Sunday, 3 February 2013

The rollercoaster and the jug

Recently I have been reminded, by others and myself, that our Christian life is a journey. We journey with God, through life. But journeys aren't always simple and straight forward. There are times when we get complacent and forget to give, or look at the directions. We miss a turning, or go the wrong way. Maybe we forget something that is crucial to our journey, like bringing your passport with you. Then there are the things that really are not our fault; the weather, or your vehicle breaking down. And just as these things delay, postpone or cancel our physical journeys, things get in the way of our spiritual journey too.

A couple of Christian based training courses I have done have encouraged me to reflect on the journey that I've travelled so far. One way of doing this is to plot on a graph the high points and low points in our journey. Then you do a dot-to-dot and you have a graph of your life's journey. When you stand back and look at what you've created, you may be forgiven for thinking you've just created the next adrenaline inducing rollercoaster ride. Or that is certainly what I thought looking at mine.

Life isn't always easy, and just because I have actively decided to follow Christ doesn't mean that my life instantly gets easier. When I look at my life graph, it doesn't start to level out at the point I became a Christian - Wouldn't it be great if it did! In fact I think we are constantly reminded that Jesus never said life would be easy with him. Just that it would be worth it!

As you stand in the queue at a theme park to ride a rollercoaster, you experience all sorts of feelings and emotions. Fear, excitement, anticipation. But I know that afterwards I'll be filled with a rush of adrenaline. And that is what makes me queue for the next ride.

It takes a lot of trust to ride a rollercoaster. Particularly one that will put you upside down. You have to trust that you'll stay safely in your seat, and that the train will stay on the track as it hurtles round at breakneck speeds. You have to trust that you won't hit anything as you fly around the track.

Sometimes trust is something that is difficult. I'm often reminded by friends that I need to trust in God more. Accept that by putting my life in His hands will produce great results. But I confess that I find it difficult. Just recently I've felt myself drift away from God. If I were to plot this on my graph, it would definitely be the bottom of a trough. It is at these times that we should trust God the most, but I find myself withdrawing even more. I find myself trying to take back control of things.

It is at these times that I am so grateful for the Church community. When we are running on empty, have nothing more to give, the good news is never far away - God gives free refills! I was sharing this analogy with a friend just recently. We all have a jug within us, and as we travel our journey we are constantly pouring out the contents of that jug, because that is what God calls us to do. But when we run low, there is an everlasting tap to refill us - God.

I tried to write this blog a couple of times, but it is only now that I've been refilled that I have felt able to. The truth is, I've felt like I haven't had anything in my jug to pour out, I've not felt close enough to the tap to be refilled. And so it has been tough for me to truly live the life God wanted me to. And that isn't easy to realise.

Something that has kept me sane through my Christian journey has been the words from 'Footprints.' These are really what a large part of my faith hinges on.
 "When you see only one set of footprints, that was when I carried you"
(Footprints - Anon.)

I was reminded of this in the most visual way this morning at church. A small baby wasn't feeling too well, and just snuggled into his mum for cuddles. When we aren't feeling great, just like a small child, we snuggle into the protective arms of God. It is such an instinctive reaction, we don't always realise we are doing it. Even when we feeling like we are walking away from God, he is there holding us close.

"And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age"
Matthew 28:20

Loving Father,
Thank you for always walking with us, even when we think you aren't there.
Thank you for constantly refreshing us, and carrying us when we are too weak.
Help me to always trust you, and to strengthen our relationship.
Help me to know you more, share you more, and serve you.
Father God, you are the best, too awesome for words. You have an incomprehensible love for me, that I do not deserve.
When I fall, you pick me up.
When I demand too much, you sort something out.
I am thankful for your company on my journey, and the wonderful creations you have in store for me.
Thank you.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

What does Church look like?

I have to start this with an apology. This is one of my 'things'. It is something that constantly winds me up. I don't think I have blogged this, but I am sorry if I have.

If you were asked to draw a Christian, I wonder what you would draw. Would they be a man or a woman? Black or white? Would they have a beard? Would they wear socks and sandals? Would you draw them with a bible in hand, ready to start bashing people with it at the drop of a hat? Some of those options may seem a little weird, but with my perception of the stereotypical Christian, you'd need to seriously consider those options.

I am, however, almost certain that you wouldn't draw someone under the age of about 50. Why? Because when was the last time you saw in the media someone under the age of 50 openly talking about God and the Church as something they believed in?

Admittedly, I can remember the last time I saw this. It was on the BBC Songs of Praise first broadcast on 13th January 2013. But before then? I can't remember.

It seems to me, that Christians are portrayed in a certain way, and if you don't fit the media's perception of a Christian, they don't want to know. I sometimes feel that this is an attitude reflected in the Church as well, if you don't fit, then don't try because we won't change.

I'd like to share what I perceive to be those 'certain ways' held by the media. I think there are 3 stereotypes, and occasionally the lines between them are blurred to create 1 super Chrisian. So I guess that really makes 4, but who is counting?!

Number 1: An elderly (usually woman) who has always been a Christian, and the church is her life. She spends all her time doing flowers at the church, and whenever the vicar comes around always gets out the best china to serve tea and cake on. They will probably also think they are better than everyone else, and have a bible verse to quote for any situation that makes it clear that they are better off for knowing God. (Think Dot from Eastenders!)

Number 2: A very evangelical black gospel singer. They believe that if you don't believe in God, you will burn in hell, and have no problems telling everyone that. And when they are depicted, they never meet anyone who is a Christian, but less evangelical. Because Christianity doesn't have any meaning to anyone these days. So we are all condemned to burning in hell!

Number 3: The vicar. A white, near retirement single man. Who always wears a suit. I think maybe his pyjamas are a suit too!

Now, I appreciate this is very judgemental view on things. But when do you ever see anything different? Even on the aforementioned Songs of Praise, the congregation was predominantly white, over 50s. And most of them were dressed in their Sunday best. There was the occasional glimpse of a child, but I don't think any of them were over about 12. And I'm certain that some of them were in the congregation with their Grandparents, and not parents. I will say, that there was at least 2 children their with who I assumed was their Mum. There was also 1 man, who was their in his rugby shirt. But everyone else was dressed up. Their were very few, if any, people who weren't white. And the ordained person who said a prayer at the end? A white, nearing retirement man (sorry if you are that minister and I've just over estimated your age!) who was all gowned up.

Yes, this is all very judgemental of me. But if I am judging the church to be like that, then people like me outside the church are thinking that too! And if programmes which are supposed to portray the church portray it in that way, then what hope has the church got?!

Songs of Praise did share some new churches, and churches that were growing. Which was great. But they didn't base that particular programme in those churches, they just made up some of the stories between the songs. I know that Songs of Praise have done programmes from these churches before, but they are always billed as 'forward thinking' or 'contemporary' churches. They are not! They are the churches of today. Maybe the churches that aren't like that are just backward thinking?

Christians cannot be easily identified from looks alone. Take a trip to your local high street. All of the people you see there, and on your journey to and from there, could be Christians. You cannot know for sure. Anyone of them could be in ordained ministry in the church. You cannot know for sure. You cannot identify a Christian by looks alone.

So come on, let's challenge this.

To the media officials - how about looking for a better representation of Christianity?

To the people who write soaps and the likes - how about mixing up the stereotypes a bit?

To the church - how about challenging the stereotype of how we look? We teach young people stereotypes are bad, so why do we let this one go un-challenged?

This is what just 1 Christian looks like. Does that fit with what you perceive of a Christian?

Sunday, 6 January 2013

New year, new you?

Happy new year! When does it stop being OK to say that? Anyway, that's not really what I wanted to write.

We have this curious tradition of setting new year resolutions. The end of December/beginning of January is the time when we look back at the year that has been and evaluate it. And anyone who has ever done an evaluation knows that you always conclude on how you could have done things better. And so January sees seemingly everyone declaring how they will make themselves/their lives/other people's lives better.

I haven't made any resolutions this year. I am one of those people who takes the line of "Well, I'll just break it/forget about it by February, so why bother?!" And right there is what I want to talk about. Excuses.

I find it all too easy to make an excuse. I think the best one I ever came up with was when I was at college. I missed my train (Sorry Mum!) and so was late to college. But I found an amazing excuse leaving my lips as I walked into the Biology lab - "Sorry I'm late, my bicycle chain broke." I'm not sure if the teacher actually bought it, as he was quite sarcastic and replied "Remember that one, it is a good excuse!" But still, it got me out of the horrid truth!

I've also come up with some pretty naff excuses in my time. Like the time I cut a chunk of my fringe out with some scissors. I told my Mum I didn't think they would cut my hair. I was pretty young at the time, so I'm not sure if I actually believed it at the time or if it was just my attempt at an excuse for putting scissors to my fringe. Needless to say, my brother and sister thought it was hilarious, and Mum wasn't too impressed.

But quirky stories aside, I find it all too easy to come up with an excuse not to do something. I have a pretty good excuse for most things at the moment - looking for a house closer to work. However, when I've done that I'm not really going to have anything to hide behind. For years, people have always been saying one thing to me, and I've always rattled off an excuse - I'm too young, I've not done my local preacher training, I need life experience and so on and so on....

I'm fast running out of excuses. Soon all I'll have to fall back on is my tried and tested "Sorry, my bike chain broke". But I don't think that is going to cut it somehow.

The truth is I should make a new year resolution. And that is just to get on with it! Stop hiding behind excuses - now isn't the right time, what if I get hurt again, what if they don't want it to be more, what if I end up alone, I need to sort this first, I'm too busy at work. Yes, I can come up with an excuse for everything, but now is the time to stand up and not hide behind an excuse.

2013 will be a wonderful year. My faith will be deepened, I will learn more about the God I love and trust, I will be truthful to people including myself and God and because of these things I'll be a better healthier person.

What is the excuse you use most? I challenge you not to use it in 2013, and lets grow together!

Sunday, 16 December 2012


In my last post, I shared a well known bible verse. And I think that it is possibly one of my favourite bible verses. But a verse that is definitely one of my favourites is from Ecclesiastes:

There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:
        a time to be born and a time to die,
    a time to plant and a time to uproot,
    a time to kill and a time to heal,
    a time to tear down and a time to build,
    a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance,
    a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
    a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
    a time to search and a time to give up,
    a time to keep and a time to throw away,
    a time to tear and a time to mend,
    a time to be silent and a time to speak,
    a time to love and a time to hate,
    a time for war and a time for peace. (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8)

I love this passage for a number of reasons. Mainly because it reminds me when I am impatient, when I am wondering why, that there are reasons. And I constantly need that reminder, because I am constantly wondering why I am waiting!

And that isn't just waiting for a train to turn up, because ultimately that will happen. Even if it is late, or not the one you were planning on getting, a train will turn up. It is almost a given.

But there are some things that you can't be so sure about. I once said to someone I was prepared to wait. But now, as time has moved on, it gets harder and harder to stick by that statement. I'm not so happy about waiting now. I'm getting impatient, because I don't want to wait.

Advent is all about waiting. Waiting to celebrate the birth of Jesus. But we also look at Advent as a time of preparation. Preparing for Christmas. As we wait, we prepare.

Although I don't want to wait anymore, I have to remember that there is a time for everything. There is a time to prepare and a time to sit back and enjoy the benefit of all those preparations. So I don't want to wait anymore, but it is time to prepare and the more preparations the better the celebrations.

No I don't like waiting, it needs to hurry up. But there is a time for everything!

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Love is...

Most people are familiar with that bit in the bible that says what love is. That 'bit in the bible' is from 1 Corinthians 13

"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails."

Experience teaches us about life, it helps us make our own decisions. It helps us to decide what we believe, and how we live our lives. I love this passage from 1 Corinthians because I know it all to be true.

Love is patient. Love doesn't mind waiting, because it knows it will eventually triumph. Because love is understanding, it knows that at times you'll forget that love is there. But because it is patient, it'll be there when we remember. Love is something is always there, just waiting to be introduced. And it'll wait for that introduction till kingdom come!

Love is kind. Love is at the heart of every kind word, every smile. Because if you love someone, you cannot hurt them because it hurts you too. Because kindness and smiles are the easiest way to show love.

Love isn't envious. Love is for everyone. And there is enough love that everyone can experience it. Envy is our human greed wanting more than our fair share. Envy is the human nature to be selfish, and the desire to have something that someone else has. But everyone has love, so there is no need for love to be envious.

Love does not boast. We all share love. How can love boast it has something better, because love has everything and everyone.

Love is not proud. Pride tempts us to forget love. Pride suggests we have done a good job, but loving never stops.

Love honours. Love doesn't make people feel bad, it gives us a spring in our step. It makes sure our feelings are upheld, and that everyone is equal. It understands our traditions and works with them. It also challenges people who discriminate.

Love is not selfish. Love makes us think how others are feeling. Love is for others, not ourselves. Love makes us consider how we make other people feel, it makes us want to make them feel good. Sometimes that means sacrificing something ourselves.

Love is not angered easily. Love is calm, love helps us to forgive. Love makes us more accepting of things. And because love is not selfish, it means we are less likely to get angry.

Love doesn't keep track. We all make mistakes, and love knows that. But it doesn't matter. Love just wants us to feel good. It picks us up and holds our hands in those times of mistakes, temptations and trials. Love doesn't remember the last time, because it doesn't matter.

Love rejoices with truth. Love isn't evil, love is joyful. Love is truthful. Love makes us do things properly and respectfully with honour. Love rejoices!

Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. That is just what love makes us do. Protect those we love, trust them, hope they will have the best possible, and it is always there no matter what. Persevering through everything. Shining bright.

Love never fails. We will always have love. It will always be with us. Experience tells me this. Experience tells me all of this.

But I can never talk about love, without remembering 1 John 4:19 "We love because he first loved us." Love is a God given gift. Love is a God given talent, and is showing love, we offer that gift back to God for his work. And that work will show in our relationships. His work will be done through our love.

Whether that be love for our friends, family, wife or husband,
boyfriend or girlfriend, or even for our pet goldfish. God is working through it!

I've thought a lot about love lately. In fact I've stressed a lot about it lately. I've been left wondering why God didn't give an instruction book with this gift. It would be really useful right now! But love manifests itself differently in different people, so I guess it would be a massive undertaking, and frankly I'm sure God is too busy!

Love is complicated, love doesn't make sense. It makes me do silly things, and makes my brain hurt. But I know I wouldn't live without love.

I know I wouldn't live without you...

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Fast thinking

There is another thing you should know about me - I can procrastinate like there is no tomorrow. If I don't want to do something, I can find an excuse to not do it. That excuse can be very good, or a little more tedious.

Why do I tell you this? Well one of my biggest distractions is social media. It is all too easy to keep checking it, and adding to it. Waiting for new items to be posted, waiting to get stuck into debates. When really I should be doing something much more important.

So last weekend I did something different.

In my Christian upbringing, fasting has not been a common thing. My youth group took part in a couple of 24 hour famines for charity. But that is the closest I got. We filled our time with fun and fellowship, and not very much sleep I seem to remember.

The point of fasting, is to give something up to concentrate on something else, something better. Now admittedly I chose a good weekend to do it, because I was away with a Duke of Edinburgh's Award group in the Peak District. However, I decided that I needed to spend some time thinking. So I gave up social media for the weekend. Twitter and Facebook were off limits until Monday morning.

Now, it was an easy weekend because I was so busy anyway, that there wouldn't have been much time for social media. But it was a good experience. It got me thinking. Which is what it was meant to do, so I guess it was a success.

But it has given me the taste for it now. Thinking about what I don't need to clutter my life with. To give me enough space to live the life I should be living. The weekend gave me space to think about what was important, and what was just there to keep me from the important things.

Yes, when Monday morning came around I was catching up on Facebook and Twitter happenings. But I survived a weekend without them. I managed to do what I needed to do, without the distraction. Fasting isn't just about not eating, and using that time for something else. Fasting is about giving something up that you don't need, and using time more effectively.

I saw social media as something I didn't need, and I used the time I would have spent on it, thinking and praying. What other things can we live without? How much better and clearer would our lives be if we used that time for God's will to be done, or to just spend that time with God, and people who mean so much to us.

In today's world it is too easy to get distracted. What can you give up, to increase your focus on living God's life?

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Trust in risk?

There are a couple of things you should know about me. Firstly, I really really dislike hypocrites. And secondly I'm much more likely to do the opposite of what you tell me, just because I can! (Slight disclaimer, in certain situations!)

When you take that second characteristic, it can be a bit worrying. But it can also lead to some really quite fun and exciting times. When I feel like rebelling against what someone has said I feel alive, and excited. Its wonderful. I also feel like God is guiding me in those times, to make sure I'm doing the right thing.

It is a time to be spontaneous, when I can let my mind wonder into the land of imagination, that I usually just let my mind dip it's toe into. It is in moments like this that I come up with mad ideas like blindfolding a whole congregation, and getting them to play Pictionary with someone describing what is being drawn.

Some may see this idea as completely usual, maybe even tame. But at my church's traditional 9am service, it could be interesting. I will let you know how it goes! It is when I let my mind wonder, almost in rage at being confined by someone, that I am at my most risky.

A third thing to know about me, I usually play it safe. I sit and observe something, work out how it works, how I fit in with it. And then I'll jump into it and immerse myself completely in it. But when I let my mind go to the imagination land, I throw caution to the wind and say "Sod the world! If that is what I want to do, I'll do it." I'm pretty sure this will get me into trouble at sometime. But this is where risk comes in. I just do it, without thinking. Or sometimes I do it, with a lot of thinking. Usually thinking about how out of joint it will put someone. (Not to say I do it out of spite)

Sometimes I think we need to throw caution to the wind and take a bit of risk. Don't sit and watch, stand and do. Risk something, and if it doesn't work out, you'll have had fun trying! Risk is good. It doesn't matter if you don't know how things will work out, because you'll know what happens when you do it.

And then comes hypocrisy. I know right now I should be taking a couple of risks rather than playing it safe. I should be starting a couple of conversations, and in all honesty I don't know what the outcome of them will be. I know what I want the outcome to be though.

I say all this stuff about taking risk, but I only take a risk when it suits me. When it is probably going to be quite safe to take a risk. If I could peer into a crystal ball (other future revealers are available, but this is a commonly used illustration) and know how things would turn out, I would. And then I'd start my conversations. Or not as the case may be.

But it has made me think more about the risks we take in life. Not only in our personal lives, but in our Church life, you didn't expect me to leave God out of this did you?! So often at Church we play it safe, we do it how we've always done it. When actually we need a trip to imagination land (I'm quite liking the sound of this now!) where the sky is less than the limit.

What risks should we be taking, but aren't? Maybe it is starting that project, or talking to someone, or saying Yes to something. The futures absolutely petrifies me. You never know what is around the corner. But you never know what you might miss. Yes, the future is scary, but now is even scarier because you are actually doing it! Lets risk leaving the future to sort itself out, and have fun whilst we live the now.

Anyway, it's boring knowing what is coming up!

Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see. Hebrews 11:1 (NLT)