Friday, 23 December 2011

A badge of dishonour or freedom?

Is it me, or do we seem to sit back, ever more comfortably while the world measures, sorts and labels us? It would appear that we are more than happy to take part in this process ourselves as we judge, sort and label others, in an attempt to put them in a neat, tidy, little box that we can put into some semblance of order at a later date. Many supermarket reward schemes do this, based purely on a few questions we are asked during the application process for the reward card and then based on our shopping habits of a lifetime we are measured, sorted and labelled. Using this information they send us promotions that are suitable to our needs and even put the right products on the shelf in the right geographical locations. Technology at it's best? It's scary to have a label placed on us especially if things change and the information is not kept up to date.

I am not a psychologist or sociologist so unfortunately you will not get an expert opinion in this post. But, I know that I place labels on people, based on observations of their behaviour, often over a very short period of time, I make judgements about their choice of music, their ability to indicate at roundabouts and more seriously about the way people deal with different situations; for these categories we have labels such as rock head, organ lover, Sunday driver or man with hat, stress head and the sulker and the list goes on and on. Labels can be good if they are apparently positive, i.e. that person is reliable or trust worthy. Be warned even these positive labels can have a negative consequence. They create expectations, which can lead to disappointment, if or when we fail to live up to the standards they set. Having failed to live up to the so called 'good' label we are re-categorised into failure or a letdown or one of many other negative labels; we receive our badge of dishonour. I suppose this makes a good argument to receive your badge of dishonour at an early stage in a relationship so that you don't have these expectations placed on you and no one gets disappointed!

That's the problem with labels they define us; not only in other peoples' eyes but in our own. Labels are rarely true representation of who we really are, but are based on a few assumptions made about behaviours we observe. At the moment we accept Christ into our lives, Jesus forms the foundation of our living and sets us free from labels (Colossians 2:6-8) but remember scripture teaches us that we should not use this freedom as an excuse to hurt ourselves or others (1 Peter 2:16) . Does that get us off the hook? Again, in my not so expert opinion: it does not. Why? Because there is another part to this issue, the problem is not just the labels given to us, but the labels we place on others.

In Matthew 7: 2 Jesus tells us that we will be judged as harshly as we judge others, a sobering thought when issuing our labels and badges of dishonour. Clearly He tells us not to judge others, when asked by Peter in Matthew 18:21-22 how many times should I forgive? Jesus says 77 times, an example of Jesus' humour here, because He is telling us to keep forgiving. A challenge to us all.

The world will always judge and label us inhibiting us from achieving our true potential, but there is a freedom in living in Christ that sets us free from this restriction, in John 8:33, we are told 'if the Son (Jesus) sets you free, you will be free indeed.' Is your life still measured, sorted and labelled by the world or are you living in the freedom of Jesus?

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Shush and be silent

Whilst reading an article in The Times by John Naish, "How Quaker-inspired silence can revitalise your school assembly", a quote by the headteacher featured said, "People who visit the school are amazed. The idea of getting a load of 15 to 16-year-olds, for example, to sit contentedly in total silence nowadays is beyond many people's comprehension. Ofsted were blown away by it". So was I, that is blown away then slightly sceptical that kids could sit this long without making a noise or pushing and shoving each other. But then realised that was what I would have done at that age, which is not always a true representation of how every child is.

Thinking about it now, I find it hard to sit quiet that long. So maybe that other thought could be inspired from this. What if we remained silent more, listened more and stopped wanting to fill the silence with noise, so that we would feel something has been said. Imparted my so called words of wisdom on the world, when in reality to be silent, would have been more powerful. Rather than provoking myself to put something out there. Can silence in ourselves have a positive impact in others? Remember when Jesus silenced the wind there was calm! (Mark 4:39)

In the Quaker tradition people would sit in complete silence until someone felt led by the Holy Spirit to speak. How many times in prays or worship do we just sit in silence and wait to be Spirit led? Me personally, not sure, sometimes I feel the need to fill the space. After all, prays and worship wouldn't be just that if we were completely silent, right? After all how would God hear us? Does He not know what is on our hearts (2 Chron 6:30)?

Okay I am not saying that we shouldn't speak but how much do we allow the Holy Spirit to lead us?


Sunday, 30 October 2011

A street paved with gold

This weekend I had a great opportunity, to spend time with a group of people from my church and spend time worshipping God as one body from many churches.

This year Worship Central ran seminars in London, very much an event that people were called to all over the UK and the world. In this case people were called by name to continue learning and growing in a relationship with God and sharing this through serving Jesus with our church. In this case like the saying goes, London was a street paved with gold, but leading us to knowing Him better and dare I say a taste of His Kingdom.

More of this in future posts as I get more thoughts together.

Friday, 30 September 2011

Some thoughts

Lost on this road we journey
Hardened surfaces compacting our spines
The strains of each step in this emotional glue we create.
There is a righteous road ahead, yet we are still pulled away
That interfering sound pulling us off in all directions
A direction that He does not want for us, yet is strangely magnetic
Driving us closer to a place that should never be and He never intended for us
A place that we disguise with goodness and truth yet it's a place of misery and lies were the reality is just emptiness and sadness
Then He shines His light of life bringing us home
A place of love, kindness, and mercy
Meeting us with His arms open
Lord shine your light for us today

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Plans, goals and vision: following a diversion?

I have been known to cover a few miles now and again. Spending many a time stuck in a jam, following a diversion or completely lost under the direction of my sat nav. I subscribe to the general principle when travelling that you have an end destination in mind and the aim is to get there in one piece, whatever that looks like.

It's the diversions that completely confuse me. They help to avoid the obstacle ahead, but sometimes seem to take us way off our journey. Miss the signs on the diversionary route and suddenly we are completely lost. Don't follow the diversion and we could be stuck in the jam for a while. It's just that if we don't know the route then the journey can be strange; doubt sets in, because we "might have missed the signs". The sat nav is no help,  it insists on taking us back to the obstruction. Assuming we don't detract from this unplanned route we should arrive at our destination.

Following life's diversions can be just like the car journey and yet it is these so called routes that have massive learning for us. A chance to explore our situation and obtain a completely different perspective of where we are going in life. So what do we do when we are on this journey full of diversions?

Don't assume that our goals or vision are not the destination. It might just be that the way this happens is different to how we set out. Being rigid in our approach can mean we miss them. Our vision and goals, may have changed and are far richer and fuller than we had imagined. Now, the argument could be, not to have a plan, goal or vision and see what happens. In Luke 14:28-31, clearly planning is important to ultimately achieve the goal of a task we have in mind. Without it, we run the risk of not completing what we believe God intended. There are many churches that are full of good ideas, but unfortunately no clear plan and the goal is undelivered.

Embrace (not sure at the time we always want to do this, but retrospectively I wish I had), God's diversions are full of learning and adventure developing us for the next task He has planned for us. Reassuring to know that in Romans 1:13 Paul planned many times to visit the church in Rome, but had been prevented in doing so. Ultimately, in James 4:15 we must humbly submit our plans, goals and vision to the Lord.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Take the hint?

I'm rubbish at taking hints, one of two things tend to happen. The words fly over my head or I hear blah blah blah as they are dropped. A form of hint can be found in sales, called 'buying signals'. This is a set of behaviours that a 'would be' customer would display to show they are interested in a particular product or service being presented by the sales rep. If the sales person is able to spot these 'hints', confidence is increased knowing they are meeting the customer's needs. Makes sense when we talk with people that they also display these behaviours showing they are interested or not in the discussion points. Think of it this way, talking to a Newcastle football team fan about Sunderland or visa versa is going to bring up some interesting hints!

Recently in the church I attend, we have been very fortunate that God has shown some huge hints that he has been working in many of the ministries that are developing. You could say burning bush proportion hints that are very difficult to miss. The challenge is finding the 'hints' where God is working in our lives, especially when we are experiencing difficulties. This is the time when really we want confirmation and reassurance of His work as we grow in faith and the relationship we have with Jesus. It's easy to say you just have to look to find Him working, but maybe, when we get bogged down in this 'stuff' it is possible to miss God's hints in our lives?

I think what I am trying to say is that there is reassurance that God never stops working in our lives. In John 5:17 when Jesus is challenged for healing at the pool on a Sabbath. But Jesus said, “My Father has never stopped working, and that is why I keep on working.” So if you miss the hint just know He is working.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Seeing is believing, really?

Is it me, but doesn't the world appear to be getting more cynical. We seem to be waiting for the next big scandal to break like we were never expecting it and then act all shocked when we are faced with it. I am completely fascinated how I fall for the cover up spin, only to realise later that they are empty words. Naive, possibly? No wonder we live in a world of disbelief where we only believe what we can see.

The problem with 'seeing is believing' is that our eyes can be deceived. There are many perception exercises available on the net, designed to trick us into seeing one thing, but later it has become something else. The film Shallow Hal was about a guy who was vain, where he was driven purely by the way a person looks. After meeting Tony Robbins (author of Awaken the Giant Within) in a lift, he could only ever see the good in people, no matter how they appeared to look on the outside. Even his relationships became deeper, well for a comedy film. Remember cynics it's only a film!

That's the problem when we hold great weight in what we can see, our only experience is at face value. Dig a little deeper and we can found out so much more about a person. Doesn't that make so much sense, but why don't we apply it in our life? Could it be that we only see, what is inside of us?

Saturday, 11 June 2011

The Well, an open space?

I have been thinking about The Well, just like everyone else from West Auckland Community Church (WACC) and maybe the community of West Auckland as well, excuse the pun.

'The Well, an open space'
West Auckland, Co Durham
The Well is a project from WACC which is more than just a building; a space used to operate the ministries that God is calling us to. Throughout the church we have used the word empty canvas, a shop front with windows and an open door leading into an empty space waiting for our Creator to reveal though His people the picture. I believe He has done that already, but it's a matter for all the strands to come together, not by us, but by the Grace of God.

For me, the excitement is waiting to see how God will use this place. From my past experiences in a relatively short time as a follower of Christ, whatever that is, our minds will be blown away! I can't help thinking about it being a meeting place for all generations and all backgrounds, where you walk in as you are. A friend told me about a bench very close to The Well, which estate agents would describe as, "having access to all major routes." Where people of a 'certain' generation, depending on the time of the day, meet and pass their time away together. Whatever God has planned for The Well, it will certainly be a  place to pass the time, where relaxing, refreshing and renewal will be a part of this space. A demonstration of God's Kingdom.

We wait to see...

More information about The Well is available at the WACC website.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Uncertainty in an uncertain world?

We are living in times of change. Where the things that we once relied upon are no longer anchors in our very fragile lives. These so called anchors have held us back and even sunk a few people during the storms of life. So we find ourselves clinging on to anything that we think is true,  "from a certain point of view" that last line was from Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars! It's the "from a certain point of view" that challenges me as a Christian.

Making the 'right' decision I find very difficult.  Do we take the usual road that appears easy, but gets us in to all kinds of problems and feeling pretty awful at the end or do we take another route? A road full of challenges, where we may have to stand out from the crowd, have our opinions questioned and even our intentions challenged, even though we know deep down this is the 'right' choice. Unfortunately I still find myself making the wrong choices in life. That's were "from a certain point of view" comes into play. Actually, what I really mean is from 'my point of view', which causes me problems and then find myself grabbing onto an anchor to find security where there is only my insecurities.

When I first became a Christian I was given by a member of our church a wrist band with WWJD. For weeks I just didn't know what it meant then it dawned on me, what would Jesus do? That's what I want to do more of, making decisions 'from Jesus' point of view'. Colossians 3:1 gives words of guidance in making our choices, "And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him." No longer do we need to grab hold of our so called anchors and insecurities of our life, but hold on to solid foundations through Jesus our Lord.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

There I go making the same mistakes again or when doubt hits

I was reading a tweet from @NedLunn which really bridged the void between social networking and life, in that it meant something to me. His tweet read, "Distracted by the tumulting sea and the blustering wind, I forget the static ground on which I stand. Lord have mercy on me." Us humans, well me anyway, when push comes to shove and we take a big step in our lives,  absolute doubt gets in the way. We are completely knocked off our focus and what we believe God has planned for us is suddenly pushed to the side line.

It's the "I forget the static ground" that touched my heart, five words that I really couldn't dismiss. Over the past few weeks there has been a few changes. Each one faced with resistance, procrastination and then acceptance and every single time I am thankful because it is God's grace that was the static ground that got me through it all. I know learning is a continuous journey, but this accumulated in me having a fantastic opportunity to share my testimony with two churches and talk about an area that is close to my heart, communicating God's word through relevant and meaningful music to break down barriers in His name.

So where does that leave things, thankfully God didn't leave me to become, "Distracted by the tumulting sea and the blustering wind..." and doubt. He extended His Grace again, to continue the journey on the right path and all in His name and free to make the same mistakes again when doubt hits, but for His grace. 

Lord have mercy on us all.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Pass it on

Last year in my first months following Jesus, through work, I spent a few days near a place called Bellshill near Glasgow. Whilst sat in my Premier Travel Inn, I thought I would venture out and discover another church! I used my googlator and found one nearby. They made me feel really welcome and were very open to new visitors. On this particular evening after worship they were watching a video by Louie Giglio called Fruit Cake and Icecream, a fantastic explanation of God's grace in people's lives . Won't spoil the film, but you may want a few Kleenexes to hand.

So I bought the dvd, but not the t-shirt. After watching this a few times I passed it on. Well, it is slowly making its way around the church. But that's not why I am writing this post. I received a text from a friend who had finished watching the film, and asked, "do I return it to you or pass it on?" I wonder who they are going to pass the dvd on to next?  This reminded me of when Jesus healed the man who was possessed by a demon. Instead of allowing the man to follow Him after being healed, Jesus sent the man away to tell people about what had happened, "So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolist how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed." (Mark 5:20). This shows how important personal testimonies are in getting God's message across.

If someone passes to you a dvd called Fruit Cake and Icecream, would you pass the message on?

Monday, 28 March 2011

It's not you know...

In a work environment there are two phrases that come to my mind, "It's not what you know, it's who you know" and "It's not what you know, it's what you do with what you know, that makes a difference". You may know the meanings of these phrases in a work context. The first being ii doesn't matter how good you are at a particular role, if you want to get promoted or do well in a company you need to get to know some really 'powerful' people. The second phrase and slightly clumsily written, is about you know and what you do with it, effectively if you only learnt a few things and did something with all of that learning you would get by. I'm not sure where your opinion is on these, but each as they say in the place of work has benefits and risks!

Then there is Faith, recently the church I attend went to an event called Freelife. Marc Dupont a speaker at this conference, held at the Emmanuel Church in Durham, said a really important phrase to me, but in a different context with a completely different meaning, "It's not what you know, it's who you know" and that made so much sense to me. It's about the relationship we have, the relationship we have with Jesus to grow as individuals, church and followers of Him. That said, knowledge of God's word is important, because that is how we understand our God. So we could be challenged by "It's not what you know, it's what you do with what you know, that makes a difference". Ephesians 4:13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

A ramble and an image of a boat...

I haven't written a post for a few weeks. An inability to put pen to paper or in this case cursor to pixels or something like that. So this is a ramble post...

Our church is taking part in the Bible Fresh E100 reading programme. Not only is it fascinating to hear people discussing the Bible in new ways, but there is also a new vigor in wanting to understand His Word, it's brilliant and encouraging all wrapped up in God's work. For me the Bible gives direction and focus in my life to keep moving forward. It's all the books about life that you could ever want to read, all wrapped up in one, relevant and here, a living Word.

This morning I was thinking about direction and focus which reminded me of an image about boats that have travelled great distances to reach the safety of their home. Each captain looking out and seeing, nothing but darkness, whilst being thrown around by crashing waves attempting to knock them off-course and preventing them from reaching their heart's desire. Then there's a light in the distance a beacon pulling the boats into safety. A light house guiding the vessels in from the darkness 24-7.

Told you this was a ramble, so there you go...

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Would you make the same choice?

A mate sent me this absolute food for thought, with the putting it into action being the real difficulty. Would you make the same choice?

Two Choices

At a fundraising dinner for a school that serves children with learning disabilities, the father of one of the students delivered a speech that would never be forgotten by all who attended.. After extolling the school and its dedicated staff, he offered a question:

'When not interfered with by outside influences, everything nature does, is done with perfection.

Yet my son, Shay, cannot learn things as other children do. He cannot understand things as other children do.

Where is the natural order of things in my son?'

The audience was stilled by the query.

The father continued. 'I believe that when a child like Shay, who was mentally and physically disabled comes into the world, an opportunity to realize true human nature presents itself, and it comes in the way other people treat that child.'

Then he told the following story:

Shay and I had walked past a park where some boys Shay knew were playing baseball. Shay asked, 'Do you think they'll let me play?' I knew that most of the boys would not want someone like Shay on their team, but as a father I also understood that if my son were allowed to play, it would give him a much-needed sense of belonging and some confidence to be accepted by others in spite of his disability.

I approached one of the boys on the field and asked (not expecting much) if Shay could play. The boy looked around for guidance and said, 'We're losing by six runs and the game is in the eighth inning. I guess he can be on our team and we'll try to put him in to bat in the ninth inning.'

Shay struggled over to the team's bench and, with a broad smile, put on a team shirt. I watched with a small tear in my eye and warmth in my heart. The boys saw my joy at my son being accepted.

In the bottom of the eighth inning, Shay's team scored a few runs but was still behind by three.

In the top of the ninth inning, Shay put on a glove and played in the right field. Even though no hits came his way, he was obviously ecstatic just to be in the game and on the field, grinning from ear to ear as I waved to him from the stands.

In the bottom of the ninth inning, Shay's team scored again.

Now, with two outs and the bases loaded, the potential winning run was on base and Shay was scheduled to be next at bat.

At this juncture, do they let Shay bat and give away their chance to win the game?

Surprisingly, Shay was given the bat. Everyone knew that a hit was all but impossible because Shay didn't even know how to hold the bat properly, much less connect with the ball.

However, as Shay stepped up to the

plate, the pitcher, recognizing that the other team was putting winning aside for this moment in Shay's life, moved in a few steps to lob the ball in softly so Shay could at least make contact.

The first pitch came and Shay swung clumsily and missed.

The pitcher again took a few steps forward to toss the ball softly towards Shay.

As the pitch came in, Shay swung at the ball and hit a slow ground ball right back to the pitcher.

The game would now be over.

The pitcher picked up the soft grounder and could have easily thrown the ball to the first baseman.

Shay would have been out and that would have been the end of the game.

Instead, the pitcher threw the ball right over the first baseman's head, out of reach of all team mates.

Everyone from the stands and both teams started yelling, 'Shay, run to first!

Run to first!'

Never in his life had Shay ever run that far, but he made it to first base.

He scampered down the baseline, wide-eyed and startled.

Everyone yelled, 'Run to second, run to second!'

Catching his breath, Shay awkwardly ran towards second, gleaming and struggling to make it to the base.

By the time Shay rounded towards second base, the right fielder had the ball. the smallest guy on their team who now had his first chance to be the hero for his team.

He could have thrown the ball to the second-baseman for the tag, but he understood the pitcher's intentions so he, too, intentionally threw the ball high and far over the third-baseman's head.

Shay ran toward third base deliriously as the runners ahead of him circled the bases toward home.

All were screaming, 'Shay, Shay, Shay, all the Way Shay'

Shay reached third base because the opposing shortstop ran to help him by turning him in the direction of third base, and shouted, 'Run to third!

Shay, run to third!'

As Shay rounded third, the boys from both teams, and the spectators, were on their feet screaming, 'Shay, run home! Run home!'

Shay ran to home, stepped on the plate, and was cheered as the hero who hit the grand slam and won the game for his team

'That day', said the father softly with tears now rolling down his face, 'the boys from both teams helped bring a piece of true love and humanity into this world'.

Shay didn't make it to another summer. He died that winter, having never forgotten being the hero and making me so happy, and coming home and seeing his Mother tearfully embrace her little hero of the day!

So have you decided what you would really do? We are presented with these dilemmas everyday.  Jesus is very clear in John 15:12-14 about this,  "My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends.You are my friends if you do what I command." Now we may not be required to lay down our life for someone, but how about putting to the side our personal wants and desires for the good of another. This is a real challenge and I include myself in this one, to make the right choice each day.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

We can never find the right words

Lord we can never find the right words to thank you for what you did on that day,
All for the Love You have for us,
A Love we just don't deserve,
We pray Lord as fathers, mothers, sons and daughters,
As partners, friends and work colleagues
That in in our lives we demonstrate the love we have for You.