November 2016 Extraordinary women

 

History is full of extraordinary women.  Women of courage and substance, women who overcome or endure, who invent or push boundaries.  Christmas is a time when women come to the forefront.  This is not only in my own family, where the organization and cooking skills of the women I’m surrounded by is showcased, but also in the bible. At the telling of the birth of Jesus it’s Elizabeth, Anna and most importantly Mary who get starring roles as Jesus arrives onto the scene.

 

This year it’s Mary I haven’t been able to get out of my mind. Her astonishing willingness to accept the gift of a child from God.  Was it shock or naivety or faith that helped her to say such a simple ‘yes' to God and to the gift that would bring her pain as well as joy?  She is often painted with that serene look of adoration as she holds Jesus in her arms, and I wonder how far that must have been from the reality of the pain and poverty of her ‘yes’ to God.

 

I’ve been reading the biography of Mother Teresa as well.  She too had this amazing courage to say ‘yes’ to God.  She speaks of her abandonment to complete obedience.  For her the love of God so marked her inner world that to offer Him any less than her all, her unequivocal ‘yes’, would be an insult to the love He had so richly lavished on her.  She knew of but refused to fear the pain of such a ‘yes’.  She seemed to grasp the words of Paul who said ‘I want to know Christ – yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.’ Phil 3:10-11.

 

Did Mary too anticipate the cost of her ‘yes’?  Did she assume the painful part was over, once the new born son lay safely in her arms?  It would not take long for the cost of the gift she was given to become clear. From the outset her child was born far from home in an occupied country.  Before he was two she had to flee with him as a refugee and when she returned home the stigma of the child who was born before she was married would no doubt linger. It wasn’t to be a charmed life that signaled to the world that she had said ‘yes’ to God and that the child she was raising was someone special.

 

Saying ‘yes’ to God is never an easy thing.  But as we draw close to Him and His heart of love for us, we recognize that our humble yielding to His will and way is the route to freedom.  Because the alternative, saying ‘no’, is slavery that binds us to our way, our control, our choices.  And in that slavery there is no trust.  God invites us to say ‘yes’ to Him and to trust His love, which is bigger than what we can see or anticipate, greater than what we can face or achieve and deeper than the pain that we are also asked to carry in the ‘yes’ we offer Him.

 

May God bless you richly and give you courage to say ‘yes’ to Him this Advent.

 

September 2016 Autumn Days

 

I always feel a sense of excitement in the last few days of August.  Suddenly the air changes and what was a warm breeze has a new coolness.  The light changes too, the warm bright yellow of summer holidays hollows out and a sharper thinner light begins to dawn. Of course there are other things that mark the coming of autumn, the hedgerows groaning with fullness, beginning to brown, showing the ripening blackberries. In the shops the ‘Back to school’ signs start appearing and warmer clothes and autumn colours fill the rails. These are the signs of autumn that I look for and celebrate each year. 

Tom Hank’s character in the film ‘You’ve Got Mail’ tells Meg Ryan how much he loves New York in the autumn and how it makes him want to buy school supplies and send her a bunch of newly sharpened pencils.  I confess I have always felt the same! I suppose because we grow up with September as the new school year I have always felt it’s September not January that marks a new year, a new season, a chance for new things.  Something about the fullness and bounty of summer giving way to the freshness of autumn has always given me an impetus for new things that the post Christmas cold and dark always fails to do.

For the church, summer has been a quiet season, lots of people taking the opportunity for time away, and so autumn marks a return to the energy, enthusiasm and fullness of church life again.  My prayer as we get back into the swing of things this autumn is that there will be space in our lives for new or renewed connections with God.  That it wouldn’t just be back to old routines but instead a renewed desire and commitment to seek and love the Lord our God with all our heart and strength.  Scripture exhorts us to do this, Moses encouraged the Israelites to ‘seek the Lord your God’ telling them  ‘you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul’ Deut 4:29. Jesus, taking Moses words, teaches His followers saying ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength’ Mark 12:30. So whether summer has meant a break for you or not why not take the new start of the autumn as an opportunity to go deeper in your life with God.

As a church we’ll always seek to support you growing in faith, and maybe this autumn you want to try a new spiritual discipline to help you.  Why not consider focusing on bible reading? I have plenty of resources and suggestions to help you find something you can use daily that is simple, accessible and gives real help for our ordinary lives.  You might want to try a home group to give you a chance to chew scripture over with others.  Or why not focus on prayer.  Again you can always ask me about tools to develop your prayer times, or why not join us on the first Monday or the month to pray or every Wednesday afternoon to prayer walk. 

Of course these are not the only ways to deepen your connection with God this Autumn, you might want to focus on another discipline such as fasting, which we continue to practice together on the first Monday of the Month. It may be in service, giving or worship that you could stretch and deepen this autumn. But perhaps most of us can do with a reminder from time to time that we need to give attention to our relationship with God and not simply drift unthinkingly from Sunday to Sunday.

I love talking about faith; I love sharing the struggles and the successes.  I love seeing God do amazing things in people’s lives and seeing us grow up into all that we are supposed to be.  As we enter the autumn ‘new year’ let us approach it like the students heading off for a new school year, full of curiosity and energy, wiling to try new things.  May we find our lives and as a result our conversations full of questions, comments and explorations as we seek new and renewed depth in our faith.

 

Clearing the Ground

 

Back in September 2015 we made a decision as a church to do something quite drastic.  For a whole month we stopped all our usual activities, we stripped things back to the bare essentials and spent time praying and listening.  We had become a church on a hampster wheel, and while we acknowledged how much of what we had done in the past had been good and for God's glory, we had begun to replace relationship with God with activity for God.  So we stopped and began to clear the ground. What unfolded was a quite extraordinary and completely unpredictable set of events.  We had times when it seemed as though nothing would happen, but some exciting and some challenging things emerged as we allowed God to work deep into our lives.

We learnt a lot, in part we were reminded who God is and we were challenged to keep our Sunday services as a holy place where we can worship Him.  We were also reminded that prayer, fasting and silence can bring great joy and depth to our relationship with God.  We learnt to slow down, to see that it was us and our ordinary lives that are to be the place where God is revealed and honoured, not the rushing around activities we some times think please Him.  We were encouraged that our activities, when they're not in place of relationship with God, are things that give us and other's great enjoyment and are being used to bless our community. 

As September rolled in October we moved from stopping to journeying and as we explore faith not now in stillness but along side the Israelites as they travel with Moses into the wilderness we are continuing to ask God what He wants? What sort of Church has He called us to be? How can we be Spirit filled, gospel led people who journey with Him through all of life's richness?  So as we ask questions, pray and listen for His voice I thought it would be good to just list here some of September's quotations that we might recall the words that challenged and nudged us into the start of our journey.

 

Not Too Busy

‘ Everyone receives this invitation to the table of life. It is new every morning…We live under the illusion that we are too busy to taste life’s moments fully.  We allow the noise around us and within us to deafen us to the sounds of life….. Busyness, noise and shallow living are the three great enemies of the spiritual life…. Each morning as you stand face to face with the grace of the new day, I invite you to proclaim this truth: ‘I am not too busy to taste the fullness of life today’. The choice is yours.  The feast is, too.’  Macrina Wiederkehr

All Is Gift

‘All is gift.  Grace is everywhere.  God in Christ is actively doing for and in us everything involved in the practice of resurrection.  So what is there left for us to do?  Receive, that is our primary response…. Receive the gift.’ Eugene Peterson

Fasting

‘The discipline of fasting is not rooted in proving how serious we are, or how determined we are to resist temptation, or how desperate we are to see answers to our prayers. These might well be Christian virtues, and benefits of fasting, but the proper motivation is
a longing for more of God, a hungering for the godly life and a desire to seek God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength.’ Philip Meadows

Distracted

‘We are not only busy.  We are also distracted… While being distracted may have something to do with our outer world, it has much more to do with our inner world.  It occurs when our compulsions remain unguarded. Our frustrations unresolved.  The hunger for more unabated.  The conflicts irreconcilable. The hurts unforgiven.  Our pain unhealed. The need to settle our inner conflict is often far more pressing than resolving our supposed lack of time.  And if we can, by the grace of God, still the raging ‘demons’ within, a life of intimacy with God becomes a vibrant and exciting possibility, even in the midst of demanding routines.’  Charles Ringma

 

 

 

 

The Kettle Story- by Pat

 

Yesterday our electric kettle stopped working. We switched it on with no water in and it made a sizzling sound and a pop. We put cold water in and it made an even worse sound and then a loud clicky crack. And it didn’t work. We left it for a bit and then tried again as we know it can reset itself. Nothing. We fiddled with everything. Changed the fuse. Played around with the base and the lid and anything inside the kettle. Nothing. So we left it another hour. More fiddling. Still nothing. RIP kettle. After 3 hours, still nothing. So we ordered another one on line.

 

That evening we went to Church meeting. We heard about Matt and Fiona’s home Trinity House and Bushey Parish’s plans to sell it, leaving them with uncertainty about the future. We heard Matt speak about God doing something exciting in the midst of the challenge. We heard Esther recruiting a group to help work with them to find a way forward. On the way home I thought about taking authority in this situation and what that could mean. How and what would that look like?  And at the same time the impossibility of it all.

 

At home the kettle still refused to work. More fiddling. Standing by it I wondered whether it would be okay to pray for the kettle to work. Does God care about kettles? I’ve been reading how God does stuff to draw people close to him, and examples of how that’s happened. So I pray about the kettle while: 1) thinking it’s not really appropriate and 2) doubting my praying will be effective in any case – though I remember that doubt is no barrier to God working. Nothing happens. No surprise there. But for some reason I open the lid again and check inside – again. Now six hours since kettle died. And I switch it on. And it works!

 

Now. First I have to break the news to Paul that the kettle is working with the replacement already on its way. Then, when he asks what I did I have to tell him that I prayed about it, that I asked God to make it work. And that all I did was look in the lid – again. He is somewhat bemused.

 

Now I know that it’s possible that there is another explanation. It’s possible that six hours kettle-rest made it work again, and that the few moments before and after praying and lid-lifting were the critical ones when that happened. Yeah – right!  Or maybe my lid technique was significantly different the last time to all the previous times. Or a combination of the two. Or just maybe God was involved.

 

So I went to bed wondering why God would mend a kettle. And it seems like he’s saying that if he can do kettles, why not houses? I was and am firmly convinced there’s a link here.

 

The next morning I remembered Exodus chapter 14, the episode with Moses on the edge of the Sea, with the Egyptians closing fast, telling the Israelites that God will do it – just you wait and see. And God tells Moses firmly to get on with it and raise his hand AND THEN they will see God’s power and just what he can do.  So anything we might do is potentially the way God might choose to act. But first we have to be prepared to believe that God has authority in this as in everything and that he’s delegated it to us. And then do whatever we can. 

 

 

 

February 2015 Old Sofa

 

Have you ever had that experience where you visit someone else’s home and you sit yourself down on their sofa only to find it’s the most uncomfortable sofa you have ever sat on?  You shift around a little, plump a cushion or two, but still you find yourself deeply uncomfortable.  You look over at your friends who seem to be sitting on their sofa happily and you think to yourself, how can my friends sit on this sofa night after night and not find it uncomfortable too?  How come they do not notice that the cushions are faded and thin and the springs are sticking into their backsides? 

Most of us are far too polite to ever ask these questions out loud but I wonder if we did what would be our friend’s response?  Perhaps they would become defensive- ‘You don’t have to stay and enjoy my hospitality if it’s so uncomfortable!’  Perhaps they would criticise my own sofa and say ‘At least my sofa isn’t like yours with it’s lumps and bumps’.  Perhaps they would defend their sofa ‘It’s given us twenty years of good service and you don’t just throw out something because it’s getting a little old.’  Or perhaps they would laugh and say ‘Is it?  I’ve never noticed before- I suppose we’ve just grown used to it.’

I wonder if our experience is very different when it comes to church.  Do people come through our doors and think ‘gosh why hasn’t anyone pointed out how uncomfortable this or that is?’ Churches too can get set in their ways and stop noticing their sharp edges, unwelcoming habits or uncomfortable ways.

I think that having the Ark Church lead worship was a bit like asking someone to come and comment on our church sofa.  They reminded us how quickly we can disqualify ourselves from hearing God’s voice and gave us a chance to try something new, to experience something new.  And like someone commenting on your dearly loved sofa it can be quite challenging.  Our first reaction might be to defend the way things are, to point out the imperfections in the other or to take offence.

But, once we’ve had a chance to reflect, I hope we can get past those initial reactions and allow the experience to challenge us.  Might there be new ways for us to worship that can bring life and vibrancy to us? Might God be calling us out of our comfort zones to take a risk in His hands?  Could there be deeper freedom for us that we have yet to experience? Let’s hold onto these questions and allow them to challenge us and enrich our church life.  And let us offer a sincere thank you Ark Church for all that you shared with us, all that you served us with, you are dear siblings in Christ.

 

 

 

January 2015 Walking on Water

 

When I was a  teenager I read the book ‘If you want to walk on water you’ve got to get out of  the boat’ by John Ortberg based on the story of Jesus walking on water in  Matthew 14. I think the title is wonderful because it summarises so well the  challenge of faith.  We want to experience the good things of God but  sometimes fear holds us back from taking the step we need to. We look out of our  boat and see Jesus walking across the sea towards us.  We long to be like  Peter and have the confidence to get out the boat and join Jesus, but we are  afraid. So together this month we’ll be reminding ourselves that we can have  confidence because we are loved by God.

We can have confidence because  He is a God who is faithful, a God who keeps His promises. He is faithful to us  and to the world He has made.  We explored that in Café church this  Sunday.

We can have confidence because Jesus life isn’t a story we made  up but His life, death and resurrection happened in history.  These events  have been changing the lives of everyone who has come to believe in Him ever  since.  And so this historical event is also deeply personal.  We can  have confidence because Christ died for each of us that we might live.  We  matter to Him very much.

We can have confidence to be ourselves.  We  don’t need to pretend that we are someone or something we’re not.  Our  weakness can be the place for God’s power to shine, our unique gifts add life  and variety to who we are and living honest gives us a chance to grow up and  mature into all that we might be.

We can have confidence because God has  good things in store for us.  There can be anxiety and fear when we focus  on the challenges of our lives. But in Christ we are lavished with good gifts.  God has good things in store for those who trust in Him beyond what we can see,  beyond even what we can imagine.

As I think about the story of Peter  walking on water I am sure that Peter must have been afraid too.  Yet he  fixed His eyes on Jesus and putting His confidence in Jesus’ promises he stepped  out onto the water.  And perhaps that is the key for us too, not to wait  until we have no fear but instead filling our vision, fixing our eyes on Jesus,  His goodness, trustworthiness and love that we might step out in faith, that we  might grow in confidence. Not because we have all the answers or are now  ‘sorted’ but because we have come to have confidence in His love for  us.