In other news …

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I met with my counsellor this morning.

I’ve been seeing her for eight months now and at the end of the session I think we both sensed that the course of therapy is now coming to an end; not because I’m completely free of overwhelming thoughts, but because I’m now well enough to let my rational brain bring a little order back into the craziness whenever things get wild.

Life is good.

I drove into town after the session and parked up in my usual place by St James in the City. I walked up to Saint George’s Hall along Hope Street and smiled because only Liverpool would have a street named “hope” with a cathedral at each end and a statue half way commemorating the historic relationship between the Anglican Bishop Sheppard and the Catholic Bishop Worlock.

It’s along time since I’ve written on this blog  but I did spend the afternoon in the Picton Reading Room with my notebook, as I did last Wednesday, and the outcome was one or two good sentences.

I went to evening prayer at the Anglican Cathedral at the end of the day. The vast interior of the building was running with children, 16 schools from Warrington gathered to perform gospel songs in a concert for their parents. It was much too noisy for evening prayer which had been moved to the Lady Chapel. I was glad to help the verger carry the prayer books down in the lift and just a few of us gathered for the short service underneath the dazling blue of the stain glass window and its brilliant light.

If you have never been to evening prayer I can recommend it as short and consolidatory. It pulls together all the loose ends of the day without making any outrageous promises that it will be unlikely to deliver on.

Evening prayer includes a Psalm, the Magnificat (the song Mary sang when the angel told her she was to have a child) and the Nunc Dimittis (the song Simeon sang when Jesus was presented in the temple). There is the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed and a chapter from both testaments of the bible.

In these days our world is full of words: news media, social media, electronic communications, arguments, controversies and many, many conversations. Church life too: so many views and opinions, so many competing voices and plans.

Rarely do I hear so much scripture in one sitting. Rarely do I hear so much scripture read aloud. And scripture seems at home in the cathedral, with its gathered congregation, those from its own community and us visitors too. The scripture seems somehow bigger here, as if my home and my head were too small to contain its fullness.

This is from the Old Testament reading for today, some trustworthy reassurance after another day of political turmoil and perspective for us in uncertain times:

Your eyes will see the king in his beauty
and view a land that stretches afar…
In your thoughts you will ponder the former terror:
Look on Zion, the city of our festivals;
your eyes will see Jerusalem,
a peaceful abode, a tent that will not be moved;
its stakes will never be pulled up,
nor any of its ropes broken.
There the Lord will be our Mighty One.
It will be like a place of broad rivers and streams.
No galley with oars will ride them,
no mighty ship will sail them. For the Lord is our judge,
the Lord is our lawgiver,
the Lord is our king;
it is he who will save us.

Isaiah 33

 

Nearer than you think

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Yesterday God met us in our gathering together and it was good.

Another Sunday morning meetings of the saints, whose voices swelled with prayer and praise. His presence hovered in the greeting of friends and strangers, young and old. The happy comradeship of pews filling up and news being shared from the week just gone. We promised to pray for one another in the week to come and when the first chords sounded we stood side by side and raise grateful voices to Jesus our King.

God was kind to us in the preaching of the word and we came away from the prayer line strong and full of brightness and faith. We made confession with our lips in the reading of the word, the mouthing of prayers and our hearts were stirred as heaviness slipped away and all was well with the world.

Today we will know his presence in a sink full of dirty dishes and in the loading of the washing machine. We will thank Him for his goodness to us as we butter bread for sandwiches, peel vegetables, defrost the fridge. We will find him in the awkward words of a troublesome colleague or a shameful inbox of waiting mail. Unexpected bills will drop through the letter box, people will let us down. We will persevere through the to-do list and wrestle out some time at the end of the day to read or watch TV.

We are the people seeking to bring the loveliness of God into the everyday messes of our Monday morning worlds. What seemed so hopeful on Sunday can quickly fade by Monday but, one need not cry out very loudly; he is nearer than you think …

“He does not ask much of us, merely a thought of Him from time to time, a little act of adoration, sometimes to ask for His grace, sometimes to offer Him your sufferings, at other times to thank Him for the graces, past and present, He has bestowed on you, in the midst of your troubles to take solace in Him as often as you can. Lift up your heart to Him during your meals and in company; the least little remembrance will always be the most pleasing to Him. One need not cry out very loudly; He is nearer to us than we think.”
― Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God

This is a personal walking out of heaven on earth, a kingdom-come life bringing universal notions of the presence of God into the small minutes, hours and days of our unsteady lives. For our God is an inclusive and reckless socialist, he demands that the blessings of heaven should be shared equally amongst us all; right here, right now.

If it doesn’t work on Monday morning as the sun rises on another ordinary day – then it doesn’t work at all.

The great adventure

Recently back from our church family camp and counting all the blessings – even though I’m not especially good with big numbers. 10, 000 reasons territory, to be sure!

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I love living in my tent. I love living without too many things, just getting by with the contents of my bag for a week or so: a hair brush, a tooth brush, some knitting and a really good book. I like to cook a less complicated dinner every night, using just one ring of the two ring gas stove, just one pan and getting everyone to help. Our juice is in jam jars, your food will be served on white enamel plates with a bright blue rim, as camp food should be. Under our canvas we fill the days with simple tasks: washing, collecting water, keeping the camp kitchen clean and doing dishes.

For most of the time our phones will be off, there is no wi-fi, we talk to each other much much more. On the way to the showers old friends pass by, people we have not seen since family camp last year. A smile and a hug. Good people sit with us around the porch of the tent, they tell us their family stories and we tell them ours. All of our children are growing up strong. We did a good job didn’t we? After all we went through? We parented these young people and they stand on our shoulders. You can not know how much I love to see your kids all grown up, how much I want to tell you it turned out well. When we turn in at night the stars are all out in the sky. We share a torch and it’s difficult to to find our pyjamas in the dark. Sunshine and outdoor living have made us tired. The dark slowed us down when the pink sun set. We will sleep soundly after such a good day.

In the morning looking out across the camp, the roof of all these canvas homes are a mass of waving flags. I’ve walked with these people for nearly thirty years. Bright sun and blue sky I’m thanking God for everything they are and all they will be. I’m simply stunned. The church is a wonderful thing, an awesome place and heaven’s gate (Genesis 28.17), chosen to proclaim (1Peter 2.9), called to make known the manifold abundant and never ending glories of God in Christ (Ephesians 3.10). All you people are God’s people, faithful people, lovers of God, you can and will change your worlds with words of astonishing grace and acts of tremendous faith.

We will gather for our evening meetings and we will sing our songs of praise to the God who has never ever let us down. We will know His presence and stand shoulder to shoulder with brothers and sisters, strangers and friends, young and old, the church who declare his praise as they were meant to do. And all around the meeting God is speaking and His Spirit is active. Hearts are changed, seeds of hope begin to grow, callings are heard for the very first time and old callings forgotten or abandoned spring to life.

Out on the platform the music from the band and the singers fades. There is a lull in this programme of well led worship and no one much cares for this pause is pregnant. We stand together waiting for a word and a new song is sung, a new song in a strange tongue. One man stands and sings unmistakably the song that God has given. All across the room, hands are raised, eyes turned heavenwards. Recognised by many longing hearts, though never heard before. Here is something more, deep calls to deep and the old familiar words fail.

There is always more. He is the God who promises blessings that are new every morning, new blessings as fresh as the day. On every day for all eternity there will be more, more of eternal God making all things new. No copies. No imitations. A new day presence of a new day God.

(photo credit: picture taken by my friend Rachael Ledgeway)

 

On our egg rolling day

Yesterday was our egg rolling day and some lovely friends from church and other places joined us for fun in the park. After 15 years of rolling eggs I still haven’t managed to get over how much fun small children have rolling an egg down a hill, then running to retrieve it, over and over again. So, I thought I would share last year’s post on egg rolling day and what it means to be the church.

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Today we will be the church in towns and villages, cities and metropolises in two hemispheres, across seven continents, rich and poor, black and white, male and female, young and old. We will meet in school halls, auditoriums, cinemas and converted warehouses, downtown, uptown and every place in between. In cathedrals and chapels, the flagging and flourishing, coming together, Royal, Holy, Chosen, declaring the praises of him who called us out of darkness, every culture, every nation, every temperament and personality type, accepted and deeply loved by God.

In rows looking at the back of another person’s head as sun trickles through the coloured glass of stained windows or in a quiet circle of friends on fold-away chairs we will hush squabbling siblings who open colourings books and story Bibles as the first song begins. The music will be played, plucked, hummed, strummed and beat; melody, harmony, symphony, cacophony all to the glory of our great God. Called into His glorious light we will sing new words on illuminated screens and old words in Times New Roman text on pages of hymnals that feel like vellum between our fingers, their scent like bee’s wax from a thousand faithful servants who have polished these pews.

We will read from ancient scriptures in translation new and old, we will utter our ‘Thus says the Lord’, bow heads, pray and chorus ‘Amen’. Amen is what we mean for we are in agreement on these things. We are the people of God and we agree that this is good.

The preacher will preach from a text, in three points or no points at all, in stories imaginary and real. He will draw from traditions and commentaries and all the saints of old. He will tells the meanings of the words we crave like, love and joy and peace, fellowship, community and church. He will make us laugh and make us think, we will weep and sigh and leave challenged or softened, enraged or humbled.

Bread will be eaten, devoured by the hungry and nibbled upon by the not so bold, fresh and yeast scented, wheat of the field and warmth of the oven, a crusty loaf or a small white wafer, round as a moon. The body is broken and we are made whole. There is wine to make the heart glad and the heart is glad as only the forgiven can be. The peace will be shared between those who love deep and wide and those whose love seems to them too small. Hands will be shaken, a hug made, a smile, an arm around the shoulder and an offer to pray. Health, healing, provision come, all from the hand of the Lord.

Today we were the church me, my family and a few friends in the park. We met to eat together and roll our eggs down the grassy bank, to run to the bottom fetch back the egg, just to do it all again. All the rules were simple and all the children could play, everyone of them. The little ones would scramble and fall on their muddy bottoms over and over again, they would be carried in the arms of their fathers and helped when they stumble by children only a little older than they are now. The winner was the one whose egg has not cracked after tumbling through the grass ten, twenty, thirty, times. And everyone else they were winners too with prizes and sweets and we fed the ducks and play on the swings until it is time for tea.

This is my church and now we know each other a little better and love each other a little more. And here we are ready to meet and greet the poor and lost and lonely and all who mourn; to bring them a little bit of Jesus on a spring day in the park, husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, small children, big children and our egg rolling fun and His good safe love.

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:9, 10 NIV)

International Women’s Day

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Yesterday was International Women’s Day. On Twitter I named six women who inspire me: Dorothy Day, Dorothy Stang, Wangari Maathai, Pandita Ramabai, Simone Weil. That’s one woman from each continent,using the hashtag #sixwordsaturday #internationalwomensday.

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Today Heidi and I got to share some words of encouragement with our church family: I led the communion and she preached. She started with the words of Samuel Johnstone from Boswell’s Life, where Boswell writes,

“I told him I had been that morning at a meeting of the people called Quakers, where I had heard a woman preach.

Johnson: “Sir, a woman’s preaching is like a dog’s walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.”

A considerable amount of ink and noise is spilt everyday on this topic, and whilst time and effort is consumed with that, a women like Christine Caine is preaching the gospel to thousands and working within an inch of her own life to secure the release of women around the world trapped in sexual slavery through an organisation called the A21 Campaign.

Some parts of the Christian community remain unhappy about women preaching and in some places when women speak in church it is called something else to get over the problem. I think you’ll agree (from the video clip below) that Christian Caine is preaching and we should call it what it is. Sarah Bessey explains it like this,

“… the first time I preached in my home church on a Sunday morning. And yes, I’m purposely using the word “preach” – not the more acceptable words we women usually employ when we’re at the front of a church: “sharing” or “talking” even “ministering” perhaps. Preach. It’s a strong word, isn’t it? I want to reclaim the word “preaching” for women and so, as usually happens, I needed to take a walk down the road I’m encouraging other women to take.”

It is important to remember that inequalities towards women is not an issue about preaching and leadership. The debates about women in the church are part of a wider move to address injustices, exclusions and inequalities that prevent us from seeing the full image of God expressed in the world. Half the world are women or as the Chinese saying goes ‘women hold up half the sky’. And Half the Sky is the name of a book and a movement led by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn that exposes dark and forgotten truths about the scale of human suffering still experienced by half the world’s population through sex trafficking, female genocide, female genital mutilation and honour killings.

These are not modern problems; the misogyny in the world or in the church. In 1901 Amy Carmichael an Irish missionary in India met a little girl whose family had sold her into temple prostitution. The little girl sat on Amy’s lap and with the aid of a rag doll she had been given to play with, described to Amy, in detail the degrading practices that had been forced upon her. This is how Amy Carmichael began a mission to rescue girls who had been sold into slavery and provided homes for hundreds of orphans through the work of the now famous Dohnavur Fellowship. Amy Carmichael stood at the turn of the twentieth century. She was a woman who taught from the Word of God, led meetings, administered a campaign, ran an organisation, raised funds, took on opposing institutions, cared for the sick, prayed and wrote all to the glory of God. But be in no doubt: there were plenty of voices telling her that her work in church and her work amongst the poor were unsuitable roles for a woman.

I have always been nervous of speaking in front of people. But today I refused to be intimidated by self doubt and reminders of old inadequacies. I had to do serious battle with some historic demons because I wanted to share effectively a message of transformation that I believe in with all my heart. I wanted to share the gospel as we gathered at the table and took bread and wine together because I believe in it’s great power and I want nothing of me to hinder another from receiving well. I did not want that message to be lost to my nerves or the fog of forgetfulness that comes with a rush of unwanted flight hormones the minute they hand me the mic.

So today I did it! I preached it without fear because if the message is worth preaching it’s worth preaching well.

IWWD

Believe in yourself

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This morning I have been finishing a little work in the church cellar and I got to thinking about one of the quotes they had chosen for the wall. I wrote a post for their blog and share it here. I was hoping I could show something of the strengths and the limitations of the ‘believe in yourself’ message.

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I made sure I was at the building early this morning. I wanted to start the day with a sense of accomplishment and a job well finished, one step closer to making the cellar the best youth venue ever.

I made myself a coffee and carried it downstairs along with a CD players so I had music to paint along  to. Thanks to the girls the letters were already pencilled onto the walls and thanks to the spirit level the letters were straight. I’ve done this before, so I got down to business, each letter outlined with a marker pen then carefully painted inside the lines using a blunt brush and acrylic paint.

It looks good.

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But is it enough? Is it enough to tell you and all the other lovely young people who join us in our great cellar venue, two, three times a week ‘Be you’, ‘Believe in yourself’?

Of course not! We have a message and we have a God, and our message and our God are much bigger than any pithy quote. After all some young people really do not like being themselves at all. Some of them are plagued with the sense that they are not enough and unless they meet and come to know the God who loves them deeply for who they are, they will never be able to believe in themselves or anyone else.

All of our human nature and everything in the created world has been spoilt by sin and a turning from God that first happened in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve became discontented with what God had gifted to them.  Yet God was not confused or discouraged by this rebellion, he began calling man back to himself with loving kindness and patience until, at just the right time he sent Jesus.

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Jesus is God’s perfect way of showing us that we are completely loved and accepted because he died on the cross to take the weight and the consequence of every sin and rebellion ever known to man. And then having died this terrible death he was raise to life and returned to reign with God, so that we can know ourselves loved and accepted and be the people we were born to be. This is why we believe in Jesus.

Jesus Christ at work in us is powerful and changes us from despicable-me to forever-loved-and-accepted-me.

So believe in yourself and be who you truly are in Christ.

Be Saved and Be You.

Coffee and Colouring

Tuesday was our Coffee and Colouring morning.

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We love our tinies and their wonderful parents and like to do something good to help them through a rainy half term break.

We have laid out our toddler height tables and miniature chairs, our cut and colour activities. We have glue sticks and round ended scissors, tissue paper, split pins and paper plates. We have tuppawares full of crayola crayons and brand new felt tip pens in paper coffee cups, rolls and rolls of cellotape, blu-tac and coloured card. We have borrowed the smallest plastic slide from the toddler group store and set it up with a rug and a crate of toys. All the cakes are homemade with butter, full fat milk and dark dark chocolate. We cut the brownies in perfect triangles, lay them out on doilies, next to cupcakes with white frosting swirls, pink and purple sprinkles. There are flasks of coffee and jugs of juice. All the toddler cups have sippy lids, the milk is chilled and the mugs are big enough for a proper drink of tea.

Our first guests arrive and rows of prams are parked up by the door. There are welcomes and smiles, introductions and names exchanged. Some of these mums have done more to get out this morning than a grown professional man will do in a whole week at the office.

My own children and their friends, now grown, help at the tables, with difficult cutting out and kind words, for every little-child likes a big-child friend. When a colouring activity is complete a little exclamation of praise erupts like an applause, tiny certificates and stickers are given out and little ones run to show and tell. And all our children shine! Everyone of them from your youngest to my oldest!

Because you gave them breakfasts and wiped their runny noses, dressed them and found enough coats and shoes to make it into the car, we would like you to sit at a table free from crusts and smears of jam. We would like to help you have a cup of tea in peace and you don’t have to wash your own cup.

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We made it through the supermarket tantrums, picky-eating, double-buggy days and here on the other side we know our worth. We know our worth and we know it is worth it, every terrible joy-laden, heart-wrenching scrap of it, every tissue, every baby wipe, the nights of lost sleep and the hard to maintain disciplines, the never ending star-charts and lost library books, the spilt drinks and leaking nappies, the days when the washing pile could not throw up enough socks and pants to get us through another day and we’re drying items of school uniform with a hair dryer already late for the bus. It was all worth it and it will all be worth it, the carefully prepared dinners that no one would eat, when cough followed cold and the teething tears never dried up, good intentions, failures and successes, every bad-mum moment you ever had.

This morning we would like to say a ‘thank you’ to our communities’ mums, and to the dads too.

We are thankful for all you do. You are worth it, it is worth it.

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If you couldn’t make it to Coffee and Colouring yesterday, please feel free to download our happy ladybird PDF cut and colour craft to use at home. Open the link and click on the word ‘ladybird’.