Worship is service

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Reflections based on Romans 12:1–21.

‘Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering.’

This passage focuses on the fact that our everyday lives should be about keeping in step with God. The Message translation is great at putting this point across. I like the challenge it gives us right at the start not to be moulded by our culture, as I think that is a danger we can all slip into so easily – without realising it.

The richness of truth in today’s reading is amazing. But much of it is so simple: if we put our focus on God, simply doing what He asks us to, He will change us for the better. It puts it in such a matter of fact way. We should find out what it is God wants us to work at then focus on just that. The image of the body used in verses 4–6 is a vivid picture of how each of us has a God-ordained function.

So worship is not just about what we say but also about what we do. Colossians 3:23–24 sums up how we can worship through daily tasks: ‘Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since…it is the Lord Christ you are serving.’

The second part of our passage today covers so much of what we can do within a life of worship (loving each other, helping those in need, living at peace, looking after ourselves so we don’t burn out). Each one of these is an important aspect of worship. 1 John 3:17–18 goes so far to say, ‘If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.’ Sobering stuff…

Question: Have you considered helping the poor, or fulfilling your role within the church family, to be an act of worship before? How should that change your attitude towards such things?

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Why I’m glad my friends aren’t nice…

beth-new-cropped-w179I’m so pleased Beth Moran agreed to write a guest blog for my site. She is a brilliant writer, drawing the reader in right from the word go in the way she constructs her storylines. Her characters are totally believable and we get to share the best and worst moments of their lives. In honour of Women’s Friendship Month, on this last day of September, I asked Beth to write about the importance of friendship in women’s lives. This is one of the themes that weaves throughout her latest novel, I Hope You Dance, which centres around Ruth, a woman in her thirties who has just lost her husband. She discovers he has left her with a mountain of secret debts so she and her teenage daughter have to move back into her parents’ home. Ruth has to learn to face her past, present and future head on…

I’m going to come right out with it: for a long time, I had big issues with Christian women. Well, not all of them. It was the nice ones I had a problem with. The ones that always smiled, and said encouraging things, who made little jokes about their own deficiencies while their faces glowed and shiny hair sat perfectly in place. Those women who never complained, or gossiped, or growled at anyone. Who tirelessly served others, forsaking the last piece of cake so someone else could have two. Not once kicking up a fuss or making a mess or forgetting a birthday.

Don’t get me wrong, I genuinely liked these women. My issue was, I didn’t trust them.

Oh, I trusted them to do what they promised, to keep a secret, to be kind.

I didn’t trust them to be my friend.

I didn’t trust them when they said, “Well done, you were fantastic!” or “It was so wonderful to see you!” or told me how gorgeous I looked, or what a mess their car was or how they totally understood why I just kicked a chair across the kitchen.

I was dubious about the fact they were doing “really well!”, had an amazing time – every time, no matter what or where or how long the time. I didn’t quite believe they always loved being a mum, or a wife, or a Christian, or none of those things, as much as it appeared. And I couldn’t accept they liked me.

Instead, I felt comfortable with those who were blunt, who sometimes shouted at their kids in public, who made loud, large mistakes. I found myself spending time with women whose houses were a tip, honoured they invited me into the chaos. Grateful they were honest enough to tell me when they’d had a flaming row with their husband, or felt useless and weak, or were too tired to pray anymore. Or that I’d hurt them.

I loved these women, who welcomed me with open arms into their imperfections. I felt safe to be imperfect, too. These were the women I could turn to when I couldn’t forgive, or struggled to do the right thing, or I wanted a genuine answer to “Does my bum look big in this?”

But a weird thing happened. Me and these non-nice women, over time we learnt to have our rants in private, to share our fears, our troubles, our sins, with coffee in our messy living rooms not after Sunday services.

Together we learnt to lean on each other before things reached snapping point. To share advice and faith and lessons we’ve learnt about living well.

And then I realised this: nice women let off steam from time to time. They can feel angry and worried and overwhelmed, just like the rest of us.

The women who appear strong and assured in public, who are pretty darn fantastic at what they do; the women who can laugh at the days to come, despite current trials, or past pain – those women have learnt the value of true friendship in private. To cherish a small number of absolute, 24/7, warts and all people in their life. Those who cheer us on, who pray with us, who help us to be the women we were created to be. Those friends who tell us when we need to find a better balance, or stop whining and get moving, or where to go and have a decent bra fitted.

When we have a few, well-chosen people we can be our worst selves with, we are able to face the rest of the world as our best selves.

I don’t know if I’ll ever be thought of as one of those nice women. I’m embarrassingly honest, prone to getting feisty and I have a sense of humour that hovers on the boundaries of taste. But I’m okay with that. And I’m so grateful that some women love and trust me enough not to be nice to me all the time. It’s how I know they count me as their friends.

9781782641704Beth’s latest book, I Hope You Dance, is available now, and is published by Lion Fiction.

The value of wisdom from elders

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Each one of us hopefully learns a great deal through our lifetime, but what do we do with that knowledge? Does it go with us to our graves, or do we learn to share it with others graciously, and without expectation for the way they will use it?

Looking to the older generation for advice seems to have gone out of fashion these days, perhaps partly because families no longer live with or near each other. I don’t know if it is the computer generation with its instant answers from Google (although I suspect it happened long before the internet), but the younger generation doesn’t seem to want to ask for advice and wisdom from their elders. Titus 2 talks about older women offering encouragement to younger women to live their lives well, and I think that’s a great model for us all.

While methodology may change (I still cringe when I think of some of the advice I and my friends got as young mums from older women) those who have journeyed further along life’s path can be a huge source of wisdom, and it is foolish not to tap into it. Surely that’s something of what church family is about? It is both disrespectful and arrogant to think that these people have nothing to offer us in terms of advice and wisdom, so how can we make ourselves more open to it?

And those of us who are no longer spring-like teenagers or in our twenties should also consider what our life lessons have been along the way so far. What wisdom might we have to pass on to those who are younger (in age but also in their faith)?

To read the rest of this article, please click here.

How to be better at encouragement

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I’m terrible at encouragement. Particularly at encouraging my husband.

There, I’ve said it.

It’s a hard one to admit; particularly when it was the first thing I spoke on when I took over the women’s ministry at church. But I could see how we were all desperately crying out for more encouragement. When I started putting together my talk I began to realise how bad I was at encouraging those close to me.

I am married to a man whose primary love language is words of affirmation. And that is probably way down there on my list: practical help does it for me. (Isn’t it funny how God so often seems to pair us up with a life partner whose love languages are the opposite of our own? Is it His sense of humour or the best way to rub those rough edges off us? Probably both…)

Sometimes I have literally had to force myself to speak words of encouragement to my husband (not because he didn’t deserve them but because it doesn’t come naturally!). I’ve learned how important this is to him and it makes such a huge difference in our relationship. It’s a great discipline for all of us to cultivate, especially if you know encouragement is something you are not good at.

I also have to check myself – and I know I fall down all the time – as I have a tendency to nag. But, as I’m told so often, words of encouragement get better results than nagging…

So here are some things I’ve learned about the importance of encouragement:

The Bible teaches it

Throughout the Bible we can see examples of encouragement. So many of the main characters that we learn about in Sunday school had people around them to encourage them (think of how Jonathan rooted for David even when it pitted him against his father).

The New Testament letters often refer to building one another up. I love the Message translation of 1 Thessalonians 5:11: ‘So speak encouraging words to one another. Build up hope so you’ll all be together in this, no one left out, no one left behind.’

It makes a difference

Having someone consistently in your life that totally believes in you makes such a difference. In The Family You‘ve Always Wanted Gary Chapman, author of The Five Love Languages, recognises that: ‘From the smallest child to the oldest adult, when our fan club applauds us, we try harder.’

God wants us to become members of each other’s fan club, but how do we do that? Paul gave a good guideline when he wrote that everything we say should build up the one who is listening:

‘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’ (Ephesians 4:29, NIV).

Let’s get a bit more honest now. How often do we spend time with our friends moaning about various things or ‘sharing news’ (aka gossiping), when we could be using that time to build one another up?

To read the rest of this article, please click here.

How well do we listen?

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I have been struck recently with how bad I can be at listening. So often I am catching people at church, while needing to speak to countless others, so I can have half an ear on what they are saying, my eyes wandering around to catch the next person on my list – and of course a necessary eye on what my children are doing too. But God has been teaching me how bad a model that is.

Listening is a skill that needs to be learnt well. As the old saying goes, “You have two ears and one mouth, so listen twice as much as you speak.”

Who is it that you would say listens to you best? The person who grabs you quickly while on the way elsewhere, asks how you are and nods and smiles before zooming off? The one that takes more time, stands and listens but then begins to interrupt with their own story or advice on what you should do? Or the person who makes a particular arrangement to meet you, sits down, gives you their full attention by looking in your eyes and then simply sits quietly, taking it all in?
Being listened to is one of the main ways we can feel cared for. It gives us a sense of validation because another is interested in hearing about how we truly are.
Please click here for eight practical listening tips.

Learning how to ‘one another’

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‘One anothering’ is a term I have heard since the early days of our church (which started in 2003). While it may seem slightly strange – even old-fashioned perhaps – it is still one that continues to challenge and motivate me today.

So why ‘one anothering’?

There are 100 instances of the phrase ‘one another’ in the New Testament, with almost half of them being direct instructions to the church.

A third of those instances are about loving one another, while another third instruct us on unity. I really believe that God wants us to take these verses seriously and wake up to the fact that being a Christian isn’t about being isolated, focusing on what we feel we want to do in order to express our faith. It is about being together, and learning to look out for one another.

We’ve already seen how caring for each other, yes even those we may find difficult, is actually a way that we grow into maturity as a Christian, but it’s more than that. One anothering expresses God’s heart for His community.

To read the rest of this post, please click here.

Church: God’s design for caring community

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Churches are really unique places aren’t they? There are very few other places where you will find people from all sorts of backgrounds, ethnicities, ages, stages of life coming etc together regularly. I personally think the more varied a church is the more it is a wonderful picture of God’s grace and design.

However, the diversity within churches does bring a unique challenge. Jesus prayed to His Father: “I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one – I in them and you in me – so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:22-23).

Reflecting on this is pretty humbling. Jesus is basically saying that the way in which we model unity speaks to the world the truth of the gospel. And how do we become unified? Through showing love and care to one another, choosing to lay down any petty squabbles in order to see the best in one another.

In a church full of variety there are going to be those that we are naturally drawn to, as well as others that we find difficult. I think part of God’s wisdom in this is that our own rough edges and foibles, which are such a part of us we don’t really see them, can be taken off as we rub up against those that are different to us. Indeed Proverbs 27:17 says “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”

To read the rest of this post please click here.

Why scrubbing loos is a good idea

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What is it about the human condition that makes us look around the people we come into contact with day to day and compare ourselves to them? It is something we have to work really hard not to do, which means the comparison culture inevitably infiltrates our church communities too.

I’m sure we’ve all had those moments: times when we’ve see others in a role that we wish we had and felt slightly jealous. Perhaps we even feel entitled to that role – or think in our minds that we could do a much better job than the person currently doing it.

 Or perhaps we end up in the mindset that thinks we have to contribute to the service each week – by bringing another word or reading another portion of scripture out. Why do we do that? A desperate need within us to connect with God, or a deep-seated desire to look more holy than those around us?

I think we need to ask ourselves those difficult questions regularly about our motivations for serving within our church communities. None of us is immune to selfish ambition and desires, but it is much easier to nip them in the bud early rather than letting ourselves get carried away with them.

Indeed, in Philippians 2 we are told: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others” (v3-4).

Jesus had some really harsh words to say about those people who put on a show of holiness in church: “Everything they do is for men to see” (Matthew 23:5) and “Woe to you … you hypocrites!”, which he repeats in verses 13, 15, 23, 25, 27 and 29. With that amount of repetition I think we can see Jesus really wanted to get his message across!

Speaking about the teachers of the law, it was the difference between their public show of purity and piety and their everyday lives that angered Jesus the most. Indeed, He instructed His disciples and the crowds “you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach” (v3).

Ouch.

Harsh words or the simple, honest truth?

To read the rest of this post, please click here – where the reason for the title will become clear 😉

How well do we support parents?

I recently attended a day at a nearby church focused on equipping Christian parents. Whole families were able to go, and the organisers did a fantastic job of keeping our children engaged and excited about the activities they did while we had teaching and discussions.

I was really struck by one of the questions we were asked:

“What is the best piece of advice you have been taught about parenting in church?”

We were then given a few moments to discuss it with the person next to us.

Those of us sat together all said the same thing – we couldn’t think of anything we had been specifically taught about parenting on a Sunday morning (apart from the few comments preachers had given about what they’ve learned about parenting from their own kids and their own mistakes). This made me wonder: how intentional are our churches about teaching and equipping parents?

To read the rest of this article please click here.

A pioneering woman, pt 1

Wendy Virgo has always had a pioneering spirit. She married Terry in 1968 and they moved to a small town on the south coast called Seaford. At that stage, they had no idea that eventually the work that began there would spread to hundreds of churches in 60 nations around the world. I had the privilege of interviewing Wendy Virgo in the run up to the last Newfrontiers International Brighton Leaders’ Conference. I asked her about various different points in their lives, and what lessons she has learned. (Adrian Warnock has kindly agreed to post the first three parts of this interview on his own site as a guest blog. If you haven’t checked out his site before, make sure you do as it is brilliant! www.adrianwarnock.com.)

I believe you met Terry at Bible college, and both had a strong desire to follow after God with all your hearts – did you ever imagine to what extent He would use your giftings?

At London Bible College, (now London School of Theology) Terry received a call from God that originated in 1 Chronicles to “build a house for God”. Recently baptised in the Spirit, he observed that in many of the contemporary churches there was no room for the things of the Spirit, or even a sense of the presence of God, though there was often good preaching. He began to long for something nearer to what he perceived in the New Testament early church. We began to seek God for gifts of the Spirit and gradually realised that such gifts are for the building up of the Body of Christ. We were unconsciously laying foundations in church life that attracted people who were hungry for more. We had no idea that this would lead on to church planting, let alone across the nations. We only had ambitions at that time for our own local church.

You are a spiritual mother to many – have you had someone who has been a spiritual mother to you?

My own mother was a very godly woman, and probably the most influential woman in my life. She loved the Bible and was a very prayerful person. She taught me and my sisters to pray about everything: every decision, every relationship, big things and small. I watched her submit her life daily to Christ. When I married and moved away, I really missed the availability of an older woman to guide me. One day while praying in desperation, God spoke to me clearly. “There are many women in the Bible: you can learn from them.” That’s when I began a systematic study of women in the Bible.