Posted by: Mad Lamb | 11/01/2015

Living Inside out

Last year I visited a number of church buildings that had stain glass windows. Each time I was struck by the vivid stories told by the brightly coloured panels, usually of people serving in situations of adversity. Often they were tales of people living out their faith by relying on God’s faithfulness to them.

MagCthX3

Unlike the single panel I have used as my blog’s banner, these beautiful and artistic tableaux can only be seen in all their grandeur from the inside. They are illuminated by the light that shines from outside.

I find it such a shame, that those who remain outside the building cannot see the true glory of these windows. From outside they just looked like blackened unconnected fragments and the church, or cathedral, looks cold and uninviting to those unaware of what can be enjoyed within.

BriminghamCathedral (from web)

These visits left me with two thoughts:

  • Firstly, how can we persuade more people to come into these buildings and see for themselves what is on offer. Not just the visual tinted treats, but the goodness of God that feeds his people to serve him in many ways and helps them in their real and daily struggles of life.
  • Secondly, perhaps in order to do that, we need to find a way to turn the church inside out, so that the light we have received from God, for our benefit, will shine through the windows to show the building, and faith within, is not dead but a beacon for all who seek more from life than the daily grind. The stories they would see are not just ones of glass cased in metal frames but those of everyday people serving God, despite their own problems and feelings of inadequacy.

In these reflections, I recognise that I have been living too much within the walls, where the faith that strengthens and fulfils me seems encased from my everyday interactions and I am not letting the love, grace and mercy shine out to those around me. So, for my belated New Year’s resolutions, I seek to live inside out and share the benefits I receive from knowing the everlasting, faithful and loving God, so others may seek Him for themselves.

So if you think I’m looking a bit blackened and uninviting, please remind me to shine and share some of the kaleidoscopic experiences that have sustained me throughout my life and the rainbows of hope I have for the future.

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Posted by: Mad Lamb | 23/11/2014

Narrow paths, crossroads and complicated exits

I was contemplating how you explain faith to those who have not experienced it. I’m aware that we often use the images of walking a narrow path to describe a life of faith and of crossroads when we face decisions. The crossroads we first think about are often the four-way junction, where we stop and determine which way to go. However, I have often found that life can be more like the multi-lane intersections, often seen on motorways. There can even be ones that appear to take you off the wrong way and, on the M8, there’s even an exit in the far right lane. These ‘crossroads’ on complex motorway junctions allow no time to stop and ponder, you have to read the signs given in advance, make your decision and move quickly. In these cases, if you make a wrong choice, you often have to travel in the opposite direction for a while before you can return to your intended route. Continuing with the image of a motorway, the narrow path can be seen as the ‘correct lane’ to get to the correct location. With this in mind, Romans 12:2 becomes renewed…. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind … Don’t just follow the traffic – know your destination and be confident about taking exits, even if it seems against all logic. Even in a broad road there are choices to make and sometimes you need to change lanes to a different narrow path. I like the idea that we can travel with others along the busy way of life as we pass at different speeds in our own narrow paths but travelling to different stops to the same, long-term, destination. There is no single route in faith and we have to find what map God has for us, and not to judge others as they make decisions right for them. How do you like to travel?

Posted by: Mad Lamb | 26/09/2014

Learning to love rules and regulations

I know it sounds strange wanting to love rule and regulations, but it helps if you understand the original meanings of the words. It may also help, if you know that I regularly use my birthday as a day for a life review and a focus on changes I want to make for the longer term.

This is my fiftiest year, so before my BIG birthday hits next September, I wanted my annual intentions to last longer than the month or so they usually do. This time, I recognised I needed to build something into my activities that will help me to remember my personal goals and aims.

Some years back, I was introduced to a Personal Rule through a Grove Books‘ publication called ‘Finding a Personal Rule of Life’. It was then I first discovered that the concept of a Rule reflects the word’s definition as a ‘measure’ or ‘guide’ rather than a definite law that can be broken. The Personal Rule was a tool to create my own daily space. So I gathered some favourite verses, prayers and songs and made lists of things to ponder on, change, or pray for and created a Personal Rule of my own. However, over time, I stopped using this regularly too.

Rule2-bright-crop

More recently, I have found the Northumbria Community Daily Office very useful as I missed the regular space to remember the blessings of the day and consider what changes I need to make in my life and character to be a blessing to others.

I can access their Daily Office prayers on my smartphone, so it’s been great to find this space in my daily commute in the bus. It gives me regular input, without the compulsion to read everyday, as I did with the Bible notes.

Reading more about the Northumbria Community on their website, I came across information about their Community Rule, which is based on the monastic tradition. Not only did the page remind me about the rule being a measure, it also mentioned a rule being like a signpost or direct or a handrail to support. They also mentioned that rule was a derivative from the latin root regula, and therefore linked to the definition of rhythm, leading to a new explanation of the word regulation.

So, while we think of rules and regulations being equivalent to laws and statues, if we think of rules as guides of life, and regulations as a set of rhythms to apply or remember the guides, it suggests that they are more like a check and balance. As we review our lifestyle and reactions on a regular basis, we can experience a new sense of freedom by not being tied to old habits we’d prefer not to repeat. This new understanding of rules and regulations can make more sense of reading the lists in Leviticus, too.

My current plan is to adjust my existing Personal Rule and add in some ‘rhythm’ to create Rules and Regulations to create regular spaces to review my personal goals and my interactions with others. If I don’t use them every day or as originally planned, then I have not failed but just lost the rhythm for a while.

Although my rule and regulations are based on aspirations linked to my faith, anyone use these tools to have a guide and rhythm in their life by keeping a list of goals in life and making space to read them and review your life, to make a positive difference.

Why not join me in learning to love rules and regulations. You don’t have to wait for a significant birthday nor New Year to set some goals. Why not aim to do it today.

Posted by: Mad Lamb | 28/06/2014

Dancing in the rain.

There are many places in the Bible that describe God as the protector in a storm. These are often metaphor for troubles of life. It is reassuring that , in his presence, we can shelter until the storm passes. A well-known blessing also reminds us of this promise … May He guide you through the wilderness, protect you through the storm.

So why was I so encouraged by a pithy saying on a fridge magnet in a shop window that said….Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass but about learning to dance in the rain?

In my posts over the last two years, I’ve been mostly talking about how I’ve been sheltering from the storms in my life…unexpected illness, a long commute and a reduction in financial income. Now I’m am out of the shadows of the dark clouds and looking at the approaching blue skies, I wonder if I could have been stronger and braver.

In 1 Kings 19, Elijah runs for his life and an Angel of God provides for him. However there comes a time, when strenghtened, he moves to Horeb, the mountain of God. There, God calls him to stand through storms, winds, an earthquake and fire before speaking in a whisper. Elijah felt threatened and alone but God encouraged him to return to his homeland and be aware of those who would support him. God showed Elijah that he could survive through physical and metaphorical storms.

The fridge magnet quote also reminded me of one of my favourite songs, “Though I feel Afraid”. The lyrics in the second verse say … the ship that is in the harbour is still and safe from harm, but it was not built to be there, it was made for wind and storm. There are times when we need to take shelter and regain strength, as Elijah did and it is reassuring that Jesus also said ‘Come to me who are weary and I will give you rest’ (Matthew 11). However, when Jesus gave the Great Commission (Matthew 28) he also reminded the disciples that he would be with them as they sought to go out in his name.

Perhaps this promise was passed onto Paul and Silas, who decided to sing while in prison rather than just wait to see what happens next (Acts 16). In their storm, they chose to sing. They chose to continue worshiping God, despite their circumstances, and rejoice in the blessings they have rather than dwell on current difficulties. So I hope that, when I face my next storm, I can reflect my gratitude, trust and faith in Jesus by singing or dancing in the rain.

Posted by: Mad Lamb | 27/04/2014

Are we there yet?

Three months on and I now have been offered a new job in Bristol. In fact was offered two. It was a strange week in March when, rather than just being thankful for a local job, I had to spend time thinking through the options and making an important decision in a very short period of time.

I start at the end of May and will be grateful for a much shorter commute and being able to stay out after 8:30pm, without worrying if I willl be too tired for the next day at work.  Still, it’s been a hard few months as I’ve been car sharing since the end of January, while train lines were being repaired and later when the line was flooded.

While I was able to share the driving with one of my car-sharers, it has been tough, especially in the first fews weeks when it was dark on both journeys and was often raining. This took its toll on all of us, yet it was more bearable sharing this experience with others. We all rejoiced in the lighter mornings and evenings. Along the way we had some fun discussions as four strangers started to get to know each other better. Even now the trains are back to normal, three of us have decided to continue travelling by car, mainly as it saves a chunk of money compared to travelling by train.

So, in some sense, I will miss my commute and my car-share buddies. Yet I am aware that my desire to work locally has finally come to fruition. Those I share my news with often reflect my own expectation that this will give me extra time to spend on projects at home and to be more sociable on work-nights. However, I know, when this has happended in the past that that reality is often different from our aspirations. I may not have to get up at 5am and be in bed by 9:30pm every work day but I expect as I get up later, I may stay up later too. I may also work a bit later in the office rather than leaving sharply as I do at present to join the car share or catch a train.

I am often reminded that the grass may seem greener on the other side of the fence, but it still needs cut. It is also worth reminding ourselves that whatever circumstances or locations we change, we are the same people, so will likely fall into similar patterns and make similar mistakes.

This is probably why, when setting goals or following New Year resolutions, we fall back into our old habits very eaily.

So I have to acknowledge that my ‘journey’ is not over but has just changed location. While I may not now be spending the majority of my time seeking new employment, I will still need to take regular breaks to consider if I am using my time wisely and on the activities I wish to pursue and that I get the rest that I need to do my job. Perhaps now I just have less excuses why I am not doing this … or perhaps not. That’s when I realise there is along way to go to change unless I put God in the driving seat more often.

Posted by: Mad Lamb | 13/01/2014

How long will it last?

First week at work and I’m feeling refreshed after time off over the festive break. I spent most of the time at my parents with a list of activities I planned to do with all the spare time I had, without work or other priorities to think about. The list included exercises from the physio, music theory to learn, papers to sort and some admin to work through. I left time to engage with any Christmas presents such as books to read and intended making a few visits to friends and family too. However, most was left undone. True, I was slightly distracted by the surprise gift of a ukulele?? and enjoyed sleeping in most days but my belief that my busy schedule at home was the reason I never had time to complete the listed tasks were completely blown out of the water.

So with a new week ahead with the same pressures of travel and tiredness as last year, how do I change the prospect of never achieving a slither of my eternal ‘to do’ list, never mind the New Year resolutions? I have identified two actions, so far. 1) prioritise over pressures 2) make thinking time.

At work I often feel I’m running from one task to another, unable to be as creative about solutions as I know I’m capable of. Yet repeatedly, I find that 5 mins thinking time can save 30 mins of running around like a headless chicken and, probably result in a better outcome. So I’ve started the year by setting the alarm 20 mins earlier. This allows me time to wake up more slowly and think about the day ahead before what filling to put in my sandwiches.

Let’s see how long this lasts…

Posted by: Mad Lamb | 01/01/2014

How long will you persevere

It is common to start the year with high expectations of changing who we are or what we do. However as soon as we trip up on our plans, it seems that we just give up, regardless how long it is that we have tried. Sadly, this is the reason that many decide not to even consider setting New Year resolutions.

I think back throughout my Christian life. If I had given up my faith whenever I failed, I would be in a very different place. My decisions to persevere are based on my belief that the longer-term aim of worshipping God by committing my life to Him is worth more than the weakness of my commitment to the short-term goal. When I look at Romans 5, I am reminded that suffering can often lead to learning how to persevere but, in persevering, we can gain character and hope.

So, like most exercise plans – it seems that we need to press through hard times to gain something worthwhile. And so, if, like me, you are wondering if your planned New Year resolutions were too big or too adventurous for you to achieve, take heart… or if you find you fail tomorrow, next week, next month or even make it through to November, don’t worry about it, keep going. Yes, there may be struggles ahead but there could also be big gains, so persevere and aim for your long-term goal, despite any short-term mishaps.

May 2014 bring you unexpected blessings through perseverance and hopefully not too many struggles.

Posted by: Mad Lamb | 17/12/2013

Fruit from frustration

Still feeling frustrated and useless, I recently began to consider if going to church made any difference. This Sunday my husband was a visiting preacher at a local church and, as he had a bad cough, I decided to drive him there, in case he had a coughing fit on the way. Despite thinking I may just wait in the car, as we have been there a few times this year, I decided to go in. While waiting for the service to begin, I read their notice sheet, which included their motto for 2013: John 15:4-5. I looked up the passage in my Bible and started to read the whole chapter.

One of my frustrations has been not feeling I was bearing fruit. Travelling so far to work meant I was so exhausted I didn’t have time or energy to do little else than to work, eat, sleep and travel to and from work. With this in mind, I noticed one repeating comment: when removed from the vine there would definitely be no fruit.

We sometimes forget that fruit trees can grow very slowly – it is often several years before fruit appears that is rich and abundant. However, the tree still needs watering and tending. Then, when the time is right, fruit will appear. Even then it may be a while before anyone benefits from the fruit. This reminded me of an experience early last month.

On my return journey from work, I occasionally catch a bus from the train station that doesn’t drop me as close to home as my usual one. However, as the stiffness from my arthritis has lessened, it seemed better to catch that and walk a little rather than wait another 15 minutes for the more direct bus. One night last month, when I took the indirect bus, I decided to get off at a different stop. Although it meant walking by a busy road, it seemed a shorter journey. On the walk home I saw what looked like walnuts on the grass verge but could only assume someone had dropped them earlier that day. Later that week, my husband met me at the stop to walk with me and I pointed out the strewn walnuts. He confirmed this was a walnut tree as many walnut shells were still in their husks. As we gathered up a few to take them home, we noticed there was another walnut tree next to this one. My husband loves pickled walnuts and we had to give up a three walnut tree saplings when we moved house last year, so this was a real blessing to find two mature trees so close to home. On the way home, we talked about how my husband could come back for early walnuts next summer, as these are the best for pickling.

As I read the passage again, I read in verse 8 that it is for God’s glory that we bear fruit (paraphrased). Again, this spoke into my feeling of uselessness as anything I tried to focus on seemed to go no-where and there appeared no obvious outlet for gifts I had used previously. In all my indirect questioning of God about where I should focus my efforts to bring about fruit, I could see that these trees bore fruit without any expectation that someone would harvest their offerings. As I continued to read through to verse 11, that the joy is in offering the fruit of my labours to God for His glory, and that, when the time is right, there will be a harvest that will be enjoyed by others. No longer did I feel pointless in all that I attempted to do.

By this time the service was nearly half-way through. I had been engaging with the singing and listening to what was said – but my mind kept returning to this passage. Then the next hymn was announced: Take My Life. This is one of my favourite songs and one I return to at time of dedication. Again I sang, savouring every line, and feeling much more positive about the next year ahead. So I committed myself to opening myself to God more often, through this blog and other mediums. I also decided that reading the words of this hymn and this passage in John would encourage me when I feel low and in dark places. I could also see that by going to church, I allowed God to speak to me though other’s efforts to bear fruit – from the newsletter editor to those who chose and played the hymns.

While I’m sure there will be times of doubt creeping in again, I hope that I take time to share my journey of faith via this blog. I trust that there will come a time when someone will find blessings in these words as I continue to learn that when the reality of life bites, faith bites back.

So, to those who are reading this in December 2013, may I offer many blessings to you over this festive period. For all readers, may your next twelve months bring opportunities to offer your fruit for God’s glory, even it appears they are just lying around in the long grass. Oh, and I confirmed again that going to church regularly is very important.

Posted by: Mad Lamb | 26/09/2013

A year on

A year has passed since we moved to Bristol and there’s still no sign of changing jobs.  However the two-hour commute has now become the norm and we have survived financially, although the budget is still very tight. My mobility has improved substantially in this time despite substantial delays between medical appointments.

The emotional journey through the last thirteen months has been a mix of hope, fear, confusion, anger, exhaustion, doubt, isolation and frustration. Yet through it all there has been faith and trust, albeit of different levels, and some times it has been a conscious effort to not just give up.

That, itself, was a curious place to be. If we give up on faith and God, where does that leave us? In our own strength we can gain little more than we can hope for under God. If we make radical changes, away from where we felt God was calling us, then it is only the temporary freedom of past frustration that gives any sense of new hope. Over time the new situation will bring its own pressures and we are back looking for a new way forward or a way out.

Even if we give up on life itself, then we either have to face God in the afterlife or to experience nothing, which leaves us wondering what we thought our efforts and striving would achieve.

Christians can sometimes be accused of living in some happy-clappy head-in-the-cloud world but, for many, this is not the case. Some are openly persecuted and most face the same struggles and pressures of the rest of society. This is where it is of great comfort that the Bible contains books like Job, Ecclesiastes, Lamentations and Habakkuk. In fact, almost every book has an account of God’s people struggling with life and occasionally each other.

It is in this struggle that we realise we are not controllers of our world. It can seem like those with money and power have this luxury, but unexpected events can come for us all to challenge and change our attempts at plans.

There are even times when such struggles cause us to give up our self-perceived control and then we realise there a number of significant blessings we have already that we did not fully appreciate because we were concerned about the things we did not have. This is where, I find, a faith in God helps. In those times, you can focus your thanks on someone else, regardless of who you is around you.

So at this point, life is very different to what we had expected thirteen months ago. However, strangely, I am grateful for the experience and very thankful for the blessings of a helpful husband, a supportive family, wonderfully cheerful work colleagues, a host of online friends, an amusing cat, a resilient body, a watertight house, a welcoming church congregation and an extremely gracious God, who knows what’s best for me despite my grumblings.

Of course, I do wonder what is in store for the next year. Perhaps you’ll travel with me as I update this blog as it unravels and even share some of the blessings you have discovered in the last year.

Posted by: Mad Lamb | 13/08/2013

Living by faith

One of my favourite passages from the Bible is from Deuteronomy chapter 30, verses 11 – 20.

Here God lays out the options for the Israelites: Life or death – your choice. He knows that after the pressures of capture and wandering in the desert are over and people are settled in a new land, they will forget their reliance on God. No longer will they cry out for water and food, expecting only Him to provide. They will have food in abundance and will quickly relying on their own toil for provision.

So it can be with us. We have faith in God to provide or travel through a hard time in life but as soon as life is sweet again – where does our faith lie?

Christians often talk about missionaries ‘living by faith’ when they do not have a regular income but rely on God to provide the money for whatever unexpected circumstances arises, from a new car or even just to by food for their families when their basic allowance from supporters doesn’t appear.

This does bring into question for us, living in our self-funded prosperity, how can we ensure we live by faith each day and do not totally rely on what we earn or can achieve?

As part of this, we can give up some of our adundant income in the form of tithe, whether to our church or split among various charities or individuals. Even in these cases do we give from excess or give before we take our share. It is our choice but do we give God what He deserves or what we think we do?

As you can read through this blog, I have struggled to know why God led us to moving home with clear openings for my husband to start his PhD but not provide a new job locally for me. This has frequently brought me to questioned my faith.  Over this time, I been faced with job possibilites with different tenures of permanent or a three year contract. My latest interview was for a job for only twelve months, which seems such a risk.  If this proves successful then could this be a way in which God is drawing me and my husband to rely on him more?

Previously I have dismissed such opportunities as irresponsible,  considering we rely solely on my income. However, as time moves on, the benefits of working nearer where I live become stronger than the desire for permancy.

In additon having felt as if there has been no action from God yet also desiring a closer walk with Him, I’m faced with placing my faith in God for continued work after this short contract when, until now, I’ve not had a job offer after a year of searching.

What is more benefit – to learn to live by faith day by day for every mouthful or to live in adundance and forget how much our God has done for us?

So how much do we put our faith in God when life is good? Can we live by faith even when we don’t have to?

For infomation, I didn’t get offered the job but it has made me question and pray more about seeking only permanent decisions.

What has made you re-think you recently?

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