I am, what is known as a co-vocational church leader, which means as well as pastoring the Vine I work in industry for some of the week too. As part of my work in the world of commerce, I see the latest trends in leadership being touted as the way to transform your business, motivate your staff, and improve both productivity and the wellbeing of your workforce. Over time I have seen consultants spouting the benefits of 'authoritative leadership' or 'delegative approaches' to leadership. I have attended courses to develop a 'coaching style' of leadership, or whatever is the current leadership trend. I raised a wry smile recently though as the ‘next best thing’ was declared: Servant Leadership.
I smiled as I am pretty sure this has been around for a while and is not really a new thing in business. I was also somewhat familiar with this idea of servant leadership in the context of my faith in Jesus, where it is a tried, trusted, and essential way of working.
Jesus served his friends as he washed their feet, highlighting the humility that should accompany leadership. In Galatians 5:13 believers are reminded “It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life. Just make sure that you don't use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom. Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love; that's how freedom grows.”
The end of this month and beginning of June sees the Platinum Jubilee, with a series of events and an extra bank holiday to celebrate not 70 years of the Queen being Queen, but as the official statement reads a ‘celebration to mark 70 years of service to the people of the UK, the Realms and Commonwealth.’ The Queen is and always has been a fan of servant leadership.
In her 1957 Christmas broadcast, Queen Elizabeth II conceded that she could no longer lead the nation in battle or give laws. “But I can do something else - I can give my heart and my devotion to these old islands and to all the peoples of our brotherhood of nations”.
In a changing world, where the role of the Royal Family is questioned and the concept of the commonwealth is changing, the Queen has stuck to this concept of servant leadership as her core approach not just to her role as Queen but as a wife, a mother, a mother-in-law and a grandmother.
Each of us is a leader in some way, either influencing those around us or in our families or simply choosing how we act ourselves – whatever your role I recommend following Jesus’ lead and like the Queen being a servant leader.
Whether you are an avid fan of the Queen, a republican or somewhere between I pray you will get a chance to enjoy the extended break at the end of this month.
John 11:35, ‘Jesus wept’ is the shortest verse in the English translation of the bible. Those words come as Jesus is speaking to two grieving sisters as they mourn the death of their brother and Jesus’ friend Lazarus. A natural emotion born out of grief, a demonstration of humanity and compassion.
I dare say that this month many of us have shed a tear or at least ‘had a speck of dust in our eye’ as we have watched the events in Ukraine unfold on our TVs and newspapers. The injustice and suffering we have seen is at times a source of anger, frustration and grief that could bring most of us to tears even though we are not ‘living it’ or don’t have close contacts directly affected by this unjust war.
For me, there have been three things that seem to have made my eyes leak. The first was the overwhelming generosity of people’s response to this crisis. The sheer number of people and places that stepped up to act as collection points for essential items was amazing, the tireless efforts of a small number of individuals who have driven this effort are incredible and the amount of stuff collected was tremendous. The compassion being shown by strangers from all walks of life amazed me.
The second thing that brought a tear was the number of nappies that were amongst the collected items. A chilling reminder of the children that are caught up in this act of aggression.
The third is the overwhelming nature of these events and seemingly how little we can do to change things and yet so many are trying. Some giving more than they can afford others putting their lives on the line.
For those in the Ukraine Jesus words, ‘Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends’ (John 15:13) will have specific relevance as we approach Easter. On Good Friday Christians across the world, will focus on the cross. As God’s own son dies so that whoever believes in Him will have eternal life; a sacrifice for all humanity, a time that believers may, like Jesus, weep. Sunday however brings joy as the result of that sacrifice, the victory of resurrection becomes known, weeping ceases and hope for a future returns.
By the time you read this the fighting in Ukraine may have ceased (I pray it will have) but it is clear the humanitarian cost will still be ongoing. For many in the region they will be left looking at their personal sacrifice and wondering where will hope come from. I find hope comes from two places: my fellow humans, so please continue to give via local appeals or financially through the Disasters Emergency Committee (www.dec.org.uk); and my trust in God. For this I simply pray
‘Almighty God, we pray for the continuing situation within Ukraine. We pray for those who live in fear, that you may grant them peace. Lord, we ask that you raise up peacemakers on all sides, that war and violence might end and hope return. Amen’.
March the 14th is International Pi Day. Before you get all excited about the delights of hot apple pie; or steak, and kidney pie or whatever the vegan alternative may be, it is not that sort of pie - sorry.
Pi Day is celebrated on March 14th (3.14) around the world, yes, I know that it only works in the American date format.
According to www.piday.org and Mr Pike, my old maths teacher, Pi (Greek letter “π”) is the symbol used in mathematics to represent a constant — the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter — which is approximately 3.14159. Pi Day is an annual opportunity for maths enthusiasts to recite the infinite digits of Pi, talk to their friends about maths, and eat pie.
Known since around 250BC Pi has now been calculated to 31 trillion digits, if printed that would be enough to fill this magazine for the next 250 million years or so. Despite the fact you only need the first 30 digits to calculate the size of the observable universe to an accuracy of the width of an atom the search for more digits in Pi continues as mathematicians continue to calculate it with increasing levels of precision.
The effort to keep calculating pi is a great example of the tenacious attitude and focus that some people have in battling towards a goal that others would not see as important or worth the effort. The ability to keep going even when the problem seems insurmountable. For advocates of pi, the challenge is the next few decimal places, for many of us, the challenge can be getting through the day.
The apostle Paul likens living a Christian life to the running of a race keeping our eyes on the prize. James notes through life there will be many trials that will hinder us, distract us, cause us to think about giving up but goes on to say: Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.
We all set out in life to live the way we think is right, to do the best for ourselves and our loved ones. Along the way we can all face challenges and have the need to persevere, to show tenacity, to battle on and focus on the prize. When life is like that, it is good to stop and celebrate simply getting through another day, facing another challenge, not giving up. A slice of pie may be the perfect way to celebrate. This month you may want to celebrate ‘Pi day’ but I encourage you to celebrate those days that you make it from dawn to dusk despite the challenges of life.
As we move through February the New Year is a fading memory for most of us, as are the New year’s Resolutions that some of us will have made. Whether you decided to join the in Veganuary or lose weight after a large Christmas Lunch it is highly likely that the smell of a tempting bacon sandwich has put pay to your ideas of becoming a New Year vegan or lowering your pre-spring calorie intake. Research suggests that by February some 64% of people abandon the commitments they made as Auld Lang Syne filled the air.
Sticking to a plan to change can be challenging at the best of times and New Year resolutions are often the hardest to keep. Over half of people who make New Year’s resolutions make and break the same one year, after year. Often when we set ourselves the challenge to make a positive change in our lives, we are too vague setting goals like, ‘be happier’ or ‘get fit’ that are hard to define success or see small steps to achieving the goal. The other main reason we fail is because we don’t climb a tree, but I’ll come to that in a moment.
I find the bible is full of helpful advice for everyday life, even those bits that are told as children’s stories. Take the story of Zacchaeus, a short, corrupt tax collector from Jericho. Zacchaeus learned that Jesus the prophet was passing through the city. Since Zacchaeus was "short in stature," he ran ahead of the crowd and climbed up into a sycamore tree to have a better view of Jesus. When Jesus arrived, he noticed Zacchaeus in the tree and said to him, "Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today." This made the crowd "grumble," as they had been the ones defrauded by Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus had decided to make a change and declared "Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much."
Zacchaeus made a resolution to change, it was very specific with measurable goals. To give to the poor, and to pay back four times. Setting achievable, realistic, and measurable goals are key to making change happen in our lives. Zacchaeus also climbed a tree. His decision to change could be seen by others, there was no going back. Psychologists call this having an accountability structure.
If you have made a decision to make a change in your life this new year and have given up or are just finding it hard, let me encourage you to keep on going. Maybe alter your goals to be smaller, focused, and achievable. Swap get fitter, to walk for 20 minutes 4 days a week, then aim for 30. Share your decisions to change with people that will support you and keep you accountable when you feel like giving up. Looking to improve your well-being? Why not try the gathering place, our well-being group on a Wednesday afternoon? No pressure just a relaxed space to be supported as you look to improve or overhaul your well-being. If change is possible a short corrupt tax collector, you can do it too.
As we progress rapidly into the period of Advent and then onto Christmas, life for me is getting quite hectic. I am busily preparing for Carols on the Green (Tue 21st Dec), the Walking Nativity (Fri 17th Dec), Christmas Day services (now what day is that?), TST kids Christmas Special (Sat 18th). I need to pick up the mother-in-law, do some Christmas Shopping, (food & presents), write the Christmas Cards (nearly forgot that one), wrap the presents, decorate & dog proof a Christmas tree. Oh! Must remember to decorate the Vine Centre too. The run up to Christmas is chaos. It would be easy to wish for a quieter advent and Christmas, but I had that enforced last year and like many, I missed the opportunities to gather as family and friends. Most of all I missed the business. So, I am not going to complain about being back to normal or back to the chaos that is the lead up to Christmas.
Besides, it has always been that way right from the very start. A call to census interrupted the lives of a certain carpenter and his young bride. It wasn’t expected and the taxes that would follow would not be welcome. It wasn’t convenient especially with Mary in ‘her condition’ and with all the things that needed to be done; Joseph’s work, preparations for a new baby but the decree was the decree. The first Christmas commute took place by foot and by donkey, at least they didn’t have the M25 to deal with. Arriving at the town of Josephs family the search for a location to stay began with no guest rooms available – more stress. Finally, a room was found, not decorated, not plush but a room all the same.
The distance from Cherry Willingham to Bethlehem is exactly 3,169.3 miles (via the A3, Europe, Turkey and the middle east). This year Bethlehem will come to Cherry Fields as part of the walking Nativity. I remember two years ago as we concluded the first Walking Nativity, not knowing quite what to expect, a hush descended as the ‘stand-in’ Mary and Joseph were surrounded by children attending the event dressed as shepherds, angels, sheep and magi; a nativity scene took shape. A palpable sense of peace was present as parents filed past to take a photo or record a video clip.
There were no cameras in Bethlehem 2000 plus years ago, which in some ways is good as I know it would call the historical accuracy of an old bus shelter being the stable into question. If cameras had been invented, I am pretty sure they would have captured a scene of stillness and peace that came after the journey, after the stress, after the birth. It would show a scene of stillness as Shepherds came to find Jesus as a new-born. For me, this the best part about this time of year. I love the hustle and bustle, the meeting of friends and family but cherish finding those moments of peace and stillness that point to something bigger than the business of the season. For me, that bigger thing is Jesus, for you it may just be the time to stop and think. Whichever it is, I pray that this Christmas will be somewhat more normal (whatever that means for you) and that you will have time to stop and rest amongst the chaos.
During the summer I had the chance to visit Chartwell House in Kent, the home of Winston Churchill. Along with the history of Churchill ‘the prime minister’, the house is full of his paintings and possessions of Churchill ‘the man’ ranging from his outdoor swimming pool, he shared with several black swans to the utilitarian all in one boiler suits he would pull on over his pyjamas when required to be ready in the middle of the night. Unlike many stately homes and historic houses Chartwell is different, there is an additional connection and almost a familiarity brought about through the historic knowledge we have of this iconic man. A number of the rooms were filled with gifts and accolades given to Churchill by heads of state, governments, organisations and individuals. These ranged from honorific titles, Nobel prizes, medallions, hairbrushes, painting palettes and of course cigars. He was even sent a lion, a kangaroo, and a platypus. Churchill valued the gifts given, gratefully acknowledged the giver and made use of even the smallest of items. He used a small soft toy panda to reserve the space for books removed from his bookshelf. Churchill never knew the givers of his biggest gift though. In his later years he could no longer afford to keep Chartwell. A group of then anonymous friends came together to buy Chartwell. They gave the estate to the National Trust on the condition Churchill and his wife could live there as long as they wished. The friends bought Chartwell, not to receive recognition or favour but to simply improve the life of a man who had already given so much.
A good friend of mine tells the story of a young man, who out of a random act of kindness paid not only for his meal in a café but the meals of the next table. Little did he know that, that small act caused the people on the table he paid for, to pay for the meals on the next table, and that table to pay for the next. This went on until closing time; with kindness being paid forward.
As a Christian I recognise the tremendous gift that God has given me through Jesus and my relationship with him and like many other believers I like to look for opportunities to bless others (pay this kindness forward). The Bible in Acts 20:35 states that “In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive”. Believer or not there is real joy in the act of giving when it is done with pure motives it promotes our own peace. As Churchill put it – ”We make a living by what we get; we give to make a life” – Why not try an anonymous act of random kindness and see how it feels yourself.
If things have not changed since writing this article, this month will see further relaxation of the ‘social distancing’ rules. I for one will be glad to be able to socialise freely, to be close to friends and wider family and not need to think about social distancing, hand sanitisers and elbow bumps. I am also looking forward to not getting to the shops and discovering my mask is still on the side at home; I am looking forward to ditching the mask.
There has been debate during the last year about the relative value of masks giving protection versus the issues they cause with communication and identity. I tend to see them as a necessary annoyance recognising the problems they cause as well. Even before distancing rules are further relaxed can I encourage you to take off your lockdown masks. Hear me correctly here, I am not inciting a mass rebellion against government guidance nor am I referring to cloth or paper masks we use to go shopping.
Over the last fifteen months, life for many of us has been disrupted. We have all had to become accustomed to not doing things we once thought of as normal, everyday activities. Few people in the country are not affected in some way and many people will have donned one of the following masks to protect themselves. The ‘I’m OK mask’; the ‘I’m coping’ mask; the ‘I’m financially stable’ mask; the ‘I’m happy mask’, the ‘I like it on my own’ mask and the list goes on.
Can I encourage you to ditch the masks and be kind to yourself? Don’t feel bad if you have found it hard, or your life circumstances have changed in a way you can’t control. Don’t be concerned that you are fearful of reintegrating as social distancing is removed. You are allowed to take things at your own pace, to ease yourself back into things or even to not restart something either for a while or at all. But please ditch the masks.
Emotional masks allow us to hide but like cloth masks, they get in the way of communication. If you are struggling, please ditch the mask and try to speak to someone you trust about how you are feeling, ask them to help you get through this. Too personal? Ditch the masks and speak to someone anonymously, there are a range of places and phone lines to start to get help, the Churches, the GP or Assist 01522 370164 can help point you to a someone or an organisation who will listen. It really is time to ditch the masks. So that we can be who we really are and so we can help each other as we return to some form of normality.
As I wandered down Princess Street in Edinburgh in a time before Covid, lockdowns and travel restrictions I took this picture. At the time, the positioning of the words ‘Try Praying’ and the Automated External Defibrillator amused me. It seemed at first glance to be a case of someone ‘hedging their bets’; if one didn’t work you could always try the other.
In reality though, the picture shows the operation of the church at its best. A mix of practical service and support underpinned by prayer, belief, and the expression of hope that Christians find only in the reality of living with God.
This mix of faith and works has been recognised across the nation as churches have reacted to the Covid-19 crisis. From the initial community support, through to the provision of premises and people to support Vaccination efforts. Throughout this, church communities of all types have come together to pray for individuals, communities, and the nation.
I think we all recognise that the effects of the pandemic will be with us for some time even after we are allowed to travel, go to the pub, take holidays and freely see friends and family. The economic, social and mental health impacts will be ongoing. Churches across the nation will continue to meet this challenge with a mix of Prayer and Practicality. Both in my view effective, necessary, and worthwhile.
This is why we are offering The Wellbeing Journey, a free eight-part online course to help individuals and communities address the challenges of our time. Focusing on having a wellbeing mindset: including physical, emotional, spiritual, financial, relational, and vocational well being.
Hosted by Simon Thomas (Prime Video Sport/ Sky Sports/ Blue Peter) and Joanna Adeyinka-Burford (BBC, Channel 5, Nickelodeon); The course is practical and free to all. So, why not join us on the Wellbeing journey?
Over the last few months, the dark of winter has really hit home. The death of a number of people connected with the church, our family, as well as the restrictions applied to the nation have left me and I am sure others, longing to move on from this period. We have felt grief, loss, anger, frustration and disappointment at a number of things over the winter period.
As a church, through lent, we have been looking at the topic of the disappointment and frustration that is “unanswered prayer” looking at people going through their darkest ‘winters’ and how in the midst of their struggles and grief, hope creeps in and surprises them.
Hope is a strange thing, it does not undo the feelings of hurt or loss, instead it hints at something new, something better that is worth going on for.
I think of the first Easter as the disciples gathered following the events of Good Friday. They would have been in their own personal ‘winter’ of loss, disillusionment and disappointment. They would have been questioning everything they knew and had heard. Yet hope creeps in and surprises them. For the women going to the tomb, that hope, was in the empty tomb and the words of a ‘Gardener’, for others, that hope was in hearing the news, for others in seeing and for Thomas in touching, the wounds of Jesus.
In nature, this hope at the end of winter is expressed as the first snowdrops, buds bursting in colour returning to the landscape. In these COVID times hope is signalled by vaccination rates, being able to meet others and the cautious reopening of shops and other facilities.
For Christians today, the hope is in experiencing God in our daily lives even in the disappointments and unanswered prayers. God invites all of us to know him and to be surprised by the hope that brings.
Whatever your situation I pray that this Easter time, that you are surprised by hope breaking into your situation and that you see a way from winter into the new beginnings of spring and beyond. – Amen
Last month saw the funeral of one of our church family. The lady that sadly passed away was a very quiet person both in demeanour and volume. Every time I encountered her; I would struggle to hear what she was saying. It was a constant struggle to strain to hear, made even worse in these times of social distancing and face masks. I have to admit it took effort to not make an excuse to finish the conversation or not to drop into ‘husband mode’ and nod in what I thought were all the right places while not really listening.
I did, however, persevere and the rewards were great. Beneath the quiet exterior and behind the difficulties of hearing a small voice there were great stories of her life, exciting exploits, pearls of wisdom and encouragement. When I actively listened, I found that the exterior view that I and many would have had of this lady, hid the true wealth of her history and experience. When I caught hold of her small voice I was rewarded beyond my expectation.
I find the same true in my relationship with God. Sometimes in my life, God is dramatic and loud and obvious. Much of the time though He is quiet, difficult to experience and a struggle to hear.
I am not alone in this; the bible tells of Elijah (1 Kings 19:11-13) who didn’t always find God in the dramatic either: “After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.”
I will miss my chats with this lady at church, it may have been a struggle to hear her but it was worth the effort.
In this busy time, where communication is not always easy because of separation, face masks and the necessary use of technology to bridge the miles. It is easy to stop listening because it is hard. Can I encourage anyone and everyone to keep listening to those around us, even if it takes effort? They reward of listening can be great for both parties the listener and the person being listened to.
I find the same is true of God when I take the time to listen, to read his word, to look at nature and creation, I tend to find a reward in experiencing Him. When I don’t take the time or make the effort, I don’t.
This month let’s make the effort to listen to the still, small voices around us.
The stadium in Daegu was filled with spectator’s expectant to see the fastest man in athletics perform his usual speed feet in the 100m World Championships. The year was 2011 and all seemed normal Bolt was his usual relaxed self before the race, preening when his name was announced. Bolt had looked in brilliant form in the heats and semi-final, feeling all the hard work he had done on his start had finally paid off. But the Jamaican star got it all wrong in spectacular fashion, springing from his blocks before the gun and pulling his running vest off in frustration, instantly realising he would be disqualified. In the days, months and even years that followed the fairness of the ‘False Start’ rule that Bolt disqualified has been called into question. The fact that athlete Yohan Blake's leg had visibly twitched in the instant before Bolt pushed off from the blocks has been blamed by some (but not Bolt) for the incident. Claiming that that Bolt was only responding to Blake's twitch. Whatever the cause athletes and spectator pretty much agree that Athletics one-false-start disqualification rule is simple the cruellest rule in the sport.
As we left 2020 and entered 2021 there was much hope that the New Year would be the start of a ‘more normal’ life. Even before Big Ben’s chimes had faded a ‘false start’ was declared on that, with the country going back into National Lockdown. The hopes of normality, of family gatherings, of economic recovery were put on hold.
In proverbs 13:12 the Bible says, ‘Hope delayed makes the heart sick,’ How true this verse seems as we made the decision to restart the village Covid-19 support service. How sick our hearts felt as we lost people we love to the virus. The start of 2021 was not the start that we desired; ‘false starts’ are the cruellest in life. Proverbs goes on though, the full verse reads ‘Hope delayed makes the heart sick, but desire fulfilled is a tree of life’
Following his false start in the 100m Bolt confirmed that he will run in the 200m saying. "I have to move on now as there is no point dwelling in the past. I have a few days to refocus and get ready for the 200m. After this I have the 4x100m… “
False starts are cruel, what allows us to get up and run again is the hope, the desire to continue; focusing on what can be rather than what has been. Into 2021 that is my prayer that we see our desires fulfilled, that we have the strength to look towards the next thing and we are not lulled into false starts just because someone else twitches.
Ordinarily, the December content is easy to write, as it is full of the predictable certainty of forthcoming Advent and Christmas events. This year though, I have no idea if or when the ‘traditional’ events that mark the lead-up to Christmas can or will take place. The familiar certainty of this time of year has been replaced with uncertainty and inconvenience and for some a fear of what comes next.
Change and turmoil are nothing new of course. we can look back over both recent and more ancient history, we see periods of great uncertainty. Periods of war, rebellion, disease and change.
We remember two thousand or so years ago, that the people of a faraway land were inconvenienced as the rulers caused them to put their lives on hold; as a census was called. We remember how a young couple, yet to be married were thrown into uncertainty as she was found to be with child. We dwell on the image of that same couple desperately seeking a place to stay as the time of birth came near. The joy of the birth being mere punctuation within a story that continues with the couple and child fearfully escaping persecution and murder as they flee to a foreign land, not to have a better life but simply to have a life; to protect their baby boy.
The uncertainty that is enshrined within the Christmas story is often obscured by the familiarity we have as it is retold at this time of year. Perhaps this year those elements of the story will strike a chord with many of us in our times of uncertainty. There are other themes in that story though. Themes of hope and expectation.
Mary had hopes and expectations about her role in history and the promises that her baby carried. It was this hope that allowed a teenage girl to cope with the inconvenience, uncertainty and fear of the time.
As we approach Christmas time, I pray that you will find a hope that carries you through these times. A hope that the future will arrive as surely as December 25th will arrive, a hope that the community around you is there for you, an expectation that you will get through this time. For those that need it, I pray you will know the peace and security that only God seems to bring.
This Christmas will be different, but it still represents the unchanging story of hope enshrined in a baby for all humankind and hope is definitely needed this year.
So, from all at the Vine, we wish you all a Merry Christmas.
I took a day off from work and headed over to the Peak District with all the essentials for a day’s walking: waterproofs, map, compass, boots, food and drink and the dog. The plan was to walk from Castleton over Mam Tor, Hollins Cross and Lose Hill to Hope and then back along the river.
Along the route, there were several waymarkers in the form of signposts but also by the way of cairns. A cairn is an impermanent human-made pile of stones. The word “cairn” comes from a Gaelic term meaning “heap of stones.” Cairns are piles of rocks placed as markers to remember things. Sometimes to remember important events or placed as memorials to remember someone who had an association with a place. Most often though cairns are there to remind walkers of the way they should walk. They are placed along difficult to see paths or at the junctions of tracks where a walker needs to decide which way to go.
The fascinating thing about cairns is although some are planned and concreted most are simply a collection of rocks made by repeated addition of single stones as people pass by. They are a real community effort. The flip side of that is if people stop adding rocks they can fade away over the years and the seasons.
Waymarkers are important to walkers and ‘life way markers’ are important to us all. The COVID situation has caused lots of people to lose long-established markers in their lives. Weddings are cancelled, trips to the office do not happen, holidays aren’t taken and loved ones are not visited. I am so grateful that we have in-person services at the Vine Centre, despite reduced numbers, the wearing of masks and no singing. The weekly gathering together each Sunday, in person, is welcome way marker in the week. I have a friend who feels the same way about his weekly hockey training sessions, the importance of which is as much about the interaction with his team as it is ball skills and tactics.
There are still a large number of people that through isolation, job loss, COVID restrictions or other circumstances do not have the access to regular social interactions, they are missing the life waymarkers. Like the building of a cairn I wonder what would happen if, as individuals and as a community, we were all to take the effort to interact with our neighbours to help provide a marker in their lives to help them navigate these unprecedented times. If we don’t, like an abandoned cairn, I fear people will fade away.
There I stood anticipating the stinging pain and knowing that I had little choice. I put my fingers to my eye and ouch! Instant pain, blurred vision, watery eyes and the knowledge I had to do it again with the other eye. I have been a contact lens wearer for the best part of thirty years. You would have thought by now that I would have worked out that if I take my contact lenses out before I chop chilli peppers then I could avoid a world of pain and discomfort.
This time of year, sees many young adults leave for university or similar. As they go, like many parents, I hope that my children will not have to go through the same pains of growing up that I endured. But some pain is inevitable as our children find their own feet in the world and in some ways, it is necessary for growth and independence. As parents we try to teach our children good ways to live, strategies to cope and to be there when things ‘do go not as well as they could have’.
I am reminded of the story of the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve eat the forbidden fruit. With their newfound knowledge, they thought they knew it all and could take on the world. We tend to focus on God expelling them from the Garden but in verse 21 of Genesis, there is a beautiful touching detail that is generally overlooked. Having dismissed Adam and Eve from the Garden, we are told that “The Lord God made garments of skins for the man and his wife, and clothed them.” It mattered that they had got things wrong. Adam and Eve felt the pain and the consequences. Equally, it didn’t matter that they had got things wrong, the perennial love of the parent shines through in this protective gesture.
This is a picture of God that is often repeated and a model of parenthood that I aspire to. No matter what happens, how often mistakes are made or repeated, there is always a way back, there is always support, there is always someone to restore us.
So why the story about the chillies? Well, simple, it reminds me that if we can avoid making the same mistake again and again, we should, that is common sense. If we keep making the same mistake, although we can expect the same outcome, pain there will always be a loving father as concerned about us as the first time we made the mistake waiting to accept and comfort us. I pray that I can be that sort of dad as my children go off into the world.
I also hope I remember to take my contact lenses out before I chop chillies again.
Recently many students received their exam results, and it can be a difficult time for many students as they feel that the grades on those pieces of paper are defining their lives and telling them what they will and won’t be able to achieve in their futures.
But it isn’t just exam results that put those tags and labels over our heads. It happens more than we’d probably like to think, in our jobs, in clothing choices, in the world’s beauty standards or even in our relationships. All of these things allow others to put labels on our heads and cause our lives to become defined by others. We’re constantly being compared to each other and even the unattainable. Just take a look at the beauty industry or social media to see. It is all too believe that in the eyes of those around us and often in ourselves we feel we are always failing. We start to believe these words spoken over us and the comparisons that are made are a true representation of us, are forever and can’t be changed.
Despite the fact that it is normal to be judged every second of our lives whether that be in a professional setting, examinations or through the critical eye of those who watch us on Social Media or in life. I do not believe that we should let the words, the comparisons and the value that others place on our lives, define us today.
Jesus was once confronted with a woman the community wanted to stone. The labels on her were not great, whether or not they were true was immaterial. Jesus saw that the labels did not reflect the nature of the woman and treated her with dignity and compassion. Challenging the faultless amongst the community to throw the first stone, He reset the community’s critical comparison of the woman.
This week I read a modern parable that goes like this:
A young couple moved into a new house.
The next morning while they were eating breakfast, the young woman saw her neighbour hanging the washing outside.
"That laundry is not very clean; she doesn’t know how to wash correctly. Perhaps she needs better soap powder.
Her husband looked on, remaining silent.
Every time her neighbour hung her washing out to dry, the young woman made the same comments.
A month later, the woman was surprised to see a nice clean wash on the line and said to her husband, "Look, she’s finally learned how to wash correctly. I wonder who taught her this?"
The husband replied, "I got up early this morning and cleaned our windows."
And so it is with life… What we see when watching others depends on the clarity of the window through which we look.
So don’t be too quick to judge others, especially if your perspective of life is clouded by anger, jealousy, negativity or unfulfilled desires.
"Judging a person does not define who they are. It defines who you are."
— Jonathan Kestenbaum
Each of us is capable of change:
I believe that we should only let the words that are actually true determine how we view ourselves and what decisions we make in life. Not the ‘tinted’ opinions of others.
I believe that God has so many true and positive words to say over us, I believe that he loves us, cherishes us, and believes that we are a work of art and worthy of good things.
So instead of believing that we aren’t enough, I think we need to start trying to believe the words that God says over our lives and let them define us and our lives so that we allow ourselves to love ourselves for who God says we are. We can then start to accept ourselves just as God already accepts us.
If you need something to balance out the critical views of others and see your true worth. Ask God what he thinks about you.
Mr Spock’s phrase “It’s life Jim, but not as we know it.” never appeared in the Original Series, instead, it was popularised by the 1987 parody song “Star Trekkin’” by the firm, which had many of the generation repeating “It’s life Jim, but not as we know it.”, “Klingons on the starboard bow” and "We come in peace, shoot to kill, shoot to kill, shoot to kill”. At this point, I feel I should apologise to anyone I have ‘ear wormed’ and say to anyone who has never heard the song, “relax it is probably better that way”.
The phrase though does seem to sum up life as we are currently experiencing it. I am writing this article 24 hours into the further relaxation of lockdown, where pubs and restaurants and, most importantly, hairdressers and barbers have been allowed to open. “It’s life Jim, but not as we know it.”, sums up where we find ourselves. We are able to return somewhat to the activities that we used to be able to do freely but this is no return to normal. The necessary restrictions and changes to be ‘Covid Secure’ mean that things are not the same. It’s life but not as we knew it.
In terms of Church, we have moved to online services and meetings only. We are looking at the guidance as to how we may be able to meet physically once more including opening the building for the library. In some ways it is church Jim, but not as we know it. In other ways, it is ‘church’ just as it always has been. It has met to praise and worship God, it has met to support and encourage each other , and it has stepped up to provide help and aid to the village and surrounding area.
In short, the church (the church being the people within) has tried its best to respond to Jesus’ words …“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.” Luke 10:27. In many ways this is life, just as we have always known it.
The world may be different today compared to this time last year but I pray: That for each of us we are able to adapt to the restrictions on our activities. That we find ways to see the good in this world, ways to see God in this world and for each of us to find ways to be the good in this world. – Amen.”
During July the ‘lock down’ is being relaxed. While I have some trepidation about the consequences of this if as a population we don’t act responsibly; I am relieved that we are returning some normality to life. Though it won’t be normal as we know it. There will be continuing restrictions, the nervousness of previously familiar situations and new habits to learn: not shaking hands, one-way systems and keeping 2m (or is it 1m) apart wherever we are.
As part of this relaxation of restrictions, places of worship can open, firstly for prayer and then for some aspect of worship. I found this announcement amusing in that prayer isn’t reliant on a building, and although the building can host people, many of the familiar aspects of worship such as singing and even socialising between groups is still prohibited. This won’t be normal as we know it, but I do welcome the ability to be inside a church building even if it will be different. The other reason I found this amusing is that the Church never really shut, it closed the building, but church is more than bricks, stone, glass and mortar. While the building was not available to us.
I have seen a similar thing in my work in industry with people working differently, overcoming some challenges of lockdown but enjoying unexpected benefits of a better work-life balance. We have taken an extraordinary situation and made it a new normal. As lockdown is relaxed and things open up, I hope (and pray) that we can take the best of the ‘lockdown normal’ and blend it with the best of the ‘pre-lockdown normal’ to have a new normal, that is different to but better than before.
If you're surprised that churches never really shut have a look at your local church’s website or Facebook page. It is likely to be awash with opportunities and activities.
During this time of ‘lockdown’, we have all had to adapt to shopping in different ways. Whether that is the weekly delivery of a mystery food parcel for those isolating and shielding. The weekly delivery of a mystery food parcel, that is an online grocery shop full of ‘substitutions’. Or you or loved ones may have ventured to the store, to wait in line, two meters apart, disinfect your trolley handle and spend the next forty minutes trying to choose food without touching it, plan a route around the one-way system that gets you everything in one pass before kick yourself when you realise that you have forgotten something near the beginning of the store. All without getting too close to others.
Shopping for non-food items has inevitably caused us to turn towards the internet stores. While most experiences of buying online are positive there are numerous stories of people whose purchases have not lived up to expectation. From those that got more than they bargained for and order 100s of the same item, not realising they were buying a wholesale lot, to the people who ordered goods that were not the correct size. Like the lady who tried to buy a new ladle and received a giant catering one or the man who ordered deckchairs and received ones only big enough to sit your Mobile Phone on; he did comment he thought they were unbelievably cheap.
Buying online can be an ‘interesting’ experience but it does come with some benefits, you have the chance to view the items at lots of places, comparing the goods. You avoid the overly eager shop assistant who pounces on unsuspecting customers as they enter the store. In short, you can take your time, and there is no pressure.
The Vine, like many churches, has moved its services ‘on-line’ during this time. Sky News reports that more people than ever are engaging with an online church service or content. I guess part of this like online shopping is people can ‘check out’ what is going on, they can compare and there is no danger of the over church leader pouncing on them as they enter the door.
Why not give this window shopping a try? Whether it is the Vine’s services (www.thevinecommunitychurch.org.uk/vineonline) or one of Revd. Penny’s online services for the village on facebook or maybe something from elsewhere (this page has over a dozen online services listed www.groundlevel.org.uk/directory) You will find a whole range of styles, music and people. Now is a great time to window shop, fulfil your curiosity, demolish a few stereotypes. You never know you might find something you like.
During this time of ‘lockdown’, I have found my life patterns have changed. I have had time to do and to watch things that I would not normally. One thing I watched was an online video where they placed two strangers in a room and asked them to give their first impressions of each other, to the camera in front of the other person. The other person then told their life story. It was a social experiment about how our preconceptions and first impressions affect who we engage with, who we speak too, who we even acknowledge in the street.
The current COVID-19 situation has left many people lonely and isolated. It has meant people that ordinarily would be self-sufficient and able to get on with life on their own, needing the help of others to do basic things like getting food or collecting medicine.
It has also caused a change in the way lots of people have acted in response. This time last year, who would have imagined the sheer number of people who would volunteer to help in the response to this situation either through local and national volunteering initiatives or just by pushing a note through neighbours doors saying ‘I’m here can I help?’. Who would have imagined that as you walk down the road almost everyone you meet acknowledges you, says ‘hello’ or asks if you are ok? Who would have thought that we would stand out clapping for our health and support workers when normally we would give them no thought?
Our world seems to have changed, I wonder how many preconceptions have had to be put aside as neighbours of different generations help each other or a volunteer who you have never met delivers medicine or calls for a chat.
In Ecclesiastes 4: it says 9 Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. 10 If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. 11 Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? 12 A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.
How true these words are. It is better to go through life together, with each other and for those of us that believe, with God. I hope and pray that when life returns to more like normal, whatever that is, we keep some of these changes, that we, as a society continue to put aside our preconceptions and continue to care. Two are better off than one, for they can help each other, succeed.
Over the last month, we have seen storms Ciara, Dennis and Jorge. Their disarming names belying the carnage they have caused with flooding, scattered leaves, fallen trees and fences knocked down left, right and centre. We lost five panels to Dennis.
During each storm, I have looked out the window seeing the garden trees battling the wind and rain; shaking around like rag dolls at the mercy of the immense power of the wind and the rain. At times I was worried that the wind might be too much for the trees and the ferocity of the storm would cause the trees to snap and fall down. I became fixated on watching their dance waiting for the moment of their failure and demise.
Sometimes in life, we focus only on the things that are causing us to sway. We fixate on the storms that surround us whether they be social media comparisons, society’s pressures, illness, family issues, finance or something else. Like the trees, we tend to allow ourselves to be pushed around and controlled, often disproportionality by these worries.
Deep down I understand that we don’t need to fear the effects of the storms on the trees. The trees don’t have its foundations in the unpredictable and changeable weather but instead have strong roots in good foundational soil and those strong foundations mean there is little risk of falling over, so my worries were unnecessary.
It can be the same in life. We worry about the unpredictable, uncontrollable and often temporary storms of life and forget that we don’t have to put the foundations of our worth in these unreliable and unstable things. For me, I put my trust in the foundations that God supplies. This means that even when, like the trees, I am rocked by the storms of life I can know that I don’t need to fear those storms. My worth and value comes from my foundation in God. This knowledge helps me to stay standing despite the storms of life, I might sway but I will not fall.
We find ourselves in the grip of one of the most major storms that we have ever faced as the Coronavirus pandemic continues to develop. The fact remains though that my belief in a God that is greater and mores sustaining than any storm can and does give me peace in the circumstances.
When I meet people or as the case is now pass them at least 2m apart, that are going through storms in life, I offer to pray for them. Some accept, others decline. When I pray, I may ask God to help, but often I focus on giving thanks for the person and declaring the promise that God cares, God has a plan and a purpose, and He is a place of refuge in the storms of life. You might want to try it yourself sometime. When the storms of life get too much ask the God of the universe to be your foundation.
We read in Genesis 2 about a familiar tale, the creation of Adam.
Genesis 2:5–7 NIV
5 Now no shrub had yet appeared on the earth and no plant had yet sprung up, for the Lord God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no one to work the ground, 6 but streams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground. 7 Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.
In the bible the imagery of breath is often used to convey spiritual essence and power, unseen except in its effects, including aspects of the person and work of the Holy Spirit. The main Hebrew and Greek words translated as “breath” in the NIV are also translated as “spirit” and “wind”.
The breath of life—literally, of lives, not only animal but spiritual life. If the body is so admirable, how much more the soul with all its varied faculties: its emotions, intellect and will.
As well as working for the Vine, I work four days a week in the education software sector. I tend to spend my time working from London, Bedford, Nottingham and my favourite location home. The routes to these offices are very familiar, so much so, I could probably travel them with my eyes closed.
I was driving home from Bedford this week when I suddenly found myself not going along the A1 but rather going off it. I was happily drifting left, over the dotted white line towards the side of the road and off onto a slip road taking me somewhere I did not want to go. I realised that I was taking the wrong road, signalled and steered back onto the road.
I wasn’t distracted, I wasn’t asleep. So, why did this happen?
It was simple I just followed the road. My driving was not intentional, I simply followed the road, which at that point had turned into an exit to another road. I blindly followed the car in front of me not considering it was taking me somewhere I had not intended going. It is so easy to do that when you are driving. Especially when you are on a very familiar stretch of road and when you have been on that road for a considerable time.
Life is pretty similar - it is so easy to stay on the same old track or follow the people around you; not considering that the destination you are heading for is not the one that you really wanted to go to.
We read in Matthews Gospel [Matthew 2:1-12] of the Magi (Wisemen, Three Kings - although they were not kings nor were there three of them) following a star to find a King.
December is here. Excitement builds as the month races on.
In a distant place people await a hero to give the oppressed hope, a leader to bring victory over the powers of darkness and tyranny. People gather around this figure expectantly. The anticipation of this event has been told by many, over years. Throughout the galaxy, there have been hints and rumours and now this icon is taking their place, to fight the final fight, the deciding battle where good will triumph.
December the 20th sees the latest episode in the epic story that is Star Wars hit the silver screens. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t just a little excited.
A few thousand years ago in a distant place, rumours of the coming of a great leader were whispered throughout the region, mentioned in scriptures and conversations. These were stories of someone who would change the course of history. A saviour that would conquer evil and bring hope to generations. A leader that thousands would follow, that would lead the way in the triumph of good.
As we approach Christmas amongst the tinsel and turkey, presents and pudding we remember the birth of a man of history; Jesus. We don’t, however, think of him as powerful and world changing but as a defenceless baby swaddled in clothes, born in humble surroundings. The image of that baby does not foretell the miracles that he would perform, or the impact on history and everyday life that would still be present some two thousand years later. What we see when we look at this child in Christmas scenes or school nativity plays is love: The love that Mary and Joseph would have had for their new-born, and the love that God has for all humankind. Within the child there was the spark of possibility, what would this new life hold, what would he be as child, as a teenager, as a man.
I wonder how many looked at that baby and could see the possibilities and potential that was within him that would lead him to fulfil all that was written in scripture before he was born, not many, I guess. And yet as a man who travelled no more than a few hundred miles, who wrote no books and led no armies: His life changed the course of human history and has shaped the lives and cultures of millions across the globe.
When we look at the people and situations around us, I wonder how often we too miss the potential and the possibilities that are in those around us and in ourselves.
The concepts of love and possibilities are at the heart of Christmas whether your focus at this time of year is Jesus, family, presents or Star Wars, Maybe even all four of them.
This Christmas, I pray that you will know both the love of those around you and also the love that God has for you. That you will see the possibilities that are in you and the people you meet.
Have a Merry Christmas and you are welcome to join us at the Vine at any time as we celebrate Christmas the possibilities that Jesus brings.
I remember being asked at a corporate event, “Are you a leader or a follower?”
The discussion leader was trying to elicit a response that would determine who would lead the groups in the next highly important training task which from memory was which team could build a bridge to span the longest gap out of nothing but a copy of a newspaper and six inches of tape.
‘Are you a leader or a follower’ is an overly simplistic question; one which I think the only accurate answer is both.
On the day of building the newspaper bridge, I answered confidently “I’m a leader!”. We lost the competition possibly because everyone in the team also declared they were leaders.
At times we all need to be followers:
For the harmony of the group and success of a shared goal we sometimes need to follow.
For our own mental health, there are times we need to let others carry the burden.
For our credibility, we need to follow those who are better placed, equipped or skilled to do things we are not.
For our own development, we need to follow those we can learn off.
As a Christian, I also believe I need to follow God to keep spiritually healthy. I have a suspicion anyone who lives their lives solely as a leader is bound to fail and is displaying more arrogance than leadership skill.
As well as being followers all of us are called to be leaders at times. Some will be placed into a leadership capacity in an organised group such as leading our work colleagues in a team or scout, swimming, or football club. All of us at times have the opportunity (and sometimes necessity) to lead, neighbours, school friends, our families, children in activities and in how we interact with each other – this leadership is often about how we lead ourselves. Self-leadership is often overlooked but is an essential task, where we intentionally set out to do something in a specific way or change something about ourselves or the way we react to situation or others. As a follower of Jesus, the way I act, the things I do and say should reflect my beliefs. Those bits in the bible I have read about honouring people, defending the weak, clothing the poor, feeding the hungry have to be reflected in the way I lead myself. And that is before we get to the big one, ‘love your neighbour as yourself’. These things are not easy. Leadership is not easy whatever level of leadership it is.
Sometimes it feels easier to disengage and be only a follower, to have not cares and responsibilities.
Written on the wall of the room Mother Theresa lived in was the following words.
People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centred. Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway.
What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, will often be forgotten. Do good anyway.
Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.
In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.*
Words that I find help get through the challenges of leadership whatever level of leadership that is.
The answer to the questions, ‘are you a leader or a follower?’ needs to be “I am both”, it is not an either-or question. The difficulty is understanding when to be which and in what measure. That is something I am continually learning, often by getting it wrong.
* Mother Theresa’s poem is based on ‘The Paradoxical Commandments’ by Dr Kent M. Keith as part of a booklet for student leaders. More information can be found on the Paradoxical Commandments website and the Paradoxical Commandments for Christians site
As I sit writing this article, I am looking forward to a short break on the Island of Rhodes an island that is famed for both its beaches and its history. As many of you will have done prior to going on holiday I have been leafing through books, leaflets, and websites to find things to do, sights to see and places to visit. One of the things that caught my attention was the large number of mosaics that are on the island that survive from 300 or more years before Christ. Each of the mosaics is both beautiful and tells an individual story. Some tell stories that you may be familiar with from Greek mythology, like the story of the Medusa or Pegasus. Others tell stories that are now lost to history and other mosaics are there just for their own inherent beauty.
The definition for mosaic is an artwork or picture produced by arranging together small fragments (sometimes broken) of variously coloured material OR a combination of diverse elements forming a more or less coherent whole.
It strikes me that mosaic seems a pretty good description of lots of things. Let’s start with people. My life, like everyone else’s is made up of a range of different experiences, successes, failures, things I am proud of, things I regret. My personality is made up of some great characteristics and a good number of flaws (I’m not nice to be around when I’m hungry and tired, to name but one). What makes me, me is lots of little fragments, some of which are broken, arranged together. The same is true of each of us. Sometimes though, we focus on the individual parts, especially the boring bits and the broken pieces, the regrets and the mistakes rather than looking at the complete artwork that is you.
– Mosaics are made from broken pieces but are still amazing works of art – so are you.
Mosaic is a great description of the communities we live in. It doesn’t matter if we are looking at our street, village or wider. The essence of a Mosaic is caused by the variety of the pieces. If I consider my neighbours and friends, they are young, middle-aged, more elderly, English, French, Spanish, of Asian or African heritage, monetarily rich or just making ends meet, outgoing, shy, musical, tone-deaf, highly educated or just made it through school, fit and sporty or self-confessed “couch potatoes” Each are different and yet each brings a vibrancy to the community that I live and work in.
The Bible uses a different analogy for the importance of people within the church, that of the human body. 1 Corinthians 12:12 says ‘The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So, it is with the body of Christ.’ It then goes on to say although different, each is important in its own way and each and everyone is known to and valued by God.
If the tiles of a mosaic are all one shape and colour you don’t have a piece of art.
Each piece may be perfect but the whole is boring. It is easy to compare ourselves to others. it is harder to recognise that in the mosaic of life it is our differences that bring vibrancy and excitement to the community we inhabit.
I am looking forward to seeing those mosaics both in Rhodes and in Cherry Willingham.
With parliament prorogued and then not, as legal challenges raced through the courts, the future direction of the country seems less and less clear. It is easy to be concerned by the stories in the press of what a ‘no deal’ Brexit may mean or fear what may happen should Brexit be delayed. Trying to filter the facts from the hyperbole is difficult in the media at the best of times. Now, as we as a country, continue to tread an un-trodden path to Brexit, of one shape or another, or not and face a General Election or possibly not; certainty seems to be a distant concept. One thing that history and life experience have taught me is that we always live in times of change and trial, we are always having to adapt to the unknown and often unexpected.
The Church is often portrayed, especially in the media caricature that is television, as stale, unchanging and irrelevant. My view of the Church as a whole is far from that. Yes, there are some old church building and some churchgoers that favour music from the nineteenth rather than the twenty-first century but that is about style and taste and not about a lack of cultural relevancy. There are many vibrant and modern churches of all denominations, that flex their style to reflect popular culture changes and yet keep to a consistent and relevant belief. Whatever the style of church I see churches that are filled with people that care about our society, about injustice, about the environment and about the communities they are in. I see people and churches that are always adapting to meet the needs of society, providing support services to the elderly or those with debt or those feeling lonely and isolated. This is nothing new. The church has always done this but has adapted with the times – providing support through organisations like Christians against Poverty (www.capuk.org), and co-ordinating projects like Food In School Holidays (FISH) or Assist (www.assistlincs.org.uk) as just three examples out of many. Whatever the music or the age of the building it is clear that the Church is moving with the times, even in uncertain times.
There is one thing about the Church that is unchanging. That is the consistent nature of God. A God that is both immense and yet interested in each and every person on this planet. A God that poured out immense love and immeasurable sacrifice to bring certainty to believers both for today and for eternity; A God that commands his believers to feed the hungry, defend the cause of the poor and the needy and to love their neighbour whatever side of the Brexit debate they are on.
I have no idea what Brexit will hold – What I do know, is that whatever changes the political decisions bring, I serve a God that is unchanging. That certainty is both comforting and empowering as we move through these uncertain times. It is that certainty in God that allows me to pray for all our leaders that they will have wisdom, compassion and tolerance throughout this journey. I also pray for us as a country and a local community that whatever the outcome; we show the best of the human spirit by disagreeing well and being magnanimous in our views to people of other opinions.
“What do you say?” was the question I heard, followed by an emphatic “thank-you!” You can imagine the scene as an excited toddler was passed an ice-cream. I am sure most parents have uttered this phrase to their children to elicit either the ‘please’ or the ‘thank you’ that bracket the act of receiving of something desired.
This event made me prick up my ears to listen to people as the interacted with shop assistants, cleaners, serving staff and with other members of the community as I went about this week. Although the word ‘please’ was not always present, thank-you or a variant of it: ta, cheers, thanks, etc. concluded most interactions. I was surprised and pleased to note that this was generally true of all ages. It is not universally recognised of our children and young adults, that despite what the media may portray the vast majority of them (and of people as a whole) are polite and thankful.
Saying thank-you is a key element in showing both respect and confirming worth on people who do things for us. As I paid particular attention to the way people responded to each other I saw two circumstances when people didn’t thank others.
The first is even mentioned in the bible. According to Luke's gospel account, when Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus encountered ten lepers. He healed them, but only one returned to thank Jesus afterward. I imagine that all ten were grateful for their healing, all ten were glad that Jesus had met them but nine of the ten were so caught up in the excitement of being made well they omitted to say thank-you. They were like the toddler with the ice-cream. Who knows, perhaps the tenth leper had his mum with him prompting him with those familiar words “What do you say?”…
The second was where there was familiarity. The receiver of the service was so used to it they no-longer said thank-you. The guilty party was me; yet another coffee had appeared on my desk and I had not even acknowledged the maker. The first scenario is understandable we all get caught up in the moment especially when we are a toddler facing a huge ice-cream; the second is something I think we all should try and avoid. I am therefore making a double effort to be thankful this month. To thank people who do things for me. To be thankful to God for the blessings in my life, even the small ones like waking up each morning, or food on my plate and especially for cups of coffee on my desk.
Traditionally communities would come together to give thanks at this time of year. To give thanks for the harvest. This September the churches in the area will join together for such a thanks-giving service on Cherry Fields. While harvest time may not seem as relevant in the days of internet shopping it is a good reminder to give thanks, you might want to join us and say ‘thanks’ too. Even if this is not your ‘cup of tea’ ‘ I give thanks to God for all the people in the village.
I guess I should also say thank-you for reading this.
Here I am surrounded by groups of people excited by the prospect of travelling to far-flung places, waiting expectedly to fly off to exotic places, anticipating seeing loved ones or imagining how they will, in just a few short hours, be relaxing at the side of a pool or walking on a beach next to an azure sea. Regrettably, I won’t be joining them. As I sit in a hotel at Heathrow, I am here for work and won’t be boarding any planes, but it has started me thinking about holidays.
The first book of the Bible, Genesis, starts with the Creation story. God spent the first six days creating day & night, separating land & sea, forming animals & plants, and breathing life into humans. On the seventh day, He rested. Even given the enormity of creating the universe, I don’t for one-minute think that an all-powerful God was tired and needed a sit-down. Instead, I believe that God sets a precedent for each of us to set time aside to ‘take a break’, to have a Sabbath. In previous generations, this was a set day a week and there is something to be said about keeping a day set-aside for not working. But with the pressures of life in 2019, this is increasingly hard. That does not change our fundamental need to stop and rest.
Studies show that there are benefits to taking time out to rest, even just 24 hours. These range from reduced stress levels to increased immune responses. It is physically healthy to rest. People who take time out also tend to have better positive family relationships and even ‘enjoy’ work more; are more productive and have better short-term memory.
When God commanded us to take a rest, He did it in the full knowledge that as humans with free will, we are the only people who can grant ourselves a holiday. I don’t know what your plans are for the summer, but I do hope you give yourself a break. It doesn’t have to be a week on a far-flung beach; just some time doing something different or doing as little as possible whatever suits your personality. Taking time out alone or with family and friends to recharge physically, mentally emotionally and spiritually is both the focus of a holiday and of God’s command to rest on a Sabbath day. Holidays are less about where you go and more about giving yourself permission and time to take a break.
I pray that this summer you will grant yourself a rest, a holiday and that it will restore and refresh as God intended.
You may enjoy it enough that you make it a weekly event.
The bible is full of amazing stories that you would not expect to find. Many of us will be familiar with the ‘big stories’ that we hear at Easter or Christmas. We may even remember the stories that have become popular ‘picture story’ book subjects or the theme of children’s songs like the annoyingly catchy song about Noah, the Ark the animals that go in two-by-two.
One of the lesser-known stories is about a young man sitting listening to the Apostle Paul speak. Paul was going on, and on and the young man started to doze off. Unfortunately, for the teenager he was sitting in a third-story window, as he slept, he fell crashing to his death.
The question this story raised was why he fell; it wasn’t simply that he was bored to death. It was his position that led to his demise. The young man had withdrawn from the group, away from his friends to the edges of society. If he had been inside the room, he would have dozed and survived.
There are lots of reasons in today’s world that people find themselves either pushed or drawn to the edges of society:
The church has always provided support for people who need help. That help may be through having a safe space to chat about life, a place to have a sense of belonging and friendship or may be specific practical help.
Many of the large organisations like the Samaritans [ Tel. 116 123 ] have their roots in the church and some organisations are still linked to the church serving those that have a belief or have none. Organisations such as Christians Against Poverty [ 0800 328 0006 ] tackling debt or locally Assist [ 01522 370164 ] providing support for the lonely, isolated and those with mental health issues or those just struggling with life. These organisations (there are many more examples) are staffed by volunteers who want to help those on the edges of society.
The bible story I mentioned has a happy ending but if you want to know what happens you will have to find a bible or Google: Acts 20 v7-6.
If you or someone you know feels on the edge why not reach out to one of the organisations mentioned or contact us.
There is no reason to be alone on the edge.
Television is full of shows like, the X Factor, the voice or Britain’s got talent where people put them self in front of millions of others to prove that they have what it takes, to prove that they are worth something. To show the world that they are good enough. Some get the approval they are seeking. For others, they don’t receive the acceptance and fame they desire. At best the receive constructive criticism at worst ridicule.
I have to admit I can’t watch some of the early stages of the X-factor as I cringe and genuinely feel sorry for those who sought three minutes of fame but have been exposed to three minutes of shame on the name of entertainment. I struggle with watching kids hopes and dreams dashed in front of millions.
Our worth cannot be and should not be based on our efforts, abilities, or our achievements. All of which are subject to comparison and all of which will fade away. I believe that worth is founded in who we are not what we are. Our worth is intrinsic to our being, given as people created by a loving God who cares for each of us, believer or not.
I recently I discovered another programme, I don’t know if you have seen it, it consists of 100 boxes each with a person in. Someone comes and sings, them if the people in the boxes like it, they stand up and sing along.
There are some really good singers on it and there are some that are not so good. But there is always someone that gets up and sings along.
I didn’t expect to see a model for life on a Saturday night TV show, but there you go. In life, each of us is called to stand up and use the talents, skills and gifts we have – to sing the song of life we are given.
The rest of us are called to catch hold of that song, stand up with people and sing (or dance along). Paul writes so much about building each other up and encouraging each other (1 Thessalonians 5:11).
Not everyone has the X factor and we can’t delude people into thinking they have but we don’t have to destroy them in the process of telling them. We can be honest but gentle - Ephesians 4:29(NIV) is a good model:
29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.
And we can sing and dance along with the things they are good at.
Everyone wants it, everyone needs it, but giving it to others is not so easy. I am referring to forgiveness; something that everyone needs but is often hard to extend to someone who has wronged us.
If we live life, it is inevitable that we will be hurt or let down by others as surely as we will hurt or let down the people around us. How we respond to this pain is as critical to the relationships we have with those around us as it is to our own mental, physical and spiritual health. Someone once described unforgiveness as ‘drinking a deadly poison and expecting the other person to die’. Unforgiveness is more damaging to the one holding it, than to those it is aimed at
Some see forgiveness as the end of a journey, that forgiveness comes through time. Others, more accurately in my experience, see it as the start of a journey; deciding to forgive being the start of a path that may one day lead to reconciliation.
Many of us will have seen the infamous picture of the nine-year-old, Vietnamese girl running naked, arms thrown out in agony, her face caught in a contorted wail, skin burning following a napalm strike in 1972. An image that is hard to forget. Some twenty plus years later, Kim Phuc, stood before the soldiers who had rampaged through her home country and expressed forgiveness for what they had done,
“I am not involved in politics or religion. I just let them know it’s about the love of God and the love of people. That is more powerful than any weapon of war.”
Forgiveness was at the start of her journey.
As this magazine arrives, we will be approaching Easter, when Christians in the village and around the world gather to mark God’s forgiveness through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In turn, we are commanded to forgive others.
Ephesians 4:32 says, ‘Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other just as Christ has forgiven you.’ … that’s a high standard and not an easy task but this is the focus of Easter an act of forgiveness, given out of pure love and taking no account of whether those being forgiven deserve it, understand it, or accept it.
This Easter, amidst all the chocolate eggs and bunnies, take a moment if you need to forgive someone, to do just that and stop taking the poison that is unforgiveness, they may never know but you will be so much better for it.
With another Brexit vote defeat, the future direction of the country seems less and less clear. It is easy to be concerned by the stories in the press of what No Brexit may mean or fear the predicted unrest should Brexit be delayed. Trying to filter the facts from the hyperbole is difficult in the media at the best of times. Now as we as a country tread an un-trodden path to Brexit or not certainty seems to be a distant concept.
This feeling has been true throughout history and times of change and trial. The church is often portrayed as stale, unchanging and irrelevant. My view of the Church as a whole is far from that. Yes, there are some old church building and some churchgoers that favour music from the nineteenth rather than the twenty-first century but that is about styles of worship and flavour of church. There are many vibrant and modern churches of all denominations, that flex their style just as popular culture changes that are filled with Christians that care just as much about what happens outside the church anyone.
One thing that is true though is the unchanging nature of the church. This is not about style or social fit, this reflects the unchanging nature of God. A God that is both all-powerful and interested in each and every person on this planet. A God that poured out immense love and immeasurable sacrifice to reconcile me with him so that I can know Him and have certainty in that relationship today and for eternity.
I have no idea what Brexit will hold – what I do know though is that whatever changes the political decisions bring, I serve a God that is unchanging. That certainty is both comforting and empowering as we move through these uncertain times. It is that certainty in God that allows me to pray for all our leaders (both those of my political stance and those of other parties) that they will have wisdom, compassion and tolerance throughout these continued negotiations. I also pray for us as a country and community that whatever the outcome we show the best of the human spirit by disagreeing well and being magnanimous in our views to people of other opinions.
Romans 8:38-39 New International Version (NIV)
38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[a]neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
As you read this, thoughts of the New Year will have faded away and along with the memories of Auld Lang Syne, many of our new year’s resolutions will have been forgotten. I for one, am not very good sticking with those good intentions I had on January first. I find I set myself unachievable goals or far too many things to change.
This is common to a lot of people and is not a new concept. in the Old Testament, the Jewish Nation had literally hundreds of laws and rules to live by. When Jesus was asked which the most important commandment was. He condensed them all to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, your mind and your soul” and “love your neighbour as yourself” (If you want to read about this, Google Matthew 22:36-40)
These two simple phrases are at the core of how followers of Jesus try to live. They are easy to remember and yet are challenging to put into practice.
No matter what your thoughts are regarding God, treating others (our neighbours) with respect, dignity and compassion is at the heart of a good society. Many of us will connect with this idea on ‘commemorative days’ such as International Human Trafficking awareness day, Holocaust Memorial Day or International Women’s Day.
We may act to help the most needy or donating a can of food into the Food Bank collection point at a supermarket or coins into a rattling charity collection box.
How can we act well in society to put this ideal into practice on a daily basis? How can we ‘personally’ love those around us as if they were ourselves? This seems so difficult. J M Barrie author of Peter Pan is attributed with a quote that simplifies it.
“Be kinder than necessary”
If you have abandoned your resolutions or have already achieved them then maybe this is something, we all could consider. At every interaction, in the supermarket, at work, in the streets, even behind the wheel of the car in rush hour traffic ‘be kinder than necessary’ after all, that is how you and I would want to be treated.
Starting anything new always fills us with a mix of trepidation and excitement. As Jenny and I took over the reins of leading at the Vine, we certainly felt both. We have been in the village since 2003 and have been part of the leadership team of the Vine Church for a number of years. So, why is it, that all of a sudden, I was filled with those, oh so natural thoughts, of ‘what if I can’t do it, what if it all goes wrong, what if nobody likes me’?
As we approach the Christmas season, I am pretty sure similar ‘what if…’ thoughts were going through the minds of a young pregnant girl and her husband to be as they travelled to Bethlehem.
“What if the Journey is too much?”
“What if I’m a rubbish dad?”
“What if Joseph stops loving me, he knows this is not his baby?”
But behind the concerns and worries, there was hope, both the natural hope of what a new phase of life and a new baby brings but also the supernatural hope (or faith) that Mary had because of the promise from God about the baby she bore.
After all, she was carrying a very special child – one who would be called, as it says in Isaiah: Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
I tend to talk about faith and hope as related terms - faith is my hope and Gods certainty. I have many hopes for my time at the Vine. Two are simple, I hope to be able to meet and chat with many people about my hopes and I hope not to make too many mistakes on the way. Though I also have faith that God can do amazing things despite my mistakes (Romans 8:28).
Hope is a powerful emotion, one that overcomes loss, loneliness, fear and uncertainty. It is more powerful than happiness and as one quote puts it “for without hope, what do any of us have?”
So, as we approach Christmas, Jenny and I, and all from the Vine would like to wish you a happy Christmas and I pray for hope in all our lives as we start the new adventure that is 2019.
Making decisions under pressure is tough; the dangers and long-term consequences of making the wrong choice can be huge. Fear of being wrong can force us into not making a decision at all, while desperation can lead us to decisions we’ll live to regret.
Read Veronica's latest blog for the American Bible Society's "Blog.bible" site.
Have you heard of this principle? Evidently (sorry about the pun!) it’s a basic concept of forensic science – that when two people or things or places come into contact in any way, there’s always a trace left. The contact time can be extremely brief, a fleeting forgotten moment, but nevertheless, a trace is left behind. If you’re a fan of any of the police/detective series so popular at present, you probably know quite a lot about this field already. But for all of us, it’s an amazing idea – wherever you’ve been and whoever you’ve been with, you’ve left a trace of yourself there. You have changed the scene, leaving evidence of your presence.
This is a thought-provoking idea, especially for any of us who sometimes feel insignificant, unnoticed, or even invisible. Even when you’re feeling you don’t make any difference, and nobody has noticed you, the fact is, every time you go anywhere, you actually change the place, whether you’re aware of it or not.
Thinking about this I have gained a new insight into what is actually happening when I walk past some people at the bus stop, my feet making contact with the pavement each step I take, or when I sit on a seat on the train (which seat shall I choose? and who shall I sit next to, my sleeve touching theirs?) I know now that whoever I touch, even briefly, I will leave a little of myself with them. A few molecules will pass from me to them, sticking to them, remaining after I have forgotten I’ve ever seen the person or shared a space with them. Does this sound freaky? Or a surprising insight into how interconnected we are, and actually how powerful each of us is. We’re all changing the world constantly, as we move about, as we live, as we breathe. Perhaps a few molecules, tiny particles of hair or skin, don’t seem to matter, but the words we say, perhaps carelessly or moodily, or the touch of a hand, can remain with people long after we’ve left the scene…for better or worse, we can’t take it back.
Knowing we are constantly changing the world around us, for better or worse, should be a wake-up call. Today I read in my Bible,
“Be very careful then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity…Therefore do not be foolish…”
I shall try to keep this in mind today, remembering that everything I do, everything I touch, everything I say, leaves a trace.
Revd Veronica Podbury, Pastor of The Vine Community Church
Having sat waiting for the best part of an hour it would have been easy to have given up and gone home without donating but I had waited this long and anyway, this was my sixty-seventh donation so waiting a little longer wouldn’t hurt. I’ve been a blood donor since a few days after my eighteenth birthday. Originally going just to find out my blood group, I was soon going every few months. Although I have always been aware that the blood donated goes on to help others, the NHS Blood and Transplant Service (as it is now known) and its predecessors have always done a great job of educating the public of the value of blood, but to be honest to me it is background information to what has become a routine or habit.
Eventually, I was called forward the staff were apologetic for the delay and professional as ever. I signed the necessary forms and felt the stab of the ‘finger prick’ test. All good, not anaemic, so all ready to donate. I sat on a chair as the donor assistant prepared the bags and tubes that would receive my donation. As she stuck on the various hi-tech barcoded stickers, she also started to tie on a paper parcel tag, “An extra label for you”, she noted. I looked quizzically, intrigued by the comment and the antiquated paper label being tied to the sterile equipment. “Your blood is going to a neonatal unit for babies, look it says ‘neo’ on your donation form”. A warm feeling spread across me as the value of my blood suddenly became more real than any donation I had given before. Having briefly visited a neonatal Intensive care unit when my son was born I was struck by the potential this donation had to change the lives of young and old and to bring hope to those in despair.
Have you seen the Structures on the Edge on the Lincolnshire coast? Dave and I have only recently come across them, and we were fascinated. Because they are very unusual works of art/architecture, they will trigger some strong opinions – as you stand on our shoreline seeing their rather weird outlines against the seascape, you’ll probably be quite excited about them, or maybe you’ll hate them. They are meant to help us take a whole fresh look at our coastline, and “see” it in a new way, stopping to gaze on its natural beauty.
As I started writing this article I was unaware that I was about to be confronted by the sad news that my brother had taken his own life. I continue to write this a little over twelve hours later and the words of probably the most famous Psalm in the bible becomes particularly focused to me. Most people will have heard of Psalm 23, " The Lord is my shepherd, I will not want, he gives me rest in green pastures...". It is often read at funerals or printed in cards given to people in loss or at times of need. For me, knowing Jesus, the giver of peace the words of this Psalm are truth that brings comfort. Psalm 23 also highlights what I may be feeling if I did not have that relationship with Jesus. If you take God out of the Psalm the vision of peace and security the words portray is turned on its head.
History is strewn with examples of ethnic groups being disregarded, persecuted, or treated as less than human.
I have had the privilage of writing an article for the American Bible Society read how, isolated verses from the Bible have been used to justify such atrocities as the slave trade or anti-Semitism. But throughout the Bible we see God's intention to reach all races and nations with salvation (Genesis 12:2-3, Revelation 7:9). We see this the most clearly in the life of Jesus, who embodied God's love for all people, including the diverse ethnic groups right around him. As we take a closer look into Jesus's cultural milieu we can begin to understand the deep significance of his radical inclusion.
An Article in the American Bible Society by Veronica.
I am just about to set off again to America, to see one of my sons and his family. I’m feeling apprehensive because this time it’s going to be a different kind of journey. Normally it’s just one hop, no transfers, no lay-overs, no complications. But this time we are taking a bargain flight involving three separate planes and two airlines, both on the outward and homeward flight. And as I pack my suitcase I’m wondering, will I ever be reunited with it again, or will it be lost somewhere on that journey from Lincolnshire via Amsterdam then Detroit, then Philadelphia? I’ve already rung the first airline seeking reassurance, “Will you transfer our luggage for us, making sure it gets to the next plane, especially since one transfer time is only 35 MINUTES ?” The answer was not very helpful – “Just make sure when you get to the first airport you tell them you want everything to go to your final destination.”
So it’s all down to us, we must make sure we do that or risk everything getting lost in a limbo somewhere. I kept going with my questions, “And that short transfer time – how will we know where to go when we land in the confusion of yet another airport?”
The answer was concise – “Don’t wait till you land, talk to the crew on the way, and they can talk to the tower as you come in to land – the tower can give you priority – you’ll be brought straight in to the right place to go onward.”
You can see where I’m going with this, can’t you? This complicated journey we’re going on is similar to all our lives – so many sections, so many things that could go wrong, and you can end up stuck, without things you’ve relied on, never getting where you assumed you’d get to. And the answers the airline gave me, “Make sure you’re labelled for your final destination, not just the bit immediately in front of you.”
This life, like any long haul journey, has a destination of one sort or another, and we need to be sure that our final destination is God himself. We need to be ‘labelled’, not just assume we’ll end up there. To make sure, we need to talk to the tower – there’s someone there who’s able to control the air traffic, and send us help to bring us in to the right place at the right time. In my life I have no doubt who’s in the tower, watching over my journey – Jesus, the Counsellor, Friend, Redeemer.
Revd Veronica Podbury, Pastor of The Vine Community Church
If I say the words “holiday break”, what image comes to mind? Lying on a beach? Reading a book on a sun lounger? Clinging on to the side of a volcano? Strangely, it was the third of these which describes what my husband and I ended up doing recently. It wasn’t in the plan at all – we’d booked a brief dose of winter sun, really for health reasons, anticipating some relaxation in the Canary Islands for a few days. But as we strolled around the holiday resort, what caught our attention was the skyline – the dark jagged shapes of volcanoes rising up into the sky all around us. We were surrounded by them, and we just had to try climbing them.
We set off cheerfully from the resort, bottles of water in a rucksack and hats to keep off the sun. As we neared the steep slopes we saw what you couldn’t see from a distance – they were completely covered with a loose layer of rocks. As we started to climb, our feet constantly slipped, and as you went higher you felt at every moment you were about to slide down, hurtling down the rock-strewn sides, unable to stop, the sharp volcanic rock cutting into your unprotected skin as you descended (shorts and teeshirt remember!)
Did I pray as I struggled up the rockface? (I’ve noticed how prayer is often forgotten when we need it most!) You bet! I prayed quite desperately, including all the scriptures about our feet not slipping, and angels being sent to look after us. I “reminded” myself and God (I bet he loves that!) about these as my knees trembled and I grabbed hold of any rock which looked like it might actually be attached to the side of the volcano. It’s at scary times like this that your faith gets a reality check, and you realise your belief that God is with you in your struggle is all you have to hang on to.
I inched my way upward, not daring to look down, until at last Dave announced we’d reached the top. The wind was gusting powerfully from the Atlantic (my hat had long ago been removed). I sat down quickly, frightened that I may be blown off. Be careful! I shouted to Dave as he stood taking photographs. Then something embarrassing happened; an old man and his wife arrived on the top. He was at least eighty years old, white hair, spindly legs etc, and she wasn’t much younger. Each had a long walking stick and seemed unperturbed by what they’d just done, standing confidently on the summit. They gazed across to the high narrow ridge that connected this volcano to another one. The wind continued to howl around us. I think we’ll try that too, the old man murmured. I was horrified – surely, they’d be blown straight off, but then I watched as they dug their tall walking sticks in. Words from the Good Shepherd psalm Thy rod and staff comfort me...no evil will I fear crossed my mind. Leaning on their staff, they could go safely where others couldn’t. A picture of faith in God, the Shepherd who goes with us wherever we go.
"Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the temple of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths." Isaiah 2:3
At the beginning of another year of work and responsibility, when the festive season is long gone, the bright lights packed away, we tend to concentrate on all the hard stuff that lies in front of us – months of it stretching out into the year ahead. We may be deeply concerned at the world around us, and some of the trends we see.
But God’s Word says, focus on a whole different set of things – “... whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.” Philippians 4:8 NIV
So instead of looking of all the grind, and the possible disappointments (and disappointing people!) we should look towards the things and people showing themselves to be pure, noble, standing for what is right... and it will change our way of thinking.
In January we can look ahead at possible difficulties which may occur in the year – health problems for us or someone close to us, job insecurity or family problems. We can see ourselves as vulnerable, even alone, with problems too big for us to cope with.
But the Bible assures us the reality is different – “The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you: he will never leave you or forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” Deut 31:8 NIV
We’re not on our own facing things that are about to come at us – our Lord is going in front of us and he’s not going to go away and leave us on own – doesn’t that make you feel better?
Singing may be the last thing on your mind if you’re feeling low, but there’s a powerful prescription in God’s Word to change the chemicals in your body and lift you up again – it’s praise.
In Psalm 40 we read about God turning to us in response to our cry – and what does he do next?
The psalmist answers that question, “He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire, he set my feet upon a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.” Psalm 40:2-3 NIV
We think about praise as something we give to God, but actually we find especially if we praise him even when we don’t feel like it, we actually begin to feel better. It’s not God’s will for us to be down and depressed – he wants to lift us up again. He’ll even give us a new song to sing.
I spend a lot of time telling stories. As you may know, I’m a writer, and I love to go into schools to read to young people from my books, then draw out of them their ideas, encouraging them to love words and stories and the truths about life hidden within them.
Of course most of my time is devoted to the church, but in a way it’s more of the same thing, but this time telling stories with a single central theme – about how God breathed life into us, how our lives are destined to be interweaved with his greater eternal purposes, that each life is a journey with a hidden goal of finding our way back to God. It’s a wonderful story of life extending eternally, not ending in death, but with God reaching out to us in Jesus Christ, to overcome the limits of time and the troubles of this present world.
This Christmastime, I’ll be at my usual business of stories. You’ll find me in the library session in the Vine Centre near the shops on Saturday 10th December from 10.30am with a team of readers, telling Christmas stories of many types and from many places. It’s principally aimed at children, but as we know, a good story is for everyone who has ears to listen.
Also on Saturday the 10th at 3:00pm, come and join us for carols and mince pies
KISS is an acronym for "Keep it simple stupid" as a design principle noted by the U.S. Navy in 1960. The KISS principle states that most things work best if they are kept simple rather than made complicated; therefore, simplicity should be a key goal and unnecessary complexity should be avoided.
We live in an increasingly complex world, where we are bombarded by information, are constantly multi-tasking and required to ‘spin plates’ in terms of managing all the things we need to remember and do.
We seem to extend this complexity to the relationships we have with the people around us. Some are fiends, some colleagues, some acquaintances, some live near us, some are our peers, some are poor or disadvantaged, some locals and others foreigners. We form options and treat them all differently.
When I read Matthew 22: 37-40, I wonder if Jesus had the KISS principal in mind when he was asked what the greatest commandment was. Rather than picking from the tens of thousands of words in the Old testament law or arguing over keeping all ten of the ‘Ten Commandments’. Jesus kept it simple, replying,
‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.
Condensing the rules for life down to two tenants, that are as applicable to harmonious life today as they were then, Jesus brought simplicity to how our relationships with God and our fellow humans should be.
How about taking a 24 hour Kiss Challenge?
For 24 hours - Love God with all you heart, mind and soul AND love the people around you as yourself, no matter who they are, what their background, race, or any other characteristic is.
You never know this may change the world. After all, things work best if they are kept simple.
This weekend is Halloween. Halloween means Holy evening, the day before all Saints day. Whatever the background and thoughts on its place in modern society, it is and always has been a day that people focus on all that is scary. Did you know that there are hundreds of things to be afraid of? For example, some people have what is called Acerophobia, which is the fear of foods being sour. – slice of lemon, anyone?
Still others are afraid of chopsticks, numbers, and certain fabrics. These may sound like silly fears to us, but to some people, these fears are real!
Others have Catoptrophobia, which is not the fear of cats, but the fear of mirrors. To be fair sometimes when I look in the mirror first thing in the morning, it is scary!
Last week we went away for a few days. We went to Northumberland. We had a fantastic time as we visited, the Angel of the North, Hardrian’s Wall, the Northumbrian coast with it’s castle ruins and seaweed munching cows.
It was all lovely and relaxing, that is until we decided to go to “Go Ape”.
If you have not heard of ‘Go Ape’, It entails climbing up and walking between trees by moving along wire bridges, tarzan swings, hanging ropes and Zip Wires. All the time you are clipped in with a climbing harness. We went around with huge smiles on our faces. We had a great time fuelled by adrenalin and secure that we were safe. That is until I stepped off a platform some fifty feet above the ground. Just at that moment I had a flickering doubt, I did clip onto the safety wire, didn’t I?
The fact I am typing this suggests that I did, although the feeling of my stomach knotting and the photos of my panic stricken face reveal that this was a genuine fear. My fear was real as I lost trust in the equipment provided to save me.
Some psychologists suggest that the human brain expresses only two fundamental emotions, love and fear and from these two, all other emotions are experienced.
As Christians we are called to live in God's love and not to live in fear. When we live in fear we react to it, instead of acting against our fear.
When we live with love we have excitement, generosity, trust and courage.
Love strengthens and empowers, whereas fear weakens and disables. God’s love is a perfect love and we are told that perfect love, like a light dispelling darkness, casts out all fear. We read in the bible,
“Fear not for I am with you, do not be dismayed for I am your God I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand"
For me ‘Go Ape’ - was hard work, it was scary but also exhilarating and the rewards were great, but you have to trust in your equipment.
Life with God is similar, it can be hard work, it can be scary but it is exhilarating and the rewards are great, but you have to trust in God, a God who is for us and desperate to step in and catch us should we fall.
Mark Twain wrote.
With courage you will dare to take risks, have the strength to be compassionate, and wisdom to be humble. Courage is the foundation of integrity.
If this is true, what more do we have, what greater things can we achieve when this courage is provided because of God’s love.
So which will you choose to live by? Fear or love?
The above question was asked just recently in a discussion group I was part of, and everyone present felt very challenged by it. Why? you may ask, What does it even mean? It’s all about your life, or to be precise, your lifespan. You know how in an obituary, or on a gravestone, the number of years of a person’s life is written down like this, for example, Harriet Smith 1945 — 2015. The actual years are represented by that —. It’s strange, isn’t it, your whole life represented by a dash, and only you can decide what you will do it.
I’m more than half-way through my dash, that is, I’ve used up more years than I’ve got ahead. I hope that doesn’t sound miserable, because actually I feel really good about the years I’ve got left. The reason? I know what my priorities are, and I’m aiming to focus my remaining time on these things, on what really matters to me.
So what are my priorities? Here’s a big one – to focus on eternal things – that’s why I work for the Church – I seriously believe that human beings live on after this brief earthly life is over, and we need to know we have a place with God after we die, (we don’t get it automatically, it’s a matter of choice and will) and that the life beyond this life is much more wonderful than what we experience here. Does that sound weird? It’s actually mainstream Christianity but it doesn’t always get expressed as bluntly as that. So I spend time sharing that truth, that we can only have the life we were designed for if we are fully connected to God through Jesus.
Another priority – to focus on people who are marginalised, left out, not given a fair chance. How fantastic that we have the chance to radically alter the path of a person’s life by giving them a chance to develop their potential. I’ve just signed an agreement to sponsor a little girl called Katteryn – she’s 8 years old and lives thousands of miles away in Guatemala in a hut with a dirt floor and tin roof, and lives with an aunt so probably doesn’t have parents. The area she lives in is very poor indeed. Dave and I have decided we will learn to speak Spanish so that we’ll be able to go and visit her to show we care about her. Isn’t that exciting? I didn’t even know where Guatemala was - I had to look it up on a map- but now I know there’s a young girl there whose life is going to be better because our lives are linked together. One day we’ll give each other a hug and introduce ourselves properly.
Life can be so exciting – what are you doing with your “dash”?
I remember standing there in my bright yellow bridesmaid’s dress with the ruffles down the front, alone in the crowd. All around me the room was full of excited family members – cousins, aunties, uncles – everyone in the large extended family was there, and they were having a ball. Everyone, it seemed, except for me. I was 100% miserable. It’s so long ago now that I can’t even remember why I was so desperately unhappy. But to this day I still can recall the feeling of embarrassment and even shame at not being able to join in the merriment. It seemed the more my mother told me to “just join in!”, the more I was unable to. She wanted, even expected, me to dance along with the others, and I just couldn’t. So I stood there and bawled while everyone else danced and had a great time.
How old was I? you may be wondering. Oh, I can’t really remember, probably about six or seven. It was towards the end of a long hot day at the wedding of a cousin, and telling a tired earlier version of me to “Just get into the spirit of it!” only made it worse.
So what’s the relevance of this to the June version of the Cherry News? It’s this – we’ve just had a Christian feast day called Pentecost – something that most of us will have been unaware of. It’s referred to as the birthday of the Church – a time to celebrate the beginning of the group of people who came to be called Christians 2,000 years ago. What kick-started it all was an astonishing event which Jesus had foretold before he died – he told his followers that after he rose from death and returned to heaven, they should wait in Jerusalem until they received “power from on high”. So they waited. They wouldn’t have known exactly what they were waiting for, but then...suddenly the spirit of God arrived in the place where they had gathered, with the sound of a rushing wind, and then flames of fire appeared on each of them, and these believers were changed. Filled with God’s Spirit, now they were able to do what Jesus had done – miracles, healings etc and they started a movement which swept the whole world. This is something I’m happy to write about because I’m on the inside of the experience of sensing God’s Spirit in my life –I’ve seen many wonderful things happen which can’t be otherwise explained. I’m so grateful that I’m not in the same situation as when I was a six-year-old bridesmaid, left on the edge, unable to join in the joy. God’s Spirit brings so many good things to the people he created. Enjoy! (Get into the Spirit!)
The theme of recognition just won’t go away! It started sometime around Palm Sunday, with the whole issue of whether any of the people around Jesus as he entered into Jerusalem that day really recognised him for who he was.
Even Jesus’ mother, who’d had revelations from heaven both before he was born (Angel Gabriel appearing in person to tell her) and later, for instance, the two extraordinary prophetic interventions at the Temple when Jesus was eight days old, by Simeon and Anna . On seeing the infant Jesus, Simeon, called into the Temple that day by the Holy Spirit, called out to God, “My eyes have seen your salvation!.. a light for revelation to the Gentiles...”, affirming he was now ready to die. Despite hearing this, Mary reacted just like the mother of any ordinary child when Jesus was “lost” for a whole day. Travelling away from the city after celebrating Passover they turned back in alarm when they realised they didn’t have Jesus, aged 12, with them. There was no sign that she was bearing in mind his unique identity when they found him in the Temple speaking with great wisdom to the learned teachers. She says bluntly, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” (Luke 2:48 NRSV)
His calm reply, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” is commented on in Luke’s Gospel ‘But they did not understand what he said to them.’ Not much recognition at that moment, certainly.
Then, quite shockingly, the account in Mark 3:21 of how, when Jesus was surrounded by pressing crowds and couldn’t get a chance to eat – “When his family heard it, they went to restrain him, for people were saying, ‘He has gone out of his mind.’ “ It’s worth noting that this followed some wonderful healings which Jesus had just done. Where was the recognition of what actually was going on ?
It should make us feel much more compassionate to one another when we fail to recognise Jesus in our lives – fail to see his hand guiding us, his Spirit leading us, and the destiny which he is calling us into. We either forget or get distracted by everything else.
The truth is, Jesus is right in front of us, present and active in our lives. God open our eyes to recognise Him.
This last week I rushed back from working in Nottingham to go and give blood. This was my sixty-first donation and so was nothing out of the ordinary.
Having drank my large glass of water, filled out my health screening questionnaire and had my finger pricked to check I was OK to donate, I sat back in the reclining chair and relaxed as the donor technician prepared to take my blood. As she cleaned my arm and was just about to insert the needle I casually remarked, “that’s the bit I hate most, the cleaning swab really makes my skin itch”. The lady who had just been about to stab me (I mean carefully and professionally insert the needle) looked at me and apologetically announced, she would have to report this, and speak to the doctor on duty. She kept apologising but she had to follow protocol. From the way she kept saying sorry and noting that “I bet you wish you hadn’t said anything” it was clear that she was not worried but the rule book had to be followed and the rule book stated she should be concerned, and duly she was. Eventually I was judged to be OK to donate, my arm was not going to drop off, just as it hadn’t on the last sixty donations. She deftly inserted the needle, took the vials of blood for testing and left me to it. After a short while I was done, the needle removed, the plaster applied and I was off to have the obligatory cup of coffee and a biscuit.
There I sat cupping my coffee in my hand, my mind on other things, or maybe on weighing up if taking a second mint flavoured Club biscuit was allowed when somebody dropped something behind me, I didn’t react to the clattering and I didn’t react to the donation assistant calling, “are you alright?” from across the room, she was obviously speaking to the person who had dropped something. The next moment she comes rushing across clearly to help whoever had dropped their belongings. But no, she stopped squarely in front of the obviously unresponsive gentleman who was not responding to sudden loud noises or to her calls of concern… Me!
In a very concerned voice asked again “are you alright?”
“Me? Yes! Oh, sorry I thought you were asking someone else” I embarrassingly replied. As I sat now trying to hide behind my cup of NHS coffee, I reflected on how twice I had seen people really concerned about me but how different the source of their concern was. One concern was driven by following the example laid down by a set of ‘standard operating procedures’, the other’s concern driven by their response to, what to them, was perceived as an unfolding crisis’. No matter what the driver for the concern, the concern was real and the actions the concern caused were both compassionate and effective.
As a Christian, the Bible tells me to be concerned for my neighbour. The Bible in many ways can be considered a Christian’s standard operating procedure. Sometimes we glimpse an unfolding crisis on the television, in our families or neighbourhoods and the Holy Spirt compels us to act. Other times it it is difficult to know how to respond. In a world where there are so many competing pressures it is not always easy to follow the example of Jesus and love those around us (no matter who they are), it is not always clear how we should act through compassion to be effective. The key thought is that we never stop being concerned by the plight of others, that we never do nothing just because the task is big or we aren’t sure what to do.
As we come into Lent, a time of giving things up and sacrifice, why not give up some of your time or resources and spend some time being concerned. Help a neighbour, volunteer to help the needy, give time or money to those who need more than you, click for more ideas.
Or maybe just go and have a nice relax while a caring, compassionate and thoroughly professional member of the NHS Blood Donor service relieves you of some blood. You even get a drink and biscuit for your troubles, not to mention the feeling you have done something good.
1 John 3:17-18New Living Translation (NLT)
17 If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion—how can God’s love be in that person?
18 Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions.
Heard what various experts have been predicting will happen in 2016?
They include: doctors prescribing computer role-playing games to relieve anxiety and depression, the biggest supermarket chains losing out as we change our shopping habits to smaller providers, and that we’ll get into monitoring our own body’s health by means of wearing personal trackers, and we’ll use the information to demand better individual medical provision. Interesting.
More chilling predictions were made too: the rise of the far right in Europe, and continuing chaos in the Middle East...
The trouble with predictions is that no matter how “expert” anyone is in their field, the biggest changes and challenges are generally not foreseen. Nobody predicted the appalling rise of brutal terrorism in 2015, with shameless medieval violence being paraded on the internet. After everything we’ve seen, we have no illusions about what may happen. But knowing this, how should we live in 2016? The answer lies in the Bible –
Live in peace with each other... Encourage the people who are afraid. Help those who are weak. Be patient with everyone.Be sure that no one pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to do what is good for each other and for all people.
Always be joyful.Pray continually,and give thanks whatever happens. That is what God wants for you in Christ Jesus.
Do not hold back the work of the Holy Spirit. Do not treat prophecy as if it were unimportant.But test everything. Keep what is good, and stay away from everything that is evil.
Now may God himself, the God of peace, make you pure, belonging only to him. May your whole self—spirit, soul, and body—be kept safe and without fault when our Lord Jesus Christ comes. 1 Thessalonians 5
It happened in a couple of seconds. One moment I was driving along in the warmth of my car, listening to Radio 4, heading towards home. I’d just joined the M180. Now it was 6pm and the traffic was moving fast, people wanting to get home from work as quickly as possible. I was either in the middle or outside lane when I saw a large piece of metal tubing lying on the motorway in front of me. I immediately took avoiding action, but swerving or emergency stops are not possible when surrounded by speeding motorway traffic. I felt the metal object strike my front wheel and the immediate deflation. A second later I was on the hard shoulder.
Shakily, I flicked on the hazard warning lights, turned off the engine and reached for my phone to call the RAC. They said they’d come as soon as possible. I rang Dave next – he said, get out of the car and on to the bank. I said, there’s no bank – the land falls away on the other side of the barrier. Anyway, I got out, hitched up my skirt and climbed over the barrier in my heels to stand in the few inches of long grass before the land dipped away steeply. And there I stood, as the lorries thundered past and darkness fell... I prayed for protection from the danger of the traffic, and from any drivers of ill intention. Waiting in the dark I got colder, watching the lights flash past me. Strange how everything can change so quickly, from comfort to vulnerability, sunshine to blackness, all in a moment.
The RAC arrived and removed the wheel which had a section of tyre torn away from it, and got the spare from the boot. I didn’t relish the thought of driving home, but was grateful to have escaped unharmed.
Later, Dave said a front tyre being wrecked like that could have been really bad. I believe I had been protected – I had not been completely alone on the motorway, in spite of appearances. The danger had been there, but the Angel of the Lord had been there too. I’m thankful. I know the truth of this verse - Psalm 34:7 “The Angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them.”
Not “turned off” or “turned on” but completely, radically turned forever. Sounds like an odd question, doesn’t it? Like something from the spy series Spooks, when a spy working for one side is convinced, by whatever means, to change sides. He or she may look the same, but in fact they have changed – they now have a different motivation, and obey a different authority
A curious title for a post.
We are a church without a building and without a defined parish, in the traditional sense.
So who do we serve and where is our focus?
I’m writing this on the morning of Election Day here in Britain, aware that whatever individual people decide to do will influence our future for years to come and will even affect the lives of people living far beyond our own nation. Decisions about whether to engage in wars or whether to extend compassion to desperate people, decisions about law and punishment and what kind of society we choose to be will be influenced by which box you and I put a cross in when our moment of decision comes.
We read how it happened – how the Romans, experts in execution, made absolutely sure Jesus really was dead, piercing his body as it hung on the cross, letting out his separated blood, and how his body lay sealed in the tomb until the third day. Then, as he had predicted, he lived again. And we just can’t take it in – the disciples struggled to believe it even when the risen Jesus walked into the room.
We live in an age when faith, long-term, constant, reliable faith is unfashionable. People think it’s a virtue to avoid commitment.... “Don’t count on me!” they say - “I may, but also.. I may not. But that’s all right, isn’t it?” And we all say, “Well ....yes, ok”, not wanting to appear to be heavy or demanding. We all surf around, we channel-hop, we swap where we shop, we mean to call again, but don’t get round to it, we click to join an internet wave of response to a You Tube video, but we don’t want to be counted on for more than that. The first Palm Sunday shows it’s not just us today in 2015 . Being unreliable, not committing ourselves is human nature. Follow the crowd. If it’s the trend, we want it. If it’s not, forget it , dump it.
Just recently I found myself reflecting back over 2014 and some of the good things that had happenedin the Vine Community Church – it had been a very full year, not only the usual Sunday morning services at Cherry Willingham and Fiskerton but other things – the events for young people, the schools work, the community choir, the book club, and several of us supporting vulnerable members of our community through “Assist” or the Journeyman Project.
But now we’re two months into the 2015, so I’m asking the above question. What I mean is, how’s the first part of 2015 been for you?
It’s quite common to hear life described as a journey. The image which springs to mind may be heavily influenced by Shakespeare’s Seven Ages of Man – a poignant but depressing description of decline:
“.....one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms.
Then, the whining schoolboy....”
How much influence do you think you have? Your answer is likely to be something like “Not very much”. Ever felt ignored, overlooked, unnoticed or insignificant? We may think it’s famous people
who have the most influence over our lives but that’s not actually true! It’s those closer to us who have the most effect – our mothers, friends, fathers and neighbours – they have the power to lighten up our lives, or make our lives miserable.
Jesus said that we can be a powerful influence for good in this world by being “salt” and “light”.
Why salt? Because it keeps things from going bad (and also adds flavour!)
And light? Because only light can overcome darkness.
Did Jesus say how we could become this powerful influence for good? He said we couldn’t do it on our own, but if we opened ourselves up to him, his light would flow through us to everyone we are connected to.
“.. you are living with evil people all around you, who have lost their sense of what is right. Among those people you shine like lights in a dark world” Philippians 2:15 (ERV)