Waiting with hope.

IMG_3899Yesterday, Good Friday, I did some gardening. Perhaps not what you’d consider an appropriate activity for such a day. But I sowed a bunch of seeds. And as I was doing so, I was thinking about that verse in John:

Very truly I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.

And I was thinking, too, about the anticipation of the coming weeks as I keep looking at the soil to see whether anything’s growing.  And thinking, therefore, of the anticipation that we Christians feel between now and Easter Sunday.  Not waiting for something that just might happen, but waiting for something that we can be certain will happen.  Jesus’ resurrection brings such great hope.  Jesus’ burial was not the end of the story; new life did come.

IMG_3896I’m thinking, too, of some dear friends who have recently gone through the grief of losing a family member, and how they are resting on the hope that comes with knowing that her death and burial, like Jesus’, is not the end of the story.

What are you hopeful about this Easter?

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Litter picking and Lent.

We’ve lived here in Derbyshire for over five years now.  And at least twice a week, I’ve driven from our village into our local town.  En route, there’s countryside, another village, views of the river, a castle-like property, a stately home.  Copses, fields, cows, farms, a rookery.  All-in-all, it’s a picturesque drive.  (Ok, I’ll admit, the sewerage treatment works isn’t exactly a thing of beauty…)  Even the flour mill converted into residential properties is quite a nice feature.

But last week, for the first time since moving here back in 2008, I had occasion to walk a stretch of the journey.  I’d never even got out of the car (other than at the pub and the school in the village we pass through) previously.  But as I walked a stretch, I noticed something I’d not really spotted before.

Rubbish.

All along the side of the road, with no more than two paces between bits of litter.  The result of human carelessness and laziness.

And that rubbish got me thinking.  Perhaps that’s a bit like my life.  It might look pretty decent, but if you get close enough, you’ll probably start to spot stuff that really shouldn’t be there.  Stuff that spoils.  You’ll come across rubbish that needs to be cleared up.  And I thought to myself, maybe that’s partly what Lent is about.  Of course, the typical view at Lent is that you should give something up.  But maybe having a bit of an effort at litter-picking through your life would be time well spent.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying we need to maintain a façade of decency in order to trick people into thinking we’re perfect.  No, I’m talking about clearing out of our lives stuff which just shouldn’t be there.  As we do this, our own beauty, in whatever form it may take, will perhaps more closely reflect the beauty of God.

What, if anything, are you doing to mark Lent this year?

How would you go about litter-picking your life?

—————UPDATE—————-

I always love feedback, and soon after tweeting about this blog post, I received this response:

What a great idea! And what a powerful image, too. Clearing the rubbish up as part of the preparation for Easter. To me, that reflects the desire to clear the rubbish out of my own life in response to receiving Jesus. Thanks for the comment!

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I will build my church.

Lottery instants.

Instant coffee.

Instant gratification.

Now.

But some things just take time.  Processes rather than events.  They take time, patience, perseverance.

We recently had a couple of night’s holiday in Durham.  Imagine my delight when we discovered, in Durham Cathedral, a Lego model under construction.  As part of its fundraising, the cathedral is in the process of building a Lego version of itself.  The foundation stone was laid back in July of last year, and the work carries on today (and will do so for some time).

We made our own little contribution:

And this is what it looked like when we were there:

And it got me thinking about how a church grows.  Not in an instant (though there may be spurts of growth from time to time).  It’s a gradual process.  Many people contribute to its growth.  A church can grow when people catch the vision.  It may be the vision of one person, but it should be the work of many.

If you’re a Christian, what are you doing or what can you do to contribute to the growth of the church?

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Good intentions.

We have an entire bookcase dedicated to cook books.  Not only is it a lovely bookcase, it’s filled with lovely books.  Last year, I got Mary Berry’s Baking Bible for Christmas, and I love it.  This year, I got Paul Hollywood’s Pies and Puds. (If you buy through the link, I’ll get a tiny amount of commission, apparently…  Barbados here I come)  I love it too (no, despite appearances, this post is not sponsored by the Great British Bake Off).  I made a nice veggie type pie from it for a veggie friend who was celebrating New Year with us.  Apparently, it was yummy.  I did change some of the ingredients, but it’s fair to say I wouldn’t have made the pie without the book’s inspiration.

Cook books are wonderful, aren’t they?  You can get drooling just by flicking through them.  Of course, some are more realistic than others in terms of what ingredients you might stock.  Some are clearer than others, too.  What I particularly like about Hollywood’s Pies and Puds is the pictures.  Not just the pictures of the finished products (though they’re always good!).  In this book, he has a number of picture sequences that follow the recipe.  So you have a recipe, and then a double page spread of 8 pictures that take you through the process of making whatever delight it is.  Personally, I think this is genius, because it’s clearer than any written guide alone could be.

But surprisingly, I’m not actually here to write about cook books.  I’m here to write about something else altogether.  I’m here to write about the Bible.  You see, in each of our numerous cook books, there are probably only two or three recipes that we use.  We have a wealth of information available, but only select a little bit.  We pick and choose bits that we like, and largely ignore the rest, unless there are unusual circumstances (like the visit of a vegetarian, for example) that push us back to thumbing through the books again seeking inspiration.

And I fear that that’s sometimes my approach to the Bible.  I’ve got some good bits that I know well, like and are tried and tested.  They suit me and my situation and so I stick with them.  I have a similar approach to reading Christian books.  Maybe it’s a biography and it draws me to trying something new in my Christian life:  something jumps out at me and I apply it for a while.  Sometimes it sticks, other times it drifts out of my life again, almost imperceptibly.  Or, like the recipe, I share it with some friends, who might all agree it’s a real cracker, but then we end up forgetting about it.

So, over the course of this coming year, I’m going to be working, again, on developing real habits.  I’ll still be blogging about Holy Habits over at BigBible.  I’ll also aim to continue musing, applying and sharing here.  Because when it comes down to it, simply having a good knowledge of the Bible doesn’t have any more influence on my Christian life than having an enviable selection of cook books has on my skills as a chef.  Unless the rubber hits the road, it’s just a pretty display of what could be achieved.

What about you?

Do you relish reading theBible but struggle with getting it to make a discernible difference to your life?  Or is that just me?

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New Year, new resolutions.

Last year, I had a fair few resolutions.  These involved:

Eating all the spreads in the cupboard.  This was no mean feat, but I did pretty well at it.  We get a fair number of things at Christmas time.  Therefore, having done pretty well at it over the course of 11 and a half months, the cupboard is now chocker again.

Baking more, which has met with limited success.  I have discovered a few lovely new recipes.  Most notably, perhaps, the apple tart that Mary Berry taught me.

Running more.  (In retrospect, this resolution may seem to be rather at odds with the previous two…)  This started well, but then tailed off.  It was supposed to be 100 miles in the 10 weeks of the first school term.  I think I passed 50, but it became apparent that I wasn’t going to fit enough in in time.

Re-learning New Testament Greek.  Completely failed on this one, but, having said that, I did look through a passage that I was doing for sermon club, and was pleasantly surprised by how much I remembered.  It reassures me that it should be too arduous a task.

Blogging more.  This has definitely happened, though tailed off recently.  I’ve been blogging over at BigBible, which has been a challenge and a wonderful opportunity.  In terms of personal blogs, I’ve blogged increasingly exclusively (is that even a phrase?!) on this blog, which means the others are languishing somewhat.  This may be something I could address in the coming months.

Getting published.  This has not happened, but I’m working on a couple of things which I should hopefully have done in the next month or two.  This will involve writing letters to people and writing some of their thoughts and contributions into the book.

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For this year, I think I’d probably be inclined to think in terms of discipline.  I mentioned in last year’s resolutions blog that the main thing needed for my resolutions was time.  And time is something I have plenty of (I reckon if Jesus had 24 hours in His days, and I have 24 hours in mine, I don’t have much of a ‘I don’t have the time’ sort of excuse…)

So, I want to make sure that I’m learning.  This will mean reading the books that I have (oh yeah, that was one of last year’s resolutions too) and getting something from them.  Tied in with this, I’d also like to blog more about said books.  What I try to do when I’m reading a book to blog about is use the baby post-it notes to mark things that I find particularly helpful or challenging.  This means that I don’t have to rely on notebooks (though this would allow for more detailed notes to be made!)

I need to make sure that I’m doing a better job of working on my sons’ spiritual development.  There’s a lot of stuff available to support this, but the main thing needed is simply my own desire to help them to grow.  We pray together daily, but I need to make sure we’re doing more than just that.

Working on hospitality.  We love having people over, but could probably do more of this.

I also want to make sure I spend a good amount of time exploring options for the future.  A couple of people have suggested ordination (in a thoughtful way, not simply as an off-the-cuff remark) and I want to give due consideration to this and other options.

There are about a bazillion other targets, but they’ll do for now for the public eye :)

What about you?

[this is part of my attempt to write 500 words a day this month, which is something that Jeff Goins has suggested]

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Something to give.

I was struck by a pre-Christmas talk given by my friend Ravi on the Sunday before Christmas.  I’ve adapted it slightly (partly because I can’t remember it verbatim, and partly because I thought I’d add a ‘what they could have done’ thought.)

For each of the people in the Christmas story, we considered what they gave.

Mary gave her body.  Now, I’ve never been pregnant, but I know it’s quite a commitment.  For Mary, too, there were plenty of other issues surrounding it.  But, following the visit of the angel, she accepts God’s plan for her.  She agrees to bear His Son.

Joseph gave his reputation.  No small matter.  The whisperings and mutterings.  The glances.  And the danger to his income.

Big Boy bagged the part of Joseph in the Christmas Day service.

The innkeeper gave some room.  Nothing glamorous, of course, but something nonetheless.

I’m not sure that this is an accurate depiction…

The angels gave a message.  They gave news to the shepherds.  They gave praise.

[sorry - the pictures stop here.  It was taking far too long to actually get this post published!]

The shepherds gave their trust in the message.  They gave their time to investigate, and they gave their witness to Jesus’ birth.  They hurried off, discovered the truth and spread it.

The star gave its light.  Having been doing its thing for however long, it carried on doing it and pointed the way.

The wise men gave their time and their treasures.  It was likely a fair old expedition.  They devoted themselves to it and worshipped.

God gave His Son.

His Son gave His life.

Which leads to the obvious question and application.

What can we give?

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Messing up and missing out.

So, in one of those rare moments of pondering recently, my tiny mind splurted this idea out:

And I popped it onto my facebook page too. And it seemed to chime with people. So that got me thinking about it a bit more.

And I think perhaps we’ve got so much practice at preaching the dont’s that we’ve ended up forgetting the positive stuff.

Instead of giving people an invitation to something amazing, it’s like we’re red-carding them out of the game.  We’re appointing ourselves umpire of their lives, and looking for all their mistakes.  We’re saying to them, “you’re messing things up”.  So if and when we do ever get round to inviting them to something far greater, to saying, “God loves you a massive amount”, they either don’t believe our message, or have gone off us enough to ignore us.

The fact of the matter is, we mess up, and we haven’t straightened ourselves out.  We rely on God to do that with us as an ongoing process.  So why do we work so hard at criticising people for living imperfect lives?   Why don’t we point them to a destination beyond their wildest dreams, and then journey with them towards it?  Perhaps because that second way is harder.  It’s easy to criticise others (particularly when they’re making the same mistakes we know we’re guilty of), but harder to invite them to something special and then live like we mean the invitation.  Because the journey requires long-term investment, while a criticism takes only a moment.  The journey will include correction and rebuke, but always in the context of the destination.  It’s not just a “you’re screwing things up”, it’s a, “don’t stray: we’ve come this far together, let’s not forget where we’re going”.

How about you?

Do you think Christians are better at criticising than encouraging?

If you’re a Christian, what steps can you take to address this?

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