Preach / / Service of Remembrance / / 4th Dec 2016

Talk from our annual ‘Service of Remembrance’, for those who have lost loved ones, at TRINITY Southover, 4th Dec, based on Psalm 46:1-7

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I expect many of you have read or seen the movie of ‘The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe’, by CS Lewis?

In it, Narnia is in permanent winter, with no sign of Christmas or Spring. The cold is ever present, snow all around, lakes frozen, and with it much joy has been sucked from their world.

I sometimes wonder if winter isn’t a good analogy for pain and grief…

I mean I wonder if you have noticed the trees lately? it was just a few weeks ago I wrote a talk whilst gazing out my window and admiring the glorious autumn colours on the large Sycamore tree outside. Now it stands rather stark and bare with all that wonderful colour blown away.

Winter can be very stark. The trees are bare, looking like a shell of what they can be.

The air is often cold and crisp – on really cold mornings even breathing in can make us wince. The nights are longer, our afternoons fading into early darkness and we tend to find ourselves more often at home, wrapped up, shut in away from the cold.

 

There is something in the pain of losing a loved one that I think provokes those sort of feelings and reactions in us. We are stripped bare, we are not what we once were. Things can change so dramatically in such a short space of time. There may be mornings when we wake and find that drawing breath is such an effort.

We may want to hibernate, to shut ourselves away, as if we can hide from the awful reality that has hit us.

 

…o0O0o…

 

Grief brings with it such great uncertainty. The world as we knew it, will never be quite the same and how can we face the world with our new darker view of it?

At times like these finding some truth that we can hold on to, can be really helpful, a foundation for us to stand on when we need.

Perhaps that might be in a particular memory of our loved ones that we can cherish – nothing can take that away.

Or in something we do regularly just to have a moment of control, of certainty.

And for many of us, we find certainty by looking to the truth of God.

The Psalm we heard, Psalm 46, starts with these words:

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.

3 truths for us to hold on to:

 

God is a refuge.

God is a strength.

God is an ever-present help. Words of comfort and certainty and – because of those – our Psalm goes on:

 

Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way

and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,

though its waters roar and foam

and the mountains quake with their surging

 

We may well feel that the earth is giving way under the weight of our grief.

We may feel surrounded by the swirling of roaring waters as our emotions rage out of control. BUT there is still that point of truth around which we can turn and perhaps sometimes it is all we can do to cling on to it.

 

…o0O0o…

 

Do you need that refuge – somewhere to hide?

 

Let him be that refuge.

Seek solace in him.

Psalm 91 is another that talks of God as our refuge, and verse 4 says:

 

He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge…

 

What a wonderful picture – like a mother bird, drawing her young to her, protecting them, bringing them to the warmth of her own body, shielding them in their vulnerability from the outside world.

Perhaps that is where you need to be right now – just being, just being protected, being shielded form the world outside. Perhaps it is helpful to imagine yourself in that picture, under his wings…?

God is our refuge…

…o0O0o…

 

God is our strength too…

Or do you find yourself lacking strength to get though each day?

Pain, suffering, sorrow and loss are exhausting. Even the simplest of tasks can seem like mountains to be climbed.

Philippians 4:13 tells us

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

 

We need his help…

In our times of pain and weakness, God can be our strength. He longs to help us. In the Old Testament we can read of Moses, where he is facing a battle and at one point Joshua and Aaron come and hold up his arms when his strength is failing. All the while they are holding up his arms, they are winning the battle. And God can hold your arms up too.

I imagine for some of you, just coming here today might have been a huge step. If you are facing something that seems too huge, that you just don’t have the strength for, ask God for his strength – ask him to hold your arms up for you.

 

Jesus can be your strength.

 

 

…o0O0o…

And our third truth – Do you find yourself searching for that ever present God?

 

God is ever present? Sometimes that might seem laughable.

We may find ourselves questioning… wondering… not understanding

‘How could he let this happen?’

‘Why Lord?’

‘I don’t understand God…?’

And there may be no answers to those questions, there may never be, but he is always present – within what we are facing and what we are living with, of that we can be sure.

In Narnia, in the perpetual winter, there were rumours of Aslan’s return – Aslan, the lion, the king, who promised a hope for the future. ‘Aslan is on the move’ people would say. Fleeting glances were seen, snatched conversations were had amongst those who dared to hope even when they couldn’t be sure, when they couldn’t see him.

 

This is from the book after Aslan is mentioned…

And now a very curious thing happened… the moment the Beaver had spoken these words everyone felt quite different…. At the name of Aslan each one of the children felt something jump in its inside. Edmund felt a sensation of mysterious horror. Peter felt suddenly brave and adventurous. Susan felt as if some delicious smell or some delightful strain of music has just floated by her. And Lucy got the feeling you have when you wake up in the morning and realize that it is the beginning of the holidays or the beginning of summer.

Just as the children experienced in the story, they didn’t see Aslan nor could they be sure that he would return, and sometimes God is like that for us. Sometimes we can feel that we just don’t know where God is, we are in that roaring water the Psalm talked of, or a stark swirling snowstorm, stuck in that perpetual winter with no Spring in sight. But perhaps, just perhaps we might see a fleeting glimpse, we might sense him with us, we might just feel a glimmer of Hope, or recognise a truth we can cling to within that.

Perhaps in a passing sense of him truly being our refuge, a feeing of safety. Or maybe an unfathomable strength in a moment we thought we couldn’t face.

 

Psalm 56:8 notes:

 

You keep track of all my sorrows

You have collected all my tears in your bottle.

You have recorded each one in your book.

 

I know for myself, there is nothing God is afraid of, nothing he can’t face with us. He has been with me through illness, through pain and suffering, through dark times and sometimes his presence, fleeting as it might have been, has been the one thing that gave me the strength to keep going.

He is there in our joy and celebration, and he is there in our grief too. He knows our pain and walks with us in it.

God is an ever-present help in trouble

And my prayer is that you will recognize his presence with you as you walk through your own journey.

 

Book Review // ‘Cross the Line’

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‘Cross the Line’ by Ollie Baines and Liam Flint

Another fab book from SPCK and this is the first one I requested to review as I knew it was the perfect book for my son. So this time the review is from him… 

 

 

What is the book about?

Professional footballers talking about their faith

 

Did any of them stand out to you?

Kaka! Kaka was the best player in the world. In 2007 he won the Balon d’Or which is the award for best player in the world.

In the Champions League Final with Liverpool, when he scored he revealed a top underneath his kit which said ‘I belong to Jesus’. That’s pretty cool. It’s bold because not many people would that do and he’s really putting his faith out there, at such a big event. I wonder if anyone saw that and thought I am going to find out about Jesus?

 

Would you recommend the book?

Yes! It’s easy to read – I read it pretty quickly and isn’t too long. I think it’s really encouraging knowing that people from my favourite sport have the same beliefs as me, so it would be especially for people who like football and are Christians.

It’s also good for people who aren’t Christians too, there’s lots about football in it and some really interesting questions.

 

elz2Bio // Elliott

I am 13 and into many sports, including football! I also love music. I am an avid Brighton & Hove fan and also a Christian. I feel like Jesus supports me when I am playing sport.

 

The book is available now from SPCK here priced £9.99

 

 

PREACH // John 20:1-18 / Mary Magdalene & the transforming power of Jesus

Preached at TRINITY, 9.30am // 20th November 2016 & 10am and 11.15am 27th November

‘The transforming power of encountering Jesus’

 

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Mary Magdalene //

The star of this piece (apart from Jesus obvs) is Mary Magdalene. Now I am sure it won’t be any surprise to you that I am a bit of a feminist, and so I really want us to start by taking a look at Mary Magdalene this morning.

So let me ask you, what do we know about her?

Answers…

Prostitute, Jesus’ wife, 7 demons cast out of her…

She is commonly referred to in modern Christian thought as a prostitute. But I want to tell you there is really no evidence for this whatsoever, it is total conjecture and theory throughout history that has been perpetuated down the years. So let’s just put something to right here! I don’t know really where this idea first came from but some suggestions are:

Perhaps this theory came about because when she is first mentioned in Luke 7, it comes straight after the passage where the ‘sinful woman’ anoints Jesus feet with perfume.

Or perhaps because when she is mentioned in Luke 8 with other woman, they are talked of having their own means, their own finances – how did they get them?

Or perhaps it is because nowhere is there any hint of a mention of family or lineage.

Or perhaps because we know that 7 demons were cast out of her (Mark 16:9, Luke 8:2).

But is all of this enough evidence to label her as a whore? I don’t think so! Pretty weak case I’d say!

So what do we know about her…

In Luke 8 we read:

After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.

She had demons cast out of her. And that she had her own means. So I would like to put forward another hypothesis here. Perhaps she actually came from a wealthy family – after all Magdalene where she came from (hence the name) had a prosperous textile industry. Imagine then she was the daughter of a wealthy family, who had tragically been afflicted by demons. What do you think her family’s response might be on seeing her free and healed from this? I wouldn’t be surprised if they literally threw money at Jesus! Or perhaps she decided to follow Jesus after this, and they were only too happy to support her in it?

Now of course her family aren’t mentioned as they are with some of the disciples, and many of them left home without even a backward glace, just following Jesus on his command ‘come follow me’.

And well as I said that’s just another theory, but we do know she was demonized…

So then we can be sure that her meeting with Jesus was more than a fleeting one – more than just a suggestion to follow him – I mean let’s just imagine her state, as demon possessed. In other biblical accounts of the demonised, we hear people are:

Mute (Matt 9:32)

Blind and mute (Matt 12:22)

Legion – uncontrollable, crying out, cutting himself with stones….

 

Mark 5:1-20

They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes. And when Jesus had stepped out of the boat, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit. He lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain, for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones.

 

Can you imagine then, if you had been living with any of that and then you were healed and freed from it? The man with the legion of demons was said to then be

‘clothed and in his right mind’ and talking with Jesus. Having been shunned by society, possibly locked or chained up, and then one man frees you from this? What would you want to do?
Well, we know what Mary did, she devoted her life to following him.

And let’s just be clear here, she was just devoted to him, any why wouldn’t she be? Again there is no evidence whatsoever of her being in a relationship with him (which has also been suggested). But she knew who he was. She knew her life had been transformed by the power of Jesus.

In fact there is actually nothing bad or negative written about her – she did not deny Jesus (John 18, Luke 22), nor did she betray him (John 13, Luke 22), or make foolish comments (Luke 9:55 calling down from from heaven). And where she is mentioned with other women – Mark 16: her name is sometimes put first, before even Mary, Jesus’ mother…

She was there through it all. At his trial:

Mark 15:

Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joseph, and Salome. In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs…

At his crucifixion:

John 19:25

Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.

She had cared for Jesus own needs, she had followed him everywhere, she was not afraid or hiding at the trial or at the crucifixion.

And now here we see her in this passage, the first one to find the tomb empty, the first one to see the risen Lord, and the one to tell the other disciples that he was alive.

Let’s just clarify that, of the 12, or of those who knew Jesus and followed him, Mary M (according to John) was the first one to see him, the one to break the news. Mary Magdalene who history has suggested was a prostitute and sinner.

 

Theologian Tom Wright notes that:

John has told us nothing of her history; the little we know, we know from the other gospels. But her place here is spectacular. She is the first apostle, the apostle to the apostles: the first to bring the news that the tomb was empty. And… a greater privilege yet: the first to see, to meet, to speak with the risen master himself.

 

He calls her the apostle to apostles?!

You know if anyone wanted to make this story up, she is the absolute last person they would have chosen. So it’s pretty important that she is the one chosen here for that task.

And I just want to say that I am so glad to be in a church that supports women in leadership, I have been so blessed by peoples support on my journey to ordination, but as we know not everyone agrees. But this passage alone surely has to cause them some doubt!

 

Mary Magdalene’s encounter //

But I’m not here to give a feminist manifesto! Mary Magdalene is an important player in Jesus life story that’s why I am focussing on her here. And as always we must ask ourselves, what can we learn from her? What can we learn from this passage and her interaction with Jesus?

Well I think there’s a message for us all here and it is:

Situation – encounter – transformation – sharing

There is a situation and in that an encounter with the Lord, transformation takes place and then the good news is shared.

Any God given situation should lead to encounter with Jesus. Any encounter with the Jesus should transform those within it. And those who are transformed should be compelled to share the news of who Jesus is.

So this passage starts with Mary Magdalene coming to the tomb early in the morning, One commentator suggests that in order for it be dark it would have been between 3-6am in the morning which might seem like a strange time for a woman at that time to be wandering around in the dark. But there was a Jewish custom to mourn at the tomb of a loved one for 3 days after the death, as it was thought the soul was still present for that time. Perhaps she was going there to mourn, to just sit and be there.

 

Situation – encounter – transformation – sharing

 

Situation

So here she is, this is the situation she faces, an empty tomb. Jesus’ body gone. What are her emotions? Fear? who has taken the body? So she runs back to get help. Peter and we assume John (the beloved disciple the text says) run back to the tomb with her. See the scene and then head back to the others.

But Mary Magdalene, she stays. She weeps, looks into the tomb. And here is her encounter. Firstly with the angels, and then Jesus himself.

 

And she doesn’t recognise him, thinks he is the gardener.

 

I love verse 15 where he says to her:

“Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”

 

Because that surely is a key question to everyone who lives: who or what are you looking for? So often we seek our answers anywhere but in Jesus. This is a key question – WHO ARE YOU LOOKING FOR?!

And how often do we not recognise Jesus anyway? I think Jesus probably comes to us many times, even daily, and we don’t see him. But especially in times of trial – we are caught up in our own emotions, our own situation just as Mary Magdalene was here. We can’t see beyond the immediate situation and yet God longs to appear to us, if we would just open our eyes!

Here of course it is in mentioning her name ‘Mary’ that she finally recognises him.

 

And what a beautiful moment. ‘Mary’. He just says her name and in that her world is changed, transformed. Suddenly the one who was dead, gone, whose body has even been moved as she thought, is there in front of her and she knows him. (And is if she needed any extra confirmation, there are the angels too!)

Just in a moment – in him saying her name. And you know what, he knows our names too…

 

 

In Isaiah 43:1 the Lord is talking to the people of Israel and says:

‘Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine’

 

And Isaiah 49:16, also to Israel:

‘See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands’

 

and in John 10:3 Jesus talks of himself as the Good Shepherd:

The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out… “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—  just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.

 

Jesus knows your name too.

 

 

 

I wonder if you can remember the first time you encountered Jesus? Perhaps you have always known him with you, which is a wonderful gift so many of us don’t have, or perhaps there was a moment of realisation?

For me, one thing was a moment of realisation that I was loved. Truly and utterly, unconditionally. Phil, my husband, says, as we fell in love with God, we fell in love with each other all over again. And the knowledge that we were ourselves loved as we were, enabled us to experience God’s love for ourselves and in our lives, and to pour out that love on those around us. It was a transformation in our relationship and in our lives.

 

And here we see a moment of transformation –

as Mary Magdalene, seeing Jesus afresh, in a new encounter with him – she is transformed.

 

From weeping in grief and sorrow to the realisation he is there, she turns towards him, shouts out ‘rabboni’ and then what would be your next reaction? I think I would fling myself at him hugging him! Wouldn’t you?

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And I think that is exactly what she did, when we read the next line:

Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father…

‘do not hold on to me’, I just imagine her clinging on to him, as if he might disappear again!

 

She is transformed, from grief to joy, in an instant… Any encounter with Jesus should bring about transformation like that.

And transformation of course should happen when we meet Jesus for the first time, when we become Christians, but we need to go on being transformed into the likeness of who he is. Mary Magdalene knew Jesus, she had already decided to follow him, to support him, to care for him, but this is another encounter, a new step.

Do you have those moments? When you feel something new in your faith, a step forward, a realisation? I’ve had those moments in prayer, by myself or when other are praying for me; or in reading scripture, when suddenly something you’ve read 100 times before stands out in a new way and challenges your thinking or shows you something you’d not seen before of who Jesus is.

Or maybe you’ve had a more ‘powerful encounter – you’ve been healed, had an answer to prayer, seen a miracle happen before your very eyes.

Let’s be open to those things, let’s be seeking those things. I mean here for Mary Magdalene she wasn’t seeking the Lord particularly, she was lost in grief, but how much more do we see, recognise, realise the presence of od when we have our eyes open, our eyes fixed on him?

We could start each day by saying, ‘Lord show me a transforming encounter today’, or ‘I want to see you more in this day’, ‘show me where you are today’, ‘give me open eyes and ears to see and hear you today’…?

 

 

And what do we do with those encounters? Those moments?

 

Situation – encounter – transformation – sharing

 

And the response to an encounter with Jesus – should be sharing about it, telling the good news – evangelism!

As Jesus tells Mary Magdalene (though I’m not sure he needed to!) she goes and finds the disciples and shares what she has seen ‘I have seen the Lord’ and tells them all that he has said.
When I first became a Christian I described the desire in me to tell people about it, as being like feeling I needed a loud haler that I could stand on the street corner with and wanting to shout out who Jesus was and what he’d done in our lives. I could happily have done that – though I don’t think it’s a recommended form of evangelism TBH!

The Rev. Frank Teesdale, pastor of Garfield Ridge Baptist Church, preaches the Gospel at 18th Street and Loomis Boulevard in Chicago on Friday, June 10, 2011. (Terrence Antonio James/ Chicago Tribune) B581333380Z.1 ....OUTSIDE TRIBUNE CO.- NO MAGS, NO SALES, NO INTERNET, NO TV, NEW YORK TIMES OUT, CHICAGO OUT, NO DIGITAL MANIPULATION...

Instead I began to write about it and years later I’m still writing that blog! Because there is something about a transforming encounter with Jesus that compels us to share it with others.

And it is so powerful…

 

I love hearing people’s stories of how God has been at work in their lives, don’t you? It’s just so encouraging and inspiring. Last Sunday at the 6.30 we heard from a guy whose family have disowned him for his faith. And yet the ways God had worked in his life were just staggering.

 

At my last church, there we met a woman who was healed of terminal cancer.

I often start my day by asking God to use me to reach people. On holiday one time, I felt compelled to go and talk to a chap at a table in the restaurant where we were eating. Thankfully he spoke english… As I shared what I felt God was saying, he looked at me in total disbelief as I saw him transformed before my very eyes. He was not a Christian but had spent the day sitting in a church wondering what to do with his life and every word I spoke to him was an answer to that.

 

Testimony is so powerful…

 

Revelation 12 talks about a great battle in heaven and notes this:

 

Rev 12:11

They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony…

 

Victory was in what Jesus did and in out telling of what Jesus has done…

 

In Luke 8:38-39 – the man with all those demons:

begged to go with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying,  “Return home and tell how much God has done for you.” So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him.

 

 

In John 4 we read of the Samaritan woman who Jesus spoke to at the well, telling her everything she had done and that he was the water of life… she went back to her town and told them all about him and v 39 says:

Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony…

 

In our Situations – look for encounter, be ready to receive transformation and then go and share what the Lord has done…

 

So I want to ask you today, where are you encountering Jesus in your lives right now? How are you enabling others to encounter Jesus? how are you sharing what he has done for you?

 

…..lead into ministry…

 

 

 

JOY // Guest post by Amanda Robbie

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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 one word for the year). This month we have a post from Amanda Robbie, otherwise known as ‘The Vicar’s Wife’.

 

 

Where is joy when life is grey and dull, when life is hard, when life is just boring and feels like an uphill journey?

Last year I was given a beautiful Christmas decoration.  It’s made of twisted twigs and is decorated with tiny red seed-like beads. The twists and turns and clusters of beads spell out a word. The word is JOY.

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In difficulties and sorrows, when we are striving to live for God in a godless world, when we are battling against our own sinful nature and against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms, that is when we sow tears. Often it’s just tiny tears of disappointment and discouragement. Although sometimes there are great buckets of pain and struggle.

Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy.

Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow,

will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them.

Psalm 126:5-6

Psalm 126 compares tears to seeds, sown by God’s people. And we see that those tear-seeds grow into sheaves of grain, and God’s people end up singing songs of joy, bringing in the harvest. I can’t say that’s how I usually see my difficulties and battles : that God is growing something with my tears that will start me singing.

So, as I face daily challenges, inside my heart and outside in my life, I want to remind myself that I will reap with songs of joy. And if I will sing songs of joy in the future, I can begin to sing them now. As the tiny seeds spell out JOY in my Christmas decoration, so tiny seeds of tears will grow into great songs of joy over the harvest that the Lord is gathering in.

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Amanda Robbie is a former designer of sewage works who is now a vicar’s wife in a multicultural urban parish in the West Midlands. She likes writing and baking. but not filing or clearing up. You can find her on Twitter @thevicarswife or (somewhat erratically) on her blog .

Marriage, Motherhood and Ministry

 

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First off let me start with a caveat, especially for those who know me face to face – this is not a sob story post or an ‘I’m struggling’ post – I am fine, we are fine and I am loving my job, it’s just an honest reflection on working out a new balance…

In the last few weeks I have thought to myself on more than one occasion ‘what have I done?’. Six months into Curacy and I feel like I’m not being a very good Curate, wife or mum. I knew this transition would be hard and would take time and it is.

It’s fair to say this is always a busy time of year for us with the kids having a 2 week half term and 3 family birthdays in the space of 13 days. It is usually around this time that I either a) have a meltdown b) get sick or c) both of the above. This year it was getting ill. Of the joys of a winter cough, no sleep and the accompanying sore throat…

Thing is this year I feel it’s a bit different – it’s not ‘what have I done’ but ‘what has God done’… yeah so you know Lord it’s your fault, right?…

I never thought ordained life would be easy, and to be honest it’s about as busy as I thought it would be. Someone recently said to me that they thought it was impossible to be a wife, mum, full time stipendiary minster and with a husband who works full time in the city too. I’m not sure it’s impossible, it obviously depends how you define it and hey, with a full time housekeeper and nanny it’d be a sinch! but well, the stipend doesn’t go that far (even if I wanted it to). But either way, it sure is a hard balance that we have not got right yet, who am I kidding that I have not got right yet.

I belong to a fab Facebook group of clergy mums that is really supportive and helpful but at the same time I feel like I haven’t got a role model to look to and some of them seem to be saying the same. Most of the clergy I have worked with have been guys whose wives have been largely at home and managing the family/home, or with older kids who have left home. So I’m trying to work out what balancing the combined callings of marriage, motherhood and ministry looks like, and not really sure who to look to.

I love my ‘job’, it is one of the most fulfilling, joyous, worthwhile and challenging things I have ever done (probably only second to motherhood) and it has its hilarious moments too, like when you’re on a serious pastoral phonecall and one of your kids (who shall remain nameless) comes up and burps in your ear; or having to use up leftover communion in a pudding (don’t even bother to comment on that one…); or wondering why when you moved into your clergy house there is this picture on the downstairs toilet door…

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and then you realise after the 1st No.2… ;)

But at the same time I’m asking a lot of questions of myself and God. I don’t know if any other mums in ministry are finding the same, but there will definitely be a few posts flowing out of this blog on that theme.

Like for example:

: What counts as “ministry”?

: How many hours as I am supposed to ‘work’? what is a healthy balance?

: Which is the greater calling – marriage, motherhood or ministry? which takes priority?

: Why do I feel guilty about saying ‘no’ to things?

: How busy is too busy?

 

and if you’ve got any questions you’d like to add to that list, or would like to input, please let me know!

 

THANK YOU!

So this weekend as I sat at home with a horrible cold, coupled with the joy of celebrating my son’s 13th birthday I was also watching the tweets roll in from #PremDAC16 and was absolutely to delighted to see that I was chosen as Runner Up for ‘Most Inspiring Leadership Blog’, woop! (I was also shortlisted for ‘Blogger of the year’ and as with last year when I was runner up in that category I am just so chuffed and surprised!).

You can see all the winners listed in the Premier Digital website here, and huge congrats to all the winners, it was an amazing line up, I feel honoured just to be among them. Especially check out Youth Work Hacks who won this category – a really brilliant blog and resource and not just for those doing Youth work I would say.

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Thank to Bex Lewis for this pic, shamelessly stolen from her Twitter feed :)

So, I also want to say a huge thank you to anyone who nominated me and to all of you who read this blog. Over the last 7 years or so it has changed, grown, had various guest posters, looked at different themes, had many a rant, and also a lot of love. But more than that, it has been an outlet for me to work out what is going in in my head, and to my surprise I have found that has often been helpful to others doing the same. It’s quite humbling when someone sends you a message or an email saying how they have found something you have written, really helpful or encouraging or inspiring. And, so, basically I want to say, ‘right backatcha!’ I love writing but it makes is so much more enjoyable and special when I know it reaches other people and touches them. So thank you all :)

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Last year at the awards dinner above! This year, in PJs and socks at home ;)

Biblical interpretation and the US Election

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Picture via Wylio: Vince Alongi https://www.flickr.com/people/vincealongi/

Look, here’s the thing, I don’t like Donald Trump. Sorry Lord, but it’s true, you’ve made some much nicer, more decent human beings, but hey what do I know? So I’m sorry for that but I don’t apologise for this piece of writing.

There has been sooooo much written about the US election, so I’ve avoided writing about it, the world doesn’t need another diatribe against Clinton or Trump. But the thing that has got me going now is the Christian ‘excuses’ all over social media, from single comments to lengthy essays citing ‘biblical principles’ as to why Trump is the right choice.

At the end of the day if we want to, we can pick and choose any bible passage we like to confirm our own thoughts and feelings. We can make it fit our own ideology, or political beliefs. And we all do it, even when we know better, maybe in choosing a scripture to send to a friend for help or support when they need it; or perhaps in writing a sermon and needing something to make our point. And, well we could say, ‘is there anything wrong with that?’ After all scripture is, according to 2 Tinothy:

… God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. 2 Tim 3:16-17

it’s also

alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart’. Hebrews 4:12

And if we believe in the bible as God’s word, if we believe it is powerful and relevant for today, then we should read it, consult it, take it in, and be led by it, through God. But as we see in any given theological discussion we all do that differently. I for example, quite like Paul’s writings, I don’t think he was a misogynist, I see him actively working with women, and yet, others take some of his writings to say that women should not be in church leadership, or in authority over a man.

Someone might take the biblical command not to murder, for example, to apply more to unborn children and another person use it in relation to innocent casualties of war. I might take the command to love your neighbour to mean we should welcome refugees and those more needy than ourselves, whilst others might think more of their own literal neighbour, to home territories.

God did give us freewill. He gave us the ability to think for ourselves and that’s why we have different opinions and we can all make mistakes. We should all be aware of that, and acknowledge it, so if we use the bible as our guide in making decisions publicly, we have a responsibility to apply it fairly, prayerfully and in a Godly way to both sides of any equation – not just because it fits our preconceived ideas. So far most of what I have seen written by Christians, including someone I highly respect and look up to, has not done this. It has been one sided and picked biblical passages and principles to suit their own opinions.

It has been widely reported that the white evangelical vote was what got Trump (soon to be resident) into the White House. And I would say 90% of posts or pieces I have seen from this area, focus on one single issue – abortion and the saving of life.

So just for the record, did you know, there are no specific scriptures on abortion itself, only those on the sanctity of life. So if we choose abortion over any other issue of life, we ignore the roughly 17,000 Americans who are shot and killed each year (over 2000 of whom are children) in gun incidents; or the thousands who have been killed in conflicts around the world in the last year; or the 6 milion people who have been displaced in the Syrian conflict to cite just a few stats.

Do we really think that abortion alone is more important than matters of foreign policy or defence? Than immigration or asylum seekers? Abortion is just one issue that deals with human life – and for the record numbers of abortions in the US have actually been falling steadily since the 90s…

Bill Johnson said this:

‘But all of our rights stop when they violate the rights of another – in this case the unborn. I also found that one of the main biblical purposes of authority is to speak on behalf of those who have no voice. The unborn qualify. They wait silently for someone to stand up and speak.’

What like the rights to a life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness maybe? The US declaration of Independence says this:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness…

 

Or wait, is that just for US citizens?

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So, how about forgiveness – another biblical principle that has been written about. If we can forgive Donald Trump his dirty campaign, his continual slander of Clinton, his threats to throw her in prison and refute the result (how ironic), his derogatory remarks on women that were apparently made years ago and then apologised for, then we can also forgive Hilary Clinton her email error, which she too apologised for.

We are told to forgive as God’s forgives us, the only sin being unforgiveable is blaspheming the Holy Spirit (of which there is plenty of debate over what it means anyway.).

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Or how about compassion then, another thing I’ve seen referred to in relation to the welfare state? It’s pretty easy to suggest that a welfare system can be a negative thing when you have a good job, a nice house and live in relative wealth. Here in the UK we’ve seen the results of austerity: the rise of those living in poverty, the necessity of foodbanks and in fact the ‘robbing of peoples self esteem’.

Another thing that has been talked about is the quality of leadership. So what does the bible say about that? Well, this from 1 Timothy 3:1-7 is pretty good I would suggest:

The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? …

 

Or this from Acts 6:3

Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty.

Hmmm…

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And well of course, at the end of the day God has given us a choice. Is Trump God’s chosen leader? There are of course several stories of God’s chosen leaders in the bible, there are passages that talk of choosing a leader too, this in Acts for example:

And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles. Acts 1:24-26

But before we get all carried away and proclaim Trump as chosen by God, we forget that these passages do refer to choosing from amongst a group of Godly and upright believers, rather than voting for President. And as we know, many Americans found the choice between Trump or Hilary Clinton a really tough one.

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So, we are where we are. Donald Trump will be US President, will be possibly the most powerful man in the world and, opinions divided, decisions made and votes cast, shall we just try and love each other rather than gloating or arguing? She says… perhaps I have just added to all that, though that was not my intention, but rather to encourage us all to think, to read our bibles and pray more, to be led by God and not by man or by popular opinion. So let me just leave you with this from 1 Timothy 2:1-2:

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.

 

‘Becoming Reverend’ by Matt Woodcock // Book review

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I’ve not met Matt Woodock, but I suspect he’s one of those instantly-likeable types. His writing is funny, honest and real, and not at all what you’d expect from a Vicar. Which is nice, because it makes me realise I am clearly not the only odd shaped one in the church of England.

‘Becoming Reverend’ is Matt’s diary of his journey from getting selected to train for ministry in the CofE, through struggling to become a Father and attempting to reconcile his party-loving football-filled lifestyle to ordination and parenthood. It is laugh out loud funny in places, but also moving and humbling as Matt’s outrageous honesty and witty self-deprecation take you along with him in his journey.

Having gone through the same process of selection and training, and feeling many of the same sentiments as Matt about ministry and the CofE (not always positive) this book really struck a chord with me. Like him I am not your average Radio 4 listening, academic, safe, ‘normal’ Vicar and agree that encouraging people into Christian leadership who ‘have an infectious, living faith and can relate Jesus to the ordinary working man and woman, should be the highest priority’.

As he notes:

I don’t feel called to fit neatly into the way church has always been done. I’m called to be a pioneering agent of change. I’m praying that God will find me the right kind of boss.

Me too. And the thing is people need to read this and understand it, both inside the church and out.

However this is not just a book for churchy types, Matt also writes about his and wife Anna’s battle to parenthood, through IVF, hormones, medication, lows and highs, whilst life attempts to carry on as normal. Egg harvesting, sperm donation, relationship tensions and tears are the norm for many people going through the IVF process and Matt’s honest but funny account of it will strike a chord with many. For Matt this is also coupled with dealing with his beloved Aunt succumbing to cancer, all on top of training to be a Vicar. One of those would be enough for anyone and reading Matt’s journey through it all is inspiring. Through it we see that it’s not just his faith that gets him though, or his wife, but he talks about his (amusingly titled) ‘Morning Glory’ group too. A bunch of fellow ordinands who pray, laugh and cry together, supporting each other through their ups and downs and it just highlights that we are all supposed to be in community. Down the pub, at church, in Iifes struggles, we need people around us – in any walk of life.

Matt also reminds us that we need to laugh. So many of us live lives that are way too busy, too exhausting and too full, to stop and laugh. Matt seems to find the funny in all situations which is an absolute gift.

For me personally, a couple of lines stand out in the book – perhaps because I could have written it about myself – and it sums up so much of who Matt seems to be:

And yet. God loves his church. He sees possibilities and opportunities everywhere. Deep down I know he calls me to do the same. It’s terrifying (but also quite comical) that he wants me to help breathe new life into it…

So, in summary, I’ll be a force for positive change in the Church of England, but could end up defrocked by my second year.

This book is inspiring, challenging, humbling and very funny. Go get it! Out now from Church House Publishing, priced £9.99.

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Treasure Hunting Guidelines

You may or may not have heard of a type of evangelism called ‘Treasure Hunting’. Pioneered I believe by Kevin Dedmon at Bethel church it has become popular in the UK and I’ve been involved in taking out groups on a number of occasions. I’m now introducing it to my new church which is very exciting! Basically it means praying and asking God for some clues as to the people he wants you to reach out to in your town/venue/area. Then you go out looking for what God has shown you.

Here’s a couple of videos that give you a bit more of an idea what it’s about…

 

As part of what we are doing, I’ve produced some basic guidelines, which you can download here : treasure-huntingv2pdf and also includes a clue sheet, which might be helpful if you want to give it a go. Some of it is below also…

 

What is treasure hunting all about? 

We are going out, seeking out the treasure God highlights to us. It’s fun but it is fundamentally about revealing the love of Jesus to people and blessing them.

Treasure hunting is basically prophetic evangelism. Prophecy is a word or a message from God, that he wants to be shared. Simplistically: Old Testament prophets spoke to the people on behalf of God; New Testament prophets point to Jesus. Treasure hunting is both. Evangelism is about sharing the good news of who Jesus is. So in treasure hunting the two go hand in hand, we are messengers of God and revealers of Jesus.

Matthew 9:37-38

Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”

 

Mathew 5:14-16

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

Many people are open to ‘the spiritual’ but not necessarily to Jesus or the church. Treasure hunting is a tool that can cut straight into people’s hearts, to reach them with a message they might otherwise be unwilling to hear.

What are we doing?

We are revealing Jesus to people, and his heart for them. We want to give positive messages of love, hope and truth that reach into people’s lives, where they are at.

 

1 Corinthians 14:3 (which is a message to the church largely but certainly appropriate here)

But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort.

 

Shawn Bolz, a man with a huge prophetic gift, always talks about prophecy and love going together – the prophetic has to be all about love. We are not pointing out anyone’s faults, sharing anything judgmental, or giving a corrective word. We simply want to bless people and open their eyes to Jesus.

 Here’s a really encouraging story of someone’s experiences of treasure hunting:

” The first time we went out was crazy, it was a day of signs and wonders, gold dust appeared on us as we worshipped and prayed together, we went out for the treasure hunt and saw a lady healed of severe arthritis in her knees. When we saw her (one of our treasure maps had her exact description along with ailment and another map had her name) she could not walk up steps and had to be helped by her friend. Straight after we prayed for her she went bounding up the steps, we also saw her later in the day and she came running, yes running up to us, pointed her finger at us (yes, my initial thought was ‘oh what now’) and shouted, ‘My knees, my knees, I have no pain at all, for the first time in years”.

 

How do we do it?

In short: Pray, ask God for clues, then go out looking for the people he has highlighted! 

Take a risk but be careful with your words

Don’t be afraid to get it wrong and don’t worry if people aren’t interested! God loves our willingness and passion to serve him, not our 100% track record! Be confident in the Lord and step out, ask him for courage. Don’t rush!

 If you find someone who could be your treasure and matches some of your clues:

  • Introduce yourself
  • Explain what we are doing
  • Show them your clues
  • Ask if you can pray for them – is there anything specific?
  • Pray!
  • Tell them where they can find out more if they want to follow this up.

 

 

  • Introduce yourself

Simply say ‘Hi, my name is… tonight we are taking part in a treasure hunt and we think you might be our treasure.’

 

  • Explain what we are doing

We are Christians and tonight we feel that God wants to show people here in the town, how much he loves them by making them treasure in a treasure hunt! So we’ve prayed for clues as to who is his treasure today and now we are out looking for them…

 

  • Show them your clues

Show your sheet and point out why you think it is them. Tell them how precious they are, how much God loves them and wants to bless them. If you have something specific like a condition written down, mention that and asks if it fits with them.
Ask their name!

 

  • Ask if you can pray for them – is there anything specific?

You could offer to pray for any condition you have as a clue, you can ask them if they would like prayer for any area of their life or if they need healing at all. Be led by them.

 

  • Pray!

Ask if you can place a hand on their shoulder, or if for healing (and if appropriate) at the site of pain, if not, just hold a hand near them.

If you feel any specific words or message for them, explain that we believe we are sharing what God has for them, but we can make mistakes so if anything doesn’t fit with them, they should ignore it.

Do not offer anything judgmental, everything should be rooted in love. If you feel like God might be wanting to highlight a difficult area, you could lead to it gently, eg: is there anything you feel sad about? Is there anything you would like to share with us? Is there anything troubling you that we could pray for? etc You can write things down as you go, so if they then reveal something, you can show them that God has highlighted it

Keep it simple and short. eg:

Lord thank you for X, thank you that they are your treasure, that you love them so much, that they are so precious to you etc…

Share anything specific you feel God might be saying.

Bless them

Lord I ask that you would bless X today, fill them with the wonderful gifts of your kingdom,

With love, joy, peace, etc

Healing

Lay a hand on – ask first

Pray in Jesus authority/ in his name and use positive words like ‘be healed in the name of Jesus’, not begging prayers!

Ask how the pain is – scale of 1-10 etc. If appropriate offer to pray again, repeat.

End

Always finish by praying in the name of Jesus and Amen – then they know you have finished!
Wish them well, tell them where they can find out more, and hope they have a nice evening etc

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Want to find out more?

Two great books I would recommend are:

The Ultimate Treasure Hunt: A Guide to Supernatural Evangelism Through Supernatural Encounters by Kevin Dedmon, and

Translating God by Shawn Bolz

Also check out Kris Vallotton and Shawn Bolz, both who have an amazing prophetic gift and they both have podcasts and youtube channels.

 

Joy Guest post from Ros Clarke // ‘The Enemies of Joy’

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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 one word for the year). This month we have a post from Ros Clarke, who I have chatted to in the online sphere for a while, and was delighted to finally meet her at last year’s Premier Digital Conference. I am also slightly jealous of her job ;)

 

 

Joy.

It comes, if we are lucky, in the moments. We find it in snapshots of smiling faces. We grab at it in snatched seconds of pure happiness.

It’s overwhelming, all-encompassing, saturating every part of our being. It fills us and overflows from us.

And then it’s gone, as the worries of the world press in on us again.

Because we are surrounded by the enemies of joy:

FEAR

FAILURE

WORRY

STRESS

COMPARISON

It’s a wonder that we ever feel joy at all. And yet it is only when we can forget all these and be free that we ever experience pure, all-consuming, childlike joy.

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:4-7

Paul considers joy to be something attainable for all Christians. Rejoice, he says! Rejoice in the Lord, always! Set aside your fears and failures, your anxiety and stress. Stop those destructive comparisons, and focus on the Lord.

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The Lord is near and we may present him with all our concerns, our worries, our problems. In return, his transcendent peace will guard our hearts and minds.

In that peace, we can rejoice. We can find the joy that lasts longer than a moment. The joy which can outlast our troubles. The joy which transforms our lives.

Rejoice in the Lord. Always.

Again I say, rejoice!

 

 

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Dr. Ros Clarke is the Online Pastor in the Diocese of Lichfield. She can usually be found hanging out on Twitter or Facebook, if she isn’t Instagramming her life or filming for Youtube…