Surfing Curacy

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This post started out as ‘surviving curacy’ and yet autocorrect made it ‘surfing’, which seemed apt as whilst writing I had just come from an afternoon on the beach with the family, surfing and body boarding in the Atlantic Ocean.

Surfing, even as terrible as we are at it, requires balance and poise. Life long surfers have a second sense of when the weather is turning, when waves might appear and then once in the water, an instinct that kicks in before the brain has registered the right wave approaching. The highs are great: overcoming nature, riding through the surf, staying up on the board for the first time; the lows immense: wipe outs, swallowing gallons of sea water (and occasionally vomiting it up again), injuries or broken boards. But the ocean is majestic, powerful, beautiful, vast, I’ve heard it referred to as the green cathedral. There is something spiritual about it, an energy that goes where it will. Strange analogy for curacy maybe? Well I’ve discovered after just 5 weeks in the role that curacy is all of those things…

For a start, ministry always requires balance, usually work-life being the hardest one to master. And I’ve not mastered it, especially in the midst of school holidays. Why so many curacies start right at the beginning of summer I don’t know. We’ve all just finished assignments and essays, brain dead and exhausted. Then for those of us with kids, which is quite a high number, a few weeks after we start and the kids break up from school for weeks on end. This has been the biggest challenge for us – starting a new full time job a week before the summer hols starts and 3 weeks after moving house. There’s been an almost unsaid and gentle battle over whose work is more important between my husband and I. This is the first time we’ve both worked full time for years, and now suddenly we both have important things on the same day that cannot be changed. Who gets to go to work? Who gets to try and ‘work from home’? Childcare has been balanced out between paid things, and grannies and grandad to the rescue – for us it seemed wrong to book our kids in for 7 weeks of summer camp and activities when we have never done that before. To be honest they have had enough upheaval recently and need to know that they come first. But whilst that was right for us as a family, it has brought its challenges. That said, God has been faithful, told us not to worry and with just a few weeks to go we are managing ok. Although whilst the house largely looks tidy, the hunt for the endangered species of cleaner is not going well. Lewes is the place where cleaners can command a huge salary and a waiting list. We’re not even on a list yet. This does not bode well. I’m not sure when I’ll next have time to actually sort and plan, my home making desires and skills sidelined for sermon writing and pastoral visits. For now don’t look at the fridge too closely, or under the sofa… I know some dioceses do ordinations in September which seems eminently more suitable for all concerned!

 

So, poise. Chances are the church any potential Curate heads off to will go into summer mode, which means nothing runs as it usually does, clergy will be away on hols, as will church wardens, key leaders and the verger. So, just as you learn where you need to be, then you find out actually that’s not on this week, that’s all off until September… Oh and Jo who gave you the keys last week, she’s away until mid August so make sure you have someone else to let you in to church next Sunday morning… This is where poise comes in. You need to act like you know what you are doing, even when you really haven’t a clue, which will probably be for some time.

Like the instinct of the faithful surfer, ministers need to be able to react on the spot. Like, in the first service I led, when the video wouldn’t work last minute, there were unexpected additions to the service, an offering being brought to the front I didn’t know about and I was the one out the front… I’ve discovered that most churches are filled with people who know far better than the Curate what needs to happen and when. They have likely been worshiping there for years and you are the young whipper snapper (or not that young actually in my case) arriving to lead them all into worship. Humility goes a long way.

Of course for us it’s more than instinct though, it’s being led by the Holy Spirit and being able to listen and of course to actually hear what God might be saying is vital. I’ve now led a handful of services and most of them were founded on a prayers like ‘Lord I don’t know what I am doing, it’s all up to you, just get me in the right place at the right time, please!’. Largely, thankfully, he has. I’ve only once been to the wrong building – we have 3 churches, 2 church halls, an office and a chapter house, plenty of room for mistakes there then…

So to the highs and lows. For me, there have been plenty of highs, I am really loving my curacy, the church is fab, the Rector incredibly encouraging – after my first preach his response was ‘the girl can preach’! This cheers me and it was not my best preach (& there is plenty or room for improvement!). The staff team are also brilliant and the people have been so welcoming and lovely. My first pastoral visit, taking home communion (with my new home communion set, an ordination gift from my parents) to a lovely lady who had been ill was such a privilege and I felt so blessed by going to see her. Wearing my dog collar with pride, has also been a surprise to me as I thought I’d wear it as infrequently as possible but I actually love it and love the visibly it brings, in terms of conversations with people I meet. Another plus being, the first night in our new local, not in collar, but ending up in a conversation with some young lads about faith, God, the church. I just knew we were supposed to be here.

I’m not sure there have been too many lows yet for me, probably just the sheer volume of information I need to take in and the whole balancing act thing which is proving tricky. From others I’ve heard though, it’s not always that way. The best I have heard of was where the church had filled the new curate’s fridge with food, left flowers, took meals and popped in with freshly made cake and to make sure they had all they needed. In others not so much as a welcome, visit from the Vicar or in fact anyone from the church and an expectation to take every service & preach on their first Sunday. Yikes…

And that great green cathedral? Well for me it’s the people. I love meeting new people, hearing their stories, finding out what makes them tick, who has God made them to be. That is the brilliant part. Seeing God at work in people. The metaphor of the energy of the ocean is not lost, people moving together as one in worship, but also free to move, to do as they will, ocean spray reaching out and touching others around them. Beautiful and majestic and with a very definite energy of its own!

This is God at work, in the church, in his people, sometimes unpredictable, but then our reliance on him is only increased. And where else to be on the ocean but in the safety of a divine lifeboat?

 

‘Still Emily’ book review

StillEmily

I’ve just read ‘Still Emily’ in one sitting, on holiday surrounded by people, and have had to stem the tears pricking my eyes on more than one occasion. Emily’s story touched my heart, not with tears of sympathy but of love, of admiration, and in some sense, of understanding.

Emily began life healthily and despite what could now be seen as warnings, the shock of an NF2 diagnosis at the age of 17 was huge. This condition would go on to rob Emily of her hearing, her balance, ability to walk and more, yet she has refused to give in to the condition, not willing to be defined by it, and continued in her walk with God, perhaps closer than ever might have been.

(Neurofibromatosis Type 2 (NF2) is a disorder that causes tumours to grow on the body and throughout the nervous system. Depending on where they grow they can cause conditions like deafness, severe balance problems, facial nerve paralysis, spinal cord compression and swallowing difficulties.)

‘Still Emily’ is a movingly honest memoir of Emily’s journey with NF2. Of the highs and lows – of which there are many, including the moment at age 17 when Emily’s family said goodbye to her as she lay in a coma, not expected to wake up. Like the times when she has been robbed of her sight for a period as well as hearing, in order to allow her eyes to rest and recover as they work harder than ever. I’m not sure I can begin to image the isolation and fear that must induce.

It is also a story of a family thrown into turmoil, but choosing to respond in love. Choosing to support, choosing to demonstrate the love of God in the face of adversity, united in their faith. Christian faith is of course a theme than runs through the book, not in an ‘in your face’ way, but in a gentle undercurrent, God’s presence and faithfulness the foundation in this inspiring story.

As anyone with a long term condition will know, it can be hard to remain always positive, even with God at your side, and Emily is honest about this, but also reminding herself, and us the readers, to focus on the bit that can be done, not the bit that can’t, as she recalls learning to sit again, able to do 20 mins at first but not the half hour she hoped for. The subtitle to ‘Still Emily’ is ‘seeing rainbows in the silence’ a choice that Emily has made – to always seek the moments of joy: ‘I choose rainbows. Every time. Even when they are invisible, I carry on looking…’

One of the things I love about this book is the truth that we are all worthy, no matter what we can or can’t do. A simple reminder that came to Emily when all she could do to help a fellow patient in hospital was press the ‘call nurse’ button, but in that moment, that was what was needed. This was something I too learned when recovering from back surgery last year, even in the tough times, in suffering and in the moments when we feel useless, helpless and alone, that to God we are perfect and he can use us all, whatever the circumstance.

This is a book about endurance, the faithfulness of God and above all, hope. In endless operations, physio and appointments, in pain, in disappointment, there is still hope.

 

‘Still Emily’ is available now from Malcolm Down Publishing, priced £7.99.

 

JOY // Guest Post from Katie Stock

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This is the next instalment in a year of guest posts on Joy as part of my year of focussing on joy (my word for the year). This month we have a post from Katie Stock. 

 

 

 

In my experience joy is an elusive state, something I observe in others, catch glimpses of in myself but can never quite grab a hold of.

Joy is mentioned 179 times in the Bible. Trees declare it. Men shout for it. Widow’s hearts sing for it. Joy permeates throughout Scripture.

The thing that all of the peoples, individuals and trees (!) experiencing joy have in common is that their joy comes from an experience of the presence of God.

Wherever God is there follows joy.

Then why do I not experience this? Do I not experience God’s presence? Do I not pray enough?

I certainly don’t pray enough. I experience God’s presence but not in a complete sense.

Joy is still elusive.

It is elusive because I am broken. I was broken at birth because of my fallen nature. I continued to be increasingly broken as I grew due to the sin of others around me. I continue to be broken due to my own sin now.

I struggle to experience joy. I know I’m not alone in that. But, rest assured, one day I will experience God’s presence in its unbridled entirety. Then we will all experience joy like never before. Then our broken bones will rejoice and we will be made glad with the joy of God’s presence.

 

Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
    wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
 Let me hear joy and gladness;
    let the bones you have crushed rejoice.

Psalm 51: 1-8

KatieStock

Katie Stock

Katie is a fundraising copywriter at an international NGO, theology postgraduate, Mama to the delightful Miss F & Miss T and wife to the inexplicably handsome Boy (her words!). Katie also won ‘Young Blogger of the Year’ in last years Premier Digital Awards for her rather fantastic Theology Bee blog – do check it out.

One Year On // Post Op

This was me post-op, listening to an 8 hour long worship playlist which got me through!

It’s now just over one year since I suffered a ruptured disk in my back and had surgery to correct it.

Recovery is ongoing.

They told me it would be at least a year and they were right. It has been so up and down throughout the entire year and yet hitting the 12 month mark did seem to bring a realisation that actually it is basically ok. The ups and downs are less violent and the swinging fear of it happening again, and euphoria over new things I can now do again are less pronounced.

I still carry a cocktail of painkillers with me wherever I go, along with my trusty back chair or roll cushion. I have to plan long journeys carefully and take time out from sitting for long periods, often choosing to work at home from the floor of my study, propped up by cushions laying in front of the laptop.

As I write a lone runner zooms past, red, sweaty and clearly enjoying herself. A momentary pang of despair hits me. We are on holiday at Spring Harvest in France. Last time I was here I was doing the same, taking time out of each day to run along the river soaking up the sun and enjoying a new route that hasn’t bored me yet. Last time we were supposed to be here I was actually at home in the post surgery phase. Hard to believe that that was now over a year ago.

There are still things I can’t do, or more perhaps, won’t risk doing. There’s talk of going canoeing this week and whilst I am desperate to go the truth is I just don’t think it’s worth the risk. To get to where I am now, I’ve seen physios regularly, faithfully done my exercises twice, if not three times a day, attended Pilates classes, sat correctly and not done anything stupid, and it still seems any kind of full recovery is a way off. Why would I risk it now? And yet I also don’t want to live in fear, don’t want to be defined by my health. Don’t want to be the boring mum who can’t play football in the garden with the kids, can’t actually change the beds for fear of tweaking something, can’t push a trolley full of food round the supermarket (thank goodness for online ordering). It’s all so boring.  People still ask me regularly how is your back? I’d love to say yes it’s fantastic, never better, but the truth is and my stock answer is ‘it’s ok, bit up and down but I’m fine’. It’s actually nice, having moved churches for curacy to be somewhere where many people don’t know I had the op, so I can escape the questions.

But as this is an update, for those that want to know… I am still doing physio twice a day (at home, I have a set of exercises to do), I walk every day, 3 miles if I can, to keep my back mobile and from seizing up, it’s also the only exercise I get. I am allowed to cycle too but I’m not a cycling fan to be honest so walking it is. Clinical pilates is once a week and boy do I notice it if I miss one. The pain is up and down, I still get nerve pain in both legs and numbness in one foot occasionally. It’s varied and changes from day to day. Sitting for long periods produces latent pain (ie: it appears after the event -usually the next morning), and I know when I’ve pushed it too much like lifting something I shouldn’t, or twisting awkwardly and usually the results last for a few days or longer. Paracetamol and Nurofen are my best friends and I don’t go anywhere without them, but I am thankful that the super strength pain killers, which I also carry with me in case of a relapse, have not been used for months now.

However. It’s all ok. Yes it can be frustrating at times and I hate carrying my back chair or cushion with me like some old lady, but it’s all manageable and I still say I wouldn’t change it for the world. Earlier this year I found myself focussing on the pain too much and I made a choice to remember the blessing of it all every time I felt weighed down by the pain. After all the pain is a reminder of a time which I doubt will be repeated. A time with God that was a gift. Such a special time, unable to do much at all except rest in his presence, read his word, pray. It was like being soaked in him for weeks on end. Oh how I miss that.

So now every time I feel the pain I remind myself of the blessing. And a blessing it was. Is even. It has changed my life, my faith, altered my view on so many things, given me more empathy and understanding and I hope helped me to be a better minister.

So for now I focus on that gift, that blessing and move forward…

‘I believe in Jesus Christ his only Son…’ // Preach 24/07/16

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This is my preach from the 6.30pm at TRINITY on 24th July 2016. It is part of a series on The Apostles Creed, each talk based on a passage of scripture as well as a line from the creed.
As usual this is my notes/script so may not be exactly as I said it!

 

Preach // John 1: 1-18

“I believe in Jesus Christ his only Son…”

 

So… do we?

I don’t think any of you here know my story or testimony, and I’m not going to share it all this evening, (but more than happy to chat about it if anyone wants to!)

However I spent my life from a baby to the age of about 18 going to church regularly, in several fairly traditional parish churches. I must have said that line ‘I believe in Jesus Christ his only Son’ and others from the Creeds, hundreds if not thousands of times. And yet for over 30 years I didn’t really know what it meant. I didn’t really know what I was saying, I just said it because that’s what we did in church.

After that I was in and out of church for years until my 30s. In fact the reason I stopped going to church eventually was because I couldn’t stand the fact that I didn’t understand what it was all about.

>In my mind it was all turmoil, did I believe in God? Or not? Who was Jesus? Did he actually live? Was he really God’s Son?

And finally I decided I didn’t want my kids to go through the same experience and uncertainty and so we stopped going.

Just like that.

For a few years I was in some kind of spiritual blender where I looked at various different faiths, explored meditation and mindfulness and tried to find some answers.

Then our lives changed when we had some work done on our house and a builder who was a committed Christian started to tell us about Jesus. Not just ‘Jesus Christ the Son of God’ whose name or title I had repeated all those years, but a Jesus who he knew, who was with him always, who was his friend, who he couldn’t live without.

This was a Jesus I had never heard of before, but I wanted to know more…

And there is of course a lot more to that story, the fact that I’m here and ordained is part of it! But the reason I wanted to share that is that for me, now, when I say those words: ‘I believe in Jesus Christ the Son of God’ I mean it. I mean it with all my heart and I mean it because I do know him, and I couldn’t say anything other than I believe in him. It’s not just repeating a name and a title because I don’t just believe – he is my reason for living

 

: Now we are focusing on The Apostles Creed, which is based on doctrine, which in itself is based on scripture.

And so to look at this line today, “I believe in Jesus Christ his only Son…” we are focusing on John 1:1-18 which is a fantastic passage because it declares such amazing truths about who Jesus is.

But I believe it also actually says as much about us as believers as it does about Jesus.

So we’re going to look at who he is but also who we are in him.

Now some of you will have similar stories to mine, some might not. Some will perhaps recognise where I was a few years ago, others may always have known Jesus, but wherever you are at, I hope that in what I share this evening, that all of us might know Jesus a little by more by the time we all leave this place, but also that we might seek to find who we are, in Christ also, to seek how he sees us. Is that ok?

  

So what does John tell us?

 This passage, is really John laying down what he believes, to frame the rest of the gospel. And the opening lines of the chapter here – vs.1-18 are like a prologue to the whole thing. It’s a bit like John’s creed, his declaration of who he believes Jesus to be: He says:

Jesus was there in the beginning

he had a part in creation – all things were created through him,

he gives light to all men,

he gives right to become children of God,

he brings grace,

John even takes us back to Moses and the law, just confirming again Jesus as the fulfilment of the law.

 

Those are some pretty big claims actually, so let’s take a closer look at some of them and what they might mean for us.

 

  • logos – foundation just as today

 

And he really starts by laying down a foundation stone:
‘In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God and the word was God’.

 

This is a direct description of Jesus. And I love this about John’s gospel that he is far more poetic, mysterious even, more spiritual than the others, and this language here is really beautiful and creates an amazing picture of who Jesus is throughout this passage.

But even so, why does he use ‘word’ (or ‘logos’ in Greek) ? why doesn’t he just say ‘Jesus’? wouldn’t that be simpler?
Well if we imagine the time he was writing and those who would have read or heard these words, we know that he is appealing largely to two groups of people – the Greeks and the Jews.

So for the Greeks – As you might know the Greeks were very into thinking and reason, philosophical thought. So ‘logos’ was a word for reason – a way of referring to thought. Both in terms of inward thought – so our own ideas and things whizzing around our brain, but also an expression of thought in speech. Speaking thoughts out loud.

So, in referring to Jesus as the word, the ‘logos’ he was appealing to the idea of reason, not just declaring who Jesus is, but putting the idea of him into a framework the Greeks would understand. He’s saying there is a reason for life – and Jesus is it.

But John also appeals to the Jewish readers too. They would have understood that idea of the word ‘logos’ in a different way – as a revelation from God – a word spoken from God. For example in the Old Testament, prophets were God’s mouthpiece, he spoke his words directly to the prophets and they then shared that with the people.

In some scripture God’s word can almost be seen to have a life of its own in this sense –

Psalm 107:20 ‘God sent forth his word and healed them’

or Isaiah 55: 11 ‘… so is my word that goes out from my mouth; it will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it’.

So actually John is, as well as being very arty and poetic, is actually being very clever in appealing to different readers using the same word, to help them to understand who Jesus is, in terms they might know.

So for us, as the modern reader, today, in our lives, are these helpful terms? Do they help us to get a better handle on who Jesus is? Can we imagine Jesus as our reason for living? Or can we picture him as someone sent out from God, to do his work?

If you imagine in those lines above that I read – imagine ‘word’ replaced with Jesus it can really help us to understand what is being said here:

God sent forth Jesus and healed them’

‘… Jesus will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent him’.

I think they are quite helpful actually as a foundation, but there is so much more to Jesus than that isn’t there?

Jesus as God – there in the beginning

And John doesn’t stop there, he goes even further than this, he wants to really cement that the word, Jesus, is not just a revelation or expression of God but that he is in fact God himself too. So he highlights:

‘he was there in the beginning, through him all things were made, without him nothing was made that has been made’.

Which is also echoed in v10 – ‘through him the world was made’…)

Wait, so if it weren’t for Jesus, if it weren’t for ‘the word’ there would be no world? That’s enough for people to stand up and listen isn’t it?! And that’s the truth of how fundamental Jesus is to us too, that without him there would be nothing. Without him in our lives, is it all worth nothing?

Again John wants to reach a range of readers so he uses language to reach them. Jewish readers would know their own scripture, for example the Torah, the first 5 books of our Old Testament, was for teaching and all about the law and instruction.

And how does it all start? What are the very first words of the bible in Genesis

Anyone know….!?

 

‘In the beginning…’ the very same words John starts his Gospel with. He is aligning himself, his beliefs and Jesus, with the Jewish faith, placing Jesus as the Messiah, there at the very beginning. Of everything. Not just with God, but he was God.

But also again he’s appealing to the Greek reader who placed such emphasis on thought and reason with the very idea of ‘the beginning’ – what was the beginning? What was there, before there was anything?

Jesus was there ‘ in the beginning’. Just as later we read in Hebrews 13:

‘Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.’

Jesus that was there in the beginning, was the same Jesus who came to earth as a baby, the same Jesus who died on the cross, the same Jesus who offers us eternal life now, if we choose it.

So for us, does this bring meaning to us? Personally I believe both show Jesus as a reason for life, but in different ways. So just as then, now we might understand Jesus as the Son of God, the reason for life, the reason we are here – bringing meaning to the universe and the world around us.

But also he continues to bring us the word of God, he is the one who enables us to know God the Father.

 

…o0O0o… 

So John goes on with his fundamental truths… and so far we have really looked at who Jesus is, but now, we get a sense of who he is for us or within us. For example in:

– In v.9 He is the ‘true light that gives light to every man…’

In v 12: ‘he gave the right to become children of God’ – this is for us today

In v14: the word dwelled amongst us

In v.16. through grace we receive blessing 

These are all amazing statements about who Jesus is for us, but I want to focus now on Jesus as the Son of God as we declare in that line:

 

“I believe in Jesus Christ his only Son…”

So, in verse 12-13 John says:

‘he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, not of human decision, or a husband’s will, but born of God.

Jesus gives us, all of us, the right to become a child of God. We can call God our Father, we can call him our Dad. Strange though that might seem, Jesus’ came to restore each of us to a relationship with God, the kind of relationship that a truly loving Father has with his children. That is what is on offer for each of us!

And I wonder, can any of say that that is how we see God? That we truly believe that we have the kind of relationship with him where we see him as a truly loving Father?

It’s actually really hard to get our head around, especially if you may not have had a loving Father in life.

 

…o0O0o…

 

But it’s actually much more than that even – In the Jewish and Greek culture, generational lines and the importance of Father-Son relationships were hugely important. For example:

In Hebrew culture, a son or child was deemed to be so, not just by birth but by who the father chose or named as his son, so sometimes men would take others into their family and deemed them to be sons (sadly rarely happened with women!). Doing so not only meant that others then saw the new son’s status as the same as the Father but that they were representatives of the Father, they had his rights, could make decisions in his name. So a slave could (and did in some cases) be taken into a family and given the same rights as the head of the household.

 

…o0O0o…

 

In a way that’s what Jesus does for us – offers us adoption into his family. And how could he offer this? Because he was the son himself – he could share his inheritance with us…

For those of the day, unlike other religions of faith cultures, Jesus offered ‘membership’ if you like, to anyone. This was a world where status mattered hugely, from governors, army generals and Rabbis who carried importance, weight and power, to slaves who often had no rights of their own and no prospect of getting any.

 

Jesus and what would become Christianity, was something so different to anything seen before. It was a faith for everyone, irrespective of intelligence, age, gender, race or religious background.

They could all receive from Jesus.
We can all receive from Jesus.

And today there are still vast chasms between the rich and poor, between those with status and those without, sometimes just as arbitrary but nothing can keep us from Jesus – well nothing except ourselves.

Actually sometimes we put those barriers there ourselves, we question ourselves, our identity – many of us suffer with a real lack of self worth, but God’s word tells us that as Christians, as believers in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, we are nothing less than the personally valued, dearly loved children of God, irrespective of how others may see us or even of how we see ourselves.

 

Romans 8:14-21 says this:

 

14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

 

>>We get to be children of God, we get to share in his glory. You are special, every one of you. EVERY one of you. Can we believe that? <<

  

…o0O0o…

 

But it’s not just a theory either, not just something we choose to believe –

Jesus came here…

 

Verse 14 – I’m going to read it from the Message Version – have come across that? (explain)

Says this:

The Word became flesh and blood,

    and moved into the neighborhood.

We saw the glory with our own eyes,

    the one-of-a-kind glory,

    like Father, like Son,

Generous inside and out,

    true from start to finish

 

I love that – he moved into the neighbourhood. What a great way of describing it – because we can hear that Jesus was: the incarnation, he was born of Mary – but what did it mean?

So just imagine, Jesus moved into your neighbourhood – imagine Jesus was here in Lewes. He might have grown up on your street, he might have been at events you were at – a wedding maybe or a funeral, or you might have heard him speak at the Speakers festival this weekend!

 

Have you ever seen someone famous in real life? A celebrity? I’m sure there must be a few around Lewes! It’s like you see them on TV or maybe or read about them, you’ve seen plenty of photos of them, and then you bump into them in the street, or see them at an event. Undoubtedly they look a little bit different, but more than that, you will see them in the flesh, 3D if you like, you get to see them in all their glory – the fullness of who they are.

It’s the same with Jesus. This is John’s story – he saw Jesus, he knew Jesus, this is his testimony that he saw him.

Jesus (God) was actually here on earth, he dwelled among people like you and I, he revealed himself, as God, the Son of God, he was a revelation of God here amongst us.

 

Jesus is God but he also knows what it is to be human, to feel emotion, to feel pain – I know some can’t get around the theology of what Jesus could feel, but do you think as a child he never fell over, scraped his knee or stubbed his toe? Did he never get a cold? If he was fully human as well as fully God then he experienced these things just as we do. And we know, he certainly experienced suffering.

 

And he is still with us. Yes we don’t get to bump into him down at Tesco, but he’s here, in our hearts, longing for us to know him more.

 

…o0O0o…

 

 

And in fact the last few verses 16-18 just reiterate that too, and again I’m going to read from the Message:

 

 

We all live off his generous bounty,

        gift after gift after gift.

    We got the basics from Moses,

        and then this exuberant giving and receiving,

    This endless knowing and understanding—

        all this came through Jesus, the Messiah.

    No one has ever seen God,

        not so much as a glimpse.

    This one-of-a-kind God-Expression,

        who exists at the very heart of the Father,

        has made him plain as day.

 

 

Jesus was the Messiah, the Christ, the fulfillment of the Jewish faith.

And that word Messiah, by the way, is translated in the Greek as Kristos – Christ, It literally means ‘anointed one’ and it was often used as a title, for someone who was thought to be anointed – maybe a Priest or Prophet, even a King. So whist we know the word as solely referring to Jesus, it was something prior to his time on earth.

John is reiterating here again the history, going back to Moses – reminding the Jews of the heritage of their faith, Moses a fundamental figure for the Jews, here being superseded it seems by Jesus – he’s taking them forward, to the next level, Moses didn’t see God but we get to – we get to see him in Jesus. As do we today.

We get to receive this generous bounty – through grace – none of us deserve it but we get it anyway. We get to know Jesus. Jesus Christ the Son of God. The one who was there at the very beginning, will be at the very end and is here right now.

 

…o0O0o…

 

Ending…

 

So… When we say that line

 

“I believe in Jesus Christ his only Son…”

 

Let’s ask ourselves – do we?

Because when we say this line (and the Creed as a whole) we are not just declaring what we believe in, but we are declaring who we are.

If Jesus lives within us, then we are also declaring our own identity.

 

So do we believe that Jesus is God, that he was there at the very beginning?

Do we believe that he is our very foundation? Our reason for living?

Do we we truly accept that we are Children of God? that we are special?

Can we say that we have received God’s grace? Undeserved and unearned, but there for each of us?

 

Those are the questions I want to leave you with, I’d love you to ponder on them this week, to think about your reason for living and who you are in Jesus.

…o0O0o…

 

Prayer and Ministry….

 

 

Joy // Guest Post from Jacqueline Peart

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This is the next instalment in a year of guest posts on Joy as part of my year of focussing on joy (my word for the year). This month we have a post from Jacqueline Peart who I met when we both did the Woman to Woman show on Premier Radio earlier this year.

 

 

 

What Joy Means to Me!

It’s a real joy (no pun intended :-) to be sharing a guest blog on Apples of Gold. Jules and I met at Premier Christian Radio where we were both guests on the Woman to Woman Show with Maria Rodrigues. Within a short time, it was clear that both Jules and I (and Maria of course :-) were real ‘joy carriers’. During the show, we discussed some sober topics and yet there was still room for laughter as genuine warmth filled the air.

So, the question I was asked to address today is, what does joy mean to me?

Joy is a fruit of the spirit, as found in Galatians 5:22, and if I could capture its essence, I would say it comes from within; it is a gladness and a warmth; joy is alive and I believe it is a strength and a choice.

I decided to start writing this blog right after unexpectedly receiving some sad news because I wanted to be sure that what I was getting ready to write was authentic and achievable.

Can I tell you? It is and it was!

You see, happiness is dependent on things that ‘happen’ to us or around us, but joy is resident, it doesn’t go and come depending on our emotions or circumstances. Joy is alive irrespective of life’s up’s or down’s; and despite receiving sad news – as I write – I still choose joy; and in choosing joy there is hope.

I write poetry and inspirational thoughts and several years ago I wrote a piece called, ‘Are you a joy carrier or a joy quencher?’

Joy carriers have the ability to transform an atmosphere or a situation. They can see the glass as half full and they transfer the joy they carry to those around them. Joy is and should be contagious. Those who come into your presence weighed down with the issues of life should be able to draw from that ‘joy-well’ and leave carrying their own joy.

However, ‘joy quenchers’ have the distinct ability to sap your energy and joy. They see only half empty glasses and, equally, they have the ability to change an atmosphere that was once joyful to one stifled by ‘sorrow’, the antonym of joy.

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Jules, Maria & Jacqueline at Premier Radio

The bible says in Nehemiah 8: 10 that, “The joy of the Lord is your strength”, and I can say I am living proof of this truth. The Joy that comes from the Lord continues to by my strength!

So, what does joy mean to me? In a nutshell it means carrying something that has the ability to ignite, lift, encourage and build up self first and then others.

If you’ve identified yourself as a ‘joy quencher’, get around some ‘joy carriers’ and allow their joy to impact you. Read books about joy, find scriptures on joy and find what makes you smile.

You’ll be glad you did!

 

About Jacqueline Peart

Jacqueline is the founder and CEO of Jacqueline Peart International Ministries a charity birthed with a mission to ‘transform lives through wholeness.’ She is an ordained minister, inspirational speaker, poet, mentor, entrepreneur and author, who is known, loved and respected for her honesty, openness and ability to ‘keep it real,’ as she teaches and ministers.

Jacqueline is the author of a number of books including the book series ‘Inspirations for…’ a collection of inspirational thoughts and poetry, ‘Will the Real Women of Destiny Please Stand UP? Study book on the life of Rahab and the ‘Wholeness Equation’.

As well as speaking nationally and internationally, she runs a training and development business, ‘Training With Purpose International Ltd’ (TWPI), offering high quality training and development solutions to church and secular organisations alike.

You can find her on Twitter @jacquelinepeart

 

Saturday Morning Musings…

Sitting in my garden in the summer sunshine, there’s a gentle breeze blowing across the grass; in the next door garden I can hear the clank of spoon on bowl as they enjoy their breakfast, as we all gulp in this moment of sunshine, eager not to miss it. Inside my kids are watching old movies and my husband snoozes peacefully enjoying a lazy Saturday lie in.

I close my eyes and just feel the warmth of sun on my face. I breathe in slowly, desperately trying to still my mind, searching for something to hold on to. The sweet smell of lavender near by, the sound of a bird tweeting in a tree, the soft notes of a guitar twanging a few gardens away…

It’s almost idyllic except that my mind is in turmoil. In such stark contrast to my physical presence, my brain is processing news stories, pictures of horror, words of hate, increasing anger and xenophobia. I want to weep.

In my prayers I am saying ‘Lord why?’ I can’t voice my feelings, just can’t fathom, what is going on. I desperately whisper the name of Jesus, it’s all I can do.

 

…o0O0o…

The world seems to be in meltdown. I joked on Twitter that it was seemingly a bad time I had chosen to start studying the book of Revelation.

If you know the bible, it’s full of murder, hate, anger, of people making the wrong choices, of war, of death. And I don’t know, maybe the world has always been like this? Perhaps the reason it seems so awful now is partly because we are in the era of communication. We see things, hear things, literally as they happen, from the most far flung places of the world. We can be bringers of news ourselves, breaking stories as we find ourselves in them. How would it have been centuries ago, when angry dictators stormed across lands with their armies wiping out towns and villages as they forced their way into new territories, if we had Twitter? If we had had the capability to respond, to decry, to publically unite and stand against them? Would t have been different? Would our world be different now because of it?

There have always been disasters, manmade and natural. There has always been evil lurking in our hearts, waiting to be nurtured by some loving soothing voice bringing it to the fore. I know this, so why does it feel so desolate right now? So uncertain. Like everything we know and are sure of could disintegrate at any point?

I think for many it is so hard not to be sucked into the increasingly angry conversations going on. And angry they are. I heard this week, in the town where I live, swastikas had been painted on walls. I heard of being people abused in the street for the colour of the skin or their accent. And so much of this, I think, comes from fear and ignorance, comes from the whipping up of emotion in the press and in social groups. This is not going to stop any time soon.

…o0O0o…

All I can do is just turn to the one who I know is love. Who can be a comforter, who can bring peace. Because he is a comfort and it does bring peace to my mind. I cannot fathom the world, or the evil in it, but I do know Him.

 

The one where I get political…

Imagine this. A nation where the ruling elite are hated by many. Ruling with an iron rod, the poor are hardest hit. Yes they made some improvements, but not without huge cost.

Then along comes a leader like no other. One who interprets things differently, who brings a different world view. He’s not like the others. He’s not worried about what he looks like, or even who supports him, he just knows what he is there to do.

His message is so vastly different to the world he inhabits, he quickly gains support from those seeking a new way, seeking something different. Fed up with the status quo. People follow him and rally to declare their support of him.

Of course being a bit of a radical he has his enemies, he has his dissenters, that’s to be expected, right? But he has come to challenge the system, the world order, to make a change, he is committed to his cause.

 

…o0O0o…

Of course I’m not actually talking about Jeremy Corbyn, this is written abut Jesus, but I’ve been struck recently that the whole sorry mess this nation is in, is not that dissimilar to what happened 2000 years ago. Of course I’m also not suggesting Corbyn is any kind of Messiah either, but what I want to highlight is that someone a bit different gaining support can make people suspicious. The religious leaders of Jesus day (his own crowd you could say) turned on him because he was different, because he didn’t agree with every word they said. He brought a new interpretation of their laws, their scripture. And in a way Jeremy Corbyn is doing just that amongst his crew: the politicians, and now despite recent huge support for Corbyn, his party seem to be panicking, worrying about the difference that won him his support and are becoming increasingly suspicious of him.

Right now this country needs something to believe in. We need something different. I am proud that we live in a democracy, I’m proud that I get to vote, I am passionate about voting and wish more people did. But about now, when I watch PMQs and see them all behaving like school children – well worse actually my kids wouldn’t behave like they do – when I see the name calling in the press, the picking out each others flaws, the continual need to undermine each other, causing us, the public, to trust no one, I wonder why on earth we bother.

And what has gone on in the last few weeks? Well bloomin’ heck what IS going on? Our nation seems to be falling apart. And I am not going to join in the name calling and finger pointing but this whole sorry mess has come out of our own western political system, a democracy. So don’t tell me that it’s the fault of anyone except our political system and our politicians.

We are in a time of great uncertainty, we are fearful of the future, worried for our kids inheritance, angry, mistrustful and upset.

Well, last week someone said to me that it is at times like these revival happens. When the chips are down, when all else is falling apart, when wars happen, or disasters hit, the power of God often breaks out.

I don’t know why that is, perhaps there is something about feeling helpless, about finally admitting we don’t have all the answers, that enables us to hear from God. Perhaps there is something about being intentional – about actually seeking God, or even just seeking another way that allows him to break in.

…o0O0o…

Well right now as a nation we need something, or someone to believe in. Politically for me that’s JC – Jeremy Corbyn that is ;) He’s different, he’s bringing a different style of politics, is bringing a hope that the rest don’t seem to be able to do. Yes he might be a bit scruffy, yes he might be interpreting the rules differently but I think that’s what we need right now. I mean it can’t get any worse can it!

However, it will always be for me the JC. Jesus Christ. Whatever is going on around us, whatever I face, I know that Jesus is my constant. In times of trial, in times of joy, in pain and in celebration, he is there. If anyone can get us out of this mess it is him. So whilst I’ve voted for Corbyn and for remain, and am seriously considering joining the Labour party, I will be praying too. I’ll be crying out to the Lord for our nation, for a better way, a way that is founded on love and compassion. A way that sees the poor and marginalised supported and welcomed. A way that might be different to anything we’ve seen before but that just might save our nation from wrack and ruin. It might seem unlikely, but that’s what faith is. To believe that one man could change the world – how is that possible, right? But that’s just what I believe Jesus did and is still doing.

All that said, I also am praying for us – we can be that one man or woman too. How can we change our world? How can we bring a loving presence and a sense of compassion to what we do? Let’s be praying that there can be another way for this nation, whether it starts from God in revival, from politicians or simply from us…

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Love this pic (actually from a sticker design at Cafe Press)

Movement of Love (again)

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So I’ve been going on about this for ages I know but it seems that God is taking the whole #MovementOfLove thing to another level. So as you know I’ve been writing and preaching about this theme for a while and I have been promoted to actually do something with it. But you know I never felt it was the right time and anyway I’ve been preparing for Ordination and Curacy, and if there was ever a time not to take on something new it would be now, I have enough ‘new’ to keep me going for a while!

However earlier this week I was praying and I felt God prompting me that now was the time. Well, my reaction was not entirely positive for the reasons I just said. So I put a short line on my FB and Twitter to see if anyone might be up for joining in with it. At the same time I prayed, Lord I need a sign! I’m not normally one to do that, I’m happy to be led by prayer and prompting, but this needed more.

So, cue masses of positive feedback and support, emails from people in positions of responsibility who thought it was a good idea. Hmm, ok God…. But in a moment of ‘me of little faith’ I asked for another sign, so the following day I headed off to a Christian conference and left it in God’s hands. Mid afternoon there was a prophetic word given out that pretty much matched what I had been thinking and when I went to talk to the person who gave it after, he went into more detail and I knew I couldn’t ignore it any more. Plus by that evening I had a few people committed to helping run it and one key person in Cate Williams (Mission and Evangelism Officer for Gloucester Diocese) who was up for helping getting it all going.

So I know it’s crazy, I have enough to be doing right now, and I am well aware of time constraints and being careful but I just know God is in this and so ‘Movement of Love’ is launching Monday morning… (and yes my Training Incumbent does know about it!)

So if you want to know more, here’s the blurb below, but do sign up to the Facebook page and Twitter and please join in, the idea is to be a community where everyone inputs and everyone receives, it won’t be me and Cate running the whole thing (apart from anything else neither of us have the time for that!). The launch will be at 8.30am Monday so we’re asking people not to start sharing the page or links until then so as to create a real buzz, but for now please do like the page :)

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Movement Of Love is a new online community (launching officially Monday 4th July) for people who want to spread a message of love across our nation, to counteract the hate. It is for anyone and everyone who wants to see a difference and bring a more positive atmosphere to their communities, towns and country. We have an opportunity and a desire to speak love and life into our nation from the ground up. 

Why?

Like many, we are struggling to come to terms with what we are hearing in the news and concerned at the current levels of hate and anger in our nation. Recognising the disappointment, anger and hurt that many are expressing we realise we have a choice at this point about whether to despair, or, to hope.

We may not be able to do anything politically or change decisions that have been made but we can choose not to partner with hate, darkness and ill feeling. We can be a part of the healing of our nation’s divisions and the making of a better society.

What?

Movement Of Love is a new online community of people who want to see an attitude of love prevail across the nation. Anyone can join simply by agreeing to try and be a more loving presence in their daily lives.

The group of people who have started this off find inspiration in the Christian faith and in a passage many people will have heard read at weddings, 1 Corinthians 13, love is described as:

patient, kind, does not envy, does not boast, is not proud, does not dishonor others, is not self-seeking, is not easily angered, keeps no record of wrongs, does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth, always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres…

We hope that others will join us and pledge to have an attitude of love like this, impacting our nation from the ground up, regardless of their beliefs. We have set this group up for people of all faiths or none, for anyone who wants to be a part of a movement of love in our nation. We will be open and honest about our inspiration but we have no expectation that all who want to be a part of this movement share the same faith. We want and need to work together, because healing of what divides us is what this is all about. The message of God is that love is abundant, extravagant and beyond expectations. Our aim is to see more of this and less hate and bad feeling.

 

How ?

Anyone can join and we encourage you to:

  • Take the pledge: Simply agree to try and be a person of love. Sign up to the Facebook page or Twitter and join the community.
  • Put it into practice: We will be sharing ideas of things you can do to be a loving presence and we encourage you to share what you are doing, or ideas of how you can impact your community on a smaller or larger scale.
  • Get others involved: Use your networks – perhaps your school, workplace, church or organisation to share a message of love

 

What it is not!

Movement Of Love is not political and does not stand for any agenda other than sharing love and encouraging an atmosphere of love. There are plenty of places and ways to express criticism, hurt, pain, anger or strong opinions and agendas, so our aim is that this will be a community or place of peace.

 

Becoming a Revd…

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Selfie with my fellow trainees from SEITE as we head off to the cathedral

So. That’s it. No going back. I am now Revd. Jules Middleton… arghhh!!!!

Wow even typing that makes me start to well up!

How did this happen I ask myself? Why did this happen? What on earth was God thinking?! I am still having those moments of ‘why would he call someone like me?’

However, it is also completely amazing. I am so excited, proud, overjoyed and delighted to be doing what I am doing. A few days ago I was officially introduced at my new church at 4 different services and met so many lovely people (whose names I have probably forgotten already), and I just feel so ready for this and so excited for this new season.

…o0O0o…

So back up a bit, and a quick recap on last week.

So, last Wednesday we went off on silent retreat, 15 of us ordinands together, some of us had met before, not others. We were thrown in together at a wonderfully quirky retreat centre in West Sussex, run by four little old Indian nuns who were as lovely as you would imagine, with seemingly permanent serene smiles on their faces.

Our few days were mostly in silence, although in the end even the most serious of us were laughing out loud at the farting noises of the tea machine. Days were punctuated with the regularity of daily prayer and addresses from our lovely retreat leader, Jane Charman, encouraging us to reflect on what it means to be a deacon.

Got to admit I was a bit anxious in advance and feeling like, I just want to get on with the job, but it was exactly what I, if not all of us, needed. Right at the start we nearly all expressed a desire to rest, to be still, to read our bibles, pray and prepare as we had all come from manic schedules, house moves, assignment finishing and in my case last minute clerical wear fine tuning.

I am the kind of person who needs to have a purpose to things, so I set out with a list of things to ‘do’ on the retreat, like researching women of the bible or reading one of the 4 books I had brought with me, and initially I found it hard to settle, not wanting to waste the time I had. However God clearly had other ideas and in our first evening prayer our Psalm was 91 which some of you might remember was so important to me last summer when I was going through my back injury and surgery

 

And it was under his wing that I felt I was, I didn’t need to ‘do’ anything, just to be there, to rest and to focus on him. As you probably know by now, I’m not a formal liturgy person but at almost every session of daily prayer there was something that God highlighted to me, a line of scripture, a word, phrase or encouragement, so that I just knew he was with me every step of the way.

And as it turned out, it was exactly what we all needed as we hit the ground running on Saturday, arriving at the cathedral to be ushered from rehearsal, to meeting with the Bishop, to prayer, to saying our oaths, to finally the service itself.

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Photo from Diocese of Chichester, taken by Jim Holden

And the service was amazingly wonderful, with it’s endless formal liturgy, singing of prayers and massive amounts of clerical wear and I surprised myself that I flippin’ loved it all! Though I had to remember where to be and when to kneel and got lost during the peace and missed my queue to go up the the high altar and sobbed during administering communion and looked like a bright white tent and was so out of my comfort zone, I absolutely loved it. God is so good :)

So, the next chapter starts here…

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Photo from Diocese of Chichester, taken by Jim Holden