on following rules but it dawned on me some time ago that when we love someone then we want to make them happy.  If we love Jesus then we will want to follow him in a way that pleases him which is a lot easier than just trying to follow a list of commands.

These are a few tools, but there must be others. What else could I add to the list?

When we are in a rush, it is easier to do things for people rather than letting them find their own way. With this in  mind, I hope that we can all try to make space to slow down and to help people to develop in their faith and grow in their relationship with Jesus.

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Time for a Clear Out?

moving-sack-trolleyIn the not too distant future we are going to have our garage converted into a bedroom and an office. The church only decided on Sunday to do the work and already Tracey has spent a whole day beginning to tidy the garage in order to make room for the changes ahead.

As I arrived home from work yesterday, I could see how hard that Tracey had worked and it was clear from the effort that she had put in how much that the change means to her.

The start of a new year is often a time when people decide that they want to change and during late January many of those same people begin to realize how difficult that change is.

What I was reminded of today is that before change can take place, we have to make room for it.

If the builders who are going to do our conversion turned up and our garage was still full of our stuff then there is not much they can do.

In a similar way, when we decide to change but we don’t remove our old attitudes or way of thinking, then there isn’t the necessary room for change to happen.

What do we need to clear out of our lives?

God is into recycling! He longs to make changes in us so that we can find and live in the full and abundant life that Jesus promised.

The church that I work for are very, very generously doing the work on the house for our family.

God is very, very  generously doing some work in our lives because he loves us and because we are in his family but will we work with him?

God is ready to renovate and to convert the parts of our lives that need restoring but are we willing to get rid of the old to make way for the new thing that he wants to do in us?

2 corinthians 5.17 recycling

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The Church in the Wild and Outdoor Enclosure

outdoor-church-zoo-signI have walked past this sign many, many times but a few days ago it really struck me in a new way (no, I didn’t walk into it but I do believe that God spoke to me through it!)

The words church and outdoor enclosure really jumped out at me (better them to jump out than an Orangutan!)

The sign is on a doorway at Colchester Zoo and when you go through it you can see the Orangutan’s outdoor enclosure and an education center about Oragutans and their natural habitat. Next to the outdoor enclosure are the ruins of an old church building, All Saints, Stanway.

As I thought about the sign I began to consider how church is often a place where we try to draw people in. The sign reminded me of what I think that God’s priority is, that we should be going out and looking outwards.

You see, the Christian faith is something to be lived rather than just to be hidden away in church buildings.

The church should be an education centre. We exist to show people who God really is and how they can know and follow him but the only way we can do this for everyone is to look outwards.

In the 2011 UK Census, just over 33 million people identified themselves as Christian. That leaves just over 30 million people who are going to need us to get out of our church buildings and to become more honest about our faith in order for them to find out what God is like and how they can know him.

The sad thing is that many Christians believe that church is just for them when the truth is that God loves the whole world and that Jesus died for everyone.

The Oragutans have an amazing outdoor enclosure at Colchester Zoo but in all my visits I have only ever seen one of them out there on one occasion. Is this a picture of what your church is like or are we ready to head out into the real world and to educate people about who God is and how they can know him?

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What are you looking at?

Yesterday my wife and I visited our local Zoo and as we were there without our children we spent a lot longer watching individual animals than we would usually do.

orangutan-at-colchester-zooAs I watched this Orangutan I became aware that I was being watched as well.

I looked down and a young boy was staring back up at me.

His mum kept pointing at the Orangutan, but for reasons that I can’t explain to you, the boy kept looking at me.

It certainly was a strange moment as the toddler spent a long time watching me to see what I was doing rather than looking at the animals around him.

As I was thinking about this just now, I remembered the Bible verse:

‘Imitate me, just as I imitate Christ’ (1 Corinthians 11.1).

Paul, who wrote this felt that there were things in his faith that were going so well that people could look at and follow them as an example.

How about us?

Are we trying to imitate Jesus?

If we are, then there must be things in our lives that are worth imitating as well!

We should live out our faith well, passionately and enthusiastically, not just for our own sake but also so that we can inspire others.

I spent at least half an hour watching the Orangutan. Actually the truth is that I spent at least half an hour trying to photograph him through the glass without any reflections in it. It was a difficult picture to take, but having the time to watch and to persevere meant that I got a reasonable photo in the end.

Are we willing to let people see our faith as we live it out and talk about it honestly and openly or will we put barriers in the way to hide it?

Whilst we might have things about us that are worth imitating, we are also all a work in progress.

I do hope that there are things about me that inspire you, but mostly I hope that you are looking to Jesus who is always inspirational and who is consistently worth imitating.

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I can do it myself, can’t I?

A happy and thought provoking memory from a few years ago

Honest about my faith

I can do itI recently went to town with my youngest daughter. We had a list of jobs and several things to buy and we had a great time. We laughed, we walked and I had to keep reminding her that we couldn’t buy everything in town.

At first, my daughter insisted on carrying everything and as you can see in this photo at one point she had a guitar bag and a bag of groceries. After the next shop where we bought two lamps (and if she had had her way we would have also bought a set of Frozen themed Monopoly) she realized she couldn’t carry everything. I carried the lamps and the groceries (apart from the chocolate that she kept hold of) and she carried the guitar bag. A little way down the road she felt tired and so I ended up carrying the guitar bag too.

We made it to…

View original post 300 more words

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You always tell Santa NOT to give me a Present

santa-hi-5-kidsAs we talked about how we couldn’t visit Santa because he was no longer in his grotto,  I certainly wasn’t expecting my daughter to say

‘That’s okay, you always tell Santa NOT to give me a present anyway!’

This happened a few days ago on a visit to our local Zoo. The Christmas signs were all still up and my daughter was asking if she could go and see Santa but I explained that he wasn’t there anymore.

What was surprising about my daughter’s comment was how matter of fact it was.

She wasn’t upset or angry but she did need me to know that she could see that I obviously didn’t want her to have a present from Santa.

Her accusation is true as well! If I ever take my children to see Father Christmas and there is an option to see him for free by not having a present then that is what we do.

Does that make me a bad parent?

(I expect there will be a range of views about this among all of you reading this!)

One of the things that I find upsetting in life is the amount of stuff that we accumulate that often is fairly unimportant to us. The type of gift you are likely to get from a £5 visit to Santa is likely to fall into this category, and it can often broken or forgotten by the next day.

My daughter wasn’t genuinely upset with me, but if she had of been I would have gently reminded her of all the things I do for her. Imagine someone complaining to the person who had paid for them to visit the Zoo that they hadn’t paid a few extra quid for a cheap present. Imagine someone having a go at the person who feeds, clothes and gives them a home, saying that they don’t seem to care because they won’t buy a cheap bit of ‘tat’.

Kids often lose perspective when they don’t get what they want and when they do rant and rave and say that we don’t love them, it’s important that parents stand firm rather than be manipulated.

‘You never get what you want when you shout at us’ is a principle that Tracey and I have tried to teach our children. Sadly they still do shout at us sometimes, but the more they can see it doesn’t work, the less they will try it (that’s our hope anyway!)

As I reflected on my daughter’s comment about presents from Santa, I was left wondering if I ever treat God in the same way?

Imagine me complaining to the person who provides everything for me in life that he hasn’t answered a my prayer in the way that I told him to. Imagine me having a go at the God who loves me because he didn’t give me the cheap bit of tat that I am excited about in the moment.

You see, God is so generous and good to us that it can be fairly pathetic when we do complain about the little stuff.

One of the reasons that we do get frustrated with God is that we do often forget what he has done for us. We constantly need to remind ourselves that he is our loving heavenly father who delights in giving us what is actually good for us.

When kids say or imply that their parents don’t care, it is hurtful and when we say or imply that God doesn’t care I am sure that is hurtful for him as well.

Let’s be grateful to God who loves us more than we can ever know!

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A Reminder that God is Good and that His Light Still Shines

Christmas tree blessingSo, our Christmas tree has been up for just over a year and during that time, we have added decorations as reminders of some of the many amazing things that God has done. Some of these have involved answered prayers but many of them have been about blessings that God has surprised us with.

You can read more about this in The Reason Why Our Christmas Tree is Still Up.

As we have taken these decorations down in the past few days, it has been a wonderful reminder of the goodness of God but also I have been shocked at how many answers to prayer that I had forgotten about.

You see, God is at work all of the time and he constantly is blessing and surprising us. I hope that we can learn to look more and more for what he is doing and that we can thank him for it.

We have now taken our tree down and are thinking about how we will remember during 2017 that Jesus is still the light of the world and that he will continue to bless us in many and sometimes unexpected ways.

Some things are worth remembering and giving thanks for!

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