Newbie Clergy Tax Tips

Me when trying to work out anything to do with figures…

So if you’re about to be ordained or were earlier this year, you need to know that you must submit a tax return. Perhaps I was asleep at that point at Vicar School but I don’t remember anyone telling me this. It was only having heard other people talk about tax breaks and the like that I realised. Now of course you should receive a letter from HMRC telling you about this anyway just in case you do sleep through that gem of information, but mine went amiss, or perhaps was filed in amongst the shed load of post-ordination paper work, who knows. Anyway it was finally in the Autumn this year I got around to sorting it out, and by then I’d missed the online filing deadline. We turned to a clergy tax company who sorted it all out for us and I am so glad I did, even with a simple return it’s rather complicated! I’ve learned a few things along the way that I wish I’d known at the start so here’s a few tips gathered from my own experience and that of other clergy.

1) If you’re not experienced in tax returns, most people advise using a clergy specialist agent at least for the first year. My return is very simple but even just taking into account that we own our own house which we don’t live in, and all that had to be declared, and all the costs that go with it, made it more complicated than I thought. I used Tax Management for Clergy (TMC) and it cost me £114 and my husband’s return using the same info will be £40 (Others suggested Mintaplan or Taxcalc). Well worth the cost, spending over an hour on the phone and masses of emails confirming information and what I needed to include and could exclude. Next year will be much easier!

NB: If you are going to file your own return online you do need specialist tax software, which is – as is a clergy accountant – offsetable against tax.

2) HLC – Heating/Lighting/Cleaning grant – not technically tax but needs to be declared if you get it. I understand it’s only given to stipendiary clergy in clergy accommodation, and it means you don’t pay tax on what you pay for HLC (so you get back about 16% which comes in your pay packet each month). In the first year of Curacy you guesstimate it – it’s one of the gazillion forms you get sent to fill in at the start. Try not to miss this, it is easy in amongst all the paperwork but does give you more money in the long run. After the first year, you need to put in actual costs rather than an estimate. I had no idea where to start with this – I mean how do you work out how much electricity goes on lighting? Well here’s the thing, you don’t. I gave TMC the figures for all our costs and they worked out the percentage which went on the tax return, but also I could then submit that to CofE (albeit I was late so 2 months of less in my pay packet until they catch up – tip: don’t be late!). And make sure you register with MyView as you need to add the figures online but this is also where you can find all your pay info etc.

3) On not being a spy. When I first called HMRC about my tax number they told me my files were ‘access denied’ and so they couldn’t look at them, nor could they tell me anything about why this was the case. I had to go via a special department and wait for them to call me back – all very mysterious except that I now know it’s called Public Department 1 – not very mysterious sounding after all. At the time it was rather frustrating, and at first I was told they put special agents in that category – cue comedy gags. Anyway it turns out basically all clergy get put in that dept so nothing to worry about but you need to call a different number if you are calling HMRC (03000 534720) and that makes it all a whole lot easier.

4) Tax Credits. If you get them, make sure they are totted up correctly and most efficiently. A few things on this:

  • Some clergy accountants recommend paying a spouse to do things like cleaning/ secretarial work, however if you get tax credits it is not worth it financially. Although it might be more efficient or make sense to you, you will actually lose more than you save, in tax credits. Apparently not all accountants get this so it’s worth checking.
  • Make sure you declare your charitable giving to the tax credits people too (i.e. anything that can be gift aided) as this brings your taxable income down, but in addition puts the tax credits you receive up. So for example for every £1 you give, you get around 50p back. The same works if you use ‘Give as You Earn’ – which is actually a bit better as it means you also pay less tax. #bonus
  • It’s also worth remembering that however you bring your taxable income down, this means your tax credits go up and puts more money back in your pocket in the long run. So for example if you employ secretarial help, the amount you pay is taken off your taxable income (and puts your tax credits up) and effectively makes your secretarial costs relatively cheap.
  • Again another phone number, but tax credits dept is: 0345 302 1493 and they are apparently very friendly.

5) Here follows a list of things I didn’t know you could include against tax, so do keep a record/keep receipts from the start (I didn’t…). All of these are claimable so long as the costs are not covered elsewhere, e.g. by the parish/first post grant etc

  • Cost of entertaining at home – e.g. meetings, meals, anything that could be construed as part of ministry that you haven’t claimed for from your parish. This year I’ve had to guess but even a list of 3 x coffee mornings, 4 x meetings with biscuits 1 x staff meal etc is helpful. Better is a list of how many people, what for and when.
  • Cost of cleaning and replacing robes (not including any you bought with the first post grant if you got one). Strangely this does not include clergy shirts, shame.
  • Household contents insurance in clergy housing.
  • Cost of replacing study equipment, not covered by parish. eg: I bought a laminator and a filing cabinet this year (which I was way too excited about), but any office equipment, can be included as well as computer software that is used for work purposes.
  • Theological books – seems to be no limit on this which is great for those of us who love to stuff our shelves or kindles with reading material.
  • Cost of minor repairs to the Vicarage (again if not covered elsewhere or by your housing dept)
  • Gardening costs* – not plants but again minor repairs not already covered, e.g. grass seed, replacing a washing line etc (things you might think you can’t face the effort of contacting the diocesan housing department for…)
  • Equipment* that relates to any of the above, e.g. we have a new vacuum cleaner as the old one packed up – that’s included as it’s a church property, which you have to keep clean (technically speaking!)
  • * is because it has been suggested that you’d be better off putting these under your HLC claim for a better percentage, though I think mine went under separate expenses. Better ask your accountant :)

6) So all that boils down to, keep all your receipts through the year as you never know what you might be able to include, tax is rarely black and white and even less so if you’re clergy. As was pointed out in a Twitter conversation on this: ‘Honesty is important, but if something is genuinely work, by all means claim for it’. 

Parishes work in different ways but here we claim expenses monthly and so a good idea is to keep an excel sheet on the go (or use something like expensify) and at the same time as doing the monthly parish stuff, add in anything wider to the main sheet. If you want to be really organised put it into categories as you go.


I hope this is a useful list, feel free to ask questions but I’ve got to be honest I’m not all that great with this stuff, hence why I use TMC!

And finally, big thanks to other clergy who have contributed to this list, there have been a few but particularly to Tiffer Robinson.

 

Christmas Videos Resource

I’ve spent a few hours over the last few weeks looking for videos to use in some of our Christmas services and so I thought it might be useful for some to share my research. I’ve listed them below under various headings but tagged them with themes and length of each video in minutes/seconds and whether there is a cost to them (£). There’s also a list of resources at the bottom which have a load more videos…

If you’ve got other suggestions, let me know and I’ll add them on…

 

 

Spoken word //

Spoken word videos are good as they can be more accessible, especially for those with visual impairments, given that the main part is sound. One of my faves for spoken word pieces is Dai Wooldridge, I’ve used both ‘Christmas C(h)ord’ and ‘Joseph’ previously but he has a few:

The Chritsmas C(h)ord – clever use of the often used Christian joke and very good video, black and white, a few years old but still very contemporary. (4.26  // £4.99/£5.99)


4 words 4 stories (3.30 // £4.99/£5.99)

Joseph (4.26 // £4.99 / £5.99)

Christmas chord (4.26 // £4.99/ £5.99)

Well Good News – ideal for kids/family services (4.47) Produced with the Bible Society and is free.

Mary’s song (7.50)

Ickle king Script to use (£2.99)

..o0O0o…

Glen Scrivener, another great spoken word artist and has produced some awesome videos over the years and they are free.

4 kinds of Christmas from 2016 is great for any Christmas service, looks at 4 different ways people approach Christmas in a clever way. (3.30/free) also with booklets available and an online quiz too! Check out all his other videos here. Including the epic new series, ‘Meet the Nativity’ – one episode releasing each week in December this year, first one is out now!

Other Christmas vids from Glen:

Santa vs Jesus is what is says! 3.03

Christmas in Dark Places 3.15

 

..o0O0o…

David Bowden // Merry Christmas from American, David Bowden – another great spoken word poet and this is his Christmas  offering  (2.17 // $14.99)

 

Santa vs Jesus (2.50) is another American spoken word one with funky font graphics and full on gospel message (though the line ‘our destination without Jesus is hell’ might be a bit too much for a Christmas service – see what you think!) I can’t find an obvious cost to this one. (words on screen, good for those with hearing impairment, though they are quite fast at times)

 

Nativity retold – various parts, this is the shepherds  (1.52)

Miriam Swaffield from Fusion also has a selection of pieces, again this one is shepherds  (2.38)

 

 

Videos with kids sharing the story //

 

No pressure   A Nativity Factor winner, features 2 cute kids as angels giving Joseph a reality check. funny and cute :) (3.00). All spoken so accessible for those with visual impairments (though you’d miss some of the cues from on screen)

An Urban Christmas carol – cute kids again!

 

New Zealand kids Nativity – this has been widely shared and I’ve used it a few times so you might have seen it but still a great one (3.52) It’s from St Paul’s Arts & Media and they also have a few other videos.

 

 

 

Animation //

Bible society 2017 a bit like ‘we’re going on a bear hunt’ if you know the book.

Saddleback kids has various, here’s a shepherds one (can you tell our theme this year!) (2.25)

A prayer is lovely and arty ($15 // 2.30) from Shift Worship and would be great at the end of a service of instead of traditional prayers (all words on screen and not too fast!)

Christmas story (2.05) animation, nicely done but not very exciting!

Retooning the Nativity   ($18 / 3.49) From Igniter Media (who also have lots of others). Very funny, tries to tell the actual story of Christmas, putting the facts right, again one I’ve used before (again good use of spoken word so could work for those with visual impairments and the comedy works too without the pics)

 

There are a few that use social media to tell the story, some better than others.

The SMS Christmas story (2.58) is another Nativity factor winner and a few years old but still clever and relevant (all on screen, no spoken sound)

Facebook style – ($18 // 3.58) not as good as one above in my opinion, also from Igniter Media

 

Arty videos //

not sure how else to label them, but these are ‘arty’, clever and creative

 

The First Christmas  tells the story with silhouettes and words on the screen (1.00) says it’s available to buy here but I couldn’t find it at a quick glance, might need a trawl.

 

line drawing (3.04) goes from birth to the cross, quite moving. No spoken sound, pictures tell the whole story

line drawing 2  (2.32)

 

Christmas in 50 words  (2.18 / another Igniter Media one, so there is a cost also) B&W, nicely done, words are on the screen

 

Bethel TV – On this Night – arty and v cool but 7 mins long. Youtube seems to suggest you can use it for free: “On This Night”, a short Christmas film produced by the Bethel Media team is our gift to you this holiday. We hope you’ll use the film as a way to share the real reason for this season — the birth of our Lord and Savior

 

simple message (£15 //1.40) this one tells the story just with words up the screen (accessible for those with hearing loss)  

 

Video providers // Channels

If you’ve got longer the I have to trawl through, here are some places that produce lots of videos for you to choose…

Igniter Media

Worship house 

The Christmas Channel – features the entries to nativity factor over the years

Spoken truth

Speak life

 

St Paul’s Arts and Media channel (St Paul’s Church, Auckland, New Zealand. ) 

 

Journal giveaway winners announced!

🎉🎉Excited to announce the journal giveaway winners!🎉🎉

Thanks so much to everyone who entered, Carol and I enjoyed reading your suggestions of who you would give a journal to.

And the winners are….

Vivien Willatt 
Melanie Burnside 
Joy Skinner
itsabeautifulwordblog

Congratulations to you all!

A journal will be winging it’s way to you very soon, please get in touch with me with your postal address so I can get send them off to you asap!

Advent Scriptures Resource

A few years back for a project I was working on called ‘Share the Hope’ I put together a list of scriptures that told the Christmas story through December. I couldn’t find an existing resource so spent quite a while producing my own. It was only in chatting to a friend last week that I realised this might be useful to others so here it is. Not saying it’s perfect, you might prefer a different order, this just worked for our project, but I’m just posting it here as a resource for others to use if they would like, and I have included links to Bible Gateway too.

Advent / Christmas Scriptures

1 DEC // Matt 1:18

This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit

 

2 DEC // Luke 1:26-28  

 

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

 

3 DEC // Luke 1:29-31

 

Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus…

 

 

4 DEC // Luke 1:32-35

…He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God…

 

5 DEC // Luke 1:36-38

 

… Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.”

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.

 

 

6 DEC // Matt 1:19-20

Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit…

 

 

7 DEC // Matt 1:21-24

…she will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).

When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.

 

8 DEC // Luke 1:39-45

Mary Visits Elizabeth

At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.  Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”

 

9 DEC // Luke 1:46-53

 

Mary’s Song

And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me holy is his name. His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
 he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.

He has brought down rulers from their thrones
    but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things
 but has sent the rich away empty.

 

10 DEC // Luke 2:1-7

The Birth of Jesus

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

 

11 DEC // Isaiah 9:2-3

The people walking in darkness
 have seen a great light;
 on those living in the land of deep darkness  a light has dawned. You have enlarged the nation
 and increased their joy;
 they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest,
 as warriors rejoice
 when dividing the plunder.

 

12 DEC // Isaiah 9:6

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

 

 

13 DEC // John 3:16

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

 

 

14 DEC // Isaiah 11:1- 3a

The Branch From Jesse

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.

The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him— the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord— and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.

 

15 DEC // Isaiah 11.3b – 9

He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.
He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked. Righteousness will be his belt
 and faithfulness the sash around his waist. The wolf will live with the lamb,
 the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear,
 their young will lie down together,
 and the lion will eat straw like the ox.The infant will play near the cobra’s den, and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest. They will neither harm nor destroy
 on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord
 as the waters cover the sea.

 

16 DEC // Luke 2:8-10

 

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people

 

17 DEC // Luke 2: 11-14

…Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.”

 

18 DEC // Luke 2: 15-16

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.

 

19 DEC // Luke 2: 17-20

 

When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

 

20 DEC // Matt 2:1-2

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

 

21 DEC // Matt 2: 3-8

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
 who will shepherd my people Israel.’” Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.

 

22 DEC // Matt 2:9-10

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.

 

23 DEC // Matt 2:11 – 12

On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

 

24 DEC // John 1:14

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

 

 

 

 

Preach / Remembrance / James 3 / Power of The Word

Remembrance Sunday Sermon / The power of The Word

James 3 – 1-12 

TRINITY 12/11/17 8am/10am/11.15am

 

Did you know that the average person says about 16,000 words a day? I guess that depends on who you are and what you do each day, but taking that as an average, that’s 112,000 words every week, five million words every year.

5 million words in a year.

And that’s just the spoken word, what about those written in emails, tweets, Facebook, texts…

We use words. A lot.

 

 

And I wonder if we could look back over them what we’d think of them?

How many we’d change if we could?

How many we’d be happy to repeat?

How many we might feel really represented who we are?

How many we think are respectful of each other?

How many recognise that we are all children of God?

In fact how many would be truly honouring to a God of love?

 

…o0O0o…

 

James we know wrote these words, in his letter to the scattered church – the 12 tribes scattered among the nations we read at the start. Perhaps to those far from the ‘home church’, from Jerusalem.

Through his words here he poses the challenge of the power of the things we communicate….

…o0O0o…

This week, in thinking about Remembrance Day I’ve been reading some other powerful words. In a book called ‘If You’re Reading this…’ by Sian Price, it features letters home from soldiers over the last 200 years or so, many written in case they didn’t return home.

 

Words like this:

 

I will go and fight with all my heart. Not to win a war, but to come home to my wife and my children. I took an oath to protect my country. Not for the sake of saving the world, but for the hopes that my family wouldn’t have to live in a world filled with hate, fear and sadness …

 

PFC Jesse Givens wrote those words in a letter home. He was deployed to Iraq on Valentines Day 2003 as part of the US 3rd Armoured Cavalry Regiment. On 1st May, just a few months later Jesse, was killed in a tank incident.

 

…o0O0o…

Jesse was well aware of political input behind the army’s presence in Iraq, and some of his writings express a sense of frustration with that. And yet in his final letter home he wrote not of that but of love:

 

 

My family: I never thought I would be writing a letter like this, I really don’t know where to start. I’ve been getting bad feelings though and well if You are reading this …

I searched all my life for a dream and I found it in You . . . The happiest moments in my life all deal with my little family. You will never know how complete You have made me. Each and every one of You. You saved me from loneliness and taught me how to think beyond myself. You taught me how to live and to love. You opened my eyes to a world I never even dreamed existed…

 

…o0O0o…

 

 

Words filled with such love like that can be really powerful…

 

…o0O0o…

 

James knows that too as we read in his letter.

It is one of challenging advice, a reminder to stay focused on God and how to do that in practical ways and here his focus is on our words. He of course is focussing on the spoken word but I’m taking it a bit wider to include all the ways we communicate.

It is a challenge to take seriously a Godly and radical lifestyle. And here he’s reminding the reader, then and now, that the words that come out of our mouths have an impact. They are hugely important.

We’ve already seen how words fllled with love can be so powerful. But what about when they are not?

 

Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell…

 

The tongue is a world of evil, set on fire by hell….

Phew. That’s strong stuff.

 

But words are so powerful. We’ve seen just last week in the press how the wrong words spoken, or said with the wrong sentiment or spoken to the wrong people can do real lasting damage, can be fanned into flame by the media and cause all sorts of trouble for those who spoke them.

 

When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts.

 

James uses the example of a ships rudder to show us how powerful our words are. He notes that a large ship can be steered by such a tiny rudder, just like the tongue in our bodies, it is so small but can direct, our entire lives.

I don’t like to criticise others but I wanted to use an example this morning and for once it’s not Donald Trump! Recently there has been some debate over whether celebrity Katie Hopkins should be allowed to speak here in Lewes at the Speakers Festival in a few weeks time.

Katie Hopkins is a celebrity, broadcaster, journalist, who made her name on the TV show The Apprentice and since then seems to have grown a career out of, to be honest, not being not very nice.

Now I don’t know her personally, I only know what she portrays of herself in the media.

She’s rude, she shares her often hateful opinions on a range of topics with a seeming disregard for the feelings of others, she has created a persona who makes quite a hefty living out of being nasty and speaking hurtful words.

The tongue might a small part of the body but it is certainly seems to be driving Katie Hopkins entire life for example. And we can see with the response to some of the things she says that our words don’t just control us, they affect the world around us too. That image of fresh and salt water. You know of you had 2 glasses of water, one fresh and one salty and you poured them together, you’d end up with 1 large glass of salty water, The salt overrides and pollutes the fresh water.

Just as the things we say impact the world around us…

If you say something unkind or rude, or angry cross words, it’s a bit like your words being paint. You splatter your emotions over the person you are speaking to and they carry that with them, and the words – the paint – gets onto others and they in turn end up spreading that paint, or those words where they go…

Our words can spread love and life or they can spread darkness and hate… they can start wars or bring peace, they can honour one another or tear people down.

 

The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.

Proverbs 18:21

 

Or the opposite:

Gracious words are a honeycomb,  sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.

Proverbs 16:24

 

Now probably most of us communicate a mixture of those things. It doesn’t take much, to influence what we say. We take offence at a comment someone has made; we hear of a political decision we don’t feel is right, or we are tired, or anxious about something and we find we have less control over what we say and how we say it…

…o0O0o…

But James goes on to say…

 

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.

Imagine, your mouth, your words… we have used our mouths this morning to praise God, to worship him, thank him, ask him for forgiveness. It is a tool to draw closer to God and yet, if we later speak harsh words, it’s like we defile our praise and our worship – how can the two come from the same place? As James says ‘ this should not be!’

And more than that, so often we do speak those harsh words over others. Over those who, like us, were created in the image of God. God used his word so speak creation into being didn’t he, he spoke humanity into being Gen 1:26…

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness

 

God’s people, he spoke into being with his words, and yet we use our words to treat each other, Gods creation, with disdain, or disrespect.

You remember that old playground rhyme: ‘sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me…’

The thing is its just not true, sometimes words spoken to us or over us can be just as painful as a physical wound, with much more lasting consequences. That rhyme was a defence mechanism, as if to say to oneself as much as to any bully, I will not let you hurt me.

But we have a better defence mechanism…

 

BUT….

 

There’s always a but or a however, isn’t there, in God’s kingdom…

 

…o0O0o…

 

So, here’s another story, this one from the Father of Kingsman Jamie Hancock…

 

Eddie Hancock, self-educated in Middle East politics, was vehemently opposed to the war in Iraq from the beginning. He knew that his son wanted to go, though, and did not feel he could prevent him. He recalled an incident that revealed how diametrically opposed he and his son were politically, when they were play-wrestling. His son’s wallet fell to the floor and as the contents came out, he says:

 

‘amongst the condoms and credit cards was a small picture of the queen.’ His son solemnly explained, ‘this tells me what I am and who I am.’

 

Jamie knew who he was and who he was serving, He was a subject of the sovereign and he was serving her and her kingdom.

Jamie’s letters home to his parents were sometimes filled with his frustration at being at war, but at the same time never drew him away from who he knew he was and what he was doing, who he was serving. He even wanted to be buried if the time came in his dress uniform, and have the national anthem played at his funeral. Because he knew who he was and what he was doing.

 

Sadly that time did come and Jamie was shot and killed on 6th November 2006.

…o0O0o…

Jamie knew who he was and who he was serving,

It’s the same for us, but whilst we might be citizens of the United Kingdom, our earthly home, our true identity is in being in Jesus’ kingdom. In serving him. In living for him.

And Jesus is the ultimate word. In the beginning of John’s gospel. Jesus is introduced as ‘the word’.

 

 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 

 

That word is Jesus. And the Greek for word is ‘Logos’ the same word that actually means a word like a written word or a spoken word which you can see throughout the New testament …

But logos was also a term familiar to both Jews and Greeks at the time. For Jews in like a personification as the instrument of God’s will or revelation. God’s spoken revelation…

So Jesus is the ultimate word, the ultimate revelation of who God is…

…o0O0o…

So when we think about our own words, perhaps we need to fill ourselves more with the divine word, the Son of God, in order to help us to continually speak words of love and life

 

Matt 12:34 says

For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.

 

For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. 35 A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.

 

So what are our hearts full of? That is the question?

…o0O0o…

I want to read you a few more words from another letter. These are from Pvt George Henry Davies. George was a protestant missionary until he felt the call to sign up to the army, seeing it as an opportunity to preach and share the gospel around the world.

He was nicknamed smiler by his fellow soliders and he finished his training in November 1916 before being sent out to Belgium to fight. From the trenches he sent many letters home as well as keeping a diary in which he wrote more than one farewell note to his loved ones including these words to his adopted brother:

 

…‘We will meet in Heaven’. If I die I shall be looking for You, I know I shall see You again… on the Eternal Shore. I want You to be always good, spurn from Your heart all evil and impure thoughts. Keep looking upward and onward to Him who loved You and me. Fill Your heart with love for erring humanity. Two things laddie as true and as useful as of old. ‘Love God with all Your heart, and Your brothers and sisters in the wide wide world as Yourself.’ So will Your life be supremely happy and peaceful.

 

That line stands out to me: fill your heart with love for erring humanity. And when you read some more of the things he wrote you can see how his heart was full with just that, God’s love for his people.

There is enough hate in this world, we do not need to add to it.

Just in the last few weeks I’ve seen vitriolic debates online and in person about bonfire and some of the local practices; about which politicians are in the wrong or right, peoples mistakes publically dissected in the media…

God made us all differently, we are ever going to agree on everything are we?! But how we can disagree in love?

And we’ve already read, James saying that humans cannot control our words.

 

All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

 

It almost makes you feel like what is the point? No human being can tame the tongue, but he also says in v2:

Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.

And we know there is only one perfect person and that is Jesus Christ, scripture refers to him as flawless, spotless, a lamb without blemish or defect. 

No human being can tame the tongue but God can. Our perfect hope and guide can help us tame what we say.

And of course if we have time, if we have to write a difficult email for example, we can pray first, seek God and not hastily fire it off, but the thing about our mouths is that we are often responding to what is right in front of us, with immediate effect. No time to pray, in fact sometimes no time to think as we just open our mouths and a stream of ungodliness comes out….

So that’s why we need to be focused on Jesus always, filled up with the presence of God. Filling our hearts with love for erring humanity…

Spend time in prayer, read the bible, have good disciplined habits of growing our faith, worship God, practice thanksgiving, do the things that help you to focus on God. Then whatever your heart is full of, will overflow from your mouth…

We need Jesus to fill our hearts so that we can do that…

 

…o0O0o…

PAUSE

This is a day when we remember those who died in service to this country.

Those who joined up willingly, and those who were made to. Those whose lives had really only just begun and those who had lived through war before. I don’t suppose there are many here who remember what it is like to actually live through a war and it is words like those I read this week and shared some of today that help us to understand the emotions, the pain, the anger and the horror and also the pride of serving within it, the calling to serve.

I don’t suppose they ever imagined their words would be immortalized in print for the world to see, impacting the lives of those left behind, those who never knew them.

And we too have an immortal Word in Jesus, we never knew him when he was here on earth, but we can know him now through God’s word, and through prayer and through seeking him in our lives.

And as we seek him and are filled up with the knowledge of him, we too can use our words to be words of love, to bring life, to build up and encourage, to bring respect and to honour those we know and those we don’t.

 

Finish with the words of Pvt George Davies

 

If I live… I will try to make my life more like Christ’s life. If I die I would like You to do this for me. Set Your heart against all greed, selfishness, lust, and dirt my laddie, and remember Jesus Christ IS a stronghold in Whom we can hide. . . .

Good-bye, Your ever loving brother, George Davies.

 

Amen…

 

Journal give away!

As regular readers will know I’m a big journaling fan, so I was excited when the lovely peeps at SPCK sent me 4, yes 4, copies of this lovely new journal to give away! Want to be in it to win one? Then read on…

If you love journalling but are a bit bored of blank pages; or you’ve had a secular journal but need something to help you draw closer to Jesus; or maybe you just want to try something new, then this journal is for you!

When I asked author Carol Petley if she had written books previously she guffawed with laughter; ‘no Jules!’ she said. Then she told me how she had searched for a Christian journal that would challenge her, get her thinking and help her grow closer to Jesus but couldn’t find one. Instead God sent her on a journey to produce one herself, surprising her every step of the way.

Carol first had the idea after buying a secular Q&A journal for her daughter-in-law a few years ago. She liked it so much she bought one for herself too, so they had something to talk about together. But it turned out that the journal was going to be so much more than a talking point as she found that, as the years went on, it really spoke to her about her life as she reflected on each year gone before.

This inspired Carol to think about writing a Christian Q&A journal. As she notes, what better way to end each day than thinking about your relationship with Jesus? And each day the journal helps you to do just that, with a short scripture to read and a question to get you thinking. From life questions like ‘what major task have you accomplished recently’ to the more overt ‘how are you trying to draw near to Jesus?’ there are great prompts for each day and, because the journal covers 5 years, you can go back and reflect on the year(s) gone before too.

God’s journey to production was full of surprises: Carol helps runs an organisation called Waggy Tails that uses dogs to help teenagers with learning disabilities (do look it up, it is completely fab!) and when she first met with SPCK they had assumed that was what she wanted to write about. Carol felt she was there under false pretences! But God had a plan and her idea passed all the approval stages, even with SPCK admitting they had not published anything like this before. And it seems like God’s plan for the journal is already playing out. Carol told me how she took a pre-release copy of the journal along to a group of friends who are not Christians and she saw how it was a great conversation starter, as they were keen to look up special dates like birthdays and ended up having the most evangelistic conversation she’s ever had with them!

So that’s where the give away comes in. We have 4 copies of this beautiful book to give away, so to enter, we’d love to hear who you would choose to give this journal to if you won a copy and why? You can send your answers by commenting below or via the blog Facebook page here.

 

The Q&A bible verse 5 year journal is published by SPCK and released on 16th November, priced £14.99 and is available from Eden and Amazon (at, it has to be said, varying prices!)

 

Give Away T&C

To enter the giveaway you must suggest someone you would like to give a copy of the journal to and why. Entries will only be received via comments to this post or the relevant post on my blog Facebook page.

You may enter as many times as you like.

Entries must be received by 11.59pm, Saturday 18th November 2017, any entries after this point will not be included.

The 4 winners will be decided by Jules and Carol and notified via social media by Wednesday 22nd November. Winners will need to provide a postal address to where the prize can be sent. They will be sent out within 3 days of receiving this information.

Family members of Jules and Carol may not enter this giveaway

 

Who are our female role models in ministry?

Photo from ChurchExecutive.com

I won’t profess to be an expert on US mega churches but I’ve been really encouraged to hear this weekend of the appointment of Heather Larson as Executive Pastor at Willow Creek church. Willow Creek is a ‘mega church’ with an average attendance of 25,000 each week across 8 locations and is one of America’s largest churches.

There’s been a large amount of press and comment around her appointment because a female lead pastor is still newsworthy, especially in an evangelical church. And of course not all the coverage has been positive, and disappointingly even amongst women I’ve seen the odd snarky comment.

But, as I said, I for one am really encouraged because female senior leadership role models, are difficult to come by for those of us who happen to be female and in ministry. Not that I have any desire to lead a mega church but I have trained to one day lead a church of my own, and I think it is really helpful to have people doing what you do, to inspire you and whose ways of working you can learn from. Pretty much anything I’ve ever read about church leadership (not entirely but most) has been written by men. In my own diocese when I was ordained I asked an advisor who else was doing what I was doing? i.e: stipendiary, full time and with younger children. The answer? just one and we are both Curates (currently there are 3 of us so that’s a 33% improvement!).

This afternoon I did a very loose online survey of large UK churches, of any denomination, and I can’t find a single one with a female Senior Pastor, for example: Hillsong London has 2 locations (and 2 more with streamed services) and their website shows 4 male leads.

Now of course there are exceptions and I should clarify – there are some women in Lead Pastor roles – though I wonder if it isn’t in name only – where she is married to the Senior Pastor. That’s another reason why Larson’s appointment is such good news, she has been appointed on her own merits, not because she’s married to the Lead Pastor (and on that don’t hear me criticising women who lead in this way, many of them are hugely talented, anointed and skilled, but for years the only way a woman could lead in an evangelical church was if she was married to the Pastor).

I’ve said before how I find labels difficult but for the purpose of this post, you should know I am an evangelical and one thing I find difficult about other evangelicals, especially those of a conservative persuasion, is their absolute determination to stick to their own theological beliefs whilst at the same time doing all they can to get around them, eg: having your wife as Co-Pastor: it’s ok, she’s my wife and she’s not ‘leading’ the church really, and I have ultimate authority (cue submission discussion) and lo and behold you get round all the ‘women can’t lead’ questions. Cynnical? me? Hmm…

So here’s some examples, KICC; Ruach Brixton; Bradford Life Church; Thomas Crookes; St Andrews, Chorleywood; Kingsgate and the list goes on, all led (according to their websites) by co-leaders who are married couples. Then you’ve got those churches that have women on leadership but not in senior roles – for example it’s disappointing to see that Soul Survivor, Watford despite having women on staff, has 3 key leaders who are all male. Then there’s HTB, an interesting example, as the tide is clearly changing there but on their website shows 3 married couples as leaders, and 18 other clergy of whom 4 are female Curates. Looking promising you might think, until you then look at their related churches – 36 of them, and only one is lead by a woman (St Paul’s, Hounslow). You might think I am being unfair but considering the CofE stats that show there are more women training for ordination now than men, and numbers of female clergy are at an all time high, it seems disappointing in a church that leads the way in so many other areas that it can’t/won’t/doesn’t in this one.

..o0O0o…

Going back to Larson, it is clear this is not just a contemporary decision, nor is it tokenism, Larson has worked for WC for 20 years, is hugely experienced and has held many roles within the church, including launching their global ministries in Africa, and she herself notes her appointment seems to be more of a story outside of Willow Creek than within it. It’s no surprise to them because Larson has effectively been trained for this role. Her qualities and skills were recognised by WC and as she notes she has been mentored and coached by other leaders.

“Throughout my life—and through today—I have been blessed with strong mentors,” she says, “and their coaching developed me as a leader. As I look back on the leadership opportunities I’ve been given along the way, I’ve never been someone to walk in and push for a role. Each time, I gained influence over time, and just tried to be faithful to what God was asking me to do in each situation. I’ve been more focused on the mission or the cause, not on my specific role”.

There are so many things we can do to see more women in Lead Pastor/ senior leadership roles in our churches but it strikes me that this is a huge and easy step – recognising potential and training people up, mentoring them and increasing their skills. Not exactly rocket science is it…?

At a recent event I was at, it was suggested by another woman that if you want to get on in the CofE you need to wear a black shirt to be taken seriously. Whether or not that is true remains to be seen, personally I think God is bigger than my clerical attire, but it strikes me that if we as women have to consider things like this over our CVs and experiences, there is still a long way to go for women in leadership roles in the church.

..o0O0o..

So… Heather Larson is a new inspiration for me but I’d love to hear from you, especially from women in the church, who are your female role models in ministry leadership? Who gives you encouragement, who can you look up to? Because I think there are not enough female role models in ministry and I’d love to shout about them a bit more!

 

 

For more info see the announcement from Willow Creek here

In celebration of a table

This is our kitchen table. Well I say kitchen but in the house we are in now it’s actually the dining table (because it doesn’t fit in the kitchen) but it is still affectionately known as ‘the kitchen table’. And not just by us, it’s almost got a fan club, this table. People say to me, ‘oh I love your kitchen table’, or ‘we talked about that around your kitchen table’, or ‘God really spoke to me at your kitchen table’ or, ‘if you ever want to sell your kitchen table…’

It’s funny really because it’s just a chunk of pine and a lick of paint (although, admittedly it is Farrow and Ball paint, darling…) but it has become so much more than that and God has used it in so many ways.

It all started when we had a kitchen extension on our last house, and once the build was done our old table was so tiny in the space I wanted to find something better. All the money had gone on the build (well that and some rather fancy curtains – but my goodness they were awesome curtains) and so I trawled ebay to seek a bargain-priced table. By some miracle I found this one.

When my husband arrived home having picked it up, he did not look happy. The table is 6’ x 3′ and even in our brand new kitchen it took up a huge space. Even I (who has every faith in my own design decisions) have to admit on first look, I seriously wondered if I’d made a big mistake.Thankfully it turns out I hadn’t (of course…). And I know now more than ever that this table has been a God given gift.

Lovingly I sanded it and painted it but also recognised that with 3 children it was likely to get knocked around a bit so I left the top as it was. (As an aside, growing up my parents had – well still have – a lovely pine table in their kitchen. At least once a year my Dad would sand the thing down and then varnish it to within an inch of its life. Which you’d think it might need being in a family home, except that the beautiful table was (and still is) continually covered with a PVC table cloth (the designs have varied over the last 35 years or so) and was never to be seen!)

Anyway ours is a family table, functional and used by all. You can see the drops of paint from kids paintings on it, you can see where I once put a hot pan down on it and the mark remains to this day, you can see where red food colouring was spilt over it in quantity (and I can’t even blame my kids for that one), where the table tennis bat has been thrown down on it in a fit of rage at a point lost (see the benefit of size is that it can double as a table tennis table – many a wet summer holiday day has been saved by that), and I’ve just noticed you can also a big blob of shoe polish on it, someone will answer for that one later!

Ok, now I know I’m rambling on about a table like some affectionate drunk (I’m not by the way) but this table has been a huge part of our lives. I love how it has become a place where people come together, they naturally congregate towards it. It has seen coffee mornings, art sales, mundane family meals – less than mundane family meals – essays written, stories shared, new friendships formed, old friendships grow and flourish, a funeral planned, heated debates and loving words spoken, pastry rolled (it is the best table for pastry making), oh and a lot of prayer.

 

This table, if only it could talk, it has seen our lives from the inside out. When I was prophesied over, and someone shared that they felt I would go into ordained ministry, it was over this table. When I heard that a good friend has died so young, and I had to share that news with others, it was over this table. After back surgery the local Vicar gave me communion over this table and it was such a profound experience. As a family we have recommitted to each other, making ‘family charters’ together for the year ahead around this table. Oh and so so much more.

Not bad for one table eh?

So when we moved to our new house for my Curacy I resigned myself, quite emotionally, to the fact that it would probably have to return to ebay and begin it’s life again. Perhaps it would bless another family the way it had ours, perhaps it would be upcycled in some uber trendy shabby chic boutique and sold for way more than I had paid for it… Imagine my surprise then, when we visited our curacy house for the first time to find a room in which it fitted perfectly. No, more than perfectly, it fitted even better than in our old house.

Here we’ve had meetings around it, prayed and worshipped around it, invited the church to coffee over it, shared stories and testimony over it, cried around it, hosted curry evenings around it, and I love that on many occasions we all end up working around it together as a family: school work, homework, work work, all of us together around it.

And so here it continues to do its thing. Who’d have thought that a table could be such a gift from God, but that is absolutely what it is.

 

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Preach // Emotionally Transformed // Psalm 139 //

Emotionally transformed // Psalm 139 // TRINITY 630 service, 24th Sept 2017  

Listen here

Intro //

So we are continuing our series on ‘lives transformed’ and over the next 2 weeks we are going to look at emotional and mental health and transformation.

Now I want to say up front that this is not going to be an easy subject for any of us! The whole area of emotional and mental health is huge and can be very challenging. I want you to know I am not an expert in mental health conditions, far from it!, I simply want to, over these 2 weeks, help and encourage all of us to seek Jesus as we look at these themes, both for ourselves and for others. Especially for those who might be struggling in these areas particularly, or for those supporting people who are, I want to help us all to seek the Lord in those situations.

I should say I’ve been really grateful to a few people who I have spoken to while I was preparing these talks who have first hand experience of some of the things I’m going to talk about, however I do know it’s a tricky area and conditions can be quite individual, so if you have comments or questions please do come speak to me or one of the leadership or drop us an email. This is such an important area and we want to be able to explore it together, with grace and compassion.

And of course the prayer ministry team are on hand as always, so do make use of them later on if you feel God is stirring something in you this evening.

///

So, this week we are going to focus on emotional health and build up to talking about mental health next Sunday evening. So what I am saying tonight might not really scratch the surface if you are struggling with mental illness of any kind. Tonight is really a focus on general emotional well being. I hope it’s accessible to all of us and I hope I’ll raise some questions and tools that can be relevant for us all.

But as I said I know that for some of us things are much more complicated and it might be that when we go a bit deeper next week into mental health as opposed to the emotional that might reach some of us more. So I want to encourage you to listen to both talks and if you can’t be here next week or if it might be a difficult subject for you, the talks will be available online to listen to or you can email me for a copy of the text

 

What are emotions – God given for a purpose

 

Our reading from Psalm 139, gives us a wonderful picture of us being made by God, and him knowing us inside and out, in great detail.

We are, made by God, it says: vs 13-14

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.

 

Every part of us made, known and loved by God, so that includes our mind and our emotions…

We are emotional beings, it is how we were made. We are meant to have emotions so they aren’t a bad thing – though often we can see them that way:

when someone gets angry about something, we perhaps don’t know how to respond, we get a bit scared maybe. Or when someone is crying we want them to stop, we want to make them feel happier, or perhaps worse, we just ignore them because we don’t know what to do.

But they are part of who we are.

 

//

 

As human beings we have 6 basic emotions or predictable responses to situations:

happiness, surprise, fear, sadness, disgust and anger. There are over 600 words in English to describe them and we use 42 muscles in our faces to express them.

Over time, this list of basic emotions has been added to, changed and reshaped based on the idea that human emotions are universal, so we all have them

And psychologists think that there are two reasons for emotions:

  • they are the response to any situation we face or (so based on our mind )
  • as a result of changes in our bodies (based on physicality, that’s hormones and the like)

So they help us react to situations, setting off a physical behavioural reaction.

So for example when we feel fear it sets our heart racing, it gives us the impetus to escape from a dangerous situation if we need to. Less likely for us today to be in that kind of situation but for our ancestors they needed that emotion to survive. These days however emotions tend to (not always of course) help us make lifestyle choices rather than staying alive!

But they are also a social indicator. When we are happy we smile or laugh, which is a sign to others that we are happy. Sometimes that is contagious isn’t it – our emotions can affect others emotions. If we see someone crying, sometimes we find we need to join them in crying too. Emotions bring us closer to each other or give as an understanding of each others needs or feelings, which in turn helps to shape society.

Of course none of this is coincidental if we are fearfully and wonderfully made. And

the brain communicates with itself by transmitting chemicals from one neuron, or nerve, to the other. And those chemicals either stimulate brain activity or they have a calming effect, so they have a huge role in how we feel each day. But we also have hormones that are released by those neuro transmitters which also can effect our mood or mental health. These chemicals and hormones play a key role in our physical health as well as our mental health, so they are all there for a purpose.

So they key to be emotionally healthy is about maintaining a balance in those chemicals. And to some extent we can help maintain that health by looking after ourselves. But there are things that can cause imbalances in the chemicals which can then cause mental health conditions.

 

So science lesson over…

 

I read all of that and I find myself thinking, wow, all that detail and intricacy that God has designed, created, to make us ‘work’, to make our bodies function and not just function but abundantly function – we don’t just go through life as a machine, eating for fuel, going to work, procreating, we do it with a whole range of experiences and emotions that enrich our lives and enable us to flourish.

 

So Emotions are part of who we are. Just as they are part of who Jesus was when we was here on earth.

If we look at Jesus throughout scripture we can see his emotions at work:

He felt sorrow, he wept at the death of his friend Lazarus, but also at the fate of Jerusalem (John 11:35, Luke 19:41) and in fact Isaiah (53:3) tells us that the Messiah would be “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief”.

He got angry too, we see him in the temple getting angry with the money changers (Matthew 21:12-13; Mark 11:15-18; John 2:13-22) and he wasn’t particualry enamoured with the Pharisees either.

he loved, he showed compassion (Matt 14:14 and various places),

he showed joy (Luke 10:21), possibly even despair at the cross ‘my God my God why have you forsaken me?’ (Matth 27:46).

So just as Jesus did, we can and should embrace that full range of emotions given to us by God, but they key as Eph 4 says, but we should, not sin in them:

 

Be angry …and do not sin” (Ephesians 4:26)

 

So the question for us is, how do we act on our emotions?

Do they get out of balance, out of control? Because it’s when things get out of that perfect balance, we can find a problem.

We need to express our emotions, if we hold on to past hurts or emotions, if we smother them and hold them in, they can end up taking over in other ways, we can become bitter and it can effect our own mental health. And in fact there is some scientific evidence to show that some physical conditions can be as a result of the pain of past trauma that has not been expressed.

Likewise if we express our emotions too much, then they get out of control or take us over, so that we find we can’t function as we should.

 

///

As Christians we want to draw closer to Jesus I hope, we want to be more like him, we want to be growing into his likeness, and that should be in all areas of our lives, including in our emotions and our emotional response to things. So lets be seeking to see Jesus in all situations, all places, and all emotions. Lets ask ourselves: Where is he in my anger? Where is he in my hurt? Where is he in my joy?

 

///

 

Now the bible is full of emotion and I think there are some key things we can learn from God’s word to help us to have healthy emotional lives that are being transformed into God’s likeness…

So I’ve chosen three examples here for us to look at:

 

Express /lament

The first is to express what you feel. The Psalms are full of David expressing his emotion, this one here Psalm 139 is full of Praise and declarations as to who God is. But David’s life is a rollercoaster – anf he expresses such vast highs and lows of emotion. But one thing that people often bring out of his experiences is the idea of lament. In fact there’s a whole book i the bible called lamentations!

We are not very good in the west at expressing our stronger emotions, there’s that whole British ‘stiff upper lip’ thing going on, we don’t always feel we can talk about how we are feeling or it feels easier to just shut it all in. But that means we are essentially ignoring the things that matter most to us in that moment or that season. We are in some sense, ignoring ourselves, not accepting who we are, just acting like a cardboard cut out of ourselves. (Simon Stocks) and more that ignoring where God might be speaking to us, helping us to be more whole even.

As we’ve already heard emotions are part of how God made us, they are not something to be ashamed of, so we need to get better at releasing them and expressing them.

Lament is all about recognising the sorrow we are facing and feeling, so in biblical terms we see phrases like beating ones chest, tearing ones clothes, falling down, were all examples of people expressing a deep sorrow or pain. We see it still often in the middle east when people have lost a loved one for example and they wail and cry very publically. It can seem quite alien to us, but it is a natural human and emotional response to the pain they are experiencing.

I think we need to get better as the church at allowing a space for lament, and allowing people to express their deep-seated emotions without fear or shame or worry at what people will think. Often people feel they can’t express how they are feeling, they can’t make themselves vulnerable because they are worried about the response they might get. And I’ve heard some awful things people have been told in church in response to them making themselves vulnerable. Let’s not be afraid of emotion, and emotional response, actually let’s get in there with that person, get alongside them. Mourn with those who mourn and rejoice with those who rejoice…

If we can allow space for that then for some it will be a true release of what they need to let go of, and not let it build up into something more damaging.

 

So express your emotions!

 

Guard your heart //

Secondly, guard your heart

Prov 4:23

Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.

Often in the bible where it talks about the heart, it is referring to the mind or to emotions. They thought the heart was where feelings and emotion originated.

So Guard your heart, meant to guard your mind in that sense, look after your mind, so as Rick Warren puts it ‘garbage in, garbage out’. If you fill your mind with stuff that is not going to help you be emotionally healthy you won’t. From what you read, what you watch, what you hear. It all shapes us.

 

David says here 5-6

Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely.

You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me.

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.

 

He just wants to be filled with the knowledge of God, aiming to fill his ind with more of the Lord and his truth.

But we can’t always choose what goes in though can we, even with the best intentions because well, because other people, right?

I can still remember some harsh words that were spoken over me as a child, as if they were yesterday. I can picture what I was wearing, how I was stood, the person as they said them. And those words have in one part shaped who I am now. I was a child, I didn’t now what to do with those words other than to internalize them. But as adults we can try to choose to make a choice as to what we hear, what we accept (it isn’t always easy of course, we get hurt by things said about us as adults too).

But I think of that expression ‘taking offence’ .The key word there is take’ we don’t have to take hold of the offence, we don’t have to take hold of those difficult words, or those negative sentiments, we might respond to them emotionally but they key is to not let them settle in us. Vs 10-11 says even in the darkness God is there… so if we’ve been hurt by thigns said of us, or we’ve taken on board thigns we maybe shouldn’t have done, lets seek God in there.

2 Cor 10:3-5 says:

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ

So we can bring things before the Lord and seek him in them whether they are new to us or historic. Is there anything good there? Is there something we need to take in or can we leave them with him and walk away? Let’s weigh up what we believe, what we think, what we hear. Take hold of your thoughts.

And if we need to, replace the negative stuff with Godly truth Let’s not believe lies!

You look in the mirror and see someone ugly – well God’s word says you are fearfully and wonderfully made!

You are told you are useless? God’s word says he has gifted us all for the common good 1 Cor 12

& that he has plans for each of us, to prosper us and to give us a hope and future Jer 29:11

Think you are too old? Well grey hair is a crown of splendor (Prov 16:31)

Lets seek out the truth of God not take on the rubbish

 

 

And let’s nourish ourselves and our minds

Scientists tell us that to a certain extent we can help ourselves to be healthy physically and emotionally by looking after ourselves, by eating the right foods, getting exercise. So it makes sense that we should do that spiritually too.

Nourish was my one word for the year, my word to focus on and so my plan was and is to eat more healthier, run more and spend more time focusing on my relationship with God. All three of those things are key to me living a healthy and balanced life.

 So what do you find spiritually nourishes your mind, what helps you feel closer to God?

The Psalmist does that by spending time with God, pouring out his thoughts and feelings to God in every situation and asking God to cleanse him if you like or to point out where things might not be right.

V23-24

Search me, God, and know my heart;

 test me and know my anxious thoughts.

See if there is any offensive way in me,

and lead me in the way everlasting.

He makes declarations about who God is vs7-8 all about God being ever present.

What helps you to draw closer to God – reading the bible, Coming to church, praying, praying with someone, listening to worship music, singing, walking, painting – what makes you feel closer to God?

Sometimes when we feel our emotions are dragging us down it’s hard to keep doing those things, our routines get out of place, we loose the impetus or the inspiration, sometimes we need a bit of encouragement – so here it is! What do you do that nourishes you spiritually and helps you to feel closer to God, really think about that and how can you make that a concrete and reguarl part of your life?

 

Romans 12: 2

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

We should seek for our minds to be renewed, made new, made whole, made in God’s design, God’s image not the image of this world. And more than that, that in itself will help us to become closer to God and knowing his will for us!

And then we will be more able to follow God’s plan for our lives – his perfect plan not our own flawed one!

So let’s embrace our emotions, let’s express them, and if they get out of control we seek help.

Lets seek God in our emotions, where is he in our happiness, surprise, fear, sadness, disgust and anger?

Let’s guard our minds, think about what we et in, what we belive, what we take on board.

And lets nourish ourselves spiritually as much as any other way.

 

////

Now look, there are some pointers but I’m well aware that sometimes it isn’t that easy . Sometimes there are seasons to be worked through – necessary seasons – grief after death, dealing with something traumatic and so on, and sometimes we just need time or we need healing. Sometimes those things develop further and we’ll look more at how our mental health can be affected next week

But for now let’s remember that our emotions are not a bad thing, they are God given and help us to live a full and flourishing life.

 

Resources //

 

http://www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/whoami/findoutmore/yourbrain/whatareemotions

http://www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/whoami/findoutmore/yourbrain/whatareemotions/canyourecogniseemotions

http://science.howstuffworks.com/life/what-are-emotions.htm

Songs for the Suffering – Simon Stocks

Mind & Soul Foundation

http://www.mentalhealthaccesspack.org/install/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/Medication-and-faith-Bible-section-pdf1.pdf

 

 

 

A tough morning…

This morning I preached on trials and temptations from James 1. Three times. By the third I just felt like it was so completely insignificant. When I looked out and could pinpoint the people who I know are REALLY going through it and it felt like all I was saying was ‘it’s ok, because Jesus loves you and he’s with you’.

Of course I know there is so much more to it, and I know “all” I was saying is an amazing truth, but I think by the 3rd time my words just felt so utterly useless, and I just sobbed. I was sharing about a friend who died from cancer and the awful reality of that hideous waste of a life just hit me. 

Sometimes things are just totally shitty aren’t they? and really there isn’t anything you can say other than that. There’s no way to explain – why did she die? Or why are people I know facing awful trials? Or why good people who love the Lord get sick and live with constant pain. Why God? why?

And I’m aware this week particularly, of several people who I need to visit who are going through it; of friends who are facing really difficult stuff; of people asking me to pray for those facing suffering. And it makes me wonder what on earth can I do.

I reflected on Pslam 13 earlier this week, where the Psalmist asks those same questions…

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
    and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
    How long will my enemy triumph over me?

Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
    Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
    and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

But I trust in your unfailing love;
    my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
    for he has been good to me.

Even when we know the amazing and wonderful truth of who God is, and even when we can feel his presence with us in difficult times, it can still be totally awful. Even tough I know my friend’s life was not really wasted and she inspired so many people with the word of God, it’s still so raw sometimes.

And what is it like then when you are going through something and you are seeking God and you just can’t see him within it?

The Psalmist says ‘but I trust in your unfailing love…’ despite the fact that he can’t find God in his situation. That is amazing faith, amazing hope. And how hard is it to hang on to that…

And that’s the thing, that’s what I can do, what I have to do, what I need to do, in all these things, with the people I need to visit or those I know going through it. All that I can do is bring them before God, trusting in his unfailing love.

Look, I know none of this is about me, what I’m feeling right now is pretty insignificant and really it’s about what God will do with the words I said this morning and now all I can do is hope and pray it spoke to people today. You can read it here if you want. And I stand by everything I said, God is good in all things, he is ALWAYS with us and we have to have hope in him, because what else is there? But flip it’s hard isn’t it?  

just needed to say that I think…

 

 

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