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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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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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 good a friend are you?


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I was challenged recently by a study I was doing on Eve. The guide I was working through asked a question: “What does ‘being one flesh’ in marriage mean, both physically and spiritually?”

I realised I could think of an infinite number of ways in which my husband could show me that we are one flesh (mainly practical things like cooking more often, not going to bed so late, not distracting the kids when I’m trying to get them out to school or to bed … yes, he has read this).

However, I knew in my heart that I had to stop and really think about the ways I can show him more clearly. Here are some of the things I wrote in my journal:

Ensuring his wellbeing and needs come into my daily equation rather than being afterthoughts or forgotten about completely.

Being more thoughtful, gentle, encouraging.

I then noted underneath that that is certainly a lifetime’s worth of work for me. But I immediately thought about how I relate to others that are close to me, too. I have friends who are dear to me but I suddenly began to question how well I show them how much I care about them.

To see the questions I asked myself about how good a friend I am please click here.

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A journey of faith

As I’ve mentioned before, our church is in the process of buying the lease on a council-owned building. We’ve been in that process for over three years now. It has been a long, hard road…

It started with what seemed like a miracle. We were given the heads up about a community hall that is based right in the centre of the borough we meet in. And then, amazingly our (now retired) pastor was offered it at an incredible price (they were almost giving it away), he shook hands and walked away believing we had just acquired a home for our church.

You can imagine the celebrating that Sunday! We couldn’t believe how, after quite a few months of searching, that God seemed to have delivered something straight into our laps. What a blessing.

Then we heard back from the lease owners to say they had decided to open the process up to others. What seemed like premature celebrations ceased and we started to wonder why this had happened. And, of course, some of us doubted whether it was the right building. We also had comments from some of our members asking why on earth did we need a building anyway?

What followed was an intense period of fervent prayer and nail-biting waits. We lost out twice during bidding processes, pipped to the post at the last minute with bids only just above our own.

At the end of each of those processes we should have been automatically disqualified, and yet both times (praise God!) we were invited to continue on and bid again with an ever-smaller group of bidders. Finally, after an interview process where I was suddenly asked to help pitch (yikes that was scary), we were picked to be the next leaseholders.

I have to admit I have found the whole journey incredibly emotional. It has stretched my faith almost to breaking point at times. I can still remember the sinking feeling I had when we found out our first bid hadn’t been enough to secure the lease.

The very next morning I was at a women’s breakfast and I can still remember thinking “I don’t want to go. I don’t feel strong enough for all the questions there will be, all the disappointed faces. I can’t get my own head around it, I certainly can’t carry anyone else.”

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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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The weight – and joy – of leadership

Have you ever wanted to just hide away and not go to church? That’s how I felt on Saturday evening. The thought of getting up early in the morning and speaking to dozens of people, of worshipping God even (yes, it was a low moment) and of feeling the responsibility of needing to be stood next to my husband in the front row all weighed heavily on me.

I just needed a break.

I’m sure I’m not alone in this – and I know it is right to take time out at times.

But one of the burdens of leadership is living by example. And just hiding under my duvet when I don’t feel 100 per cent is not setting a good example. So I shot up a quick prayer asking that God would refresh me and I was immediately reminded of the Sunday before.

On that day, I was suffering from such severe back pain that I hadn’t slept all night. I was playing the main instrument in the worship team and we had a visiting speaker from Nigeria, who we were hosting a lunch for after the service. On that particular Sunday the whole of me was screaming “It isn’t fair! Why should I have to carry on? Why can’t someone else do it?”

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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.

A picture of God’s faithfulness

As a church this month we celebrated our 10th anniversary – I can’t believe how the time has flown by (yes I know that’s a sign of getting older!). It was rather hilarious to watch clips of our launch service, spotting those who have been with us since the start (and noting how much younger and slimmer we all looked!)

We had a fantastic anniversary service, praising God for bringing us this far and re-dedicating ourselves to His vision. We then enjoyed a feast of international food prepared by everyone in the church. But what has struck me most during this time of celebration is how faithful God has been throughout the journey.

The church almost lost two of its leaders before we even really began as our marriage began to unravel. I remember my husband saying to the pastor who was mentoring the team at the time, ‘but what about the church?’. His answer? ‘God will build His church – you focus on your marriage.’ Wise, true words.

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Yes I AM beautiful!

Having dropped my kids off at school, done the food shop and come home to unpack it, put washing on and had a very late breakfast before sitting at my computer, I can see that I’m now running behind. There have been some great posts on last night already (see Amy Boucher Pye’s here and Jennie Pollock’s here). And yet the launch of Chine Mbubaegbu’s book Am I Beautiful? meant so much to me that I simply have to record it here. Because the issues, of body image, self-esteem, outer beauty and inner beauty etc, are so close to my heart. I, too, have suffered from low self-esteem throughout my life and never felt beautiful enough. As a pastor’s wife I also see so many women struggle against what the media tells them they should look and act like, desperately wanting to walk in the freedom in Christ they know they should be enjoying.

The other reason is because I edited the book. It felt like such a privilege to do so; Chine was the first person I started writing articles for and now I was able to serve her by being her editor – it was great (and difficult at times – but more on that later! 😉 )

As both Amy and Jennie have admitted, I too sat here at my desk yesterday morning, annoyed that I was having a bad hair day and that I was shattered from catching up on work and church responsibilities as well as helping our youngest with his transition into ‘big’ school. I looked and felt every inch the 40-year-old woman I now am. I also knew I’d be seeing people I have worked with but not met yet, as well as other ‘movers and shakers’ in the Christian publishing and media world. I wanted to look my best, but, as a shy, work-from-home mum, I find that side of the business really hard at times. So, while I was looking forward so much to celebrating with Chine, I was also worried about how I would look and how I would come across to people I chatted with. As I sat there, trying to work but all the while telling myself off for being so silly (and smiling wryly at the irony of it all – after all the book is all about the fact that we ARE beauty as we are made in the image of Beauty), I was relieved to find I was not alone. Chine, too, had struggled with what to wear that morning (see her post here).

But that’s the point isn’t it? Chine was asked last night why she thinks Christian women struggle so much with this, when we know the truth of who we are. She quiet rightly pointed out that we are literally bombarded with images of society’s perceived ‘perfect woman’ day in day out – it’s hard to keep up your resistance to it all the time! Whatever age we are we ALL have to fight against the messages we are told constantly as, let’s face it, we are all much more likely to be taking in more of society’s messages than the Bible’s each day because the images are constantly with us. We HAVE to learn to soak ourselves in the Truth, remind each other that Beauty is so much more than outward appearance and teach those lessons to the younger generation before they start coming across the issues themselves. When my daughter saw the lovely bright pink cover of my advance copy of the book she immediately picked it up to read it. I told her I definitely want her to read it when she’s a little older – perhaps about to become a teenager. But then a similar story that Amy told last night about her daughter reminded me of what my daughter has said on more than one occasion and I thought perhaps she’ll need to read it earlier. At eight years of age she is, quite literally, a beanpole. Tall, slim and striking – sometimes she takes my breath away. But I’ve caught her at least twice already pulling at her flesh, saying she’s fat. How do these messages reach such young ones? A dad asked a question last night about how he should bring up his daughters in our society to know that beauty is not skin deep and yet to truly believe that they are beautiful. Chine’s answer was great – she told him not to give up telling his daughters that they are beautiful, as some parents do, but to ensure that that isn’t the only message he is giving. To encourage them by saying that they are also kind, funny, smart, loving etc. It’s a challenge for all of us who are parents – but also for all those in church families as it is up to you too! Our kids often pick up things far more easily from the wider church family than they will from us so those positive messages need to be coming from you too! 😉

So… back to the editing process. Amy has already mentioned this but I was waiting in great anticipation and slight nervousness to read the first draft of Chine’s book. If I’m honest I’ve been jealous and a little scared of her in the past. She’s such a successful, beautiful, funny, vivacious, confident woman – and a fantastic writer. I was amazed once when we had an honest email exchange that our perceptions of each other were so different from what I expected! The grass is definitely always greener…

When I sat and read Chine’s book it was well written, and very efficiently journalistic in its approach. Apart from the little snippets where she’d let herself be vulnerable. Like the story of being five years old and being asked to draw a self-portrait at school. She drew a blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl and it wasn’t until a friend leant over and told her that it wasn’t her, that she realised she was different from everyone else. Nigerian-born, she was the only black girl in her class. That, I told Chine, HAD to be the opening story of the first chapter (and read it in Chine’s own words – she tells it far better! 😉 ). The moments when she opened up hit me so hard that I realised I simply had to encourage her to open up more, to be more vulnerable and totally honest.

When I looked at how we could rework the book and passed on all my suggestions to Chine I then held my breath. Would she be crushed? Would she hate me? Would she think my ideas ridiculous? As an author I know what it is like to submit a manuscript and then wait to see what the editor thinks of it. It’s so hard! I know Chine told us the second pass of the book was a much more painful process than the first – but oh how it was worth it! As every review and comment I have heard indicate, it is the rawness, the openness and absolute integrity that has touched people. It almost gives women permission to talk about this subject in a way that perhaps we haven’t before. With a new, dogged determination not to settle for society’s values, not to allow ourselves to feel less than – and to help each other with the process. Because we ALL are beautiful… even when we have a bad hair day! 😉