Learning through Life

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Hampshire, United Kingdom
I love how our day-to-day life can teach us lessons to help us understand our past, challenge our today, and inspire our future. We can learn through experiences, situations, conversations, songs, books, nature ... the list is endless! Live with eyes ready to see, ears ready to hear and a heart ready to be touched.

Saturday, 8 February 2014

The one with the fruit

Recently I met up with someone who had a huge impact on my early life as a Christian over 20 years ago! It was great to catch up with him and talk about the 'good old days' when I was a member of the youth group he pastored.  As we reminisced over a latte, I realised just how much things have changed, and how thankful I am to know and serve a faithful God!

'What happened Jo? You out of all people, how did you end up in the ministry?'

It was a fair enough question!  I think it is true to say that my behaviour and attitude back then was pretty challenging. I had come into a church youth group from a totally non-church background, and I guess I didn't 'fall into line' all that easily!

'You kept people at arm's length, you kept church at arm's length and you kept God at arm's length ...'

Two out of the three agreed upon.

Yes, I kept people at arm's length. I had come in from a totally different environment from that experienced and encouraged at church and I found it very difficult to develop a relationship of openness and trust with people.  I built extremely effective barriers around me that I hoped would protect me from hurt. After all if you don't let people in, they can't hurt you, right? 

Yes, I kept church at arm's length. I loved being at youth group and I loved being at church. But I felt such a fraud. Who was I to be joining in with all these people who seemed to have actually read the whole Bible and have their own hot-line to God? I could never pray with such passion, feel comfortable lifting my hands in worship, or slip a triumphant 'praise the Lord' or 'Hallelujah' into a sentence. I just didn't fit in. The safest solution to feeling like an outsider was to act like one.

But God?  Did I keep God at arm's length?

When I gave my life to Jesus it was a well thought out and lifetime decision. It was a no turning back commitment. I knew my life would be totally different from now on, and I felt as though I had so much catching up to do! So, in the quietness and safety of my own room, I threw myself into working out what this new relationship with God was all about. I read and studied the Bible every day without fail. I prayed - lots - in fact, I think I knew what it was to 'pray without ceasing' better then than I do now. I had such a lot to learn and put into action.

Looking back, I think I found it all a bit overwhelming. It found it so hard to accept that God, the creator of the universe, would want to have a relationship with me. I felt I had really messed up. I felt unlovable and unworthy. And yet I knew the Bible spoke of a God who loves without condition; a God who sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to die for me so I didn't have to be worthy! It was a lot to take in.

And perhaps because of this, I struggled to externalise what was going on. But this didn't mean I kept God at arm's length; I worked hard at ensuring this wasn't the case.  I had made a commitment to follow Jesus, it just seemed as though this commitment looked different to that of the other young people in the youth group.

The (understandable) assumption that I kept God at arm's length back then really unsettled me. If fact, I lay awake that night thinking it over. Was my behaviour that bad? Was I really such an invisible Christian?

Had my character or behaviour not changed at all? Did I not display any of the 'signs' of being a Christian? The fruit of the Spirit? 

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23)
Ok, perhaps I lacked most of them back then (working on them now!), but if faithfulness is to be defined as being 'loyal and steadfast' - I was faithful.  Admittedly, a lot of this faithfulness took place in the safety of my own room, but publicly I was faithful in my attendance - events, programmes, services, prayer meetings ... I would be there!

So, why wasn't this particular fruit recognised in the same way as love, or goodness, or self-control might have been?

Perhaps the shine of the apple, or the yellow curve of the banana makes a particular fruit easier to spot? Perhaps certain fruits are more common or more highly esteemed? But what about the smaller, less obvious fruit that might be well camouflaged amongst the leaves?  Are they not still fruit?  Granted, my fruit might have been less obvious, but it was there.

What a lesson this has taught me as a leader! What do I look for in others? Do I look for the obvious? Do I look for the well-known, easily spotted, common fruits? What if nothing is seen at first, or even second glance? Do I disregard the 'tree' and assume it bears nothing?

As leaders, I believe we need to look beyond the obvious, and ask God to show us what he sees.  There are nine different fruits of the Spirit, and each one of these can display itself in a myriad of ways.

Will you allow your eyes, ears, heart and mind to be open to the diversity that being in a relationship with the Creator God brings, and recognise and encourage the existence of all fruits, even those that seem small and insignificant at first?


“Fruit is always the miraculous, the created; it is never the result of willing, but always a growth. The fruit of the Spirit is a gift of God, and only He can produce it. They who bear it know as little about it as the tree knows of its fruit. They know only the power of Him on whom their life depends” Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

The one with the sore hip

On Thursday I went for a walk along the beach with Jesus. 

The wet sand sparkled in the sunlight, and stretched far into the distance until it met the sky. The tide withdrew, creating space for me and my beloved companion to meander at will. We walked, sometimes in full conversation, other times in silence. It didn't matter; we were together. I enjoyed the company, I enjoyed the fresh sea breeze, I enjoyed the warm Autumnal sun, and I enjoyed the exercise! I had nowhere else to be, no one else to look after, and no set agenda.  I hadn't spent 'us' time like this in such a long time. It was perfect.
The Witterings

We talked about all sorts. His creation. His love. His forgiveness and acceptance. I asked for direction and confirmation. I prayed for others and I had a little rant about how life seems so unfair at times; but it was no surprise to him, he already knew how I felt.  He let me off-load, question and ramble. He let me be me.

Today, all my time is yours, Lord. Let's keep walking.

I felt free. I felt loved. I wanted to capture the feeling like multi-coloured sand in a bottle and screw the lid on tight.

As I continued, the sand beneath my feet started to soften, challenging the gentle pace I had been enjoying. Gradually the steps became strides and required a significant increase in effort. No big deal, or so I thought, but it wasn't long before my right hip began to feel a little uncomfortable. Ignoring the strain I pushed on, determined to make the most of this special time with God.

The pain increased and I was forced to find respite on a sandbank. Gutted. However, a short break and then we would continue ...

We did continue, but so did the pain. I eventually admitted defeat and turned around to begin the journey home.

After a short time I realised that in order to dampen the pain, I had started to limp. I discovered that if I kept my right knee slightly bent then my hip didn't hurt as much. It worked, until my knee began to hurt too. Again, I pushed through it, after all, what choice did I have? I had to get home somehow! So, with my right hip and knee complaining with every step I fixed my eyes on the destination and quickened the pace. I wouldn't let it ruin my day. But the truth was that my conversation with Jesus had been drowned out by an internal (and yes, the occasional external) 'ouch!'.

Through forced experimentation I learnt that leaning on the outside of my right ankle lessened the pain in my hip, and took the pressure off my knee. Relief. Until, yes, my ankle began to hurt too!

Enough of my moaning! Eventually I made it back to the car, drove back to the caravan and rested!

The pouring out of my heart and mind to Jesus might have decreased as the pain increased, but that didn't stop him speaking to me....

As I sat in the caravan I realised that ignoring the pain in my hip had led to problems elsewhere. It resulted in added tension and pressure in both my knee and my ankle, and as my hip still throbbed with the pain, it hadn't solved the problem at all. It would seem that one part of the body rarely suffers in isolation.

How true this is of the body of Christ!

Image Source

In 1 Corinthians 12:12-26 we read how we are all part of the body of Christ, and if one part suffers, every part suffers with it. Therefore, we need to work together, look out for each other, and support any part of the body that might be struggling. I think this concept also extends to the different ministries and groups within the church. Ignoring issues rarely solves the problem, but adds to pressure and tension elsewhere. God wants to build the whole church up, not just a part of it! If we want to see this happen, we really need to recognise the importance of other people, and different ministries, and do all we can to ensure they are fit and healthy and functioning as they should be. 

If one part of the body hurts, get it fixed - ignoring it will only lead to problems elsewhere!

May God continue to build his church!

Monday, 21 October 2013

Three Years of Regret

Today, my own (honest and real) words remain locked away, in a place that is too painful to draw from.  But this begins to say it for me ...

(Kris Allen, Live Like we are Dying)

Sometimes we fall down, can't get back up
We're hiding behind skin that's too touch
How come we don't say I love you enough?
'Til it's too late, it's not too late

Our hearts are hungry for a food that won't come
And we could make a feast from these crumbs
And we're all staring down the barrel of a gun
So if your life flashed before you, what would you wish you would've done?

Yeah, we gotta start lookin' at the hands of the time we've been given
If this is all we got, then we gotta start thinkin'
If every second counts on a clock that's tickin'
Gotta live like we're dying

We only got 86 400 seconds in a day to
Turn it all around or to throw it all away
We gotta tell 'em that we love 'em while we got the chance to say
Gotta live like we're dying

And if your plane fell out of the skies
Who would you call with your last goodbye?
Should be so careful who we left out of our lives
And when we long for absolution, there will be no one on the line

Yeah, we gotta start lookin' at the hands of the time we've been given
If this is all we got, then we gotta start thinkin'
If every second counts on a clock that's tickin'
Gotta live like we're dying

You never know a good thing 'til it's gone
You never see a crash 'til it's head on
Why do we think we're right when we're dead wrong?
You never know a good thing 'til it's gone

Yeah, gotta start lookin' at the hands of the time we've been given
If this is all we got, then we gotta start thinkin'
If every second counts on a clock that's tickin'
Gotta live like we're dying

We only got 86 400 seconds in a day to
Turn it all around or to throw it all away
We gotta tell 'em that we love 'em while we got the chance to say
Gotta live like we're dying

If you love someone, take every opportunity to show them.
Mum, every day I am sorry I never hugged you or told you I loved you whilst I had the chance. x

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