Posted by: Mad Lamb | 03/06/2017

My Pentecost preconceptions up in flames

Reading the story of Pentecost again in Acts 2:1-13 I’m struck that the wonder of this story of flames from heaven may have been overlooked.

We wonder at the image of the tongues of flame flashing down, accompanied by a strong, powerful wind. We wonder at the power of the Holy Spirit flooding down on each person. We wonder at God’s people being able to speak in languages unknown to them.

Often, when we read or hear this story, we pray that God may too fill us with his spirit and enable us to speak in tongues. We want to experience God in a powerful way. We want to know what it is like to speak in tongues.

Today, I saw a new side to this passage. The purpose of this spectacle and experience was not focused on those receiving the Holy Spirit. True, they would have felt God’s power in a strange new way but God did not give them words in tongues just for the warm fuzzy feeling of being in his presence or being filled with his Spirit. God gave those words in that way that could be heard by those outside their group.

The bright lights and cacophony of voices caused people nearby to take notice. Jews from many different nations soon became aware this noise was actually ordinary people extra-ordinarily speaking in each of their own languages.

I don’t know if the ‘wonders of God’ they heard being declared were simply words of worship or the stories of Jesus being shared but I know it made them think. Through this extraordinary event they were prompted to discuss and question what they heard and saw.

I was struck that the wonder of this story lay in that God used his people to speak to others in a way they could understand. True, they did it full of the Holy Spirit but, however powerful that experience was for the disciples, it’s humbling to notice some of those who witnessed it looked for meaning while others dismissed it.

I wonder if I would be ready if the Holy Spirit came when there were others around me and I was so full of God’s power I could not help to speak of God. I wonder if I would be dejected by those dismissing the blessings God has to offer or praise Him for those who seek to join in the discussion and seek meaning from their encounter with God.

I wonder if, when I next pray for an experience of the Holy Spirit, I’ll remember that this is not just for my comfort. It’s not so I can be sure of God’s presence nor so I can join the ranks of those who have spoken in tongues. The purpose of being full of the Holy Spirit is to share the wonders of God with others.  Even if I never experience such a strong, powerful presence of God, I wonder if I will remember the impact of helping people to experience God in a way they understand.

I will certainly never look at the story of Pentecost in the same way again.

 

Posted by: Mad Lamb | 01/05/2017

Lost and found

A while, I lost a bag. It only cost 99p, when I bought this black, nylon magazine-freebie from a charity shop several years ago. I’ve mended the pink lining once, so it should not have mattered. However, I don’t like losing anything, and it was a very useful and smart bag. It folded down easily to fit in my handbag but it was deceptively big and the handles were incredibly strong.

One Sunday, after walking to church, I noticed that the large zipped side-pocket on my handbag, where I kept it with two other folding shopping bags, was wide open. The two other bags were still there but not my 99p bag.  So I decided to retrace my exact route after the service. Despite checking much wider than my immediate path and asking in shops that I passed, I did not find my bag. I wondered if I should have asked the street cleaner I passed if he had seen it, rather than being too embarrassed to do so. Later that week, I even took a trip to a charity shop on the route. There had been several dustbin bags of donations left in the doorway when I passed and I wondered if someone may have seen my bag and handed it in for them to sell. Though I doubted someone would want my mended bag, even for 99p. Dejected, I mourned the loss of this bag and wondered if I could ever find anything quite like it again.

As I don’t like losing things, I am usually very good at finding things, especially cats. When we lived in Orkney I spent several evenings walking the single-track roads around our house calling out for a cat that hadn’t turned up for their supper. Often they would arrive at my feet, having been engrossed in a nearby field hunting rabbits, however sometimes they needed to be found. One was found in the school’s polytunnel, where he had probably been snoozing in the warm afternoon sun and didn’t notice them locking up. Another was found trapped inside a lobster creel … three times in the same week and twice in the same creel. It was only on the second visit I realised there was a dead bird in the creel that obviously had been very appealing but not sure what happened on the third time – apart from the pull of the strong smell of fish.

Each time I walked out after a missing cat, I prayed and asked God to help me find them and was ever so grateful when I did. I often pray when I’m looking for something that I’ve lost and think about poor Jonah. After being annoyed that God saved Nineveh, Jonah tended a plant that grew to give him shade and mourned when it died. God seems very harsh when he berated Jonah for caring for the plant and then being sad for it’s loss, although I know he was using it to show Jonah how much he cared for Nineveh.

On the way to church on the day I lost my bag, I had been thinking about losing and finding things. I thought it would make a good topic for a blog. So, as I walked back home, although I prayed as usual, I wondered if losing my bag was some sort of lesson from God and I shouldn’t be wasting prayer on something so unimportant as a 99p bag.

The following Friday I was looking for some keys. My handbag has two large side pockets. In the side opposite to where I keep my shopping bags there are three chains with rings that dangle long enough to be zipped inside the side-pocket. I  clip my keys onto these to keep them safe. As I checked in that pocket for the keys, I realised my beloved bag was tucked in there after all. It was not lost, God was not depriving me of my simple pleasures but I had just put it in the wrong place in my rush to get out in time for the service.

Since then I’ve often thought about how much time I spend looking for, and praying about, an object or animal I have lost. Some things definitely need to be found, like our wandering pets, but I often think the others are also waiting to be found. Looking for someone to need them, that’s why I spend time looking for them, regardless of their value to anyone else.

As I also reflected on Jonah’s story, I wonder if I should be also spending time praying and looking for lost people. Not just those proverbially ‘lost to the kingdom’, but also those feeling lost socially.  People who feel lost, due to events that have affected them, or feel discarded by society or family. These are people who need to be found, need to be wanted, to be given purpose in life.

I’m a member of a few closed groups on Facebook where topics for prayer often come up, and I’m thankful for the privilege of being able to pray for others, and for the times they pray for me. Many times these people need to know that someone cares enough to pray for their circumstance. I also think about all the people I passed when looking for my lost bag and wondering how many were hoping to be found by someone that day, through a short conversation or even a prayer.

Next time I lose something, I hope to remember to also look out for a person who is lost. I may even dare to ask God where he wants me to look for those who need to be found without having lost anything first. Maybe they might be in need of a spare shopping bag and my 99p bag will bless someone else.

Posted by: Mad Lamb | 20/01/2017

In all your ways acknowledge him

For my last post I was going to start with a rant about others glibly quoting you Bible texts that seem such simple principles but don’t always help when life is not working out as we hoped. On review, I decided against it. I was just having a rant and the post stood without the references.

One of the text I had planned to quote is from Proverbs 3 verses 5 and 6:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths (English Standard Version)

I’ve had trouble with this verse for some time.

About four years ago, when I was travelling three hours per day to work, by bus and train, while coping with waiting for early treatment for my arthritis to fully kick in, I didn’t think things could get much worse. Then the rain came and blocked the train line, so I had to drive instead! Thankfully I found a car share, so only had to drive two days each week, and was allowed to work one day from home. However, the journey was now about four hours per day and I was still suffering severely from fatigue.

At that time, someone at our church in Bristol was using the above verses as their text over a few weeks and it just grated. How can I trust when everything was going so wrong?

Last week I discovered our church, here, has adopted it as our motto text for the year. Great, I thought, just what I needed – another lot of guilt about how horrible things are. I’m obviously not trusting in God correctly. So I mentally wrestled with God for a bit, moaning how unfair it was, then I decided to listen to the sermon.

‘Act on what what you believe’, they said. So I re-read the text, looking for something to hook into …

‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart’ – I thought I was
‘Do not lean on your own understanding’ – I gave up my understanding of anything ages ago.
‘In all your ways acknowledge him’ … well, I had started a New Year resolution to be more thankful and to keep records of good things to reflect on later. Maybe this would be okay.

So I thought about it a bit, maybe even prayed for clarity, and then I was given a picture of our cat rubbing himself against our legs. It was his way of seeking acknowledgement, usually for feeding purposes, or to be picked up and cuddled. He also has a trait of standing at the top of the stairs just before we descend. If we don’t pat him on his head or tickle his chin as we pass, he gives us a swipe or a poke. ‘Come on’, he says, ‘acknowledge me. I’m important.’ However he does it, you just have to stop to spend some time with him and appreciate that we chose to include him as part of our lives.

I’m not convinced that God wants me to tickle his chin, but perhaps he does want me to spend more time with him and to acknowledge that we chose to offer ourselves to his service. Maybe during that time I’ll learn how to trust him more deeply with the unsettling situations I’m facing.

Our cat is also known to leap onto the pillow about 2-3 am, to ask for an early morning feed. That’s when I just pretend that I’m asleep and haven’t noticed. I’m sure God will get used to me doing that with him occasionally too.

Posted by: Mad Lamb | 13/01/2017

Light in the darkness

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Like many people, 2016 was a difficult year for me. Work, home and personal circumstances came together to make me feel that whenever it looked as if there was light at the end of the tunnel, it felt more like an approaching herd of stampeding elephants wearing head-torches.

My father died in June under unexpected and tragic circumstances.This was one of those times when you feel on the edge of your faith. Life hits you in the chest, you need to sit down and remember how to breathe again. I struggled to know what to read or how to pray. My ‘Bible in a Year’ programme wanted me to read Job. I know that book too well and I couldn’t face reading about someone who lost many family members, nor the next on the list, Ecclesiastes, that refers to the meaninglessness of life.

Life at home wasn’t proving to be as stable as we had hoped, after moving in January 2016 for my husband to take up his current job. Unfortunately this started to become increasingly unsettled after May. In the last two months we’ve been on the verge of leaving, so we’ve constantly questioned how we interpreted God’s call to come here. Even though we are convinced it was right to move here, we are wondering if there is a new call to leave. Whether we stay or go, the problems here are likely to remain so it doesn’t seem right to go elsewhere because we can, making it hard to know how to focus our prayers.

This has also meant that my local job hunting has been on hold. I work from home mostly so it shouldn’t have been a big problem. However, I usually need to be in the office in Bristol about once a month, so was travelling the 200 miles south, and now I was travelling regularly 200 miles north to Scotland to spend time with my mother and close family. Naturally, I also wanted to be with my husband at key times to support him too, so I was left juggling my need to be in three different places. By the end of the year my health was beginning to suffer from the stress of travelling and of not being able to be in the other two places whenever I wanted.

I did consider giving up my faith at points in the last six months but that didn’t seem right. I tried to write a blog entry about that in October but couldn’t find the right words to say, events were still too raw. However, if I disregarded my faith, there was nothing else in my life that gave any real meaning to life regarding these circumstances and I honestly couldn’t see any point in existing.

But I don’t give up that easily. I’ve had difficult periods of life before, although nothing on the scale I’ve experienced in these last few months. However, my faith has carried me for 40 years through those times, why give that up now? Some atheists may refer to such a faith as a crutch but I have no problem in using crutches when I can’t walk without them. At points I felt my issues were small in comparison to other circumstances in this world but I reminded myself of advice I give to others: that life isn’t a competition. If someone is struggling, it doesn’t matter what else is going on for others, it matters to them. So I had to allow myself time to work through this.

It was with the conviction that I thought God must have something to say that I looked for ways to continue. So I left my Old Testament readings for a while and concentrated on reading the letters to the dispersed churches, such as the Galatians. These reminded me that persecution and division was rife in early faith groups, so why expect an easier life now? When I got to the letters from John, I read that, in faith, we walk in the light of God’s presence and not in darkness (1 John 1:5-6). These words reminded me of John’s words in his gospel that the light shines in the darkness and the dark has not overcome it (John 1:5). In darkness there is fear and despair, in the light is the hope and possibility of moving forward, but we have to make the decision where we want to be and recognise the only way out of the darkness is to head to the light.

So I started to take more steps back into God’s presence. I found the daily led prayers in the Jesuit web site and app, Pray as you Go, helpful to reconnect with God and the Scriptures, and looked for other ways to build light into my life. Unexpectedly I found pockets of time to reconnect with some school and college friends during my trips to Scotland, which has been a real delight.

The offer to walk in light, and not in darkness, is not just an encouragement but also a challenge to move away from the darkness. So this has also meant looking at shedding the practices in my life that create darkness for me, or others. Now, as I set myself to read Job and Ecclesiastes, I see the benefits of not relying on circumstances, possessions or others to create meaning in my life but relying more on God.

This week, in one of the Pray as You Go sessions, a song, based on Psalm 62 was used: ‘In God alone is my soul at rest. God alone is my rock and strength’. So as a new year is getting less new, I am looking to move into the light, by spending more time in God’s presence, and looking for ways I can work my way out of the darkness imposed on me, and that I have created around me.

Posted by: Mad Lamb | 01/05/2016

Yesterday, today and forever

I’m reading the Bible in a year again and I’ve just finished reading Deuteronomy. There’s a lot of lists of things to avoid – some give reason to be sent out of the camp and others result in the occasional stoning. Many of these instructions seem odd, even abhorrent, to us now but then, it was important. It’s easy to forget this was a different time, when the people of God were on the move. There were no hospitals or prisons, and while it may seem barbaric, disease and mutiny were to be avoided at all costs.

My reading guide offers reading the New Testament parallel, so it’s been interesting to discover Jesus breaks all these rules. He does the things that are banned, touches the unclean without being banished and offers forgiveness for repentance where others want a stoning to occur.

Each time I read through the whole Bible, I am struck by how much God changes. God may not change in nature, but he certainly changes the way he interacts with people. God wants to communicate but we are very good at doing our own thing and ignoring God. To help us, he provides something to focus on. In Exodus, there is a pillar of cloud to follow, then a tent with ceremonies and rituals. Later in the Bible, people are allowed to build a city with a permanent temple. There is also the move from talking to individuals, such as Moses and Noah, who become the communicators for God. In time, a tribe of priests are set aside to serve God and minister to the people, and prophets bring words from God.

The writer of Hebrews reminds us that Jesus changed that too.
In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.) Jesus also talks of tearing down the temple and, at his death, the curtain in the temple tears apart, giving access to God for everyone again. (Heb 1:1,2)

Those who question the ‘infallibility’ of the Scriptures revel in these discrepancies to discredit the Bible. Also, when we are introducing non-believers to the Bible, it’s hard to explain these changes in rules. In reality, we spend a lot of time in church concentrating the steadfast nature of God and can be guilty of pushing aside these questions. Perhaps too often we simply stick our fingers in our ears and sing our favourite song loudly, to drown out any criticism.

So how can we approach questions like, ‘How can God be for something in one place and time, and against it in another?’ Can God change and still be reliable? What can change and what is set in stone?

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The instructions in Deuternonomy were about maintaining a supportive status quo, from one generation to another. When you analyse them objectively, you see they are about remembering the sovereignty of God and making sure we care for each fairly … and avoiding being stoned in the process. Jesus, too, focussed on the commandments to Love God with heart, soul and mind, and to love one another, so that hasn’t changed.

Unfortunately, in church, people love things staying the same…forever. It becomes hard to change what we have always done, especially what we feel defines our expression of Christianity.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s good to have ceremonies and rituals that stay with us a long time. The important things, such as communion and celebrating Christmas and Easter, help us remember why we do things in church. However, activities, service times, frequencies, lengths, content and even the day, can all change without losing sight of God and may create a new way into church for some. As an example, we’ve been in churches when holding a mid-week service during the day has been a way into church for older people, who may be out of the habit of going to church on a Sunday.

However, I recognise that when society and culture changes, we need to be cautious not to bend too easily. After all, Romans 12 extols us, ‘Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world’. So should we change at all? Isn’t it better just to be a harbour in a sea of change?

As we’ve seen, God is not afraid to change, and he does so for our benefit not his. After Jesus, others were encouraged to embrace the change of rules too. Peter was given a vision to help be open to change his eating habits and take the Gospel to non-Jews. Paul changed from persecuting these followers of Jesus to encouraging them. The Spirit brought fire at Pentecost and provided a God-translate service to speak to a large crowd, which seemed to reverse the restrictions placed on earth after the Tower of Babel incident in Genesis 11.

So often, the main problem is that we don’t always see the change around us, as we are too close, or see the need to change for the benefit those outside our congregations. So how do churches spot the cultural changes they should respond to, without losing their core identity or avoid changing too often, thus not creating a firm spiritual foundation?

It can be like a parent never seeing the changes in their child but a distant relative, who seldom visits, see the changes more easily. God is not the distant relative but his perspective is bigger than ours, and he knows how the future will pan out. It’s also worth noting that the rest of Romans 12 verse 2 actually challenges a static mindset, ‘…but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will’.

It’s by being willing to seek to renew our visions, through spending more time in prayer, that will help us change with God’s blessings. It’s also worth doing before we are forced to only consider change in the face of a diminishing congregation or lack of collection funds.

A start can be to review activities, looking out for where we’ve got a bit too stuck in the past to accommodate the needs of the society around us.  Regularly walking around our communities, noting what we see and how it may be different from our previous perceptions, can alert us to opportunities to which we can respond.

Then we can start to make the appropriate changes in our churches, or even our individual lives, to encourage more people to engage with God in a new, but supportive way and without threat of stoning.

Posted by: Mad Lamb | 21/02/2016

Giving up through Lent

It seems to be all the rage at present, giving things up. Apart from the usual attempts for New Year resolutions, there have been recent drives from charities to encourage people to give something up and donate money to them for the privilege. There has been Movember, for men to give up shaving and, this year, Dry January to abstain from alcohol.

I was surprised at the number of people who supported Dry January and then gave a great sigh of relief when the 1st of February arrived so they could go back to enjoying a glass or two of their favourite tipple. They participated for good causes and I commend them for that. (PS I didn’t participate as I’ve been tee total for medical reasons for some years now.)

We’re now two weeks into Lent, one of the key times that people put aside a habit, vice or favourite food. For the last few years, I’ve decided to take something up for Lent instead. Not that I don’t think I have any vices to curb, but that I like the positive feel of taking time to do something different.

Both giving up and taking up are suitable for Lent, as its religious purpose was so people could spend more time in prayer and reflection or, for some, a time of preparation for Easter, when they were due to make a commitment to membership of the church or a new role. That’s the main reason, I am surprised when people yearn for life to return to ‘normal’ after a period of giving up or taking up. This opportunity to focus on something different, should be a period of reflection and preparation for a change to last beyond that period.

With New Year resolutions, people count the days, or hours until they fail at whatever they have set as a new goal and then just give up. No change, just regret at another failure.

One of the things I took up over Lent is knitting. It’s been a while since I last knitted something and I couldn’t get my head round bits of the pattern, so I had to rip it up and start again, or go back a few rows, a few times. Eventually I managed one side of a (small) project. It didn’t look particularly pretty and I think I have now worked out where I went wrong with the pattern, so I’m going to have another go. And so, it is with changing habits or giving up vices. They’ve been part of us for a while and it may take time to reshape life to behave differently. We do sometimes have to start again from scratch or go back a few steps.

Have you given something up for Lent? It’s not too late to recommit to giving up, or taking up something for Lent. Think of something that will shape your life beyond Easter. To give up giving up may be a place to start and life may never be ‘normal’ again.

Posted by: Mad Lamb | 10/02/2016

Does the Bible ever shock you?

I decided to attempt reading the Bible in a year again. It’s been a while since I last did it but every time I have done, I usually find at least one passage I hadn’t ever noticed fully before.

Last night I was reading through the Old Testament passage, Exodus Chapter 4, and there it was in all it’s glory in verse 24…At a lodging place on the way, the Lord met Moses and was about to kill him.

I know Moses had killed an Egyptian, and tried to avoid speaking to the Israelites on God’s behalf, but surely this reaction was a bit excessive. Granted, I haven’t hunted in the commentaries about this to find the significance but I was shocked. However, I was also reassured by the following verse, where his wife acted to save his life.

In fact, I’m not sure what shocks me more – that God would appear to kill someone for not doing his will or that God’s plans can be changed. Perhaps next time I feel like moaning to God about what He wants me to do, I’ll think twice, or maybe I’ll just remember when something happens that seems predefined, I’ll pray a bit harder. Before either occurs, I think I’ll go and find that commentary.

Posted by: Mad Lamb | 10/09/2015

Sharing important things

This is an open letter to family and friends…

I’m aware that since I moved away from Scotland in 1986, I seldom get the opportunity to share anything with my family and Scottish friends beyond the surface of social interaction to reacquaint ourselves. For my 50th birthday, I wanted to share something important with you all.

Hopefully it’s not a surprise for you to know that I have a deep Christian faith, seeing as Steve and I have been working with churches for over twenty years. I would also hope that you never feel as if we force our beliefs on you. If you have ever felt like that, I apologize, it was never our intention. However, I have been challenged that I haven’t shared why my faith is important to me, so you have an opportunity to think whether it is something that may help you in your life. This is a very complicated subject but I’ve tried to explain it as simply as possible. So please excuse me, if something doesn’t make full sense. Feel free to ask me, or Steve, more about it but be assured we won’t make any assumptions about your interest.

I made the decision to follow the faith of Christianity in my first year at High School, after attending a Scripture Union camp. Although I occasionally attended Sunday School as a young child, it wasn’t anything I really understood beyond the stories that were told about characters, such as Noah and Jonah, or key events about Jesus, such as the nativity at Christmas and Easter. These just seemed to instill the generally polite social values that we should be kind to one another.

It was only at camp that I more fully understood about Jesus: that he came to earth in a miraculous way as a baby, grew up as a Jew, challenged people to live differently, was killed on a cross and miraculously came back to life again. There was a complicated bit in that, not only was he human but also one of three parts of God, known as the Son, so God was whole in those three parts of the Father, Son and the Spirit (told you it was complicated).

It was hard to understand why someone, who came to encourage people to be more generous and inclusive, should be killed. (For info, Samaritans were outcasts in that society and often placed as people others should like and look after, along with widows, orphans, foreigners and lepers). He came to explain that, as humans, we very easily do things wrong, become selfish and want to harm others. Jews were brought up to think that they could give sacrifices (kill and burn the best animals, birds or just use grain, if they were poor. At special times of the year bread and other things wre given in sacrifice) to God to cancel their bad deeds and thoughts, so they could start again. However people never gave up doing bad things as there is a dark side to us (some call the devil) that wants to keep us being selfish and unkind. (Not that we should excuse ourselves for doing bad things, just because it is in our nature – that is the complicated bit of being human – dogs don’t seem to have this problem, they’re not that complex!).

At camp, I learned that God sent the Son part of himself to earth to act as a permanent sacrifice so that we don’t need to keep offering sacrifices. He physically suffered a horrible torture and a real death so every human, and not just the Jews, had an opportinity to believe that God loved them so much that he would go through this pain. ( and I’m still learning what that really means ) It doesn’t mean Christians don’t do bad things but that we don’t need to bring a physical sacrifice but apologise to God, recognise that we need to learn how to be more accepting and selfless, like Jesus, and start again. This includes dealing with the situation in some way and that’s where we also often need to ask God (that’s prayer) to help us face those we’ve hurt to say sorry or do something to rectify the problem we caused.

It’s this belief that is known as Christianity and was so compelling to me that I wanted to be part of it. I wanted to be a better person, someone who wasn’t just out for themselves. That’s not to say all who don’t sign up to this belief aren’t kind, generous and selfless people, I just knew I couldn’t do it on my own as I’d spend so much time feeling guilty about it, I’d be just as likely to harm myself as a payment for the bad I did or the good I didn’t do. Knowing that guilt has been paid for, in Jesus Christ, protects me.

Throughout my life, and epecially when younger, I’ve often felt alone and aware that I was often reliant on wanting other people to like me to have any sense of self-worth. That was also a risk for me to do things I didn’t want to, in order to please others and be liked. Having God in my life and remembering He has my best interest in mind, helped me to like myself for who I am and not worry about what others thought. (we use ‘He’ when talking about God but God is both male and female, and neither, so don’t get hung up on this)

Some of you may say you have friends to talk things over and to keep you on the straight and narrow so don’t need God, and that is great. I have had friends too, but it is in the quiet of your mind in the night or in difficult situations, where your thoughts are unknown to those around you and sometimes we carry feelings others never get to see. It is there, where an all-seeing, all-knowing God can sit with you and help you know how much you’re valued and that He can help. This is where prayer kicks in. I can lay out all my worries, hopes and dreams in a safe place. It’s also a safe place to take anger and hurts without resorting to retaliation and violence. The Psalms in the Bible are full of people who are angry, hurt or frustrated but when they take those emotions to God they end up realising that He, or She, is bigger than all their problems and help them through.

Without knowing God, I’m fairly sure I wouldn’t be the person I am, however still flawed. I believe there is a chance I wouldn’t even be here, either due to substance abuse or just a hate for myself. Even with God, I have still struggled with life, as many have – learning to be unselfish, by share my life with Steve in marriage; knowing life seems to take me away from friends and family; coping with the knowledge I couldn’t have children and, for the last three and half years, living with my psoriatic arthritis. As you can see, making the decision to believe in God hasn’t stopped life’s problems appearing but I can cope with them better and I’m much happier than without it.

Some may call faith a crutch, yet if we had a broken leg, we wouldn’t reject a crutch to help support us then. I’m happy to acknowledge, I can’t cope with my broken life without my faith. As someone who has had to give in to using a stick to get around better in the last year or two, believe me, a crutch or sitck is not a bad thing. I am also not saying I’m better than anyone else. If you have life sown up and never feel like jumping off a cliff nor wish someone would help deal with a seemingly impossible situation then I’m really glad for you.

As mentioned in the introduction, I have been challenged that we can easily tell people about an amazing web site or new cleaning product but not share something more significant. I hope you have had a little insight to my choice of faith so I can share a little more next time we meet. Perhaps, you would like to share something important in your life that I don’t know about so we can chat about that too.

With much love, Elaine

Posted by: Mad Lamb | 25/03/2015

Singing a new song

Last week I was waiting for my husband to return from a long day trip by train. I was waiting to hear when he was at Birmingham New Street station, so I could track the last part of his journey and know when I should leave home to pick him up. His journey was delayed, so I ended up just watching the live arrival information on my phone and waiting for my moment. It was then I realised how easily I get bored of waiting.

Train Timetable

We knew this year would involve a lot of waiting. By now, I’m used to waiting for my husband to ask if I could proofread a new chapter of his thesis before sending it to his supervisor. This year it peaks into waiting to see if three years of study will result in a successful award of a research degree. Not only that, as his study is coming to an end, his name is being circulated among Baptist churches. Therefore we’re also waiting to see if a church will be interested enough to call him to be their minister. The result of that will determine when and where I need to apply for a job and if we need to sell our house to buy one nearer to the church.

It was while waiting for my husband’s train, I realised I was also bored with waiting for Easter. I started Lent with enthusiasm and a keenness to use it to build in more times of reflection in a day. I found the Northumbria Community online daily office was a useful tool to bring my focus back when I started to flag on my own attempts. Prior to Lent I was aware of a reoccurring message emerging to be more deliberate in my actions and not just wait for life to shape my activities, so I set a focus for each month. In February it was about jobs around the house and March is a focus for creativity. I had anticipated March being a time where I finally mastered my saxophone enough to play at church or venture back into stand-up comedy, however as Lent was warming up, I became aware of a Lent poetry project on Facebook, called ‘Poetic Countdowns: the sacred and the profane’.

I’ve enjoyed dusting off the poetry part of my brain from the creative shelf. I’ve never known a time when I’ve not written poetry, whether for silly ditties for birthday and valentine cards or attempts at writing lyrics for songs. My father wrote his speech for my wedding in the form of verse, so I think it’s in my genes. When I had an opportunity to explore being a freelance writer, I perceived that poetry would be my ‘major’ but soon found that poetry doesn’t pay very well and writing poetry without a specific focus is hard work, so I gave into writing articles for the local paper and compiling crosswords.

The Lent poetry project gave me the focus I needed and I’ve been thrilled with producing two pieces and several interesting drafts to work on, so how come I’m bored with Lent? I’m not bored with the poetry nor am I bored with spending time reflecting on God nor itching to avoid these new disciplines. I am bored with waiting for this not to be something I’m trying to squeeze into a few minutes here and there but to be a permanent part of my life. When I boil it down, I guess I’m bored with waiting for me to change more permanently.

There, I’ve said it! I’m bored with yet another attempt for me to become a ‘better person’. Better at expressing my creativity, better at opting to pray first and act later, better at spending my time more productively. Bored of waiting for Lent to end so I won’t feel guilty when all my best intentions fall flat after Easter when I return to being non-reflective, non-deliberate and non-creative.

I wonder if God is also bored of waiting for me to change? We hear Jesus’ frequent remarks of ‘o ye of little faith’, when exasperated with the disciples. Or the time he asked them to watch over him as he prayed in Gethsemane when they fell asleep and he stated: ‘Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?’ (Matt 26:40) We don’t often sing songs about how intolerable we are but surely the loving God doesn’t get bored of waiting.

This week, I found myself reading Isaiah 42 and saw the words ‘Sing to the Lord a new song’, in verse 10. Suddenly I read them anew as ‘Change the record! Forget your songs of lament, sing me song of praise’. I checked for other uses of that phrase and found Psalm 96, 33, 98 and 149. As two thirds of the verses in Psalms are laments, where often praise comes after a long tale of woe, the ‘Sing a new song’ psalms stand out, calling us to praise God without moaning first, for a change.

sing-a-new-song-bible

In Psalm 144, the writer states their intention to sing new songs unto the Lord. So perhaps, rather than simply waiting for Lent to end and moan about being bored, I should change the record, look for opportunities to be deliberate beyond Easter, make conscious, deliberate decisions more often and not allow life to squeeze out times of reflections and creativity. Who knows, I may even find I am able to write a few new songs to sing while I’m waiting to change. What new song do you think God is asking from you?

Posted by: Mad Lamb | 25/01/2015

Too busy?

Are you finding hard to fit in the changes you need to make to keep up your New Year’s resolutions?

I started going to the gym in January, along with many others. I want to strengthen my muscles, after being inactive while I slowed down to cope with my arthritis, so I can become fitter and a bit less rotund. I’ve paid for the privilege so, as we’re on a tight budget, I have to make this count, I have to make the effort or stop the subscription. This means getting up earlier or leaving work on time, so I don’t eat into my evenings too much and lapse on all the other good intentions I subconsciously signed myself up to.

While it seems a struggle, even at this early stage. However, once I’m there, it feels worth it. Even when the aches come later in the day, it reminds me that some muscles have been dormant for a but too long.

There are other resolutions I made, such as to read more, to write creatively again, to spend time in my music corner, to spend 10 mins each morning praying over the day ahead, to pray more often during the day and do more for others. However, this seems harder, I convince myself I’m too busy, the bus was late, I was so tired that I overslept or that I just had so much of my own chores to do I couldn’t fit in anyone else’s.

A couple of weeks ago, I attended a course on what to consider when applying for internal jobs. One exercise was to review comments on fictitious applications to assess how suitable they were for a given role. The job description asked for experience in a busy office. Each applicant gave background to their current job and said they were busy, but not always giving direct examples of what caused their busyness. We discussed this as a group and questioned, are they busy because there was a lot to do or was it due to them not being organised or skilled enough to do the job more efficiently?

We all say we’re too busy, and there are many who are busier than us that seem to achieve so much in the same time. I know we are all different and have different levels or organisational skills but is that the only mitigating factor?

Last year I was in a team review meeting at work, where a colleague reported another department couldn’t resolve one of our issues because they were ‘too busy’. My manager retorted, ‘they’re not too busy but have just chosen to prioritise something else’. Since then, every time I hear the words ‘too busy’ in my mind, often as I tried to fit in an unplanned activity, I remind myself I’m just choosing my priorities. If a family member was ill, or a friend in urgent need, would I not change my routines to fit in a visit to go out of my way to help them?

As the end of January creeps in and we reflect on what resolutions have lost their appeal, how could we reassess our priorities so we can give them more space in February? Perhaps we need to also look as what keeps us ‘busy’, to see if we could approach that differently, or even accept that someone else would be better skilled to do it more efficiently and, thus, free us to do something that would help someone else be less busy or just help us enjoy life more.

It might be a struggle, but hopefully it will be worth it.

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