Sunday, 31 January 2021

 Fall in Love with God's Word: Practical Strategies for Busy Women by Brittany Ann

I received an advanced review copy of Fall in Love With God’s Word by Brittany Ann just as I started a small women’s group – perfect timing. The book is divided into three parts, each one a practical guide to studying and learning from the Bible. I particularly enjoyed the first part, which gives a clear, concise explanation of the different ways in which we might approach the Bible. None of these on their own is perfect and we need to understand the genre and context of the various books and writings if we are to read and interpret Scripture correctly. Brittany Ann also talks about the different ‘lenses’ with which we view verses, which helps to gain a correct interpretation and application to our lives.

The second part of the book explores how we can root out sin and recognise and replace incorrect teaching and unhelpful/sinful thoughts. Brittany shows that “We don’t read the Bible to learn about God. We read the Bible to meet with  God.” and gives practical tips and strategies for doing so.

Lastly, Brittany looks at the obstacles we put or permit to stand in our way of growing closer to God. Busyness, tiredness, lack of motivation, distractions, forgetfulness, lack of biblical knowledge, lack of intimacy with God are identified and helpful tips for overcoming these are given. I am passionate about forming spiritually deep relationships with others and so I found the last chapter, Cultivate Spiritual Community, particularly encouraging and affirming.

This is a wonderfully practical manual which does what it says. I’ve just started a new small group of women who want to share ‘more than small talk’ and create community together: this couldn’t have come at a better time. A great book for all Christian women, wherever they might be in their journey with God.

Brittany Ann writes in an easy-to-understand style and this is a wonderful manual for exploring widely while diving deeper into Bible study. One to revisit.


Saturday, 26 December 2020

Christmas songs, 2020

Put together a few ideas. Our music teacher put some of them to music. A new school carol was born...

We shepherds in the dark, alone,
until the glory of the Lord lit up our world.
Sweet babe, that helpless little lamb
lay in a manger, here from heaven hurled.

We have no words. We gaze in awe and wonder.
Glory glory glory is our song. We sing with angels!
Jesus king is born on earth this night
We shepherds were the first to see the sight.

Sweet babe, you helpless tiny lamb
For our mistakes and failures born this night.
We shepherds celebrate with angels high
And cannot keep but shout out our delight.

Sweet babe, we kings who travelled from afar
Bow down before your regal majesty.
I see the Saviour in your gentle eyes
And know you came to earth for me.

Chorus. Jesus Saviour, come for us
Light our hearts now in the dark. 

Where is the child? Where is the king
We’ve travelled far to worship Him.
Gold, myrrh and frankincense we bring
To honour him.

Where is the child? Where is the king? 
Whose star has made our hearts to sing?
Gold, myrrh and frankincense we bring
To honour him.

Where is the child? We heard the cry
Of angels lighting up the sky.
The shout of gladness brought us joy
We come to find the baby boy.

Come Lord Jesus into our hearts today.
Christmas is come. You are here. To stay.

Sunday, 29 November 2020

Advent 2020

In the beginning.... John 1:1

He was there. At the start
of all creation. Making us out of His great love.

He was there.
The lover of us all.

Isaiah 9:1 - 3 The people walking in darkness have seen a great light.





Even tonight, as moonlight
floods through the darkness, silvering through the night,
we see only dimly.

How wonderful
to know that His light
will come. 
It will come.

Luke 1:48

In quietness, a candle sings
an eternal melody.
A flickering flame
a gentle reminder
of humble beginnings.

Luke 1:54 - 55

The journey begins.
Reminders of God's faithfulness
throughout the ages.

No matter what twists and turns our lives may take, our lives are part of God's unfolding story as well. 




Sunday, 4 October 2020

Combatting anxiety

Having suffered an anxiety attack recently - not without cause, I might add - I found this collection of verses from Bible Study Tools worth noting down:
1 Peter 3:14
14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats ; do not be frightened.”

2 Timothy 1:7

7 For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.

Isaiah 35:4

4 say to those with fearful hearts, “Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you.”

Isaiah 40:31

31 but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

Isaiah 41:10

10 So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

John 14:1

1 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me.

Joshua 1:9
9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Luke 12:22


22 Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear.

Matthew 6:25-34


25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? 28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Psalm 34:4


4 I sought the LORD, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.

Psalm 94:19


19 When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy.

Psalm 138:8


8 The LORD will vindicate me; your love, LORD, endures forever— do not abandon the works of your hands.

Romans 8:38-39


38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.


Proverbs 3:5-6


5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; 6 in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.

Jeremiah 17:7-8


7 “But blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him. 8 They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.”

Luke 1:35-37


35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.”

Philippians 4:6-7


6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Luke 12:24-34


24 Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! 25 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? 26 Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest? 27 “Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 28 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! 29 And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. 30 For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. 32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Matthew 11:28-30


28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”


John 14:27


27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

Psalm 23


1 The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, 3 he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. 4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley,I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 6 Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

Colossians 3:15


15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.

2 Thessalonians 3:16


16 Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you.

Psalm 55:22


22 Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken.

Proverbs 12:25


25 Anxiety weighs down the heart, but a kind word cheers it up.

1 Peter 5:6-8


6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. 7 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. 8 Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.

Psalm 23:4


4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley,I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

Hebrews 13:5-6


5 Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” 6 So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?”

Psalm 56:3


3 When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.

Not Forgotten

 It is interesting how many women, when pushed to reveal the deepest parts of themselves, will confess that they feel lonely.

I do, every now and then. In the deepest part of me, I am lonely. Lonely for God, for I am made by Him for Him for all eternity and until I am 'home' I will feel alone, estranged and apart.

That carries over into life too, of course. Events conspire: friends turn away, become busy, form other groups and I am left out. A valued group comes to an end, and I lose the opportunity to share my struggles with others through prayer and Bible study. Those once valued friends continue blissfully on, leaving me out in the cold. (Yes, in church circles, this is what happens.) My colleagues regard me as something of an oddity and I am left on the edge of acceptance.

So Anjuli Paschal puts it beautifully:

"For the Forgotten, Unwanted, Abandoned and Alone

by Anjuli Paschall Oct 3, 2020

I know the feeling of walking into a room and your presence going unnoticed. After months of COVID-19, I know what it’s like to be completely forgotten. I know what it’s like to have friends walk away, siblings drift apart, and job promotions pass you by. I’ve been trapped in the torturous cycle of beauty comparison and house envy. So often, I feel like I am on the outside. No matter what I do or how much I try, I cannot seem to find my place. I cannot drop the weight, finish the task, or make people happy. I know the feeling of pressing my face on a glass wall, always looking in but never good enough to enter.

For all of us outsiders, the call is to lean in close and to know how God sees us. We have to remember the desperate lengths God went to in order to make the broken incredibly beautiful. When we lose sight of how God really sees us, we actually cannot see at all. We need our eyes refocused and adjusted to see the truth. It is so easy to become self-focused and turn inwards. Yet God wants to take our backs bent crippling over and stretch us up outward and open to Him. So for today, if you are feeling self-critical or discouraged, ugly, or unwanted, let us remember how God pursued those who felt just like us.

Arched over the entire Bible, God writes a love story for the one on the outside. Hagar was a servant, cast out and alone. God found her, pursued her, and rescued her. Leah, her name meaning “weary,” was the ugly sister and married to a man who did not love her back. Yet God saw her deepest heart’s desire and blessed her with an abundance of children.

The Lord saw Hannah, sobbing and heartsick for a baby. He heard her and answered. Esther, an orphan, became a queen and saved a nation. Mary, the mother of Jesus, was not even given a proper place to birth a baby, but God provided constant provision for her. The woman at the well, covered in shame, sought refreshment and reprieve. When she came face to face with Jesus, He told her everything she had ever done, and she became free. Martha was anxious and concerned with work, and Jesus invited her to rest.

Over and over again, God moves towards the forgotten, lonely, and unwanted. Over and over again, He sees the hearts of the beaten up, battered, and afraid. He goes out of His way to meet them in their fear and desperation. God is for the outsider, and we can find ourselves in each story of God’s rescue.

How many of us are abandoned, broken, and put out? How many of us huddle at our own shame wells and hope no one sees our sins? How often do we beg God to turn what is infertile to new life?

God is after us, friends. In our places of greatest despair, He chases us down. In our quiet longings and greatest defeats, He moves toward us. If you are feeling discouraged today, look upwards and backwards. Look at all the women in the Bible who have walked the path before you. Lean in close to Christ leaning in toward you. Perhaps your point of pain is the intersection He is waiting at to bring you into His deep, unending love for you."

Love in a time of uncertainty

Bible verses, encouraging blog posts and sermons have been swirling around in my heart and head for many months now. So many, that it has been hard to focus. I have retweeted helpful quotes where I can - a safe place to store them, as I look back at my own Twitter page - and have saved encouraging Instagram posts for future reference. 

In reality, my emotional life has been too chaotic to really concentrate, but today, a blog post echoed both the sermon and a New Wine talk (from United Breaks Out, by Nicola Neal), and so I am compelled to record what God is saying.

So www.incourage.me puts it all beautifully:

"“In this world you will have trouble,” Jesus said.

And all the sisters and saints said amen. The reality of the world’s brokenness has been evident since the world began. It was true when Jesus walked the dusty earth with His disciples, and it’s true as true can be in 2020.

But Jesus didn’t stop there. Trouble is our reality, but so is victory. “Take heart!” Jesus said. “I have overcome the world.”

When Jesus died on the cross, He proclaimed, “It is finished.” His death and resurrection laid death in its grave. Because of His love, grace, and our adoption as His children, we are given the ultimate gift of eternal life with Him forever. His triumph is our victory too. These truths are fundamental and foundational to our faith, but often, we find ourselves missing out on the victory in the struggle and mundaneness of our ordinary days.

Daily circumstances lead us to wonder things like, How do live with exceptional joy when we face such difficult circumstances? How do we practically live out God’s love and share it with others when our hearts are breaking, our country is shaking, and when we’ve lost jobs or health or hope? How do we look beyond today to live with a perspective of eternity and take heart right where we are?

We look to Jesus. We keep our eyes locked on Him. We remember what He has already done and what He will yet do!

Putting on love over all means remembering that Jesus has not only overcome death but He also daily fights our battles with us. In the middle of the hurt, He invites us to take heart, come near to Him, and hold tight to His promises. He invites us to be messengers of His love and victory just by showing up and loving others."

There has been much to encourage. I look to Jesus. I remind myself of Hebrews 12:1 - 3 "And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart."

I find, saved in my drafts folder, this message from Richard Rohr: 

"A Message from Richard Rohr about COVID-19  Love Alone Overcomes Fear
March 19, 2020

It is shocking to think how much the world has changed in such a brief time. Each of us has had our lives and communities disrupted. Of course, I am here in this with you. I feel that I’m in no position to tell you how to feel or how to think, but there are a few things that come to mind I will share.

A few days ago I was encouraged by the Franciscans and by the leadership team here at the CAC to self-quarantine, so I’ve been here in my little hermitage now for three or four days. I’ve had years of practice, literally, how to do what we are calling “social distancing.” I have a nice, large yard behind me where there are four huge, beautiful cottonwood trees, and so I walk my dog Opie every few hours.

Right now I’m trying to take in psychologically, spiritually, and personally, what is God trying to say? When I use that phrase, I’m not saying that God causes suffering to teach us good things. But God does use everything, and if God wanted us to experience global solidarity, I can’t think of a better way. We all have access to this suffering, and it bypasses race, gender, religion, and nation.

We are in the midst of a highly teachable moment. There’s no doubt that this period will be referred to for the rest of our lifetimes. We have a chance to go deep, and to go broad. Globally, we’re in this together. Depth is being forced on us by great suffering, which as I like to say, always leads to great love.

But for God to reach us, we have to allow suffering to wound us. Now is no time for an academic solidarity with the world. Real solidarity needs to be felt and suffered. That’s the real meaning of the word “suffer” – to allow someone else’s pain to influence us in a real way. We need to move beyond our own personal feelings and take in the whole. This, I must say, is one of the gifts of television: we can turn it on and see how people in countries other than our own are hurting. What is going to happen to those living in isolated places or for those who don’t have health care? Imagine the fragility of the most marginalized, of people in prisons, the homeless, or even the people performing necessary services, such as ambulance drivers, nurses, and doctors, risking their lives to keep society together? Our feelings of urgency and devastation are not exaggeration: they are responding to the real human situation. We’re not pushing the panic button; we are the panic button. And we have to allow these feelings, and invite God’s presence to hold and sustain us in a time of collective prayer and lament.

I hope this experience will force our attention outwards to the suffering of the most vulnerable. Love always means going beyond yourself to otherness. It takes two. There has to be the lover and the beloved. We must be stretched to an encounter with otherness, and only then do we know it’s love. This is what we call the subject-subject relationship. Love alone overcomes fear and is the true foundation that lasts (1 Corinthians 13:13).

Love underpins it all. Love is Jesus. Withouth him, life is uncertain, chaotic and difficult. With him, life still threatens to be uncertain, chaotic and difficult, the trouble in this world, BUT JESUS HAS OVERCOME.

Remember.



Sunday, 19 July 2020

Small group reflection...


As our small group comes to an end and we go our different ways, I’d like to offer a brief reflection on and celebrate its success. Something of a blueprint, perhaps, to take with us.

Over the last fifteen years, since we started with Martin and Sarah, quickly joined by Garth and Karyn, we have seen members come and go.  Yet the ethos of the group has remained the same and there is much to celebrate.

I think our group has, largely, been successful. That is not to say there have not been differences of opinion, absences, misunderstandings and tensions at times. Of course there have. We are flawed human beings, prone to sin yet saved by grace.

So as I reflect on what has made Thursday evenings the highlight of my week for many years, I find ten characteristics spring foremost in my mind.

1.  Commitment. We agreed to meet weekly, so we do. For fifteen years everything else, unless unavoidable, has come second in my calendar. Thursday night is home group: end of story.

2. Bible study. Seeking Jesus through His word has been a priority. This has been through a variety of ways: reading and talking through a chapter of the Bible, often with a study guide; watching an inspirational DVD while desperately trying to stay awake after a long day; or discussing a topic in the context of what the Bible says. Just a few of the ways we have focused on Jesus and tried to understand from His word how to follow him more closely.

3. Open sharing. A degree of honesty and openness, a willingness to share thoughts, opinions and application from our personal lives have all contributed to the building of ...

4. Close relationships. Developed through Bible study and prayer, coloured by...

5. Trust...developed by....

6. Praying for one another. The times of sharing and prayer have been infinitely precious , offering one another...

7. Support, especially through times of difficulty, grief and sorrow.

8. Laughter. Lots of it.

9. Meals. And more laughter.

10. Love. Last, but most important. Without love for one another, a determination to think the best of each other, forgiving one another when words touch raw spots and appreciating the deep care we have had for one another, this group would not have been able to continue for so many years.

Now, as the group ‘multiplies’, we will all of us experience separation to some degree or another. Richard and I have valued and loved everyone in this group and are grateful for the relationships we have. I hope and pray that we will all continue to seek Jesus, live out his words and seek to bring His kingdom, lavishing grace wherever we go.

So there we go. Opportunity awaits. What next, I wonder?

(PS. This was not without pain. We found ourselves unable to 'multiply' and so found ourselves without a group at all. The grief of losing this 'safe place' after such a long time has gone deeper than expected, although we recognise that the group had grown too large and so a split was inevitable. It is one thing to know in the head, but the heart feels differently...And so we find ourselves in 'liminal space', between the known and the safe and the unknown. This space inbetween feels uncertain, somewhat unsafe and a degree troubling...)

Tuesday, 7 April 2020

Covid-19 - and Easter.

This pandemic has certainly got the world's attention. Quite extraordinary. It has prompted a flurry of posts from me on www.mamampira.blogspot.com but really, I should be posting here.

Just listened to a thoughtful message from Lisa on Psalm 61 and Psalm 37 on 'the rock that is higher than I'. It is the second time I have listened, so I turned briefly to Twitter, only to find that Eric Gaudion had posted a blog on exactly the same psalm...

Otherwise, our vicar Jon speaks deeply and movingly for a few minutes several times a week. Tuesday's of Holy Week was particularly poignant, but I will post the others here as well. They are not easy to find on youtube, so best collected in one place.







We have our dear son and daughter-in-law staying with us. I enjoy reading Jen Schmidt's account of the lessons she too is learning in this time, as her 4 bedroomed house is filled with 12 people, most of whom are young adults...Her wisdom comes in 5 useful points.
Rest and refresh; realign; retreat when necessary; reach out to others; rejoice.

This is also a useful listen, about how we experience high levels of danger combined with low levels of control: watch the video.

I particularly like the phrase 'don't expect grace and consistency' !

So much good stuff on the internet to remind of Easter: I loved these paintings which Mary de Muth has done:




Monday, 24 February 2020

Ponderings on grief


The shock of Stan’s sudden passing has stayed with me and, it seems, almost intensified. I find myself more teary, more upset and more unable to talk about it. 

This morning, in church, I was in pieces afterwards. We sang an old hymn, reminding me of an incident with Stan and Tami in Africa Gospel Church we attended together all those years ago. Sharing a hymn book, I saw Tami smile at Stan – and of course he smiled back, with that wonderful kind grin he had – as they sang together. Now they can do that no longer.

And I just wonder how Tami is feeling. Unimaginable: for I must feel only a fraction of the grief. Surely she must wish to be with him.

The world was a better place with Stan Brown in it. Fortunate is heaven, now, to have him. His body may have entered the decay process, but his soul continues on forever.

Just don’t ask me how I am. I will probably not be able to choke out a reply.

Sabbath

In the aftermath of the devastating news of Stan's early death, I am drawn to practising Sabbath rest more intentionally than I have, perhaps, done before.

Sabbath. How did I enjoy it?

I went to church, joining with the fellowship of believers in painful praise, my heart sick with sorrow at the same time. 

I reconnected with old friends in meaningful conversations both face to face and by email. 

I lay in front of a log fire, basking in its warmth. 

I wrestled - still wrestle - with questions of meaning and purpose, wondering what my next life step might be and how I can be fruitful. 

I tidy a little, clear a little clutter, organise and plan. 

I create a web listing, wanting to host strangers, engaging with what this might look like. I dream, and plan, and dream. 

I delight in my granddaughter’s amazing prowess: has there have been such a curious, funny, imaginative, creative and adventurous little girl? Yes, of course: her mother, my daughter. 

I thank God for the wonders of the internet: Skype, Instagram, electronic photos and videos…

And I prayed. I prayed comfort and consolation for my dear friend Tami and family who have lost our dear Stan. The world was a better place with him in it and now there is a gaping hole.

Sabbath. A good day. Let me create moments of Sabbath, as I do now, in my every day.