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)?

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What one thing has God asked you to do today?

If you don’t know the answer to that question then perhaps, like me, you are a little too goal-orientated and focused on achieving rather than slowing down long enough to hear from God.

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Often our priorities are not God’s, our ‘good ideas’ not ones that He’s dropped into our minds. I was really convicted by a daily devotional I read today, in which the author described herself as someone who is too busy to be interrupted. Too set on being productive and ‘useful’, she isn’t able to deal with the stress and emotions of her own life, let alone those of others.

I gulped. And then admitted to myself that she could have been describing me. So often people comment that I must be extremely busy helping others. As a pastor’s wife I do get my fair share of burdened people wanting a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on and someone willing to pray with them. And I consider that a privilege.

The problem is, I have my own ideas about what I should focus my time on, which means that the hours my kids are at school are taken up with work. Of course, the majority of us have to work in order to live, so I don’t feel that that’s a problem. What is, though, is that niggling feeling I sometimes get. The feeling that tries to tell me I don’t need to work quite so much…

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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.”

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The incredible power of the gospel

Puppets2What do singing puppets, friendly face painters, church members praying with passers by and a visiting evangelist preaching the gospel have in common?

Well that’s what a recent Saturday looked like on our town’s high street. Our church had evangelist Jonathan Conrathe come and work with us for the weekend. We had plenty of gatherings at church but we also set up in town during the day on the Saturday. My husband was involved in the puppets, which always draw a crowd, and my daughter and I were face painting.

Those types of activities are almost ‘safe’ evangelism – we are ‘doing’ things so don’t have to put ourselves on the line too much (although it was good to have some fruitful discussions with parents, who were so much more open because their kids were happily entertained).

What struck and challenged me most about the time, however, was how people responded to the gospel being preached. I was amazed (and then repented of being amazed) by how Jonathan simply gave the gospel message and people responded to it there and then on the street and we had the privilege of praying with them.

Listening while face painting I can remember thinking a few times “I could never say that” and “Isn’t that rather politically incorrect – can you say that on a British high street?” Don’t get me wrong, Jonathan preached with grace and clarity, not damning fire and brimstone. And when he called for a response there were those whose hearts had obviously been touched who wanted to make a commitment to Jesus.

The experience of being on the high street that day caused me to reflect on how the gospel certainly is timeless – and it also holds an unfathomable power. 1 Corinthians 1:18 says: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

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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?

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The Virgin Monologues

Interesting blog title huh? Well, it’s an even more interesting title for a book – and that’s precisely what it is. Towards the end of last week I had the pleasure of attending the launch for this new book, written by journalist and writing coach Carrie Lloyd. Sassy, beautiful and brilliant, Carrie has long been writing about her relationship experiences on her blog Her Glass Slipper.

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Carrie’s book sees her, as a 21st century Christian girl, honestly sharing her dating trials and considering such questions as: is purity relevant? Why does Mr Potential never reach his potential? Is the fear of singledom making you settle for second-rate? And why are so many Christians so Christ-less in their approach to dating?

Carrie also talks about how she used to have ‘the recipe’ – a list of everything she needed in ‘her man’, but how finding freedom for herself has enabled her to ditch it.

I loved editing the book, and, even though I’m an old ‘married’, I gleaned plenty of wisdom from it – Carrie certainly pulls no punches in her writing. She has the guts to write personally about what she’s learned as well directly challenge the reader. I highly recommend this title (its tactile cover is another good reason to buy it 😉 ).

Here is an eclectic selection of pithy quotes from Carrie, taken from the launch night:

“So you’re writing about purity & sexual discipline…” “Yeah. It’s a niche market.”

“If you know who you are, you don’t need a list.”

“Vulnerability is your greatest protector.”

“We have lots of books on joy but they don’t make me feel joyful. I wanted my book to be fun.”

“We need to think more carefully about what freedom really is.”

“I’ve been an atheist and I know how off-putting Christian language can be.”

The Virgin Monologues is out now on kindle and publishes in book form on 23 Jan – for a taste of what to expect see Carrie’s book teaser.

Life is short…

Memorial services are great for bringing perspective.

I recently attended one for a dear guy who, at one stage of our lives, was extremely instrumental in our continuing faith journey. He was the first small group leader we had in the church we attended more than 20 years ago. We’ve since moved on from that church, moving home to help start another church in a nearby community.

What shocked us about this situation was that his death was sudden – and he was so young (just four years older than my husband). So there we were, a group of people that had come back together from various corners of the country to celebrate and acknowledge the life of this unassuming man who had had an impact on us.

He had been a somewhat clumsy, awkward guy, but so friendly and gentle. Everyone who paid tribute to him recognised those qualities. But they also talked about his absolute assurance of the truth of the gospel. Although a scientist, he had had no problem marrying his faith with scientific fact, and his faith had been the stronger for it.

As I sat listening to people speaking that day, I suddenly heard a gentle whisper:

What would people be saying if it were you? How would people describe you?

I know that the word ‘gentle’ would certainly not be among the words used. Unfortunately that’s not a natural character trait for me…

But would there be the things I would hope for, such as: kind, loyal, honest, authentic, faith-filled, inspiring, encouraging? Or would there be, as I suspect I’m viewed as currently: over-busy, stressed, aloof, overbearing, difficult to approach, emotional?

I know I’m overstating the case somewhat, but sitting there that day made me take stock:

What is it I’m investing my time and efforts in, and are they worthwhile?

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Changing our perspective

I had a dream last night. The details are fuzzy but it took place at a book launch. I was listening in to two women’s perspectives on the food being laid on. One wanted to make more sandwiches. The other said it would be a complete waste of food and there was no point cutting any more loaves. The first thought that the food could go to someone who needs it if it wasn’t all eaten at the launch. While she was frustrated inside, she relented and left the loaves alone…

A little later I was lying awake listening to my husband snoring. For me, after we’d both woken up at 5am, the sound of his snoring was intensely irritating. However, I didn’t dare move him to try and stop the snoring as I knew that he’d had night after night of waking around 4 or 5am and then not being able to get back to sleep. So, although I was desperate for more sleep, and everything in me was fighting the urge, I was trying to see things from my husband’s perspective and leave him in peace.

The Easter holiday was another test of me seeing things from others’ perspectives. It was also a time to try and teach my children to do the same. After a fraught last (half-term) holiday, in which I juggled too much work with trying to spend time with the kids, I had made the decision not to work as much in the Easter holiday.

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The church is the hope of the world

I’m thrilled to have a guest post from Danny Webster on my blog today. Danny is one of three bloggers currently in Cambodia visiting communities that are being transformed by local churches in partnership with Tearfund. Danny, Anita Mathias and Rich Wells are blogging about their daily experiences and interactions. To follow their journey you can also take a look here.

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I’m in Cambodia with Tearfund to visit and write about a major project they support working in communities across this country. The work is done through the church, a vital part of how Tearfund work wherever in the world they are working, and seeing it in action has shown me why this matters and the difference it makes.

I spent last night in the pastor’s house in a community about an hour to the south of Phnom Penh. I watched the sun turn deep red as it dipped beneath the horizon leaving only a golden hue of fading light in its trail. And I saw the sun rise this morning, as it appeared through the morning haze – a late arrival to the bustle of activity already alive on the street. The cockerels started about 4, the dogs soon after, the neighbour got up and his music drifted effortlessly onto the balcony where we spent the night shielded with a mosquito net now littered with bugs. The pastor told us yesterday he got up around 4 most days; I struggled to believe it, but getting up at 6.30 having been awake the past two hours makes me a more wretched laggard than the sun.

The village I’m staying in, Tonle Batie, is one which supporters of Tearfund can stay in touch with through their See For Yourself initiative. You can see the highs and lows of their experiences, the successes and failures, the joy at crops growing, pigs getting pregnant and the sorrow of chickens falling prey to disease, taking a familiy’s livelihood in a single swoop.

The way Tearfund work in this village–  and many not just in Cambodia but across the world – is by mobilising the church, and in turn mobilising the community. It’s through a programme called umoja – based on a Swahili word meaning togetherness – that helps communities recognise the resources they already have and their own ability to respond to the problems in their community.

Yesterday Rich and I, who were spending the night in the village, sat down to pray with the pastor and a couple of workers for International Cooperation Cambodia (ICC), the local charity Tearfund partner with. Style is different, language is a barrier but the experience of praying with Christians across the world is always a privilege.

There is something about coming together that makes a difference. Whether it is Christians from different continents sharing meals and prayers, or members of a village coming together to improve their community’s livelihood. Earlier yesterday we helped the umoja group in Tonle Bati till the soil in a section of the church land ready for planting bell peppers today. There were men and women, young and old, English and Cambodian, working together on the soil. Admittedly, their hands were more used to the work and won’t be sporting the same blisters as mine this morning.

The church is vital, but it is not the extent of the work. These projects can never just be for the church; they start there, but they do not end there. Umoja is a long process, it is about finding and feeding a vision in the church to come together, to build relationships with the community, to find out what their family and neighbours needs are, and how they can respond to them.

We met a lady so involved in the work of the umoja group, and who was helping on the land yesterday, she didn’t realise she wasn’t formally part of the group. We met an elderly lady whose daughter is part of the group. Mostly house bound she’ll go into the forest when she can to collect wood, which she’ll bundle up and then offer for sale as firewood.

Together the community is helping itself, and in a selfless way, serving one another and supporting families when they go through times of need.

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I’ve been inspired while being out here, by the people and by the refusal to give into easy simplistic

chickens etc-jpegsolutions but commit to long-term sustainable development. I would love it if you could support Tearfund by giving £3 a month to help more communities be transformed, follow all of our blogs and find out how you can give at www.tearfund.org/bloggers.

Learning to be vulnerable

Our church is currently doing a preaching series based on Phil Moore’s brilliantly provocative book Gagging Jesus: things Jesus said we wish he hadn’t. Last Sunday my husband preached about sexuality and what Jesus said about it. We looked at sex within marriage (how different a starting point we have to our society on this subject), same-sex attraction, lust, adultery and pornography. Possibly not the most usual material for a Sunday morning sermon! And yet how important.

I was struck about how little we Christians talk about sex (and in our small group during the week so many people said they are saddened that the Church doesn’t celebrate good sex). We also don’t like engaging with the ‘hot potato’ issues such as porn or homosexuality. And yet what does that do to our churches? They are so often places that are rife with hidden sins – but why? I was leading the worship times before and after the preach and at one point I heard myself saying, ‘Church is full of sin because we are all too scared to open up and admit our failings. And so often when others do we judge them. Shame on us. Shame on us for creating an environment where no one feels comfortable enough to be open.’

Shame on us, also, for allowing sins to go on either undetected or unchallenged. Of course this isn’t just about sexual sin, but every other sin too (another point made in the preach). What about anger, bitterness, gossip, fear, making money an idol etc? Every single one of them takes us further away from God. Surely the point of being part of a church family is that we are able to walk closely with those we see regularly (I’m not saying we should be shouting our sins out to the whole congregation!). We are there to support but also confront our friends when necessary. But that isn’t going to happen if no one is willing to take off their ‘I’m fine’ mask and be real.

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