Sunday, 31 October 2010


Bible study for Women in the Workplace: some thoughts I shared at our recent breakfast on 'Joy'.

I realised a long time ago that I need to be constantly on the move with God. That it is not enough to ‘sit back and enjoy the ride’ of being safe and secure as a Christian. There is in all of us – whether we are committed followers of Christ or not, and where we may not even be aware of it – a thirst for God, a desire to know God better. So we’ve been looking at the fear of God – the beginning of wisdom; the love of God and a little of what that means. Today, using Jerry Bridges’ book The Fruitful Life, we’ll look at JOY.

JOY. What do you think that means? Examples?!

The Fruitful Life

The Fruitful Life (The overflow of God's love through you) by Jerry Bridges, NavPress, 2006.

Devotees of Jerry Bridges’ well-known books The Pursuit of Holiness and The Practice of Godliness will be familiar with his encouraging words to modern day disciples of Jesus. I devoured these books when I first became a Christian, finding them essential tools as I began walking with Jesus. I thought this would, therefore, be an ‘easy read’.

Far from it. The style is easily accessible but the content is so thought-provoking that it is impossible to skim quickly through this lovely book. Bridges first takes the reader through the implications of taking on God’s character and becoming devoted to God. Gaining an understanding of this alone could be years of Bible study, but Bridges gives six principles for us to consider. One particularly useful reminder was that our conduct develops our character just as our character informs our conduct: what we are and what we do are intrinsic to each other. This understanding is essential to gaining an appreciation of the gifts of the Spirit. It is only then that the reader can begin to study, with a humble heart, what it means to develop the fruits of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Each chapter ends with thought-provoking questions for practice and discussion – ideal for a small group.

I am using this lovely little book with a group of friends who meet regularly for breakfast. Already, they are telling me how the topics we discussed have cropped up in their lives. And how helpful the discussions, based on The Fruitful Life, have been as they endeavour to ‘be Jesus’ in their workplaces. I imagine this is exactly what Jerry Bridges desires: that we can be encouraged to live more fruitful lives.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from NavPress Publishers as part of their Blogger Review program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Friday, 29 October 2010

Church - and discipleship

I have just recently joined Discipleship Network. Margie Williamson has begun the blog with comments about Matthew 28:18-20. She challenged me to think – to REALLY think – about what it means to be a disciple.

She says: “The disciple lived with or near his teacher and spent all his time with the teacher, even when the teacher traveled.”

After Richard and I joined a small church with the aim of supporting the pastor, we soon realised that we needed to spend as much time as we could with the folk who go there – in home groups as well as after the services. The challenge of discipleship in our modern, individualistic society is being able to find – and fit in – enough opportunities to be with the ‘disciples’ in a Jesus context: not just socializing, but intentionally turning hearts and minds towards God.

There are other – like-minded – friends we enjoy spending time with. We intentionally disciple each other, building one another up and encouraging each other ‘in the faith’. I guess the first disciples just wanted to hang out with Jesus: our challenge is to motivate those in the church we attend to do the same.

So, now: is that discipleship – or evangelism?


Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Church is a journey...

Journey. A common Christian concept. Jesus journeyed throughout Galilee and Judea - even Samaria. Christians have been going on pilgrimage ever since. Life is a journey.

Church, too, is a journey: of discovery, exploration, adventure. Longing. Living out our faith is a personal journey, yet best done in the company of others. In church, as Church, we journey together.

Yet church in itself is a journey, as we discover and explore life in Christ together. We marvel at the scenery - at dedicated octogenarians who glow with a lifetime of obedience; at love lived out in families; at the joy of children. We climb the hills of discord and resentment, pass through gorges of misunderstanding, rest in the valleys of rejoicing. We arrive - for a while - in the plains and meadows of peace and harmony, as we experience real connection with each other.

So what's the point of going to church on a Sunday?  Many reasons, but if that is all we do, then we are still at the bus stop and have barely begun our pilgrimage. Meeting on a Sunday does, however, give us starting points. It is where a song, a word or a prayer speaks to our hearts, ready to continue a conversation throughout the week. It is where we can meet with like-minded souls who can encourage us to walk further, stronger, better, more nimbly, with greater cheerfulness...It is a place - like a bus terminus - where we can arrange to journey on - together.


Thursday, 14 October 2010

God is faithful!

Psalm 89:34
No, I will not break my covenant; I will not take back one word of what I said.    Living Translation

Wednesday, 13 October 2010


Here are just a few thoughts which I shared over breakfast last week: on the fruit of the Spirit, and how to grow it at work.

Galatians 5:22
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness…
this is the work of the Spirit and not of human origin (John Owen, Puritan writer). We can’t manufacture them, but we are responsible for acts of obedience by which this fruit is ‘preserved, increased, strengthened and improved’ (John Owen, in ‘The Fruitful Life by Jerry Bridges, p9)

Jonathan Edwards said ‘Love is no ingredient in a merely speculative fiath, but it is the life and soul of a practical faith.’
In a nutshell, for obedience to happen we need to begin to take on God’s character, be devoted to God and be humble.

‘our devotion to God is validated by our love for other people’ (Bridges, p61) Matthew 22:37-40 Jesus replied: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.'This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."

Love is not so much a character trait as the inner disposition of the soul…which results in action. Love inclines us and directs us to be kind, to forgive, to give of ourselves to one another. I Peter 4:8 says:
Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.

You could paraphrase the famous passage in 1 Corinthians 13 (Love is patient, love is kind…) as:
I am patient with you because I love you and want to forgive you.
I am kind to you because I love you and want to help you
I do not envy your possessions or your gifts because I love you and want you to have the best
I do not boast about my attainments because I love you and want to hear about yours
I am not proud because I love you and want to esteem you before myself
I am not rude because I love you and care about your feelings.
I am not self-seeking because I love you and want to meet your needs
I am not easily angered by you because I love you and want to overlook your offenses
I do not keep a record of your wrongs because I love you and ‘love covers over a multitude of sins’ (Bridges, p62)

YES, BUT HOW? It’s not easy.
What are we told in:
John 3:16 This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son and in the Message: This is how we've come to understand and experience love: Christ sacrificed his life for us. This is why we ought to live sacrificially for our fellow believers, and not just be out for ourselves. If you see some brother or sister in need and have the means to do something about it but turn a cold shoulder and do nothing, what happens to God's love? It disappears. And you made it disappear.

We should give, even at great cost to ourselves. Some key thoughts:
• Love is longing. We need to want to love – and, when it is difficult, we can only do that through prayer and the Spirit.
• Love is a choice. Make a decision to love, even when – especially when – we don’t feel like it.
• Love is action. Acting ‘as if’ we really loved the person. Feelings WILL follow – in the end!
• Love thinks of the other person – when I am able to stop myself from doing something unloving, it is by prayer and thinking ‘how would I feel if someone did that to me?’
• Love is patient. The fruit of acting ‘in the Spirit’ – because it’s not our natural character - takes a while to come.
• Love is a fruit of our obedience.

I then read this devotion: Friendly Not Feisty – Proverbs 31 Ministries: 6 Oct 2010, by Karen Ehman which began with:
"Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling." I Peter 4:8-9 (NIV)
This quote resonated with me: Why is it so easy to snap at our kids, give our husbands the cold shoulder, or roll our eyes at a dear family member, but remain gracious with those we meet in public, even when they do something that really grinds us?
And I realised that this can also be true of us when we are at work, with familiar colleagues or people we don't want to impress, or folk we just plainly don't respect enough or take for granted.  When we are so task-oriented that we lose sight of relationships. We lose sight of Jesus, who IS love.

So yes, be loving. As Karen said: Perhaps it is time to offer some friendly hospitality to the members of our own home; to keep our tempers in check and our grumbling at bay; to let perfect love wash over a multitude of sins....

May we choose to hesitate before we hurl. Be friendly, not feisty. Be love.

A lovely thought about prayer..

How about this - isn't it lovely?

1 Thessalonians 5:17  Don't let anything interfere with your prayer life. (Lovett)

Don't let ANYTHING interfere with talking to God!

Monday, 11 October 2010

Church - the ongoing saga...

The debate in my head about ‘church’ just refuses to go away. Many a conversation worms its way around to pulling at the knot in my thinking. I follow one thread, only to cause others to tangle and tighten further. I never was much good at knitting…

So here is the latest. I long to ‘go’ to ‘church’ to praise and worship God…BUT, if the music isn’t lively or feet-tappingly good, I don’t feel I am worshipping. I don’t even WANT to worship. So, going to a church where traditional hymns are sung, or where an organ belts out a hymn, that means I am going under sufferance rather than to worship.

How wrong is that? Very.  A friend has just sent me an article about praise and worship. I don't know where it's from, but I'm going to quote from it. Lavishly.

There cannot be true worship without praise, praise produces worship. Praise means to speak well of God, praise is to acknowledge what God has done. Praise invokes God's presence. It gets God's attention, it creates an atmosphere. Praise is to the new Testament what sacrifices, and offering was to the Old Testament, praise is sacrifice. Psalm 22:3 says that God inhabits the praises of His people, so when God's people praise Him, He draws near and worship results. God has given each of us a praise ministry with a worship "team" that is never any farther away than an inch below our noise: our lips, mouth, and tongue...

...When we praise God, His presence comes near, and in His presence all His true glory can be released.  Praise is something we can do anytime, anywhere. As we learn to exercise our personal praise ministry, we can create "islands of Eden" around us wherever we go. There is an inseparable link between our praise and the manifest presence of God...Praise attracts the presence of God. True praise is an exercise, a discipline that flows from a pure heart and a humble spirit. When we brag about God we are acknowledging His sovereignty and Lordship as well as our own dependence on Him. That spirit of humility is just what God is looking for in us. If we approach God with a humble spirit He will do two things: When we come near God, He will come near to us; and when we humble ourselves before Him, He will lift us up....

worship results when God accepts our praise and manifests His presence to us....Worship: Comes from the word; (Worth) which means, the quality or value of something. So what is of most worth to you?
Worship is the ultimate intimate experience....You know you have been in true worship when you started worshiping with a heavy load, lot's of hurt, heart ache and pain; and then when your finish. You've left that behind on the altar because you get up, light and worry free. Better yet God took it away from you because He was (worth) more to you than your problems and pain and you said to your self no matter what I'm going to press my way into His presence!
Worship is an outward experience of an inward change.
The purpose of worship is to bring us closer to the Lord, to change us, make us like Him, and to get to know the Lord.
The place of worship is created in praise, Judah means praise....
What happens when you are in worship?
1. Things change.
2. You get instructions.
3. You get direction.
4. You get revelation.

Worship Is What God Releases When You Praise Him
Praise is both a precursor to and a part of worship, but the two are not the same. For praise is something we do, while worship is something God releases. We initiate praise; it comes from within our hearts. As we perfect or mature our praise, as we come into one accord with one another, and as our spirit aligns with God's Spirit, He releases His presence into our midst. That mingling of God's presence with our praise is called worship.
Worship, then, begins with us as we lift up our praise, but it ends with God as He releases His presence among us. True worship requires both. ...
To "worship in spirit and truth" has the idea of mingling with God spirit to Spirit with our hearts attuned to His heart and our thoughts attuned to His thoughts. In fact, the Greek word for "worship," literally means to kiss, like a dog licking his master's hand; to prostrate oneself in homage. Worship then means to show honor, worth-ship, and obeisance to royalty. It is also a word suggestive of intimate contact, of being in the very presence of someone of great importance, and of a companion who is always at his master's side. Worship involves intimacy; in-to-me-see; see-in-to-me.

True Praise and Worship Requires A Pure Heart
Worship takes place when God dwells in our praise and begins to mingle with us. In a sense, we get close enough to God to kiss Him. Ultimately, worship depends not on us, but on God. God wants nothing more than to mingle with us in unbroken and unhindered fellowship, but it is not automatic. He requires that we desire Him and seek Him with all our heart, but He also promises that when we do that, we will find Him. "You will seek Me and find Me when you seek Me with all your heart" (Jeremiah 29:13).
This is why pure-hearted, wholehearted praise is so important as I spoke of before. Because without praise there is no presence, and without presence there is no worship. Tragically, this is exactly what happens week after week after week in thousands of churches all over the world. Many churches have not experienced genuine worship in years. They follow the same format every week, sing the same hymns or praise and worship songs the same way all the time, hear the same kinds of powerless prayers and the same insipid sermons every week, and the spirit is as dead as a doornail because their heart is no longer in it. Sad to say that this is true not only in many "mainline" churches, but in many evangelical and Pentecostal/charismatic churches as well.
God doesn't want it to be this way. He wants to bless us with His presence. The critical issue is the condition of our heart. If we seek God with a humble, hungry, and whole heart, lifting up sincere, heartfelt praise, He will respond by drawing us into His presence. In this way, we can recreate "Eden" through praise.
This whole matter of praise and worship also relates to exposing our hidden glory. When we praise God, He sends His presence, and His presence releases the glory. When we live in "Eden" our glory will come out. That's the way God designed things from the beginning. What this means is that worship involves much more than just praise of our lips. It also involves the meditations of our heart and the work that we do. Our worship consists not only of acknowledging God's nature, attributes, and character with our praise and thanksgiving, but also in our work, our good deeds, our service, and our lifestyle.  

When we live and walk in "Eden," everything we say, think, and do becomes an act of worship.

Everything. Even - especially - going 'to' church.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Church: what Max Lucado thinks about it...

Church. Everywhere I turn, it seems that something else about church crops up. This is the latest article which dropped into my inbox, courtesy of a subscription entitled Up Words With Max Lucado. This is what he says:

Open Your Door, Open Your Heart
by Max Lucado
Long before the church had pulpits and baptisteries, she had kitchens and dinner tables. "The believers met together in the Temple every day. They ate together in their homes, happy to share their food with joyful hearts" (Acts 2:46 NCV). "Every day in the Temple and in people's homes they continued teaching the people and telling the Good News—that Jesus is the Christ" (Acts 5:42 NCV).
Even a casual reading of the New Testament unveils the house as the primary tool of the church. "To Philemon our beloved friend and fellow laborer . . . and to the church in your house" (Philem. vv. 1-2). "Greet Priscilla and Aquila . . . the church that is in their house" (Rom. 16:3, 5). "Greet the brethren who are in Laodicea, and Nymphas and the church that is in his house" (Col. 4:15).
It's no wonder that the elders were to be "given to hospitality" (1 Tim. 3:2 KJV). The primary gathering place of the church was the home. Consider the genius of God's plan. The first generation of Christians was a tinderbox of contrasting cultures and backgrounds. At least fifteen different nationalities heard Peter's sermon on the Day of Pentecost. Jews stood next to Gentiles. Men worshipped with women. Slaves and masters alike sought after Christ. Can people of such varied backgrounds and cultures get along with each other?
We wonder the same thing today. Can Hispanics live in peace with Anglos? Can Democrats find common ground with Republicans? Can a Christian family carry on a civil friendship with the Muslim couple down the street? Can divergent people get along?
The early church did—without the aid of sanctuaries, church buildings, clergy, or seminaries. They did so through the clearest of messages (the Cross) and the simplest of tools (the home).
Not everyone can serve in a foreign land, lead a relief effort, or volunteer at the downtown soup kitchen. But who can't be hospitable? Do you have a front door? A table? Chairs? Bread and meat for sandwiches? Congratulations! You just qualified to serve in the most ancient of ministries: hospitality. You can join the ranks of people such as . . .
Abraham. He fed, not just angels, but the Lord of angels (Gen. 18).
Rahab, the harlot. She received and protected the spies. Thanks to her kindness, her kindred survived, and her name is remembered (Josh. 6:22-23; Matt. 1:5).
Martha and Mary. They opened their home for Jesus. He, in turn, opened the grave of Lazarus for them (John 11:1-45; Luke 10:38-42).
Zacchaeus. He welcomed Jesus to his table. And Jesus left salvation as a thank-you gift (Luke 19:1-10).
And what about the greatest example of all—the "certain man" of Matthew 26:18? On the day before his death, Jesus told his followers, "Go into the city to a certain man and tell him, 'The Teacher says: The chosen time is near. I will have the Passover with my followers at your house'" (NCV).
How would you have liked to be the one who opened his home for Jesus? You can be. "Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me" (Matt. 25:40 NIV). As you welcome strangers to your table, you are welcoming God himself.
Something holy happens around a dinner table that will never happen in a sanctuary. In a church auditorium you see the backs of heads. Around the table you see the expressions on faces. In the auditorium one person speaks; around the table everyone has a voice. Church services are on the clock. Around the table there is time to talk.
Hospitality opens the door to uncommon community. It's no accident that hospitality and hospital come from the same Latin word, for they both lead to the same result: healing. When you open your door to someone, you are sending this message: "You matter to me and to God." You may think you are saying, "Come over for a visit." But what your guest hears is, "I'm worth the effort."
Cheerfully share your home with those who need a meal or a place to stay. God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another. (1 Peter 4:9-10 NLT)
Heavenly Father, you have given me so much—every breath I take is a gift from your hand. Even so, I confess that sometimes my own hand remains tightly closed when I encounter the needs of others. Please open both my hand and my heart that I might learn to delight in taking advantage of the daily opportunities for hospitality that you present to me. Help me remember, Lord, that when I show your love in tangible ways to "the least of these," I am ministering directly to you. As you help me open my heart and hand, O Lord, I ask that you also prompt me to open my door to those who need a taste of your love and bounty. In Jesus' name I pray, amen.

From Outlive Your Life: You Were Made to Make a Difference
Copyright (Thomas Nelson, 2010) Max Lucado

Sunday, 3 October 2010


Church. What’s it all about, then? This is another post on the same topic. I might be repeating myself. It's a question which is occupying a lot of my waking thoughts.

In the last year we have been attending ‘our’ church less regularly on a Sunday. And no, we have neither been staying in bed, sleeping off the excesses of the night before nor spending the day at the beach.

We’ve been attending a tiny, elderly church. Elderly in every sense of the word, as it is the oldest church on the island.  The congregation on a Sunday morning numbers between 30 to 60, depending on the type of service and the day. In the evening, upwards of a dozen or so. We lower the average age considerably.

So what are we doing?

We became friends with Phil, the rector of the church, a couple of years ago when he and his wife Sarah and 5 children moved here from Kenya – a country we know well, having lived there for decades. We, too, know the realities of culture shock and adjustment to a very different way of life.  We wondered how best to support them, gradually realising – until God’s gentle nudges had begun to feel more like shoves – that we needed to become more involved with Phil’s church.

We didn’t want to ‘leave’ ours.

So we decided, tentatively testing the waters, that we would offer to help Phil with the Alpha course which was due to start. We knew that there were over two dozen people from the church signed up to do it, so he extra table ‘leaders’ would be needed. We thought that getting to know members of St Sampsons this way might be a good start and still allow us to attend services at Trinity.  We asked our home group for a temporary leave of absence , as the group met on the same night. They agreed, though they weren’t too happy about it. We went to see Phil and offered to help. He agreed, though he didn’t seem particularly surprised. We told our own vicar, Jon, what we were doing. He then told us that he had asked Phil how the church could best help. “We don’t need money at the moment, thanks to a generous bequest” Phil replied, “but we do need people.”
“Like Richard and Angie Pollard?” suggested Jon. It turned out that they had had this conversation the very same day that we had realised we could no longer ignore God’s prompting!

So we joined the Alpha Course and had a wonderful time.  Then folk continued meeting to study the course ‘Christianity Explored’.  We are part of the evening group which has up to 14 or 15 people.

The situation is  further complicated as there are two churches in the parish, so on the Alpha Course  we found ourselves in a group with people from both churches. In practice, this means that we would never see some of them on a Sunday unless we alternated churches. It is easy to go weeks without meeting up with people.

This has led us to re-examine what we mean by ‘church’.

In those wonderful ways in which God leads and reorganises our lives, we have had meetings and conversations with many people, ranging from old friends to new acquaintances who we barely know. Gatherings with Christian friends – over coffee, over meals -  seem to lead to the same topic of ‘how do we ‘do’ church?’ without, I may add, any help from us !

We're learning more about what 'church' isn't, than what it is.

Church isn't just about turning up to a building on a Sunday, singing some songs, saying a few prayers, listening to a talk and then going home, forgetting all about 'church' until the next week.

Church is about meeting with people. Yes, after the church service over coffee.  No coffee served? Go to a coffee shop together, invite folk home for a cup of tea...but church isn't JUST a social time. Being 'church', doing 'church''s spiritual, intentional.

Church is about getting to know people, more than just briefly after the service. Because you can't. So church means meeting others at other times than Sundays.  Church isn't JUST a catch-up on the news - and definitely NOT gossip. 'Church' goes deeper than what lies on the surface of our lives.

Church is about getting to know people well, more than as just brief acquaintances. It is about understanding others, appreciating their lives, listening. It is about intimacy, accountability. We have found the best way to do this is to talk about Jesus. What he said, what he did, how he lived, what his friends said about him.  So we study the Bible together. We find out what it means. We wonder how we can apply it to our lives. We talk with each other upon the way, as the two disciples did on the road to Emmaus. And many other dusty Palestinian roads as well.

Church is about spending time. Giving time. Helping one another. Encouraging.


Looking at the Bible in one year blog, I found this beautiful song. Worth listening to.