‘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…

 

 

PREACH // Daniel 3: ‘Three Friends Trust’ // 23 Oct 2016

Daniel 3: ‘Three Friends Trust’ // 23 Oct 2016 // 6.30pm TRINITY Church

 

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In 2005 8 men and 1 woman were arrested in Bali for attempting to smuggle a large amount of heroin into Australia. Amongst them were Andrew Chan, aged 21 and Myuran Sukumaran, aged 24.

They were sentenced to death for their crime.

For 10 years legal wrangles continued between Australia and Bali, high profile celebrities supported the campaign to have their sentences reduced or for them to be returned to Australia. Throughout this time both men became Christians, their lives being transformed by the love of Christ, in their darkest hour, with Chan even becoming ordained as a Christian minster during this time.

However, the Balinese authorities were unrelenting despite the obvious rehabilitation of the men and finally last year a date was set for the execution.

This is from a newspaper report at the time:

Strung to a pole and staring down at the weapons pointed at their hearts, the prisoners defiantly sang Amazing Grace in the moments before they were executed.

Pastor Karina de Vega described to the Sydney Morning Herald the extraordinary scenes of the prisoners “praising their God”. “It was breathtaking,” said De Vega. “This was the first time I witnessed someone so excited to meet their God.”

They reportedly refused to wear blindfolds so they could look their executioners in the eye, and as they sang in unison the bond between them was visceral (deep and inbuilt), said the pastor.

“They bonded together,” she said. “Brotherhood. They sang one song after another. Praising God. They sang a few songs together, like in a choir.” After singing Amazing Grace they moved on to Bless the Lord O My Soul. The order to shoot was issued before they finished…’

Such conviction to one’s faith is something I am sure we all hope we would show in times of great trial, but for most of us it won’t be tested in such a dramatic way as it was for Andrew and Myuran, or for Shadrach, Mishach and Abednego.

What must it take to be able to stare death in the face? to face pain, uncertainty, absolute fear and yet to be so sure of God, to have so much trust in him that nothing can away us from our absolute love and devotion to him? For Shadrach, M & A to face it with such conviction, such defiance in the face of the kings death threats? For Andrew and Myuran to walk to their death singing – in fact encouraging all the prisoners to sing and praise God, perhaps helping people to meet Jesus in their final moments? They had amazing faith, amazing trust in God, amazing devotion to him, but also they had each other.

We are just at the beginning of our new series, Seeing Jesus through Old Testament Heroes. Kirsty kicked off us last week looking at Samson and being a weirdo! And we are specifically looking at how these old Testament heroes point to Jesus.

 

You know I love this quote from Martin Luther –

 

The bible is the cradle wherein Christ is laid

Luther was a Priest, a Monk, very intelligent, well educated and knew the bible inside out. He was hugely influential in the reformation – a time which challenged some of the doctrine of the church and their practices. Luther taught that salvation had nothing to do with good deeds, or doing right but is only received only as the free gift of God’s grace through our faith in Jesus Christ.

 

Jesus has to be our focus. And in fact all of the bible points to Jesus.

Not sure I’ve said before but something like only 5% of all preaching is from the OT (not sure how they worked that out) (one stat here says less than 20%) and yet ¾ of our scriptures are in the OT – we cannot ignore them! These were the Jewish scriptures, the scriptures that Jesus himself would have known, loved and spoken from. Of course they were written before Jesus arrived on earth but the Jews believed there was a Messiah coming, they looked forward to that day he would arrive, their Saviour on earth.

We believe that Jesus is the fulfillment of the OT scriptures. So if we only read the NT then it’s like just watching the ending of a movie, missing the whole build up, it doesn’t means as much if you don’t know where it’s all coming from.
So it’s great that we are looking at OT heroes and how they point to Jesus.

This evening specifically through the story of Shadrach, Mesach & Abednego in the book of Daniel we are going to look at:

  • Trust in Jesus – completely trusting in our amazing God, in all things
  • Focus on Jesus – absolutely fixing our eyes no him and him only
  • Together with Jesus – walking out our faith in fellowship with others – friendship.

…oo0O0oo…

 

  • Trust in Jesus – completely trusting in our amazing God, in all things

trust3JPG Proverbs 3 is all about wisdom and advice for a Godly life, it’s a great passage, go and check it out later, but v 5-6 says this: 

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding;

in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.

Amazing words and quite challenging. TRUST IN THE LORD with everything… don’t trust your own thoughts, just be led by him.

In the message version is says this:

Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he’s the one who will keep you on track. Don’t assume that you know it all.

Run to God! Run from evil! Your body will glow with health,  your very bones will vibrate with life! Honor God with everything you own; give him the first and the best. Your barns will burst, your wine vats will brim over.

What does it mean to trust God? Just that – bring him into every part of your life, every thing you do, every choice or decision, every action. And the rewards are huge. Do we entrust our lives to him – every area, our decisions, big and small (not, perhaps, what colour socks to wear in the morning.)
Which we might think ok I can do that, but what about in the tough times? When the really hard things come along, temptation kicks in or we face something hard?

For Shadrach, Mesach & Abednego, it is clear that they totally trusted God, with everything.

In V16 after Nebuchadnezzar has threatened to throw them all in the fiery furnace – they show no fear at all – in fact the opposite, total defiance. It does remind me a little bit of my kids when they are being a bit antsy and answering back, like ‘ well, fine, I don’t need my ipad anyway’. Kind of ‘I am so unphased by what you are saying…’ There’s that almost teennage arrogance – ‘we don’t need to defend ourselves before you…’

Except its not arrogance, it’s confidence, because they completely trust in God.

 

 Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter.  If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

 

I think it’s all about the bigger picture. Instead of focusing on what was right in front of them they looked to God.

 

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It’s like looking at a painting close up you just focus on the bit in front of you, it’s just a blurry mess. But when you stand back you see the whole thing.

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And Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were able to see the whole thing because they knew God – they had experienced him. So when faced with something that was right before their eyes, they could stand back and see the bigger picture, see where God was.

And what happened? – perhaps one of the clearest pointers to Jesus in the Old Testament: v:24-5

Then King Nebuchadnezzar leaped to his feet in amazement and asked his advisers, “Weren’t there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?”

They replied, “Certainly, Your Majesty.”

 He said, “Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.”

Don’t forget they didn’t know Jesus, they believed a Messiah was coming but they didn’t know when or who, perhaps this was Jesus walking in the fire with them, but they very fact that Nebuchadnezzar refers to him as a ‘son of the gods’ points us to the fact that there was a bigger picture and that God was at work here.

S, M & A they were fully persuaded. Fully focused on God. Nothing could make them bow to Nebuchadnezzar’s statue – no threats, no consequence, no punishment. They were fully persuaded of the promises of God and in their obedience to him. 

Are we totally focused on Jesus? Do we trust him in all things? Can we step back and see him in the bigger picture?

 …oo0O0oo…

  • 2) Focus on Jesus – absolutely fixing our eyes on him and him only

 

So how do we trust in God completely as they did? We put our focus on Jesus completely.

S, M & A model this for us, they are so focused on God and won’t let anything tear them away from him.

Now these guys had been through the mill. They have ended up here because Nebuchadnezzar has already attacked Jerusalem (Daniel 1). Not only did he carry off plunder and things from the temple but people too.

These guys are from the nobility, the royal family and Nebuchadnezzar takes them and orders that they be trained to serve him. They have gone from living in the palace as nobility to being forced to serve those who live in another palace. It’s like the UK being attacked and Will & Kate being taken off somewhere and being forced to be a servant to a king in another country. It’s shocking, it’s demeaning, they have been taken by force from a position of great power and authority and reduced to this.

I wonder how that felt? They could have been angry at God – why did he let this happen? Why did he not rescue them? Why had he reduced them to such a position?

Real faith means obeying God even under difficult circumstances. And they just continue to honour God.

We read in Daniel 1 how he refuses to eat the meat provided by the king – it was ‘defiled’ – had probably been offered to one of the Babylonian Gods. Instead they ate vegetables and water and yet God made them healthier and better nourished than anyone else!

1:17 tells us that God gave them gifts of understanding, knowledge, literature, and that Daniel could understand visions and dreams.

In fact later Daniel interprets Nebuchadnezzar’s dream when no one else can and the king falls down and says ‘Surely your God is the God of the gods and the Lord of kings….

So they have seen God at work and are completely focused on him, even when threatened with death, they refused to worship the idol set up. Anything that would take their focus from God, they were not interested.

I wonder if we can say the same – that we are so focused on Jesus, we refuse to worship other idols?

Because I think often we get a bit disillusioned and we get drawn away from fixing our eyes on Jesus.

Old Testament idols were literally sculptures or carvings or things that people bowed down in front of as we read earlier (3:44)

But what are our idols? What draws us away from focusing on Jesus? It might not be a an actual sculpture but I think an idol is anything that takes our focus from Jesus – anything we spend more time focusing on, than on Jesus.

What are the things that take your focus away from Jesus? What are the things we might see as idols in our lives? What does our society encourage us to worship and focus on rather than God?

 

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Ourselves? ‘Because you’re worth it’ – society teaches us we can do what we want when we want and no one has the right to take it away from us…

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Do we make an idol of ourselves or our lives – I must have the next pair of Nike trainers, the latest hoody, or pair of jeans, I must look good, have perfect ‘on fleek’ eyebrows, defined cheekbones….

Our stuff – what about our stuff? Are we more focused on our possessions than on following Jesus? Do we worship our iphones and ipads for example…

 

Or do we worship other people? If only I could be more like them…?

Are we led by our friends, influenced by them and not by Jesus? Or sports teams? Frankly in our house I’m not sure that Seagulls aren’t an idol ;) My son’s room is like an albion shrine!

Or social media – here’s a biggie – how many of us spend more time on Facebook or Twitter or Snapchat or Instagram than you do reading your bible? I actually want to challenge you this week to time it.

 

Anything that draws our focus away from Jesus can be an idol. And the bible is pretty clear about worshipping idols – basically it’s a bad thing!! For example:

  

Therefore I poured out My wrath on them for the blood which they had shed on the land, because they had defiled it with their idols. Ezekiel 36:18

They served idols, concerning which the LORD had said to them, “You shall not do this thing.” 2 Kings 17:12

 

 

Don’t get me wrong it’s hard! In fact I think the devil does everything he can to draw our focus away from Jesus. Distraction – it’s one of his biggest tools! And in our society there are so many things to distract us and draw us away from Jesus.

If we look at Shadrach, Messach and Abednego, I wouldn’t have blamed them for giving in and going along with what the culture around them was doing – it would have been far easier, let’s face it. Just eat the food you are give, do as you are told, join in and worship the statue when told to. It took real guts to be different – and it’s the same for us. It’s not always going to be easy, we might face trials along the way, but let’s not despair!

I read this quote this week:

Don’t despair. Because when the devil turns up the heat, God does too.

I like that – so appropriate here, we might not get thrown into an actual fire of course (I hope) but life brings us our own fires – the trials and difficulties we face. But you know, what we see with Shadrach, Messach and Abednego is that God doesn’t save them from the fire, he doesn’t stop them going into it, but he goes through it with them – we see him in the fire, the fourth person. And it’s the same for us. And you know what I think is amazing is that when they came out they didn’t even smell of smoke! What a great picture for us.

  …oo0O0oo…

 

3) Together with Jesus – walking out our faith in fellowship with others – friendship

So, how do we remain strong and focused on Jesus? Just like S, M & A did – with each other 

Life is pretty tough if you do it alone. And I know, I’ve been there. In my rebellious younger years which I have mentioned before. I was fiercely independent, not really knowing what friendship was, not letting people into my own life, my space. I had friends but only on the surface, I’m not sure there was anyone I could have called on if I was in deep need.

But God creates us to live in relationship with others. He himself is three persons, living in unity together. Man was not complete alone so God made him a companion. Jesus had his disciples, Moses had his brother Aaron, Paul had various companions – Timothy, Silas, Titus.

In fact there are few positive examples of people in the bible going it alone.

– we are not achieving all we can if we try and do life alone.

 

One example I love is in Exodus 17 where there is a battle going on and all the time Moses hands on the air, they are winning but he gets tired and his arms come down and they start losing. So Aaron and Hur hold his arms up.

We all need someone who can hold our arms up.
Daniel, S, M & A stuck together and in that there is great strength and support.

Daniel gets promoted by the king earlier on having interpreted a dream of his but he doesn’t leave behind his friends, instead he asks the king to promote them too, and he does (Dan 2:48-9)

When we stick together we are accountable to each other, when one person is struggling, the other can pull them up. When one person is in need, ill or having a tough time, the others can support them and help them. When someone’s focus in drawn away from Jesus, the others can draw it back.

1 Thess 5: 11-15 tell us:

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing… Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else.

Friendship – much easier to stay strong in a group together
Castellers de Vilfranca – a Catalunyan tradition in Spain – building towers of people. – they way they can do something so unbelievable is in their mutual strength and be focussed on the task to achieve amazing things.


We need that too. We need to trust in God and in each other – recognising God in each other

Dog Collar Dilemma Pt 3 // guest post by Revd Sandra Sykes

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Sandra (on the Left) and Sarah

Continuing the theme of dog collars and women in ministry, I’m delighted that Revd. Sandra Sykes from ‘Collared’ is guest posting on her own experiences and why she started ‘Collared’

…o0O0o…

I remember when I first tried on a collar. A friend who was a year ahead of me on the ordination path rang me. I could hear the fear in her voice. “Sandra, it’s arrived…”

“What has?” I asked.

“The… collar.”

No further explanation was required. I hot-footed it to her side. The sombre black shirt complete with THE collar lay insolently on the table. It looked neat, pressed and capable. It was as if it was issuing a challenge. “C’mon then! Think you’re big enough, eh?”

In the end she was so overcome by what it represented I had to put it on first before my friend could bring herself to. It first needed to be defiled by a half – baked (in the semi-cooked sense of course !) ordinand. A small piece of white plastic held that much power. This of course made it easier for me when the time came to try on my own collar. I took a selfie (obligatory) and sent it to my friends. Then it was tucked away reverently waiting for my ordination.

After ordination it felt very comfortable to wear a collar in church but very strange going out in public. I had one black clerical tunic which I liked to wear. The rest of my attire consisted of impetuously bought clerical shirts, so uncomfortable that I soon admitted defeat and gave up wearing them. I punished them to languish in a dark drawer forever.

I encourage new Revs to experiment with the collar. Be brave! Find out what works for you. It’s a risky business. In an effort to steer away from the starchy male look and also from looking too M&S, I ended up looking like a dubious matron specialising in S&M!

I watched my fellow curates as they too wrestled with what to wear. One, who swore she would always wear black ‘for the authority it gives’, eventually found her style in adapting lots of floral printed blouses. I longed for different colours. I felt insulted that so little attention was paid to us by established manufacturers. I felt we were sidelined or an afterthought. I hated the way the shirts – even those made for women – argued with my curves. Buttons were always on the verge of popping open and I was forced to wear a jumper over them.

“Women Revs are here to stay” I felt like shouting,

“with boobs and everything!”  

Over dinner and a glass or two of wine one evening, I was bemoaning the situation with my daughters and a friend. A few sketches on paper napkins later we decided we should try to produce something better. Collared was born. We nervously launched our first range at CRE London this year and we were delighted with the warm reception we received from women clergy. The media were intrigued and a flurry of TV, radio and newspaper articles followed.

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Pollyanna & Gemma trying out some of the designs at the CRE.

We received so many appreciative messages from women in ministry.

“Hallelujah! Thank you for this ministry to us!”

“Bless you! At last, clothes I actually want to put on.”

But we also received criticism from some quarters and online comments were personal and some vitriolic. I was told I was “sinful, (no surprise there then), an enemy of Jesus and would surely burn in Hell”. I was “empty headed and vain”, “should never have been ordained” and “obviously had no worthwhile ministry to offer”. Another critic warned “this is the sort of thing that happens when you allow women into ministry.”

I actually found this good for me. My ministry is warmly embraced in my parish and I had never been directly confronted by those who did not accept women in ministry. It’s been good to be reminded how difficult it is for many women. So I am pleased that Collared is helping to raise the profile of women in ordained ministry.

…o0O0o…

Balancing work, family and parish life is not easy. Like many, I am short of time and resources, but I’ve always been attracted to the blurred edges of ministry and so it’s satisfying that my ‘secular’ work bleeds into the arena of ministry.

When you wear a clerical collar people look at you more. They see you. I think it’s HOW we wear the collar that can draw others to us or isolate us from them. How do we inhabit the role with reverence yet still remain us? It is possible to wear clothes that make us identifiable as a ‘vicar’ yet still allow us to be the person we are. God called each of us as we are. We don’t have to become someone else, just more fully the unique person God created, called, and loves to bits.

 

Revd Sandra Sykes, Collared Women’s Clergywear

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Bikinis, braces and vanity

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definitely bad hair…

When I was 10 I loved wearing tracky bums, had bad hair, read comics and spent my evenings after school hanging out in our road, cycling up and down and playing ‘king can copper’ with the other kids in the road. Of course some of my mates were into the latest ‘dash’ tracksuits and body shop lip balms, but most of us were content to be 10 year olds. 

It’s 2016, and I’m way beyond tracksuits and have a dresser full of ‘products’ and make up awaiting me each morning. I am a strong, independent woman, sometimes too confident and often too gobby, but this summer I wrote this, thinking about a possible blog post:

As the weather has got warmer (and colder again) there has been sudden rush of tweets to get your ‘bikini body’ ready. Part of me feels a surge of panic as I’ve not been able to properly exercise for a year now since back surgery, at the thought that I shall be going on holiday with friends and will not be at my best in my fave red 2 piece. Another part of me wants to scream and swear at those tweets and statuses that imply you must be perfect before baring all. And just to make matters worse as I googled ‘baring all’ to spellcheck it, up came 2 ads for ‘secret slimming tummy control’ swim wear. Arghhhhh!! there is no escape…

I’m not really that different to many women I know – we get cross with the media telling us how we should look but still secretly berating the extra inches on our waists. I’ve had 3 kids, have masses of stretch marks and no amount of running will make me look perfect in my bikini, or in my case spending too much money on straightening my teeth. As people have gradually noticed my recently acquired braces, usually the question is: ‘why?’. The honest answer to that is: vanity. Pure and simple. Yeah I know I’m 42 and I also really shouldn’t care but I do. Just like when I think about putting on my bikini.

So, the question is: why?

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Why do I care about my wonky teeth, why do I care what I look like on the beach? Is it really just vanity? I mean as my Dad once said, ‘you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear…’ but, and I love this response,: ‘you can roll a turd in glitter…’. Not that I am saying I am either a sow or a turd (hahahaha!!) but I mean I know I’m not going to look like I’m 21 and and I don’t want to. I actually love being in my 40s. But I think this goes a lot deeper, perhaps it’s more about being honest, comfortable and completely ok with who I am.

I wonder if any of us can truly say that we are?

You know it’s taken me 10 years to get braces (and to be able to afford it) but one of the biggest things that has stopped me is the question of vanity. Is it ok as a Christian to want to change her appearance? Shouldn’t I be happy with what God gave me? Isn’t this a slippery slope to bottox or plastic surgery? (hey, we’re not that flush) and I have battled with that over and over.

Last month, the bishop of Gloucester, Rachel Treweek, talked about highlighting the issue of body image in kids, something that is hugely important in our society.

I want to challenge the subconscious messages we’re giving,” she said. “We need to look at the language we use as adults and how it shapes our culture. For example, when adults engage with girls, nearly always the first thing we say is a comment on appearance. We need to find out who they are, what they enjoy, what they’re good at, what makes their souls sing…

We need to start encouraging young women to discover who they are as a whole person and to delight in that.

And I would suggest, not just our children, all of us! We are all, whether we like it or not, swayed by the message fed to us daily through the media, TV, the internet. When actually none of what they offer really helps us to be happy with who we are. If we bow to the messages of society, we might feel short term gain but in the end aren’t we always going to be assessing ourselves against others, against an impossible standard?

Last night at the Alpha course we are running, we discussed what following Jesus brings to our lives, for me it was the power of knowing that God loves me as I am, no matter what, that my identity is really as his child. He loves my stretch marks, the few extra inches, even the wonky teeth and even though I might not have completely 100% accepted that, it brings amazing freedom. I’ve always been a bit of a misfit, rebel even, and perhaps that’s how I’m supposed to be? Either way, nothing can take away from the fact that God loves me as I am. When I’m slapping on my mascara in the morning, or sitting in the orthodontist chair checking out my teeth, that’s what I am reminding myself. I am ok, more than ok, I am a child of the king. That’s what we need to be teaching our kids, that’s the message we need to be telling people.

God loves me as I am.

God loves you as you are.

 

Preach // John 18: 1-14 // The Kingdom Contrast

Preach on John 18: 1-14 // The Kingdom Contrast

(Preached at TRINITY Lewes: South Malling 25/9/16 & Southover/St John’s 9/10/16)

Recap:

Series in John’s gospel

Jesus has been praying, for himself, the disciples, then for all believers – we have looked at over the last few weeks. and now they head out to the olive grove.

This is a key moment. This arrest is really the point of no return. Jesus is in total submission to his Father’s will. And it puts into play the beginning of the biggest turning point ever in history.

Can we begin to imagine what was going on?

Jesus leaving the security and safety of that upper room, taking with him his faithful followers, the disciples. He knows he is going to his death. I mean I wonder how much strength did it take him to leave then. He is fully divine but also fully human – did he feel the fear? What thoughts were going through his mind? Was his heart racing?

And the disciples – what were they thinking? Were they mulling over what Jesus had just said and prayed? And then, the soldiers arrive – was there confusion among the disciples then? Did they wonder what was going on?

You know, this scene reminds me of those high drama movies where you get to a point when feel like everything is lost, nothing can save the day, all the plans and hopes have gone, and yet there is still half an hour to go in the movie. Something has to happen to change this right?

Wasn’t Jesus supposed to win the day? Like some ancient James Bond? Wasn’t he supposed to overcome the forces of evil, defeat his arch enemy?

It’s that point we are at.

Well of course we know that he did, he does. But back then, I think the disciples would have been in turmoil, in confusion, anger, disappointment, and many more emotions flying around.

This is not what they expected.

And in fact, this is a passage full of that – of opposites, or contrasts. And I think it truly highlights for us the difference between kingdom living- living for the kingdom of God, seeing things as God does,

and earthly living – seeing things through our own eyes.

We aim for one, but often fall to the other.

And living between those two extremes is a tough place to be. At the end of the day, that is why we need Jesus, because we can’t live in those extremes in our own strength, we need his grace to get us through.

So we are going to look at the contrasts in this passage – The kingdom contrasts and what they mean for us.

 

Main passage //

 

So, I’m going to highlight 3 areas:

1) Judas vs Jesus – what we do for love and what tips us over the edge.

2) A Loving response – Jesus’ actions here, filled with love and compassion, even in the face of such anger and hate.

3) And finally redemption. A great contrast between what we deserve and what we get…

 

…o0O0o…

 

1) Judas vs Jesus – what we do for love and what tips us over the edge.

The fine line between love and hate

So the villain of this piece is clearly Judas isn’t it? And we are going to be looking at him a bit this morning. And I don’t know about you but I have to admit I feel a bit sorry for Judas. And I will tell you why.

Did you know historically, particularly in the middle ages and renaissance art, Judas has been portrayed in artwork with red hair.

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and in an article on Judas and red hair I read this:

During the Victorian era, red hair was viewed with almost as much repugnance as sex, vice, and those who worked in trade. The colour was thought to signify ferocity, excessive passion, cruelty and treachery, and any ginger-headed character appearing in a novel could immediately be understood to be a ne’er-do-well.

Hmmm… well, sorry, your new Curate may not be as good as you had hoped…

But seriously…. I do actually feel a bit sorry for Judas, (red hair or not, which is unlikely in the Middle East 2000 years ago.) Knowing that Jesus had to die, didn’t someone have to do this? Didn’t someone have to do the dirty work?

Because actually a bit earlier and we heard this a few weeks ago in John 17:12, John’s gospel says this:

 

While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled…

 

except the one doomed to destruction? And so that scripture could be fulfilled?

Didn’t someone have to do this?

Or we could also ask – why did he do it – as I am sure people over the centuries have done?

 

Well in John 13 and in Luke 22 the scripture says that Satan entered Judas.

I don’t know I think that sounds like an easy answer – Satan made him do it. Whilst I believe the enemy can influence us and our behaviour, we usually do have a choice.

And I think here it was Judas’ own emotions and feelings that led him down this path of betrayal.

And actually it’s a perfect example of humanity. That, I think we can all be led to places we might not think we can go –

in frustration, in anger, in disappointment perhaps. Surely we can all think of times where we have behaved in a way that we would rather forget?

And that behaviour was probably provoked in some way, by our own emotions or experiences.

 

Well have you heard the saying:

“Expectation is the root of all heartache.” It’s attributed to Shakespeare, although what he actually said was:

Oft expectation fails, and most oft there where most it promises.”,

it’s from All’s Well That Ends Well William Shakespeare

 

Is that what happened to Judas? Did he feel that his expectations were not met, did he feel let down?

 

In Matthew 26 we see the potential origins of this. This is where a woman comes and pours very expensive perfume over Jesus.

The text tells us that the disciples were indignant, why this waste?

Is that what Judas was angry about? Was this the last straw? as he straight away heads off to find the Pharisees. Is he angry? Frustrated. Disillusioned maybe?

Something has taken him from following Jesus, having given up all, to follow him, to betraying him. A massive contrast in behaviour. So why?

Well we know that often the disciples just didn’t get what Jesus was saying, they thought he was going to overthrow the Romans and be rightful king of Israel. Was Judas following him on this basis? Did he think he was going to bring about a new kingdom, politically, there and then?

Perhaps he had a moment of realisation that this was not was Jesus would do? In the prayer Jesus’ just prayed it was pretty obvious he was about to leave them, even if they didn’t understand why or how. Was Judas overcome with frustration? Did he feel let down by someone he had trusted so completely?

>> I wonder, if you have ever felt let down by someone you trusted so completely? Have you found yourself so frustrated when someone’s actions have not been what you thought they would? How did you feel? How did you react?

Often there are 2 types of people in that kind of scenario. One responds vocally, rants raves, gets angry, confronts the situation and it comes to a head. The other silently seethes, inwardly processing before, often, those emotions take over and they do something they might later regret.

I have faced both of those and neither is a nice place to be. In the first I was let down by someone who I loved and who I thought would do anything for me. When a tough situation came along, I found that actually I wasn’t their priority and that hurt. And I let it hurt me, for a long time, before repenting and seeking healing. That relationship is healed, spiritually, and I even go so far as to call them a friend, but it’s not the same and never will be.

In another, I was promised a lot in a work context and was let down, those promises apparently based on nothing. I found myself going down the slope to bitterness and brooding, until Jesus got involved! And instead I addressed the situation, angrily it’s true, but with some grace, and it enabled it to be sorted out.

I think Judas was the brooding type. I think his actions were the final straw in his frustration. He snapped and did something he would clearly later regret.

There is I think, a very fine line between love and hate.

I have seen it for myself and been surprised by my own actions. I have seen it in others, in relationships that have fallen apart, where 2 people once loved each other with passion and devotion, only to have that crumble and they instead turn that passion to anger and to destroying each other.

We are in fact all capable of it.

In fact, pretty much all of the disciples let Jesus down that night in one way or another. They all deserted him in his hour of need. Peter turns into some kind of crazy sword wielder and later denies Jesus 3 times. These are people who spent their lives with Jesus, learning straight from him, and still in the moment, their kingdom living ideals went out the window…

We are all capable of it.

Because the simple fact is we are not yet in eternity, not yet fully living in the kingdom, we don’t always act as we should.

 

…o0O0o…

2) A Loving response –

 

So, in the face of this behaviour what does Jesus do here? In the face of Judas betraying him, turning his back on him, reacting in fact out of love?

 

He is the absolute contrast to Judas, as we would expect, if Judas is the example of Satan here then of course Jesus is the opposite. The symbol of love, of hope, of patience, compassion… Just as he is to us, whatever our situation.

Just looking at Judas, let’s just highlight that he was one of Jesus’ followers, right up until this moment he was a disciple. He had given up all to follow Jesus, been with him, seen him do healings, had probably been part of doing some himself. He was not just like a movie villain, evil to the core!

And in fact we have seen this as they have all gathered round the table for the last supper just a few hours earlier, they have shared bread and wine together, even Judas. And Jesus knows what he is going to do, in Matthew 26 we see Jesus and Judas converse, that they both know what is going to happen.

 

And yet it is after this moment that they share the bread and wine, and Jesus says again in Matt 26:

Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.

He knows what is to happen and yet he still shares the bread and wine with them all Judas included, talking about forgiveness. Jesus does not respond as one might expect, he responds from a fully kingdom perspective.

 

…o0O0o…

Now of course John actually paints Judas in a worse light, referring to him in chapter 12 as a thief. 

And suggests that Jesus identifies Judas to another disciple by handing him some bread, rather than to his face, in John 13.

I feel sure that despite knowing what Jesus did about what Judas was going to do he would have loved him as much as anyone else. He may have been filled with sorrow, disappointment even, but I don’t think he stopped loving him.

In fact in the face of Judas’ anger and frustration we see Jesus acting with complete calm and grace.

There is such contrast here, if we can imagine the scene, Jesus and his disciples, having had a wonderful meal together and prayed and shared together, then go to the garden, a place they have gathered many times before, perhaps in quiet contemplation, perhaps in fellowship, chatting with one another, perhaps praying, we don’t know except that they were a group of friends together.

Then comes the starkness of the contrast in vs 3:

‘So Judas came to the garden, guiding a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and the Pharisees. They were carrying torches, lanterns and weapons.’

The quiet, peaceful, prayerful, friendly atmosphere is shattered in an instant. Did they hear the soldiers approaching? It is likely. Were they a mob shouting or calling out? Were they angry? I imagine the Pharisees must have been feeling some sense of triumph that finally Jesus was going to be arrested. Was there hostility in their actions and words? Of course we don’t know but we know they were carrying weapons, this was not a peaceful deposition, that’s for sure! We cannot underestimate this scene. So often we read things in the bible and it’s not a novel, it doesn’t describe for us every detail, but this is not a nice scene even as it may seem calm and peaceful. Tensions would have been high amongst the soldiers and priests, weapons drawn, at the ready. Which makes Jesus behaviour all the more of a contrast:

he doesn’t respond with anger, retaliation, fear or defence. No he calmly asks who they are looking for.

And again we see his love and compassion as he asks for the others to be left alone, our passage telling us that:

 

This happened so that the words he had spoken would be fulfilled: “I have not lost one of those you gave me.

(Except possibly Judas…)

His concern is for his disciples even in this hour of darkness. Even with an angry mob facing him.

 

And above all Jesus strength of love, against the hatred, or anger of Judas and his accusers stands out.

…o0O0o…

 

3) And finally let’s look at redemption. The great contrast between what we deserve and what we get…

Jesus is all about redemption. All about bringing us back from a place of brokenness, of sin, to relationship with God.

So Judas, what happened to him? Was he really the movie villain who got his come uppance, got what he deserved? Well biblical reports differ, and they aren’t exactly pleasant reading either. But we do know that Judas died.

 

 

… (Now this man acquired a field with the price of his wickedness; and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out…)

Acts 1:16-19

 

Then when Judas, who had betrayed Him, saw that He had been condemned, he felt remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” But they said, “What is that to us? See to that yourself!” And he threw the pieces of silver into the sanctuary and departed; and he went away and hanged himself.

Matthew 27:3-7

But I want to focus on this – that according to Matthew, Judas felt remorse and returned the money. He is basically repenting of what he did, he is saying he made a mistake and he is trying to some extent put it right.

Judas repented and declared Jesus innocent and confessed his sin.
Was he really then condemned to a life of hell? Now I think we need to be clear that not everyone goes to heaven, there is a lot of liberal theology around on that, and we need to know that Jesus is the only way to the Father.

And of course we don’t know what happened to Judas, but I think that he was in this moment, feeling complete despair. An absolute lack of hope. He’s thinking he’s committed a terrible sin, an innocent man has been arrested. Not only that but perhaps the only hope to bring about change in their political system, in their nation and he’s the one who got rid of him. He has in the process probably lost all his friends, he might as well have sold them out too. And he finds himself alone with these dark thoughts with no hope, and with no hope, comes despair.

But like everything else in this passage there is another way of looking at it, a contrast, the kingdom view.

For centuries the church has taught that Judas was the ultimate sinner, that not only did he sell out Jesus, God, I mean there’s not much worse that that right? But then he kills himself too… suicide has always been taught as an unforgivable sin. But I don’t think it’s anywhere near as simple as that.

Because, does God, in seeing someone in their darkest hour, their absolute moment of need, suddenly become uncompassionate and turn away? Really? When a person might be the most in need of some love in their entire life? I don’t think that sounds like our God does it?

And really, do we think that’s what happened to Judas? Or to anyone else?

Our God is about redemption, about taking people out of brokenness, of healing, of wholeness with God. Mercy and grace are all about us getting what we don’t deserve. The punishments we do deserve – Jesus has taken them away. The good things we never earned – we get them anyway.

So often we become bogged down with just one view, our own view, our own earthly experience, but Jesus shows us another way to see things, a kingdom view… that is the kingdom contrast.

 

Ending:

 

So, was Judas the villain? Well, I am not sure but I think we can learn a lot from him and I am sure that is why he is there in scripture.

Perhaps we can see a bit of ourselves in Judas? Do we carry that capability to betray or to make the wrong decision?

Or perhaps we can see the bitterness or despair that he carried, in ourselves?

 

Well I think what is demonstrated at the very heart of this passage is all about love. The absolute purity of Jesus’ love contrasted with the incomplete, failing human version. Jesus in his darkest hour, not just fulfilling his calling, one of love, for humanity, going to die for us,

but acting it out in his every action.

And yet there is Judas, one of the chosen ones, friend of Jesus, loved by him, and I am sure Judas loved Jesus too, and yet his passion that once was for the Lord, following him everywhere, now turns to disillusionment, disappointment reigns, and he betrays him.

At the end of the day, this is why we all need Jesus, why we all need salvation. Because we cannot ever come close to this purity, his love. We need redemption, we need to be set free from our mistakes, our wrong doing, and we get it through him, that’s the only way.

The kingdom of God is both now and not yet – we live in the knowledge that Jesus has won the battle over death and as a result we get to live in relationship with God. We live in that new covenant, but we also know that something so much greater is coming, when all earthly pain and suffering will be gone and we get to be in the presence of the living God for eternity.

Let’s pray…

Preach // 9/10/16 Folk Festival Evensong // God in music

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Morris dancers as part of the Folk Festival

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Preach from Lewes Folk Festival Evensong, 9th October, 2016

Based on 2 Chronicles, 5: 4-14 (second reading: Colossians 3:12-17)

I’m afraid I won’t be preaching in the style of a 17th or 18th Century fire and brimstone preacher today, (the cassock is about as far as I’ll go on that one!) but actually the sentiment is the same, that God, our wonderful heavenly Father, Jesus his son, the Holy Spirit within us, should be at the centre of our lives. And today I want to talk about God in our lives, through music. Of course – couldn’t talk about anything else really!

I grew up surrounded with music as my mum was and is, a great piano player. As tiny children we loved hearing ‘the penguin song’, and as my mum played me and my brother would waddle around pretending to be penguins, over and over again until My mum was fed up of playing it!

 

Now, I am married to a music lover and worship leader, and our kids have inherited that love too: between us all we own I think 5 guitars, a bass guitar, mandolin, flute, drum kit, piano and keyboard as well as countless shakers and harmonicas etc. 

We love to play and to sing, and particularly for us, to use music to worship God.

For me there is just something spiritual about music, something more than just the notes we hear or the words being sung.

I love that line from our 2 Chronicles passage:

indeed it came to pass, when the trumpeters and singers were as one, to make one sound to be heard in praising and thanking the Lord’

They were as one – if you’ve ever heard a perfect harmony, or a great choir all singing in unison, it sounds just like that – they are as one. And here in our passage it was of course in worship to God.

And BTW just in case you think you can’t sing, (although unlikely this afternoon I am sure) Psalm 98 tells us to:

Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all the earth: make a loud noise, and rejoice, and sing praise.

 

It doesn’t say sing perfectly in tune – it just says make a joyful noise – it’s all about intention, about the heart behind it.

You know, historians suggest that we just don’t know the origin of music, but it could be that it grew out of naturally occurring sounds or rhythms. Perhaps early human music echoed those sounds, or used similar repeating patterns or tones.

Of course we just don’t know for sure but as a Christian I believe that God created the world and with that humans, and with that different giftings for us to be closer to him and to glorify him. In Exodus 35 we see a craftsman, Bezalel being filled with the Holy Spirit in order to create beautiful artistic designs for the temple. Why not the same with music?

In fact in Job 38 the Lord is speaking to Job and notes:

When the morning stars sang together, And all the sons of God shouted for joy?

I think human music-making is part of the music of creation. It reflects the order, beauty, and diversity of God’s creation. Which would explain quite why it carries so much power. I believe music carries the presence of God within it, it’s just that we don’t always recognise it as that. In our Chronicles passage we heard that during the singing:

that the house, the house of the Lord, was filled with a cloud, so that the priests could not continue ministering because of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord filled the house of God.

It was like their singing, their music carried the presence of God. It was so powerful they couldn’t continue their work!

Theologian Karl Barth suggested that singing is not an option for the people of God and that it is one of the essential ministries of the church.

He said:

The Christian church sings. It is not a choral society. Its singing is not a concert. But from inner, material necessity it sings. Singing is the highest form of human expression….What we can and must say quite confidently is that the church which does not sing is not the church. And where…it does not really sing but sighs and mumbles spasmodically, shamefacedly and with an ill grace, it can be at best only a troubled community which is not sure of its cause and of whose ministry and witness there can be no great expectation….The praise of God which finds its concrete culmination in the singing of the community is one of the indispensable forms of the ministry of the church.

Now I know not everyone here today will take this view, in fact many of you might not even accept that God exists, let alone be the author of music. But I hope we can agree that there is something extremely powerful in music, perhaps even something beyond the natural world.

I mean have you ever had one of those moments listening to music when you just have to stop, and listen? A piece of music that just touches something in you, you get goose bumps, maybe even shed a tear?

I had one of those a few weeks ago, looking at Facebook and a friend of mine had written a song about being a Child of God and put it on his page. It played automatically as I scrolled through my feed and it just hit me, it literally felt like the music was reaching into my soul. It was beautiful and haunting and it felt anointed, like it was full of God’s presence. I stopped. Tears filled my eyes and I listened to the song 4 times in a row. It was immensely powerful.

Aldous Huxley is quoted as saying:

After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.

indeed…

 

In our Chronicles passage the singers and musicians were part of the Priestly tribe, singing and making music was part of their calling, part of their God-given purpose. Just as today we might say that worship leaders, those who lead us in music in the church, are there to help us to encounter God, to lead us into the presence of God. Perhaps even into such a glorious presence that we cannot help but stop, like the Priests in our passage, just listen and breathe the atmosphere into our souls.

That is the power of music, as I believe the power of God in music. If you are a musician, or a singer, you have a calling, you have a gift, given to you by God to impact those around you. To help others experience something of God.

And of course the bible teaches us that the only way to the Father is through the son, through Jesus. We can experience something of God through music but if we want to truly know him, we have to know the son.

In our New Testament reading from Colossians, Paul says this at the end:

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

 

Let the word of Christ dwell in you.

Sing in your hearts to the Lord

Whatever you do, do it in the name of Jesus.

Music can help us to experience something of God but by itself, we see just part of the picture, a movement if you like, a verse maybe. Perhaps Jesus is like the Chorus, the point that everything builds up to, that brings a song alive, the part we remember most. The bible tells us that Jesus is the capstone, the person who holds everything together.

I’ve always loved music, but now that I know Jesus, when I sing, particularly in worship, there is so much more. Like another level of depth to a song, taking me both further into my soul and yet also further from myself, closer to my Saviour.

 

As we continue to sing our final hymn shortly, or perhaps as we listen to the music, let’s just think about where God is in the music, for us as individuals. What might we be experiencing through the music of worship? Why not take the opportunity to just think about Where Jesus is for us as we sing?

 

Book Review // Rhythms of Rest

41jvgn5dolI first met Shelly Miller at the HTB Leadership Conference in London a few years back, where by some quirk or fate – or rather, God – we ended up seated together. I, because I had bought my ticket alone and she because her husband, H, who was also seated next to her, actually spent much of the conference at various meetings (all to do with the big move to the UK – very exciting!). We chatted, bonded, prayed and wept together. It was really special and I know it was ordained by God.

Since then we have emailed, written, and now that she is in the UK met up for coffee too! Throughout this time we talked a lot about writing as we both love it, and now she has published her first book ‘Rhythms of Rest‘. Rest, Sabbath, Selah, whatever you call it, it’s an area that has become increasingly important to me and not least last summer when enforced rest through back surgery gave me the most wonderfully precious Sabbath time with God.

Of course Shelly’s book is focussed on Godly rest in Sabbath, as it grew out of her Sabbath society blog but it is so much more than that – it is a book of our time, a book our western world needs. We are entrenched in a society that is obsessed with working, with filling every hour, with being busy and ‘doing’.  I made a vow last year to stop saying ‘I am busy’ and not using it as an excuse. If we are too busy then that can’t be right, it can’t be what God intended, after all he is the author of time.

289793_rhythmsofrest_meme-6Shelly notes that some us attempt to find value in our measure of busyness, something I am sure many of us would recognise. But the truth is, as she points out, we are worthy, we are loved, no matter what! ‘in yoga pants, three day hair, and without make up in a room that looks like a cyclone hit…’ we are deeply loved. We don’t need to prove ourselves by being exhausted.

I love how Shelly has been intentional about Sabbath and how it has changed her life and the lives of the many who have joined her Sabbath Society. She notes how Sabbath was something that was noticeably different in her life growing up, how her grandparents reinforced this for her, not in word but in that one day was noticeably different to the other six. This reminds me of my own childhood where we would go to church and then to see my grandparents down the road, where we’d all have different parts of the newspaper and my brother and I would fight over the cartoons, whilst eating far too may biscuits (the kind that my Mum never bought). It seems such a world away now. These days Sundays are not sacred to anyone, there are too many demands on our time: sport, shopping, and working hours have changed so that Sunday is just another day. If we want a rest day, a Sabbath day, we have to be intentional about it. As Shelly says ‘choosing rest is the practice of loving yourself’.

I think the thing that has struck me most of all through reading this book, is the idea of a rhythm of rest. It may not be practical to take a whole day a week for rest (and for those of us in ‘ministry’ it’s unlikely to be a Sunday either!), but we can find regular times, even an hour here or there, to just take time out. For me that’s often in prayer but also in vegging on the sofa watching trashy telly, even though there is hoovering 289793_rhythmsofrest_meme-10to do; or maybe in painting and being creative, even though I may actually need to pop out to get something; or in just reading a book for pleasure when I could be studying. And what’s more, taking that time without feeling guilty. How many of us feel we can’t stop because there is so much to do, and if we do we spend the whole time feeling guilty! Why do we put so much pressure on ourselves?!

If any of this is touching a nerve with you, you need to read this book! Sometimes we just need someone to tell us how, or tell us it is ok, and that is exactly what Shelly does in ‘Rhythms of Rest’. I guarantee you will read it and wonder why on earth you haven’t taken time out to rest before.

Rhythms of Rest is out now, published by Bethany House, and available from Amazon here price £9.99 (or less on kindle).

 

 

Dog Collar Dilemma Part 2: Uniform vs Individual Style

img_20160730_111613-2So continuing in looking at the dilemma of how to wear your dog collar, as a woman, this post is going to look at being you. And I guess the first thing to say is that (as was pointed out to me on Twitter) it isn’t a dilemma for everyone, some people just fall naturally into wearing it and find their own style straight away – which is great, I am so happy for you! But I know lots don’t, hence the posts…

One of the biggest challenges when first putting on a collar, is how to be you whilst still inhabiting and embracing the role. Or as Ally put it: “Balance of individuality and ‘house style’ – how much can our clothing express who we feel we really are?”

Such a good question, and as noted in the previous post, when my first delivery of clerical wear arrived in the post, I put it on and immediately felt sick. I think there is something about the expectation, having prepared through any selection you have been through and then training, usually for years, to the realisation you are at the finishing post and it’s all suddenly rather real. But then there is also the weight of responsibility that the office carries, which is, let’s face it, symbolised in that little piece of white at your neck.

So with all that whirring in your mind you also need to work on what on earth to wear. And I think there is something in that, that we shouldn’t ignore or gloss over. I had said I was just going to wear ‘normal’ clothes with the collar, and largely I do, but I have still wrestled with the balance between what the collar represents and ‘being me’. After all we are representing God and the church in our communities, whether we agree with that theologically or not, that is what people see when we are wearing it.

Of course there is one view that wearing the collar is like a uniform that we should disappear behind, which is much easier when wearing vestments of course, but day to day harder to achieve. You could simply go for wearing black – maybe trousers and shirts as many male clerics do too, or tailored black dresses. I imagine this makes life a lot more simple, and perhaps marks out the ‘uniform’ element in a more obvious way. And anyway black is suppose to be more flattering ;)

But then does choosing a uniform style take away from our own personaity? Some people would feel very restrained by that, hence the wrestle with what to wear. As wendy notes:

It’s been and continues to be a debate within myself as to how I should dress, and I do respect those who feel we should disappear behind the ‘uniform’, but it doesn’t work for me and I keep coming back (through prayer and thought and the opinion of others) to the fact that I was called by God to be the unique person God made me, not to conform to what I think others require of me, or to be like anyone else – God called me to be a non-conformist (Methodist) after all!

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Ridiculously posed, soz, but this is cropped top from Cross Designs and the rest from the High Street – Top Shop/New Look (also did you know New Look has a very good rating for ethical production)

I personally don’t wear my collar every day and having always been interested in clothes and what I wear, I wasn’t going to go down the route of clerical shirts. I wanted to still be me, whilst inhabiting the role. And I, just 4 months in, am still experimenting with it all, as I know many others are too. Several people have mentioned it took them a year, if not years, to work out what their ‘Vicar style’ was. Sandra Sykes from ‘Collared’ notes:

I’d say from my experience what clergy want differs and is individual. You have to find what works for you. Be brave and experiment – but look for what you will feel comfortable wearing and which is still YOU while recognisable as clergy…

Depending on where and when you wear your collar, it’s worth thinking about what you team it with. For example I try not to wear jeans when in collar at church – we are a pretty informal setting but for me it seems one step too far. Equally, is your church the kind of place that expects a male leader to be in a suit – if so, what does this mean for you? It’s worth looking into this before you start Curacy or at a new church to save spending money on things you won’t need.

Susie also makes a very good point:

There came a point when I became even more aware of the need to look ‘professional’. As a naturally casual dresser (jeans and… um, jeans, mostly) if you go with what’s ‘you’ and what you feel comfortable in, you can end up giving off the message that you’re not very competent/serious/worthy of respect/authority… all of which may be true…! In a more senior incumbency with high achieving professionals it was more important to dress to the role in order to be taken seriously in the role.

img_20160920_125148This is a really good point (she types, having just been out in a rather short cut off denim skirt with the collar..) people often say to me ‘you are rocking that collar’ or ‘aren’t you a trendy vicar’ which is nice (if not slightly condescending perhaps) but then as Susie notes, am I doing myself a disservice? The jury is out on that one, but I leave it for you to ponder for yourself. However I did once hear of a Vicar turning up to do a funeral on his Harley wearing incredibly short denim cut offs. That is of course the beauty of a cassock, no one knows what’s under it and there are many clergy who have been known to do the 8am in PJs, and I know half the chaps at our ordinations were wearing shorts as it was so hot. Which is fine if you are robing, but just bear in mind though whether you might be seen in advance as this Biker was – by the family of the deceased…

One thing I would note is that I think female clergy are still a bit of a novelty in many places, there is still more pressure put on us that male counterparts, and in some cases more is expected of us. Not everywhere, but in some places, and certainly from some members of the public. Rev Kate Bottley posted on Facebook last week she had received a ‘gem of a letter’ noting:

You aware that the dog collar is an item Anglican clergy never have to wear?…’Why not opt for something soft and feminine?… Why not stop telling women what they should wear? And quoting this bible passage: ‘I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.

There will always be people like that, everyone has an opinion, perhaps more so when you are in a visible role like clergy and to some extent we just have to ignore that and find what is right for us. People’s comments are not always derogatory or rude like this one, or even ignorant but often more about lack of experience. All of which does not help if you are trying to work out your own new style in a very visible way. I think the more you can experiment by yourself, or behind closed doors so you know what you feel confident in, will really help. If we go out feeling confident in what we are wearing, we will be more confident in our actions, whether that’s in jeans or a suit, we all differ.

 

Hoping this is useful for some people and the next post will look at suppliers, so if you’ve got one you want to recommend let me know!