Quote 12) May 2014
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work.” Exodus 20: 8-10
It’s OK to chill!
Several weeks ago we put our clocks forward. Hopefully we have recovered from losing an hour’s sleep and are now enjoying the light nights! We perhaps feel motivated to become more active. If you’re anything like me – the garden has been beckoning for some attention and I have been doing some serious pruning and weeding. Not something I enjoy I hasten to add!
But once the light nights arrive my thoughts also turn towards planning a holiday. (Now that is something I enjoy doing)! Whether you are planning a vacation or ‘staycation’, rest is vitally important. It is something we need on a regular basis. At church we normally close some of our activities over the school holidays. Our activities are run by volunteers made up of church members and others who faithfully come along to help us week in and week out. In fact without these volunteers these activities just wouldn’t happen. When they begin again our volunteers feel refreshed after having had a much-needed break.
We live in a 24/7 culture which promotes the idea that ‘busy is good’. This has given birth to a wonderful expression ‘The Starbucks generation’ recognising that we are constantly connected. Let’s face it – how many of us take our phones with us when we go for a walk? Or check our e-mails on our day off or just before we go to bed?
Being busy all the time isn't healthy and it certainly isn’t sustainable. You know that, I know that – and God knows that. The 10 commandments are not all about ‘don’t do this’ and ‘don’t do that’, the 4th commandment tells us to take a day off. Yes, take a day off! In fact the commandments spend 4 verses telling us how important it is. Even God rested when he finished His creation – “For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day.” (verse 11)
The Sabbath is also a holy day, set apart for the Lord. How do you spend yours? At the very least I hope we stop to thank God for this gift of a day of rest.
Quote 11) March 2014
The Lord rejoices over you with gladness - Zephaniah 3:17
And your word for today is . . .
When I used to work in a big office we had a game where we would learn a new unusual word and then try to use it in conversation during the course of the day. The winner was the one who used the new word the most. Believe it or not it did help to inject a bit of fun into the routine of office life but it was also educational! We have some fantastic words in the English language.
But did you know that new words and phrases are added periodically to the Oxford English Dictionary? Just to give you an idea recent additions include: double denim, babymoon and selfie.
I’ll leave you to do your own research into the meaning of those words and phrases but what about that word ‘selfie’? A selfie is a type of self-portrait photograph, typically taken with a hand-held digital camera or camera phone. You can upload it straight away onto any number of social websites and this moment can be seen instantly by our friends and families. Why am I explaining this – you’ve probably already done many ‘selfies’!
You may have seen the recent iconic selfie taken at the recent Oscars ceremony. It broke Twitter and its record for most-retweeted-photo ever. It was considered so iconic that it has been re-created by the Simpsons and Lego.
However, a recent headline I saw said “selfies blamed for plastic surgery rise”. We live in a culture where people of a wide range of ages are more aware of their looks and aren’t happy with what they see when they look at themselves. No surprises there you might say. I must admit I would love to look like Elle McPherson but it ain’t gonna happen!
I want you to read that verse for Zephaniah or just those 7 words “The Lord rejoices over you with gladness” and to remember them tomorrow and throughout the week.
These words remind us that there is one person – who knows us inside and out – who loves us to bits just as we are. God rejoices over you. Irrespective of how others feel about you, and perhaps more importantly, irrespective of how you feel about yourself.
Just as a loving parent cradles a child and sings out of love, so God’s song over His people is born of His great love. Knowing that He loves you and cares for you… His love for you reassures you that you are worthy and special to Him…
God’s love for you will last forever, it is unchanging – even if you are pleased with your selfie or not!
Quote 10) March 2013
‘The Lord said to Abram, “Leave your country, your relatives, and your father's home, and go to a land that I am going to show you.’ (Genesis 12:1)
As some of you know I will be off to pastures new in the Summer! August will see the end of my 5-year invitation here and I will be moving to London.
So I find this is a very strange time – a time of looking back and reflecting; a time of ‘lasts’ in my churches here– my last Harvest, my last Christmas, my last wedding; but also a time of preparation and looking forward. I admit to feeling both excited and anxious!
I recently read the story of Abraham and it resonated with me in my current situation. Please don’t misunderstand me here, I am very unlike Abraham, I cannot be held up as an example of having great faith – as indeed he is – and I am not quite 75 years old! But moving from home to a new area is an experience I share with him - and moving from the familiar to the new isn’t easy.
However, what is so remarkable about Abraham is that when God told him to leave home Abraham left even when the destination was unknown. I have an advantage over Abraham in that I know where I am moving to, where I will be working, what house I will be living in and how long it will take me to travel from here to London. I can plan and prepare ahead but Abraham couldn’t. And that is what makes the story of Abraham so remarkable. He heard God and trusted God with his life and all he had. And God? Well God kept His promises and blessed Abraham abundantly.
You may not be in the habit of relocating from one area to another but the scenery of your life will change. Life’s experiences will move you from the security of the familiar to new and unfamiliar surroundings. It is those major life events which prompt us to ask questions and examine our faith in the light of these new experiences. But we approach this new territory with the same God who sustained and blessed Abraham. God never leaves us.
So I leave you with the closing words of the Methodist Diaconal Daily Prayer which have been a great help to me because they remind me that we do not journey alone: “You are my God, ahead of me, leading me, guiding me and calling me; you are the Lord God, the all-wise, the all-compassionate. And I lift my heart in worship today and forever. Amen.”
Quote 9) December 2013
“The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.” (John chapter 1 verse 14).
I was fortunate to be able to go the cinema recently to see the film Gravity in all its 3D IMAX glory! I’m not a huge fan of space films but this film was billed as a ‘must see’ by various people. It is about a space mission which is thwarted when a space station is hit by debris from a demolished satellite cutting loose our two actors both from the space station and from communications down below. Spinning through the void, attached to one another only by a thin cord, survival seems impossible. Is there any way they can reach the distant Russian station, and find a way back down to Earth?
I won’t say any more about the plot, but when researching her role, Sandra Bullock was moved by the experiences of astronauts who have seen the beauty of the earth from a completely different perspective to us, saying “It's amazing to realize how small we are in this massive universe.”
Certainly the special effects in the film convey the vastness of space. But the film is about much more than special effects – it’s about a journey of re-birth, how we handle adversity, what makes us carry on when there doesn’t seem to be any hope?
As our 2 film stars were trying to find their way back to earth I reflected on the words from John’s gospel - “The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world” (chapter 1 verse 9). At Christmas we remember and celebrate that God Himself came into the world. We will hear these verses many times in our Christmas services. They are simple yet profound words. The Message bible puts it like this, the Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighbourhood and I like that version.
I sometimes say it’s a big world but actually, as Sandra Bullock says, it’s a small world in a massive universe. Yet this is a world God loves so much that He sent His only Son Jesus Christ to show us how much He loves us. I hope you are able to take some time over Christmas to reflect on the Christmas story and what it means to be loved by the God who not only ‘moved into the neighbourhood’ but is still in the neighbourhood.
Quote 8) April 2013
Beaches, barbecues and breakfasts!
John chapter 21 verse 12: ‘Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.”’
They say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day and I tend to agree. I never leave home on an empty stomach!
I hope you all had a wonderful Easter. But as the Easter season draws to a close be assured that the story doesn’t end there.
The bible continues to record several accounts of Jesus appearing to his disciples before He ascended into Heaven. I love this account in John (chapter 21 verses 1-14) where Jesus appears to seven disciples. It encourages me to look for Jesus in the everyday events of life.
The disciples must have wondered what was to become of them after the death and resurrection of Jesus. What happens now? This account shows that some of them returned to what they knew best – fishing. It was familiar. It was where it all started with Jesus when He called them to be “fishers of men” and they left their nets and followed Him.
After a miraculous catch of fish Jesus cooks some of the catch for the disciples. Food and fellowship take place on a beach over a charcoal fire. A charcoal fire had featured a little earlier for Peter – it was as he stood warming himself by a charcoal fire he denied 3 times knowing Jesus. An event which caused him great distress.
But this scene around a charcoal fire was different. As Peter looked at this charcoal fire was he reminded of his denial? I don’t know. But I do know that Jesus did not accuse Peter or the other disciples of betraying and abandoning Him. Instead He showed them love and served them.
When things go wrong or don’t work out as we thought we may run back to the familiar, where we feel safe. But nothing is lost to God and He will always seek us out inviting us to make a fresh start with Him. It was over breakfast that Jesus reminded the disciples of their calling – to be ‘fishers of men’. Easter isn’t the end of the story – it’s the beginning!
Quote 7) February 2013
Ecclesiastes chapter 4 verses 9-10: “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labour; if either of them falls down, one can help the other up.”
I’ve been to the cinema again! Recently I went to watch Les Miserables or as some people have called it ‘Les Miz’! It is an emotionally-charged film and those of you who have seen it will understand.
I don’t want to give the plot away in case you haven’t seen the film yet, but the main character – Jean Valjean – experiences an unexpected encounter which profoundly changes his life. I think I have said enough there! But it prompted me to think of those people who have journeyed alongside me at various points in my life.
I am also particularly grateful to those who have had a positive influence on my Christian journey - those who have been an example of how to live out the Christian life in everyday circumstances. Throughout my Christian journey I have been accompanied by God, who has blessed me, encouraged me and coped with my weaknesses.
A friend of mine some years ago introduced me to the verse above from the book of Ecclesiastes. Ecclesiastes has sometimes been referred to as a miserable book! But there are some gems in there, including that verse. For me and my friend it celebrated our faithful friendship.
I would encourage you to pause and reflect on those whom we have encountered in our lives whose influence has had a positive effect on us and thank God for them. And use this occasion to hold a mirror up to ourselves and consider our example to others.
You may wish to say this prayer: Almighty, life-giving and sustaining God, thank you for accompanying us to this moment. We praise you and bless you. We place our hands and hearts in yours this day, praying that you will be glorified by us. In Jesus' name. Amen.
Quote 6) December 2012
Matthew chapter 1 verse 23: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel which means, “God with us.”
What’s in a name?
I recently went to see the new James Bond film – Skyfall, It was absolutely brilliant! As usual, in the lead up to its release there was a lot of hype. I admit to being a Bond fan but learnt something new as I read about his creator – Ian Fleming. I was sharing this new-found knowledge at a baptism service recently. When Ian Fleming was choosing a name for the secret agent he took the name for his character from that of the American ornithologist James Bond!
He said, “I wanted Bond to be an extremely dull, uninteresting man to whom things happened; when I was casting around for a name I thought, (James Bond) is the dullest name I ever heard.”
Now we know that name has become iconic. We associate the name James Bond with danger and excitement. Nothing dull about him at all!
Names are important. When it comes to choosing names people give them a lot of thought. They mean something. One of the names Jesus is given is ‘Immanuel’ which means ‘God with us’. I love that name. God isn’t a distant stranger who plays a cameo role. He is closer to us than we can imagine. Even through our darkest times.
At Christmas we celebrate His coming into the world as a vulnerable baby. A baby who would change the world and continues to change lives even today.
As you listen to the Christmas story this year you may want to reflect on what ‘God with us’ means to you. And I encourage you to say this short prayer – Almighty God, open my eyes to see where and how you are present in my life. Amen.
May I wish you God’s richest blessing at Christmas.
Quote 5) August 2012
Hebrews chapter 13 verse 8: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.”
Recently my husband and I took my mum on a visit to Beamish Museum. I come from the Black Country which has the same sort of thing – a living museum made up of re-constructed buildings. In fact I was told by one of my church members that Beamish was better than the Black Country Museum! I’ve visited both now and I have to agree that Beamish wins by a nose!
We had a fabulous day with great weather and hardly any queuing! Not bad considering it was the middle of the school Summer holidays. As we moved around the houses of the Pit Village one of the things that struck me was that bible verses were displayed on the walls of the various rooms within the homes. We began chatting with another visitor who told us that life would have been so much better 100 years ago. I didn’t agree with his comment and resisted having a heated debate in someone’s living room! You see, I don’t agree. I think life is much better now than it was 100 years ago. Living standards are much better now including medicine, education and safety in the workplace. There has been change for the better.
As this conversation about life being better 100 years ago was taking place my eyes fell upon the bible verse displayed on the wall behind him. The verse said, ‘Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.’ Let’s face it, life isn’t static. In fact things change so quickly these days I struggle to keep up with it all myself. As Christians we believe that the Christ we read about in the bible is still relevant today and always will be. But, how do we as a church communicate that? How do we make sense of it when we are so used to change?
The church has sometimes been accused of being locked in a time warp. Yet it finds itself in the midst of a generation who have an interest in history and an eye on the future. The bible verse, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever” does not mean that Jesus is opposed to change: how we apply the gospel has to be continually rethought in new circumstances. Many churches are exploring new ways of communicating the good old gospel truths without compromising the essence of the Christian message.
Springwell Village Methodist Church began ‘Grace Space’ for newly baptised children and their families which is growing in number. It includes those elements which Methodists are good at, fellowship, food and fun. It is where the bible is taught using craft and storytelling. It is the place where there is conversation and friendships are made and where Jesus Christ who loves us, forgives us and is utterly faithful is celebrated. There is no need to fear that the gospel cannot address any circumstance in any place or time.
Quote 4) May 2012
Hebrews chapter 12 verse 2: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.”
At last! There’s a programme on TV worth staying in for!
I come from the generation that grew up with just 3 – yes 3 – channels on TV. The programmes were in black and white, and you had to get out of your chair to push a button on the TV set if you wanted to change channels.
I now watch TV in glorious colour and can switch through channels at lightning speed with the aid of my husband’s – sorry, our – remote control. There is the facility to record more than one programme at a time and even to pause ‘live’ TV as I nip into the kitchen to grab a snack.
Now we have Sky TV which offers us a huge selection of programmes. The only problem is that the breadth of choice isn’t matched by the quality in my opinion. You have to sift through the chaff of ‘soaps’, ‘reality TV’ and ‘A Home in the Sun’ before you spot a gem.
So what’s the TV programme worth watching as it is being broadcast? Well it’s ‘The Apprentice’ of course! And I have some fans of ‘The Apprentice’ in my congregations. The programme follows a group of young entrepreneurs who compete against each other over a series of tasks in the hope of being ‘hired’ by Sir Alan Sugar. The winner will earn both the opportunity to be his partner and an investment to the value of £250,000 founded on the basis of their business idea. Failure is not an option and each week one of the members of the losing team is fired because they haven’t come up to scratch. But hey, that’s business.
I’m reading a book at the moment called ‘Apprentice – walking the way of Christ’ by Steve Chalke. Jesus gathered apprentices around him, to live alongside him and learn through him. He required a personal commitment. But life is difficult, and being apprenticed to Christ does not mean that we escape the pain and struggles of life. We make mistakes. We fail. So, what happens then? Is the apprentice ‘fired’?
Well no, of course not. Why? Given that life is already difficult, choosing to live intentionally for Christ, only increases the challenge and He understands that. He experienced what it is like to be misunderstood, to be tempted, threatened, betrayed, abandoned by His closest friends, to suffer and to experience loneliness and abandonment.
Christ walks the journey of life with us. He wants us to succeed. Jesus was as reliant on the Spirit of God to guide and strengthen Him through life as we His apprentices are. Because Jesus faced struggles He is able to understand what we are going through and offers us His strength and His forgiveness when we get it wrong.
Ultimately, the bible points beyond our present struggles and failures to God’s final, life-renewing victory. So that when we meet God face-to-face He will not say, “You’re fired”, but “Well done good and faithful servant. Come and feast and rest."
Quote 3) Feb.2012
“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Psalm 119 verse 103
As I sit to reflect and gather my thoughts, one topic which has cropped up again and again for me in recent weeks is that of ‘books’. This includes the announcement at the end of January of the winner of the 2011 Costa Book of the Year Award. (For all you folks who enjoy trivia or are part of a quiz team, it was ‘Pure’ by Andrew Miller. Just log it in the old memory bank, no doubt there will be a question about it at some time!) Then, of course, last week was the 200th anniversary of Charles Dickens' birth.
I love to read and when I go on holiday I enjoy escaping into a good book. But I’m ashamed to say that I have never read a Charles Dickens book, although I am a huge fan of the Muppet Christmas Carol which I have watched every Christmas for at least the last 20 years! Will I ever get round to reading ‘Pure’? I doubt it. The last book I read, just over a fortnight ago, is called ‘One Step Beyond’. It’s a gripping autobiography that tells the story of God’s amazing love and forgiveness. Gram (or Graham) Seed was written off by his family, neighbours, teachers and the police as a lost cause. He tells the story of his miraculous recovery from a six-day coma and how, with the strength of his newfound faith, he now helps other young offenders find God’s love and forgiveness.
In this book, Gram Seed reminds us that the Bible is the best-selling book of all time. My research – via the internet of course – reveals that in a survey conducted in 1992, the number of Bibles printed or distributed touched almost 6 billion, making it the number 1 best-selling book of all time. It has been translated into more than 2000 languages and dialects, and further translation into other languages is also underway.
As part of our baptism ceremonies the church gives a bible to the family. I always encourage parents not to keep it on the bookshelf gathering dust but to read it to their children a couple of times a week. It is one way the parents fulfil their promise to nurture their child in the Christian faith. In a few weeks time some of our members will be taking part in a Lent Study Group, called the Big Read, and we will be reading and discussing the gospel of Mark. (It is the shortest of the gospels and I was once told that it can be read in 40 minutes!) It’s not heavy-going stuff. Sharing and learning about Jesus Christ over a bacon butty and a cup of coffee is inspiring and a part of my job I really enjoy!
We are all busy people and I understand that finding time to read the Bible can be a push sometimes whether its 5 minutes or 40 minutes. I’m assuming of course that we all have at least 1 version in our homes. Never before has the bible been so accessible. You can download versions of the Bible as an app for your i-phone or i-pad; or check out biblegateway.com. Our Methodist website www.methodist.org.uk has an online bible study called ‘A Word in Time’; the Big Read has an interactive website www.bigbible.org.uk; there are downloads for i-pods too.
So, in the run up to Easter, why not take time out to read some of the number 1 bestseller, or, as one person described it – God’s love letter to you.
Quote 2) Jan.2012
Cheer up it’s January!
Just before Christmas I caught Stacey Solomon being interviewed on BBC’s Breakfast TV. She was saying how much she loved Christmas and her excitement - which was obvious to see - was a real tonic. However, this bubbly personality went on to say that she found life after Christmas difficult because ‘there was nothing to look forward to’.
I think this is true for most of us. I’m sure that it will come as no surprise to you that research shows that many of us struggle with January. Sometimes referred to as the ‘January Blues’ this gloomy start to the new year is attributed to family tension over Christmas, Christmas debts, freezing weather, the dark nights, piling on the extra pounds over the festive season, and getting back to work. It is also reported that a third of us lose our resolve to keep our resolutions within a week. Small wonder then that most of us feel miserable and low at this time of year.
So how can we turn all of this to a ‘glass half full’? Well, I’m not a fan of the dark nights either but the shortest day is behind us now and the daylight is starting to win the battle! Then there are the sales of course! And the whole idea of resolutions is a positive one, I believe, because we recognise that there is the potential within us to be a better person. Robbie Williams said his resolutions are “to be a better husband, to be a better guy and I want to be as happy as I can be. I also wanna get really fit next year.”
The whole idea of starting a brand new year gives us the opportunity to make a fresh start or begin a new chapter in our lives. Especially if the previous year has been a difficult one and frankly we are glad to see the back of it! At the threshold of a new year we scan new territories of opportunity.
It’s at the start of the New Year that Methodists make a distinctive resolution when we celebrate our annual Covenant service. It’s a service which includes some big promises. Promises which are tough to say and pretty scary too if I’m honest with you. Just listen to this: “I am no longer my own but yours. Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will; put me to doing, put me to suffering; let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you, exalted for you, or brought low for you; let me be full, let me be empty, let me have all things, let me have nothing: I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things to your pleasure and disposal. And now, glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, you are mine and I am yours.”
As Christians we are by no means perfect but reflected in these promises are what we aspire to be. And what we aspire to be - is to become the people God wants us to be. I have made many mistakes over my life, things I cannot change and yet they are experiences which make me the person I am today. Through it all God has loved me unconditionally and that is true for all of us. I still get it wrong – every day in fact. And each day I have to make that fresh start, make that resolution again to “freely and wholeheartedly” yield myself to God. I make that resolution to God who through his eternal grace, love and mercy forgives me, bears me up and sustains me as I journey on. The Covenant Service reminds us, “The service is a gift not a demand! And God will give you the grace to do it all. You are not alone!”
So may I wish you a very Happy New Year and may you know God’s love which is always there even when we get it wrong. Whatever happens – God’s love is bigger. God is eternally faithful and always keeps His promises.
Quote 1) Nov.2011
Jesus said, "And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age." (Matthew chapter 28 verse 20)
I went on a driving experience a few weeks ago. I finally got round to redeeming the voucher I received earlier this year as a birthday present. The venue was Knock Hill race track on a drizzly day. First of all I had to sit through a safety presentation then select my crash helmet before I could get on the track. Then I drove a “sporty SEAT” for 3 laps with an instructor teaching me the racing lines, the correct gear selection and when to brake. Then I was taken for a demonstration drive for 2 laps - the first to show me how to drive the track properly, and the second to show the common driving mistakes. It was surprising to see how a slight mistake could have such big consequences. Braking too late, travelling too fast, not following the racing line could mean being spinning the car, stalling it, being stranded in the gravel-pit, and generally being a nuisance to all those around you!
Finally I got behind the wheel of a single-seater racing car. I was on my own and very apprehensive. As I tentatively left the pit-lane I became aware that the biting-point of the clutch was very low, the brakes felt strange, and I could only change gear by using paddles on the steering wheel. It all felt so weird and in all honesty I was pretty awful. I longed for someone to sit next to me and talk me through it all, someone who had already been there and knew what to look out for. But this was a single-seater so there was no chance of that! Well, I didn’t stall or spin the car and completed my 7 laps. I guess I was the slowest on the track as loads of cars overtook me – including the “sporty SEAT”!
The words of Jesus remind us of His promise always to be with us. I read those words every time I conduct a baptism. Our lives take twists and turns – sometimes quite unexpectedly as in my own experience. We might find ourselves on the wrong track – or off the ‘racing line’, a small mistake can have major consequences and if we spin off we need to be rescued. Our lives will lead us to new pastures where the territory is unfamiliar and we long for someone to be beside us, guiding us. To know that we are not alone really matters. The promise of Jesus to always be with us is a precious one and a promise that can be trusted. In fact it has been through the difficult twists and turns of my own life that I have known this to be so true. There is no guarantee of an easy life but Jesus gives us His guarantee that He will share the experience with us and sustain us through each moment no matter how dark and difficult.
So if you are in the middle of your drizzly day all on your own or stuck in a gravel-pit needing to be rescued why not invite Jesus to guide you through? Because He cares about you.