It’s Your Superpower too!

He spoke to me in a moment that I wasn’t feeling my best.

I had a lot on my mind and I was feeling weighed down but he didn’t know that.

He said

‘I’m glad you are going to be our regional minister. You are so creative and I appreciate your creativity’.

He was just being honest and the kindness of his words would have been appreciated on any day but on that day his words changed how  I was feeling dramatically and made a huge difference.

You have a superpower!

Yes, you. You really do have a superpower and it’s called encouragement!

Encouragement is so simple, it costs us nothing and yet it can make such a HUGE difference.

I got home yesterday evening after a long and heavy day. Everything had gone well but I was absolutely exhausted. I needed to send a quick email before I switched off and as I started to type an email popped in that said

Thank you for your MOST helpful focus on dreams  (you can read about that here) which affected much of my thinking and praying over the summer holiday.

I now have dreams for the coming term!

Every blessing as you think and pray about your dreams as you begin regional ministry.

It only takes a few seconds to say a kind word, to send an email, to write a card or even to give someone a chocolate gorilla.

Who can we encourage today?

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In the Hands of God

I love this sculpture of giant hands outside of Woodbridge Quay Church. When I was in the area recently I took this photo of my daughter curled up as a reminder that she is safe on God’s hands. I want her to have and treasure this picture as a reminder that God is with her always and that he is holding her.

Yesterday morning at church we were about to pray for children, young people and teachers and other staff members starting a new school term. I remembered the picture and showed it to everyone (thank goodness for the Dropbox connection between my phone and the church computer). This was supposed to be a simple encouragement to people starting a new term but it turned out that the picture spoke to someone else. Someone shared that when they saw the picture that they cried and then they knew what to do.

It is worth reading the story of the hands and how they represent so much more than what I have described here. The words I HOLD AND AM HELD are written on the hands and these words ‘bear witness to the act of putting our trust in God. In faith we hold onto Him – He is our Strength and our ever-present Help. Our Hope is in Him and He holds us securely and lovingly as our Father God.’

What a wonderful reminder.

Posted in creative communication, Faith, God is our father, God is with us, God loves us, Life experiences, Loving God, Loving one another | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Walk that Began 16 Years Ago

Earlier this month, my wife Tracey and I walked the West Highland Way which is a 96 mile trail in Scotland that runs from Milngavie to Fort William.

In a sense this journey began In 2002 when we drove along a part of the route and we were left in awe and wonder by the majestic scenery and views so much so that at the end of the drive we decided that we wanted to walk through this amazing countryside. On our return home we bought a map which suggested breaking the walk into 8 stages and we did some research into the places we would have to stay, we got very excited but then we realized that the journey would be much too long with our two sons who were both under 5 at the time.

Over the years our talk about walking the Way lessened and with our two daughters arriving the journey was still impractical and so over time our precious dream was lost.

During the second part of 2017, Tracey and I started walking each Friday as a way of finding some space together in our over busy lives and as we got up to the distances required to complete each stage of the Way our dream began to re emerge. We started to dare to believe that it was something we could actually accomplish and we worked out that with the help of some lovely relatives and a Scripture Union camp that we could be child free for the time we would need to travel to Scotland and walk the Way. In January, the dream came alive! We booked accommodation for each night of the walk and we stepped up our walks and also began increasing the weight in our backpacks.

As our walk start date drew nearer we got more and more excited but with the heat wave our training walks got shorter and shorter and a combination of factors meant that some weeks we didn’t walk at all in July and early August.

On day 1 of our walk we were due to be walking 14 miles and somehow we ended up walking 16. Around the 8 mile mark I was exhausted and so we stopped for a rest and I stumbled through the rest of the day but that evening I could hardly walk. I have to be honest and say that I thought my walk was over but in the morning I felt not too bad and so on day 2 we walked the few miles towards Conic Hill (see picture below) before heading up and over it (just over 350m high).

At the top of the hill I was so encouraged but by the end of this day and the next day I was limping into our accommodation (on day 3 I didn’t arrive until 9.45pm).

I started to work out if I could use public transport to skip a bit of the route on some days but then each morning I felt okay and so off we went.

No one was more surprised than me when we reached the finishing point and I had somehow managed to walk all of the way.

In 2002 we had a dream and that dream was lost for many years. I wonder if this is a parable or picture of our personal or church life?

We have this great dream of the Kingdom of God which is a reality in which people’s lives are transformed, where people recognize that God is king and where we clearly see God at work.

Perhaps in some of our churches the dream of the Kingdom has been replaced by the reality of what we can see around us. Instead of talking about God and what he is doing, our discussions become dominated with phrases like ‘we are very small’, ‘it will never work’, ‘we don’t have the resources’ etc.

As we walked our walk and lived our dream, I really struggled and at several points I nearly gave up and I wonder if this is a parable or picture of our personal or church life?

Perhaps you have leapt out in faith and you’ve ended in a place where you don’t have the resources to finish what has been started. This is the point where we can either trust in God or panic, where we can persevere in our walk with God or go off looking for quick fixes to try to make things safe and sensible.

The wonderful thing about living the dream of the Kingdom of God is that it is all about Jesus! We think that to be successful in Kingdom terms that we need vast resources and lots of people but in contrast, Jesus started with 12 and when he sent them out he told the to take nothing with them for the journey. We think we need to be powerful but in contrast Jesus taught that we need to become like little children. The dream of the Kingdom involves a complete reliance on Jesus rather than us trying to stretch what we have to be enough.

What dream has God given you? If you aren’t sure, then consider how can you create space to receive God’s inspiration and leading?

If you are believing for that dream to become a reality, are you willing to rely on Jesus or are you trying to build His Kingdom in your own strength?

As we walk the Way with Jesus, it’s encouraging that he is with us always. Let’s look to him allowing him to lead, strengthen and inspire us as we travel with Him through life.

Posted in Being honest about our faith, encouragement, Faith, Following Jesus, God is with us, Kingdom of God, Life experiences, Listening to God, Relationship with God | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

When God Surprises You

One Sunday morning we were praying and someone shared ‘I think there is someone here who needs to talk with someone who understands’.

Following the service someone got talking to the person next to them about a situation that was troubling them. They knew of someone with a child and the relationship was a real struggle. As they talked to about the issues and what was happening that person was able to share that when they were younger that they were the same as the child. They had lived with the same issues and God had brought them to church that morning for the first time and when they arrived they happened to sit next to someone who needed to hear what they had to say.

What an amazing story of the goodness of God

The person who shared what they believed that God was saying was encouraged.

The person who had arrived at church that morning burdened and confused had been given a fresh perspective by someone who understands.

Someone who was new to our church community was able to be a blessing just by being honest about their experiences.

Watching God at work is an amazing thing? Has God encouraged you in any way? If so, I hope you tell somebody.

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Sharing Some News With You

I wanted to let you all know that I have been called to become a Regional Minister in the Eastern Baptist Association. Sadly this means that I will be leaving Orchard Baptist Church in October in order to respond to this new calling.

I have been and still am so incredibly happy at Orchard; the church is in a good place, it is healthy and growing and the rest of the church are an incredible blessing to me. My ministry as a part of the Orchard family has been a real joy and a privilege.

In the light of this, it has taken various colleagues to encourage me to apply for the Regional role (one of them did this very persistently). As I have listened to and thought about their encouragements I began to reflect on who I am, my life experience and what God is calling me to at this time. I began to realize how much time that I was already spending helping other Ministers and Churches and as I prayed about this it felt like this is something which I should be doing more. There was no bellowing voice from heaven, no angel fanfare but there was a growing realization that I was being called by God.

A few weeks ago I had the surreal experience of being interviewed for the Regional Minister role. I was able to say with certainty that I felt called but also that I hoped that they didn’t appoint me because I am very happy as the Minister at Orchard. It was an all day interview with several sections and normally I expect that it would have been quite stressful but instead I actually found it enjoyable. Instead of trying to impress the interviewing panel to try to get the job, I was just able to be myself. Talking honestly about my experiences and what I think is important in church life was a pleasure and a joy rather than something I needed to present in a certain way to get the right result.

As I went through the various interviews that day it became even more obvious to me that who I am and where I am in life is the right fit for what the EBA needs in a Regional Minister at this time. It turned out that the interviewing panel agreed.

Tracey and I  have spent the last few weeks sitting on this news which has been quite difficult. Yesterday my appointment was shared with and confirmed by the Eastern Association Gathering and it was great to be prayed for as a part of this. This morning we finally shared about our news with the Orchard Church family which was very difficult for them to hear. We had already told the leadership team of the church and so they were able to prayerfully stand with us which has been real blessing to us and also to the rest of the church today. You can listen to what was said by myself and the leadership team through this link.

From October I will be joining Beth and Nick (the other two Regional Ministers in the EBA) in working with the churches across the region on this map. This will be especially across the central section from the coast across to Cambridge and just beyond.

I am excited by what God has for the EBA and I am grateful for his provision for our family in helping us to remain in the Colchester area. Your prayers are appreciated for us as a Regional Team as we follow God in faith, trusting in Him each step of the way as he leads us forward as an association.

You can find out more about the EBA at www.easternbaptist.org.uk

Posted in Blessed to be a blessing, Faith, Life experiences | Tagged | 1 Comment

She Came Last but the Crowd Cheered Loudly

It was sports day again this week and it reminded me of this amazing race that happened last year.

Who are we cheering on in life?

We have the power to do such good, simply through encouragement. So what is stopping us?

Honest about my faith

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…

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She Looks Young and Old at the Same Time

My wife and I were walking our dog recently when a passer-by stopped to say hello (it’s amazing how easy it is to meet new people when you are walking a dog).

He asked how old our dog was and when Tracey said she was only two he said that he was asking because he couldn’t guess her age because;

‘She looks young and old at the same time’.

As we walked along I began to ponder these words and it occurred to me that they are a good description of a healthy church.

Old enough to have experience, wisdom and maturity in faith but young enough to have enthusiasm, childlike faith and an openness to risk taking.

Do churches gravitate towards being respectable and places that are safe? Do we want to think about or try to apply the teaching of Jesus about ‘becoming like little children’ as we follow him?

Perhaps it is the opposite and the church you are a part of has no rules or structure and anything goes? Churches can also gravitate towards immaturity as being a stage of life to stay in when the Bible encourages us to grow in faith.

As I pondered some more it occurred to me that the words were also a description of healthy faith.

Old enough to have experienced God at work and to have learnt along the way but young enough to be curious and to realize that there is always more growing to do.

Some Christians seem to project a sense of them having arrived or that they have grown well enough in their faith. It’ s also easy when we have been Christians a long time to settle for where we are and to try to live a comfortable life of faith that doesn’t mean and great change is required.

It can be the opposite though with some people clinging to immaturity of faith as an excuse not to pursue growth in faith or holiness. For others faith is only about feelings and there is a resistance to learn who God is and what he wants because we just want him to make us feel good.

Where are you? Where is the church you are a part of? Are you young or old or hopefully both?

My prayer for the church and for your faith is that you would be really young and old at the same time.

To Ponder:

  1. Would you describe your faith as being young or old?
    If it is at one extreme or the other, what can you do to restore the balance?
  2. Would you describe your church as being young or old in faith?
    If it is at one extreme or the other, what could you do together to restore the balance?
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Surrounded by God’s Love

When I think of being surrounded it feels like it has a negative connotation. The police officer might shout ‘we have you surrounded’ to the criminals in a building. Soldiers might shout to their enemies ‘we have you surrounded’ as they try to encourage them to leave their hiding place.

Being surrounded though can also be positive. If I was in space, I would be glad to be surrounded by a spacesuit so I could breathe or in a hailstorm I would be glad to be surrounded by some shelter. Someone who is upset is glad to be surrounded by a hug as they revive comfort and someone feeling vulnerable feels safe when surrounded by bodyguards.

Psalm 33 v22 speaks of being surrounded by God’s love:

‘Let your unfailing love surround us, Lord, for our hope is in you alone’.

God’s love can give us security and being surrounded by it and God’s presence will help us to feel safe if we trust in and put our hope in him.

Pause and think about what it means to be surrounded by God’s love.

Will we put our hope in Him or are we looking for our security in other places?

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When I can’t do it is the right answer!

To certain members of the Ross household it felt like the end of the world – our internet had stopped working at home! While we waited for an engineer to come and fix the problem I bought a mobile wifi dongle thingy (I’m using all my best technical language here!) to create a wifi hotspot using mobile data.

I brought it home and unboxed it, turned it on  and connected to it via my laptop. I immediately got a good connection to the gadget but no internet.

Then I did the unthinkable, I decided to read the instructions (thankfully these were in the box and not just available online). Having discovered I had done everything right I started trying to open and to adjust settings.

After some time I decided it was time to bring out the big guns and use the greatest technical solution I could think of.

Yes, I turned it on and off again!

It connected instantly to laptop but no internet – AARGHHH!! I even turned it off and took the sim card out and reinserted it and still nothing – double AARGHHH!

I decided that perhaps my laptop was at fault so I tried it with my phone and then a tablet (a computery thing, not paracetamol silly!)

In all I tried to get this thing to work for three hours – that’s AARGHHH x lots!

One of the saddest things about this whole episode was that if I am honest, it was fairly obvious within half an hour that the gadget was broken.

That’s right, I wasted hours trying to make something work that I knew deep down was broken, how crazy is that?

As I thought about this later I wondered if this is a picture of where I sometimes go wrong in life? I get it in my head that I will achieve something and so I keep trying and trying without giving God a look in because I can cope!

Sometimes we need to let go and let God.

Perseverance isn’t wrong but sometimes when we serve God, it’s ony him that can open the way.

At the red sea, Moses could have tried to build rafts but it wouldn’t have ended well when the Egyptians turned up!

When a hungry crowd was in front of him, Jesus could have tried to break the loaves and fishes into really small pieces but it wouldn’t have worked.

Sometimes we need to let go and let God do a miracle but the key is letting God lead.

So we returned the faulty device and were given a refund. Oh and randomly the internet started working at home again!

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Are you excited about the Royal Wedding?

Are you excited about the Royal Wedding?

My oldest daughter is, to the point where she has asked a few times now if we can go and watch.

We are only 98 miles away from Windsor and so we could go for the day but then if we did, we would only be able to join the crowds outside of the ceremony. We possibly wouldn’t even see the happy couple despite travelling all of that way. I suppose we could say we were there but it feels like a lot of effort to go to when we were not invited and even if we went that we might struggle to get close enough to see

Harry and Meghan are getting married tomorrow and I pray that they would know God’s blessing on their marriage and that they would be very happy together.

Thinking of their wedding reminded me of another royal wedding:

Once there was a king who sent out invitations to his wedding of his son. On the day of the wedding feast he sent his servants to bring the guests but they refused to come. So he sent further servants to impress on them the fact that the feast was ready and the food was prepared but the guests still refused and some of them even attacked the messengers. When he realized that the guests weren’t coming, the king sent his servants out to tell everyone they met that they were invited to the wedding feast. The servants were to invite anyone irrespective of their reputation, everyone was welcome no matter had happened in their past.

Jesus told this story to explain what the Kingdom of Heaven is like this (Matthew 22.1-14).

The story is odd, after all why would you not go to a royal wedding if you were invited? I guess you would have to be seriously ill (I feel so sad for Meghan’s dad who can’t attend his daughter’s wedding) or perhaps it might indicate that you didn’t want to align yourself with the King and his family.

Jesus told this parable to illustrate that God is for everyone, not just the religious, rich or famous. Jesus came to demonstrate and to let us know that everyone will be welcomed by God ‘irrespective of their reputation’ and ‘no matter had happened in their past’ if they accept his invitation.

If I received a lat minute invitation for Harry & Meghan’s wedding I would make the time to attend (as long as I could take my daughter who might otherwise never speak to me again!) To be invited would be such a privilege!

We have all received an invitation to join God in his Kingdom and this is as much about knowing him in our lives now as it is about being with him when we die. All we need to do is to respond to God’s invitation by turning to and following him!

To be invited to a party by God the king of kings is such a privilege, so what is stopping you?

There is more to this parable because the Church is described as the Bride of Christ. The wedding feast speaks of a time when Christ will invite his Church (another way of saying his people) to live with him permanently in eternity. If you are interested you can read more about that here.

Image: Prince Harry and Meghan Markle by Mark Jones [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Posted in acceptance, discipleship, Faith, God loves us, grace, Life experiences, Parable, Relationship with God | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment