Sowing with tears

Restore our fortunes, Lord, like streams in the Negev. Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy. Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them.  (Psalm 126: 4-6)

A note to those who cry now: you may feel alone and unproductive, but don’t let it stop you sowing. There will be a time for harvest, and the seeds sown and watered with your tears will grow.

What are the seeds sown in mourning?

Conversations with God: When it’s difficult, we can be honest with God and find God can be relied on. There is no time or energy for saying ‘the right thing.’ Rather you say what is real, you express your pain and allow God to respond. It is often in pain that we most deepen our knowledge of God.  My own experience is that I came to a personal knowledge of God in my grief at the loss of my father. It’s a long time ago now, but I still remember talking to God as if He were there in the room and realising that God the Father knew the pain of bereavement, as He had watched the Son die on the cross. With shock, I knew that God had chosen to go through this – why? The answer returned strongly: “Because I love you.” In that moment I knew I had to return some love – and so a seed was planted of friendship with God. The resulting plant is still growing.

Investment in friendships: it’s often said that it’s in suffering that you find out who your friends are. True friendship can be born in the tough times. Let me share another example from my own life. I don’t think Pat will mind me naming her. I had met her not long after we moved to Essex as she lived in the city about ten miles away from me and served on a ministry team of the Elim church there. I didn’t know her well, but when I found myself going through the toughest trial so far of our ministry, I woke up in the night acutely aware that I needed someone to talk to about my own feelings, someone who understood the strains of ministry. I felt alone but asked God who I could talk to, and Pat’s name immediately came to my mind. I called her later that morning and she graciously made time for me and helped me to some important insights about the situation we were facing. It was a seed sown in weeping which grew into a plant of enduring precious friendship through the remaining years of my time in Essex, and still bears fruit. Thanks Pat, I know you will read this!

There are other seeds which can be sown with tears – investment in projects, training for future roles, bringing up children, forgiving someone who has hurt us. Don’t ignore the pain, but know that your time of carrying your sheaves will come. Our greatest example in this is, as always, Jesus, who, “for the joy that was set before him … endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:3)

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Deborah – not God’s second choice!

I recently met up with one of my friends who is a woman in church leadership. She is sure of her calling and functioning well, but wanted to meet with me to discuss some Biblical texts concerning the leadership of women, with a view to understanding them better, and being better equipped to defend her leadership when challenged. She and I have both been brought up with conservative Christian theology. We both hold to the view that the Bible is the inspired Word of God and is our ultimate authority in matters of faith and practice. So it matters to us, as women who lead, that our position is consistent with Biblical teaching.

Deborah’s name was mentioned – an outstanding Old Testament leader. You would have thought that her very presence would help to convince Bible-believers that there is no gender bar in God’s view. But no – my friend cited teaching she had heard over the years to the effect that Deborah was an exception – she could not be seen as an example to today’s women, as she was only in position because the men God really wanted in the role had not stepped up! My hackles rose: I felt a rant coming on. Here it is:

How insulting is it to half the human race to say that they can only lead when the other half completely fails?

How insulting is it to the other half of the human race (sorry, this is sounding a bit complicated now, I realise; that’s the nature of rants) – how insulting is it to men to say that they are all so weak and helpless that you have to appoint an even more weak and helpless individual (as a woman is in the eyes of the people who make this argument) to do the job?

How insulting is it to God to say that God cannot appoint someone with the right qualifications so God has to make do with second best?

Now I’ve got that off my chest, let’s look at what the Bible actually says about Deborah. Her story can be read in Judges 4, and then a song she composed (a rare bit of Scripture written by a woman) in Judges 5. Can you see where a man should have been doing Deborah’s job but didn’t? I can’t.  What I surmise is that those who taught my friend had a nod to, and a sloppy reading of, 4:8, where Barak, the army leader whom Deborah prophetically ordered into battle, refused to go unless she accompanied  him.

But look – Deborah was already in her position of leadership before that! She was a prophet. She sat under the same tree giving judgements for so long that it got named after her. She functioned in her prophetic leadership role when she summoned Barak in the first place to give him his orders from God. She was not especially impressed when he displayed his lack of confidence, but she realised he needed her support and so, as a good leader, gave it. She did her job and she helped Barak do his.

Rant over, I think. Leaders, whatever our gender, have a lot to learn from Deborah.

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Our previous pastor always …

Any pastor will have heard this. It seems designed (by the devil, if not by the person who tells us) to make us insecure. Pastors (you may be surprised to discover, if you are not one), are not always the most secure of people. It can be hard to know if we are really doing what we should – are we preaching the right things, are we being effective leaders, are we compassionate, or challenging, enough in our counselling? And it can be hard to measure success. Should we count the numbers of people in church? How do we measure the spiritual growth of the people?

And then someone pipes up with: “Our previous pastor used to …” And even if they didn’t say so, what you hear is, “Our previous pastor was better than you in this respect.” And  your confidence plummets.

So it’s interesting and encouraging to me to read that even Jesus seems to have faced this.

One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” (Luke 11:1)

Am I wrong in hearing an implicit criticism in this? Jesus being unfavourably compared with John in that he has not taught his disciples to pray? Maybe it’s just me, and of course maybe it was just me when the people said to me, “Pastor So-and-So does it like this,” and I heard it as a criticism. Or maybe it’s not just me, and the disciple who criticised Jesus, and the person who criticised me, should have known better and recognised the different ministries of Jesus and John; and me and Pastor So-and-So.

In any case, Jesus clearly decided not to take it personally and was, of course, secure enough in himself, in his ministry and in his relationship with the Father, not to feel threatened. And so we still recite his answer. John’s teaching on prayer to his disciples has not been recorded for posterity, but the Lord’s prayer continues to enrich his church.

Well, I find that interesting.

 

 

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God’s Christmas answer to Elihu

If you sin, how does that affect him?
If your sins are many, what does that do to him?  (Job 35:6)

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Being organised for Christmas

I was so proud of myself a few weeks ago. As a person who normally does things not very far in advance of when they absolutely have to be done, I thought I was very organised when I bought a Christmas present for Iain and Maggie in America, and, wait for it, even got round to sending it! Having ordered it online, I received it in a nice cardboard tube, which was ideal for sending on. So I securely taped a card with their address over my own address, took it to the post office and sent it on its way.

A couple of days later, the tube arrived back on my doorstep, minus the card. And a couple of days after that Maggie messaged to thank me for the lovely card, but a bit puzzled by the ragged parcel tape round it and my comment in it hoping they liked the present.

So the present sat in my hallway for another week or so, until today when I (and I have to admit to being slightly impressed by myself again – I know it’s a normal thing to do, but you really may not realise how much I usually don’t get round to things) took it to the post office again. This time I’ve written the address on the actual cardboard so there’s nothing to get detached. Of such small victories is life comprised.

 

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God is good all the time

It has been a week of some ups and downs, some light and shade, but we can say that God is good all the time, in the dark as well as the light times. I’m reading Job in my own devotions at the moment and was struck again by the way the book portrays God as allowing Satan to bring evil into Job’s life. Sickness and sin are not in God’s plan for our lives, but still God is able to keep us through them, and those hard experiences give us opportunities to affirm our trust in a good God whose plans for us are perfect.

I say that in the context of a week in which we have faced some health issues in our family, and as I write, William is in hospital. His abnormal heart rhythms, for which he has been waiting for a cardiology appointment, played up again at 3am on Saturday and I took him to A&E, where this time they decided to admit him for observation and keep him until Monday morning so he can see a cardiologist then. So today (Sunday) he is actually feeling better (if not quite normal) and hoping to have his cardiology consultation faster than would have been the case. All good.

That came at the end of a really good week. William took a week’s holiday which has really helped us to settle into our new home and area and discover some super local walks. On Friday evening we had a super Italian meal, courtesy of a meal voucher which was part of our leaving present from the Braintree Elim Church.

Harefield beauty

One of the beautiful views we can walk to

 

Lobster and steak!

Thanks to the Braintree church for this fab food!

 

 

 

 

 

 

And LST has offered me the role of part time Pastoral Support Manager to start in November. I am delighted with this and really feel it is a gift from God. I have been missing pastoral ministry and look forward to being part of a great team at LST. In fact I’m going to join the team as a volunteer until November, so will be starting on Wednesday. In the meantime I’ve preached in our church and accepted another preaching date, and also was offered the chance to write two short articles for an academic dictionary. Suddenly I have no excuse for feeling redundant in ministry! (I don’t think I’m going to do the articles for various reasons, but it was good to be asked).

To top off the week, this evening I have joined the Northwood Choral Society and spent the evening singing Britten and Poulenc Christmas music. More demanding than I was expecting, but great fun and I was made very welcome. I haven’t been in a choir for ages and I loved it.

God is good all the time – and all the time, God is good!

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Harefield blessings

Harefield Baptist Church is about 10 minutes walk away so we thought we’d go this morning and I prayed that we might meet people who would become friends. Although I’d like to stay based in Elim, it’s really important for me to have local Christian friends. Also, if I find others in the community to speak to of Jesus, where will I take them to church? Now I know. What a lovely little church with an LST-educated woman pastor with whom I’ve already made a coffee date. We were warmly welcomed and found the presence of the Lord.

So although we have told them that we won’t be there every Sunday I think it’s likely that we will develop some good relationships. We left having been invited to a barbecue (which unfortunately we can’t make, but have a standing invitation to other social events); with a request if we can be invited to preach (yes!); and that above-mentioned coffee date. This may turn out to have been a really significant morning.

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Blessed Assurance

As I wrote a few weeks ago, ” … there is nothing like joining with your family to sing with one voice to glorify God.”  Today has been a good illustration of that.

For the last three Sundays William and I have visited other churches to worship. But this weekend we felt it might be ok to return to the church we recently left. What a welcome we received, and how lovely it has been this morning to be part of a congregation which I genuinely feel is my family. I have missed you. I’m still moving away, but it’s been great to be back as just part of the congregation, but more than a visitor. It’s not the same when you don’t know the people.

In worship this morning we sang that wonderful old hymn, “Blessed Assurance, Jesus is Mine.”  It gave me the chance to reflect before God that my value as a person does not depend on what others think of me, whether I have a defined, named role in some organisation, or on anything I do at all. My value is as a child of God, “born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.” So I can thank God for all that is happening (or, at the moment, not happening) in my life, and rejoice that “The King is coming soon,” as we also sang. As was prophetically declared by one of the worship team, the King is coming not just on the day of the Lord, but today, tomorrow. He came yesterday. He is here. He is worth praising and just His presence is enough.

Of course the people are lovely and their welcome was warm. Thanks to them all, but I have to mention especially 5-year-old Caleb, who ran over just as I was leaving to say hi and give me a huge hug. That, if nothing else, would have made my day.

So it has done my soul good to be at home again. Thank you Braintree Elim, and thank you Jesus.

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On walking on water and not knowing the future

In a recent post I mentioned that we had decided to move, and that I was not sure what would be ahead. This is a post about continued uncertainty and frustration, and how it is possible at the same time to feel really insecure about the future, yet utterly secure that God has a plan.

I did not get the job I applied for at the college where William works. I have to admit that I am basically really upset about that, on top of also not getting another job earlier in the year. At the same time, the sale of our house is proving difficult, with lots of queries being raised by the buyers’ solicitor, ironically more about our leasehold garage than the freehold house. It all means that while, a couple of months ago, we would have expected to have moved by now, we are still in our old house and I have lost that part of my identity which comes from having a job/ministry title. I woke up in the middle of the night a couple of nights ago and considered for a second pulling the plug on the house sale and staying exactly where we are. But that is clearly neither right nor possible.

When the apostle Peter got out of his boat to walk on the water towards Jesus (Matthew 14:28ff), there must have been a moment in which he felt as he never had before: the water was wet; how much of his feet got covered without him sinking? Perhaps it was like that insecure feeling you get on a roller-coaster: your stomach goes up and down but you still have that basic belief that you will get safely to the end of the ride (until he didn’t – but even then Jesus saved him.) What I mean is that he could have felt insecure while knowing he really wasn’t. I think that’s where I am at the moment. Feeling uncertain is compatible with faith.

This morning I read Isaiah’s prophecy to Hezekiah, given in the context of the promise of relief from the Assyrian siege of Jerusalem. Hezekiah and his people were being promised a miraculous deliverance, and in that context:

This year you will eat what grows by itself; and the second year what springs from that. But in the third year sow and reap, plant vineyards and eat their fruit.” (2 Kings 19:29)

Reflecting on that, I wonder if what God is saying is for me to take some time to do what is before me right now: manage the house move, then get to grips with the new house and garden (perhaps literally eating what is growing by itself there.)  Then there will be whatever springs from that: what will this move bring? Though I do not have a paid or named role in the college, we are still sure that God’s leading was for William and me to have a more joined-up life, which means that I will try to make relationships with his colleagues and students, and some contribution to the life of the college in general.  In fact I have freedom to do “what springs” instead of sticking to a job description. Maybe significant fruit can still be found. And perhaps there will be a time in the future for some more deliberate sowing, reaping and planting. Literal or metaphorical? My farmer son will, I’m sure, be only too glad to encourage me to do some literal planting and reaping in our new, huge garden. (And, I would add, jam making.)

I have always thought I would be a rubbish housewife. I’ve never not worked or studied. And I hate tidying up. But it seems that I have a time ahead of me in which I will get the chance to serve William in a new way. I spent a lot of today trying to understand and edit the website and facebook page of an organisation of which he has just become the chair, so that I can post things for him. There is still stuff for me to do, which is encouraging.

But if you want to invite me to come and preach anywhere, I’d probably jump at the chance!

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On valuing style over substance

But Naaman went away angry and said, “I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. …” So he turned and went off in a rage.  (2 Kings 5:11-12)

This is the Biblical account of a high-ranking enemy soldier who sought healing from Israel’s prophet, but was offended at the way he was treated. Fortunately for Naaman, he had servants who were brave enough to help him to get things into perspective and see that it was worth giving Elisha’s method a go. Naaman humbled himself and received his healing.

The world of today’s western church is a long way from the Samaria of Naaman’s day, but I wonder if we don’t share some of his attitudes at times? When we choose a church, do we look for a style of music we like, or other cultural factors, rejecting some churches or people because they are too flashy (or not flashy enough, if we are real Naamans!), all the time in danger of missing what God wants to do in our lives?

Lord, let me see beneath the surface and discern what you are doing and where your presence is. Even if I have to cope with others who don’t do things the way I think they should!

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