Tuesday, 28 February 2012

What about HIM!!!!

One of my favourite pastimes is to sit and watch people.  People are fascinating, the things they do and say when they think no one is watching continually makes me smile.  I regularly sit in precincts and coffee shops, watching the world go by and then you glimpse something amazing or stimulating.  People are such a diverse and mixed group. Whilst i love to be around people I must also confess that people can get right up my snout at times!  Do they you? 

Maybe I still need a greater awareness and understanding of the life of grace?  Maybe I should be more accepting of people? 

In Yorkshire they says 'theres nowt as queer as folk'.  In West Yorkshire they also have another saying, 'we call a spade a spade', (although I want to say back provided we don't say the same back!)

Whilst I was training to become a Salvation Army officer, I must confess i struggled with the environment and people at times.  And as for those people who were responsible for my training.....well!

To be honest I had a bit of a running challenge in college with an officer who would always quote one piece of scripture continually at me.    I would get so annoyed that it seemed to me that some people were more favoured and 'in' than others. In my mind I felt I was fighting for those who others ignored.  I couldn't do with the elitist (my opinion) mentality that seemed (to me) to prevail within the college.  This officer DLG would quote to me time and time again 'what is that to you, you follow me!' John 21:20.  This would incense me!  How dare he! Every time I would challenge and talk about this he would quote this back to me.   Man it annoyed me.

You know what thou, this scripture was the best thing that could have been 'drummed into me'.  In fact it was probably the best thing i learnt in college.

You see Peter was walking with Jesus and when he did and kept his eyes on Him all was well, it was only when he took his eyes of the Lord that he became worried about what others were doing and upto.

Keeping your eyes fixed on Jesus is such a key lesson in the walk of faith.  DLG in drumming this lesson into me has probably taught me my biggest lesson.  No matter what is going on or about you make sure your eyes are looking to Jesus and as Jesus.  This viewpoint transformed my life and ministry.  Suddenly everything looks differently when my attention is fixed on Jesus.  Maybe I should look more at Jesus than everyone else around me. 

Theres nowt as queer as folk, especially me!!

Monday, 27 February 2012

The Bodyguard!

He was 6ft 6inches tall, about 20+ stones, black as black could be, his hands were like great big shovels, his feet were size 13.  You get the picture?   He had massive white eyes, and yet was as softly spoken as anyone I have known.  Billy was my bodyguard when I refereed in Capetown a few summers ago.  His role, whilst i was there, was to make sure that no harm came to 'Mr Referee', the englishman abroad!

Billy was in many ways the epitomy of what a bodyguard should be, he was a giant and no one would choose to argue with him for fear of the consequences.  He was indeed a Goliath.

We were always taught on the rugby field that its not the big ones you look out for but the small ones!   Having said that you cant help but notice a giant!  But is a giant all about stature?

Today my mind has been taken back to the summer of 1999.  I was a cadet in his summer training placement at a place called Middlesbrough North Ormesby.  It was an amazing summer and a great introduction to ministry.  Andrea had been ill and we had asked for a summer appointment so that she could get recharged what we got was not what we asked for!

The estate we were to live in was 'tough' even by North East standards!  The garage had been set fire to twice in the last 4 months and the house itself had been burgled 6x over the previous year!  This was such a different environment to that which we were used to.  We were so scared we didnt even really want to get out of the car.  What on earth had we come to?

As we arrived on our first day there the boards were coming of the outside of the windows, we were greeted by a young boy called Andrew who was 8!  He was a cheeky chap who came straight up and started talking to us.  He said, paraphrased, if you play football with me then nothing will happen to your house!  I couldnt help but smile, we had our own little bodyguard who was 8!!!

So every night through the summer at 6.30 we played football on the street together with Andrew and his mates.  This was such a key time in shaping how community works and my understanding of it. If you invest in people, and take time for them they will accept you 'onto thier patch!'  You have to meet them where they are, on their territory rather than expecting them to come into 'my domain'.  Nothing happened to our garage or house all through the summer!

One night whilst I was out Andrea, who was in bed, heard someone climbing over the roof, and then she heard a voice say 'get of that house im looking after them'!  It was our bodyguard, Andrew.

Andrew will now be about 30, I wonder where he is?  I cannot write to him today but I want to thank God for him.  He taught me, that I can learn from the most unexpected of places, and much of what I understand of how community works was taught to me by this 8 year old minnie Goliath.  Or was he in fact a Giant amongst men!

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Its a 99!

Willie John McBride captain of the British Lions rugby team, was famously tarnished with the '99' call.  No this was not a whippy icecream with a flake in it!   This was a call for everyone to defend themselves and punch the nearest Springbok, during the infamous British Lions rugby tour in the 70's.  There had been a great deal of needle and unseen things happening during the lead up games to the tests, and McBride alledgedly states we will not take a step back.

Today is Saturday and for me rugby day, hence I guess the connnextion.  But more than that it sits with my thinking from yesterday.  That as a Christian at war I need to be bold and take the step of faith no matter what I am faced by.  Rather than turning and running when I am 'spiritually punched by the enemy' i need to stand and even advance in the power and name of Jesus.   No weapon formed against me shall prosper!

Now Im not suggesting we should all get involved in mass punch ups for Jesus, but we certainly should not just lay back and accept what he throws at us!

As it is rugby day today, I thought i would acknowledge and say thank you to a person who with his dry yorkshire whit encouraged me when i set out on the refereeing career that has brought me 15 years of great joy and challenge and which strangely has also had a profound impact upon my Christians life and ministry. This is strange as he and the sport are far from Christian at times.  For many reasons I cannot name this person today on here, although he knows by the letter i have written to him how I appreciate his input into my life.

He once watched me referee and described me as looking like 'a sack of potatoes'.    He told me to get in shape and I could rise to the top!  It hurt what he said.  It felt like he attacked me right at the core of who I was.  How dare he say I was fat, because thats what he meant.  How dare he say if i continued the way i was I would never realise my potential!!  How dare he!  And yet in this massive personal challenge issued to me, he gave it in the knowledge that he knew me well enough, and knew how I would respond.

On the back of this i went away listened to what he had said put it in place and by the end of the very next season I was accepted onto the national list or referees in England, the RFU's top 50 referees. 

I appreciated, not at the time, the hard work of my mentor and coach.  In this I learnt so much about the importance of bringing 'honest challenge' to those who we are seeking to grow in the faith and influence.  It is not enough to ignore behaviours, and weaknesses.  We have through the love of Jesus to challenge what needs to be better so that we might truly honour God. 

Today I say thank you for the rugby referee coach who told me what i didnt like to hear.  It eventually was understood and benefitted me enormously.  Lets make sure we offer the right challenge to people, so it in turn benefits and grows the Kingdom

Friday, 24 February 2012

Millions, fighting with me....

The Army is downsizing, how can we continue to fight so many wars around the world, so the politician on the radio programme was discussing this morning.   I thought to myself, having got on the road extremely early, well that's not true in Gods Army.  I'm one in many millions!!   The bible says 'Since you are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses'.

This morning having had 3 hours on the road already, I have been thinking about those people, I have already said thank you to for influencing my life.  Today I cannot help but recognise and celebrate the many men and women of faith who have fought the fight well, and not only made it easier for me to live by and be a Christian, but also to recognise that Im never alone.

Now I know God said He will never leave us, but it helps me dare I say even more to know that there are actually millions of Christians engaged in this battle as well as myself.  We cannot lose this battle, millions of fighters at war for Jesus and with Jesus.

The war is won through grace and love.  People living a different life or war.  This is indeed a war of love.  Gods love for broken humanity shown to mankind through the actions of grace, and actions of love in you and me.

Dare I say the couple that I want to acknowledge today have probably demonstrated the life of grace and love the most to me.  I really do hope, that I am held in half as much respect as I and many others hold this dear couple in.

Win and Tom Ursito are both over 90.  They came into my life 20 years ago when in their late 60's.  They have been the embodiment of the life of holiness.  An example of faith rarely seen, in my opinion, in Gods believers.  They have shown me how to love people, even when they have hurt you.  Their gentle encouragement, and that does not mean they are weak,  continually has been an inspiration.  They drop notes, phones calls, messages of encouragement to people all the time.  I know they have prayed for my life every day without fail.  I know that!  What an amazing gift to a minister, to know that those who the world might say are on the scrap heap of life due to their age have made a tireless commitment to pray for you!  Awesome.

And you know what, all over this world their are witnesses doing likewise for believers, for you today!  No wonder I feel so bold in my faith, because there are many Wins and Toms living the life of grace and love and praying for Gods Kingdom on earth.

Today friends, I do indeed thank God for the witnesses of faith who have gone before and who walk with us today, such as Win and Tom.  But what an awesome fact, we are fighting a fight not with a diminishing fighting force but with a thriving Army of Warriors!

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Im a Christian.....dont apologise!

Crazy, even bizarre start to the day.   I was in 'church', well Costa Wetherby.  This the place where I meet people and share my faith through conversation over coffee.  I'm so glad this year I've not given up coffee like last year!

Anyway the craziest thing happened, which linked directly to Gary Laceys message to our church the Sunday just gone.  I was chatting to the 3 Costa ladies who were serving me my flat white.  Somehow we started talking about how as a Christian I believe that God is deeply invested in our everyday lives.  (not the sort of conversation that comes up very often!)

I was asked so what do you think is going on in her life?  I replied by saying that i would suggest that the person is very different to what people think.  I then described what was laid on my heart about her.  The response cam back, how did you know that?   She then said well what about her, and this happened 3x. Each explanation was apparently bang on.  Are you some kind of clairvoyant they asked?  (remembering Sunday message to be bold and stand up for Jesus)  I said NO!    I explained how God can give us special insights into peoples lives so He can show His commitment and love for them.

This to the most amazing 5 minute chat about Jesus in the middle of Costa.  In walked a sister of one of the staff and said so what about her?  I looked at her face and shared that I believed she had been deeply hurt and was feeling totally broken, at which point tears began to well up in her eyes.  I put my arm round her and said Jesus understands and loves you with a passion.  It was a God anointed and blessed moment.

Now having studied evangelism and been committed to mission for some years, I have been told continually that we have to be aware of the culture and surroundings.  We need to be guarded about when we mention Jesus.  But you know what, we also need to be sensitive to Gods Holy Spirit, who sometimes just turns up, in the midst of Costa and requires us to be bold and declare the reality of Jesus.  Today was one such day.

Today my letter is written posthumously.  It is written to my grandad, Bob.  He was never embarrassed to talk or sing about his Jesus.  If he felt it laid on his heart wherever he was he would share his faith.  Jesus was so important to him that he did not want to apologise, or be embarrassed about Jesus.  He taught me so much about having a passion for Jesus and about being bold in declaring this passion.

Thanks grandad, you taught me to drive in your allegro with the square steering wheel, you said Andrea was a good catch, and you even more importantly showed me how to be bold for Jesus.  Thank you.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Children come first?

Day 1 Lent 2012

Over these next days and weeks, its my intention to say thank you to men and women who have influenced my life.  Many probably wont even realise that they have or even how much.

I am reminded of teachers at school who invested in me, even when I did not want to be invested in!  Sunday school leaders, ministers, family, friends and even rugby colleagues.  Its amazing just how much effect people have had upon me, when I take time out to reflect and remember.

I want this year, through 40+acts of generosity to write to these people a letter of sincere thanks and appreciation.  Its right to say thank you.  Its right to acknowledge that I am who am I in no small part down to such people.

We do not recognise enough, just how much people influence us, do we?   You will not know Ruth Woodhouse but today I want to thank God, for a lady who throughout my formative years always took time for me.  It seemed that even though she had a heart and passion for young people, and even though she had many many children under her care, she always had time for me.

She seemed to always have a smile on her face, even though we as young people were always miss behaving, or so it seemed.  She week in week out sought to show and tell us about the stories of Jesus.  teach a child before they are 7 we are told and you shape them for life.  Ruth, my Sunday school leader, seemed to love to tell young people about Jesus, and his stories.  She had a passion and a love for Him, and because of this had a love for all of the youngsters under her care.  I felt especially me!!

I know that throughout the next years she continued to pray and enquire of me.
She was a model to me of the importance in christian ministry of taking the words of Jesus and applying them to her life, Jesus said suffer the children to come unto me and forbid them not for as such is the kingdom of God!  I believe this ladies influence, not only shaped my life and calling but has also had a key part in what I believe the ministry of the church needs to be.  That is, Jesus had a special place for young people, therefore so should we!

Ruth gave and gave and gave to me as a young person.  She showed love and grace in her actions.  Today I give thanks to God, that I am who I am in no small part because of her influence.  I thank my God for her life and influence over me!  Thank you Ruth Woodhouse.


Friday, 17 February 2012

40 Days Here I go again.....

I have been thinking lots about this years lent, and what I should be doing to benefit my spirit and to particuarly refocus my thinking on the Lord, whom I seek to try and follow.  (If only I was more successful in my living in this regard!)

I had a couple of ideas.   1, was to give up my mobile phone.  There never seems to be any space.  People seem to always want instant responses, and this brings with it massive emotional demands and strains.  2. Was not to respond to emails outside of sensible working hours.  This in itself does not model good leadership and work balance to the rest of my team and church.  However neither of these felt right.

Last week I became aware of the 40 acts of grace intiative.  The idea being that I do something positive with the period of lent, rather than give something up. 

As a church we have been speaking this year about living distinctively, living life differently.  Showing people through our living and actions that life can be different and the we must as Christians model the reality of Jesus in everything we do. 

So this year I am going to write a letter of encourage to 40+ different people who have had an influence upon my life.  I will pray each day and then write to the person laid on my heart.  In my spirit I feel that these may not just be relationships which have been positive but may have also brought challenge to me.

I am hoping that God will use this experience to build up the people who he lays on my heart.  I am hoping that maybe he might resolve some issues that he needs addressing, and I am really praying that people will be surpised as they receive the encouargement and honest words about how people have encouraged me in my journey and sometimes wrestle with faith.  I am intending where it is appropriate to try and blog these insights and encouragements to, so that people can hear and read that it is vital to say thank you to each other, even when in the first place you might not like what was said or you had to do.

So as i prepare to embark on a season of encouragement, I join with Paul in his letters to the Ephesians 'I thank my God everyday when I remember you in my prayers.'

Emmaus Pioneer Journey

Picture the scene. You arrive, on a day off to spend the day with one of your children. To help him out. You're greeted by about 5 t...