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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Don’t neglect church

I write this post on the evening of the day on which I left my local church where I have been in leadership for 9 years, and have been the senior minister for 5 years. It has been a great season but we are moving on to new ministry (though I admit I am far from certain what form that will take).

So as I leave church I write to persuade others why you should stay. In true preacher’s style let me offer three things you need from church

3. Fellowship. It’s hard to be a solitary Christian. We are designed to be in family and we need each other. Or, as John wrote in the Bible, how can we say we love God if we don’t love our brothers and sisters? And if we love them we will want to be with them. Don’t stop gathering.

2. Challenge. I often hear people saying that although, for whatever reason, they have disengaged with church, they are still ok with God. Fair enough, perhaps, and call me cynical if you like, but I do question how ok you are. Is it just that you continue to feel loved and accepted? That you still offer up the odd prayer? Good for you. But when did you last hear something from God which challenged your ideas or your practice? When did you feel Him correcting you? When did you get a new insight into some part of the Word, through a sermon or other teaching? I wonder how often, when we miss church for a long time, we get anaesthetised into thinking that we are ok when really we aren’t.

1. Worship. You’ll notice I have reversed the number order of this list – that’s because I’ve put the points in reverse order of importance. Worship goes at the top. Church is, above all, a worshipping community and it is every Christian’s privilege and duty to contribute. Yes you can pray, sing or listen to Hillsongs cds at home, but there is nothing like joining with your family to sing with one voice to glorify God. Make a joyful noise together!

So that’s why, though I have just left a church, I will find another. It may take William and me some time before we work out where God wants us to settle long term, but we will be in church somewhere regularly to maintain our own spiritual fervour and contribute to the joyful noise of worship that goes up from God’s people to the throne of grace.

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Reflections on Elim Training Coaching Academy

I returned yesterday from the last of the residential sessions on Elim’s inaugural Coaching Academy. A small group of Elim ministers has got together regularly over the last 9 months, to sharpen our skills in coaching and mentoring, and it’s been a great journey. In a series of interactive sessions, we have considered coaching, questioning, listening, individual and team coaching, feedback. Along the way we have practised skills and as a by-product have deepened some existing relationships and made new ones.

I came on the coaching academy because I was aware that mentoring/coaching (I was not sure of the difference!) was a large part of my ministry and I sensed that would increasingly be the case in the future. Little did I know last autumn that by the end of the course I would be leaving the church where I currently minister and moving to something which I’m not entirely sure of at the moment, but feel that coaching will be even more of an emphasis for me than it is now.

Someone asked me this week whether the academy had been a factor in my decision to move. I initially replied not, but on reflection perhaps indirectly it was. At the start of this calendar year I applied for a job which, without the reflections on my practice and ministry that the coaching academy has inspired, I might not have considered. As it happened I didn’t get that job, but the process of applying and being interviewed gave me some confidence that I could possibly minister in a different context from my current one.

The decision to move can be difficult. In our case I had said to my church leaders that if I did not get the job mentioned above, I would not be looking for something else. So when I was unsuccessful, it felt as if there should be a fresh start in the church; a picking up of vision; a refocusing of ministry; perhaps a shift of priorities – in short, a new season in church life. The surprising thing to me was that it quickly became clear to William and me that we should not enter this new season: it would be someone else’s season.

You see, in the season which is now just finishing, I have led the church in Essex while William has taught in a Bible College in Middlesex. They are about 65 miles apart, and he has done a weekly commute for about 5 years, staying away from home for between two and four nights every week. We have been content with that. It has been God’s plan for us. But we knew we should not start a new season. We are looking forward to joining up our ministry lives again. So we are moving to Middlesex, and I am applying for a part time role in the college where William works, a role which will be largely pastoral. While I have very little idea of what I will be doing for the bulk of the time, (or even if I will get this job), I know God has called me to coach/mentor woman leaders, and younger leaders. I am excited about the possibility of getting to know Bible College students again. I would love to spend a lot of time pastoring and coaching younger leaders, seeing them achieve their potential. I believe those opportunities will open up, whether in the college, or perhaps in another church setting (or both).

So there are things I have learned in the Coaching Academy and ways in which it has impacted already on my own life. But perhaps the most precious aspect of the experience has been the relationships. There were people I already knew well, like my buddy Michelle, whom I always love sharing with. Others have moved from acquaintances to significant friends – Geoff and Jane, thanks for all input so far and I look forward to continuing to inspire each other. Still others I hardly knew before but have, through talking about our goals, plans etc. with each other I have found greatly impacted me. Sam, Joel, Ian and Stephen – I have long loved your ministry as Elim Sound and now am delighted to know you as individuals; you are men of huge integrity and insight as well as massively talented. (Stephen, thank you for two prophetic words you shared with me in prayer – I had forgotten the first one until today, but they were both to do with climbing!)

Steve Y, thanks for asking me the provoking question mentioned at the start of this piece and for other insights shared along the way. Stuart, Jamie and Bill, thanks for your open and honest sharing in the sessions and for making us laugh. Kojo – what a wealth of experience and depth! BB and Edwin, thanks too for conversations and remembrances of things we have been through together in the past.

And to Dave, Paul and Alison who shared their hearts, experience and wisdom with us, thanks is not enough.

I hope and sense this is not the end of the road for many of those friendships.

Thanks be to God!

 

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Eliminate Church

Oh the joys of predictive text! Someone recently created a Facebook advert for an event taking place in our church, and I assume it was their device which didn’t recognise the word ‘Elim’ (the name of our church) and instead typed ‘Eliminate.’ In the plethora of church names one hears of, I have yet to come across an Eliminate Church – I’m not sure I would want to go to one; I might be afraid of running into some cousins of the Daleks shouting “Eliminate! Eliminate!”

Still, it got me thinking. There are a few things I would like to see eliminated in church. Could we perhaps:

Eliminate gossip?

Eliminate judgementalism?

Eliminate apathy?

Eliminate the masks we wear?

Eliminate prejudice?

To sum up: Eliminate sin?

That sounds unrealistic, and yet John in the Bible writes: “I write this to you so that you will not sin.” (1 Jn. 2:1) He knows that we do sin and tells us what to do about it (hallelujah!) but he does have the expectation that Christians, having had their sins forgiven, will do all they can to eliminate it in future: “No-one who lives in him keeps on sinning.” (1 Jn. 3:6)

So today’s challenge is : with the help, empowerment and constant forgiveness of the Holy Spirit, what must I eliminate from my life?

 

 

 

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