I am part of His family

What role do you play in your family? Do you have things that you are in charge of? When we used to go camping as a family we each had different roles to play – especially when it came to putting up the tent. My role was sorting out the poles, and then putting them all together and pegs! My mum was definitely in charge and we knew we had to follow her instructions. There were often disagreements and frustrations but the tent always got put up!

Our final ‘I am’ statement that comes with our Easter identity is “I am part of His family”. Your response to this statement will be dependent upon your view of family. I definitely have gone through the frustrated and annoyed response to my family but on the whole I know that my family are people who I share a lot with who will be there to support me when I need it.

So… what does it mean to be a part of His family… God’s family?

Two weeks ago I had to actually pop back up to Birmingham to see my parents. When I was there I went to St. Giles Church on the Sunday. This was the church where I was baptised, where I attended junior church, went to confirmation classes, and actually worked for a year. It was so lovely to be able to go a place which really does feel like family. These were people who have been a part of my life, who have known me, loved me, supported me – I wouldn’t be the person I am now if it hadn’t been for St Giles Church.

I’ve also been to many churches in the country and around the world, and what I love, is the fact that we may have differences about the way in which we worship, and what biscuits we should have but there are many things which we share, especially the love of God and the love of others. This is what it means to be a part of God’s family.

As with all families there will be disagreements, there will be people who will drive us potty, there will be upset, there will be joy… but the love of God and the love of each other will be central. As with our own families each of us will have different roles but each of those are important. A couple of weeks ago Lou Funnell led worship at school and gave everyone a piece of jigsaw to demonstrate that we are all unique but fit together to make a fantastic picture. In a church we need people who can welcome, who can lead, who can sing, who can move furniture…. This is reflected in our thought of the week which says “We each belong to and are needed in the family of God”

Christianity is based on relationships. If we look at God, we have the trinity, each of whom have a role to play God the father – creator and sustainer. God the Son – example, teacher, saviour. God the Holy Spirit – guide and enabler. This is just to name a few. Relationships are essential in all aspects of life, they enable us to see what our role is but also to see that we need other people. Jesus was constantly in relationship as well, he had his 3 closest disciples who were part of the group of the 12 disciples, and we are also told that he sent out 72. The first thing he did after his baptism and time in the desert was to develop a group of people around him. You see his frustrations with them at times, and he still had times of solitude, but the main thing you see is a group of people who ate together (a very important part of being in God’s family) cried together, laughed together, learned together. Jesus’ ministry wouldn’t have worked if he hadn’t been in that relationship, and if he hadn’t shown how important it was.

We have already looked at what it means to be a child of God, and now to see that that means that we are part of a family as well – wow! Over the next week there is a global prayer movement entitled “thy kingdom come” this is one fantastic example of the family of God coming together to make a difference in the world! What part can you play?

Prayer: thank you God that we are adopted in to your family. May we know that we are not on our own but are part of a worldwide movement of people who all love you. Thank you that you demonstrate what it is to be in relationship, and may we learn the role we have to play and how we can rely on other people as well. Amen

Challenge: look into thy kingdom come and see what you can do as a family at home to join in with the family of God.

I am able to approach God

I find it quite amusing sometimes sitting in my office listening as pupils come in, and out, of the classroom. The walls are very thin so I can hear everything. Every now and again I hear pupils saying “just knock, it’s fine”. As I said I find it quite amusing but I imagine it can be quite daunting – having to go and speak to a teacher. Quite often if I ask someone why they haven’t completed something, or why they haven’t done their homelearning I am greeted with the response, “I didn’t understand” to which I respond “well why didn’t you come and ask me?” “I’m not sure”.

I think it is because people are worried that I’m going to get angry, or that I will think they are silly, it may well just be because I am an adult and am seen to have a position of authority at the school. I find it quite odd, but that’s because I don’t see myself as anything other than a human who quite often makes mistakes as well! But when I was at school… well yes… I probably did feel the same way.

So… we find it difficult to approach humans, especially certain ones, normally those older than us, or those in authority. However, within Christianity, because of the events celebrated at Easter, we are told that we can approach God. Yes God. This is the same God we believe created the world, who has always and will always exist, who is perfect, who is all-loving all-knowing, and all-powerful, and yet we can approach him! Now that is daunting!

We will explore what this means later but first let’s get a brief history

In Judaism, in the temple there was something known as the Holy of holies, this is where it was believed that God dwelt. The high priest was the only one allowed in there once a year. Sacrifices had to be made to appease God. God was seen as a distant character who was not available to the normal person.

Yet in Christianity we are told that we can approach God. Our thought this week comes from John’s Gospel and says

This is the confidence we have when approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.

We can approach God in prayer, and we can ask for things, and he will hear us – important to note that he won’t always say yes! But prayer doesn’t have to mean asking for things, it can just mean spending time with God. One of the greatest privileges as a teacher is when pupils come and see me, not because they need help, but because they want to tell me about something exciting that has happened to them, an achievement they have had, or because they are upset about something and they just need some space, and normally a hot chocolate! This is because they’ve seen past the scary teacher persona and have seen that actually I interested in their whole life not just their work.

Imagine how frustrating it must be for God (except he doesn’t get frustrated) to only hear from people in prayer when they are desperate or when they are in need. God wants to hear everything, yes he already knows it has happened, but he wants us, to want to tell him. That might mean being highly excitable and thankful, or it might mean sitting in tears not actually able to talk.

I’ve probably mentioned before that I love the Chronicles of Narnia, and one of my favourite parts during the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, is when Lucy and Susan approach Asian as he is walking to the stone table. He doesn’t have a go at them for spying on him, but he allows them to put their hands in his mane. No words are spoken, but it is a very special moment, we are told it is something they had always wanted to do but never dreamt they had been able to. We possibly think it would be great to sit in the presence of God but there is no way we would ever be able to.

The great thing is that because of the cross, we no longer have to wait for someone special to go to God on our behalf, we can approach him ourselves. When I talk about sin I often use an image of two cliffs, man on one cliff, God on the other, with sin separating the two. But then the cross goes in the middle, sin is taken away and man can walk across the bridge to God. Daunting yes, but amazing as well! God wants us to approach him, not because he wants us to be a part of his life (we already are) but because he wants to be a part of ours!

Prayer: thank you God that you sent Jesus to live on earth and to die on the cross, so that we may approach you with confidence. Help us to share all of our life with you not just the rubbish! Amen

Challenge: spend 5 minutes each day chatting with each other about your day, thanking God for the good, and praying for your concerns.

I am not afraid

Do you have a fear? Last year I saw a few people on social media answering quizzes about themselves ‘just for a bit of fun’ – I considered giving it a go. But one of the questions was what are your fears. I couldn’t think of anything. That sounds really big headed but I really don’t think there is anything. There are things I don’t like – I don’t like spiders, but I definitely wouldn’t say I’m afraid of them. I love scary rides at theme parks, and I laugh through horror movies.

The more I think about it, I guess I’m not afraid of specific things, but I do worry about upsetting people, letting down people, and what people think of me.

I have worries. I imagine we all do. All of our worries are going to be different. But we all have them.

This week is our year 11s last week before they start their GCSE exams, and for some it’s going to be their last week in lessons at Archbishop’s. They are going to be worried about exams, but possibly also anxious about how life is going to change for them after 5 years at the school. New challenges ahead of them. For the year 8s some of them might be anxious about going away from home for the first time when they go to France.

I think I’ve made the point, we ALL have worries. BUT part of our Easter identity is that we can say “I am not afraid”. In fact our thought for the week shows that it is actually a commandment! In Joshua 1:9 it says “have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged; for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go”.

The commandment seems quite harsh; after all, we have already realised that we all have fears and worries – how can we not? But the verse also gives us an answer – we don’t need to be afraid because the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. Therefore, we are never alone, there is always someone holding our hand, walking with us, giving us the strength when we don’t feel we have it.

A few years ago when I was having anxieties a friend gave me something to go on my desk that says “let go and let God”. This has been the reminder I have needed regularly. I still come across issues, things that I worry about, but I try to hand it over to God. This doesn’t mean I give the job to God and use that as an excuse not to do it. But it does mean that when things start getting on top of me I go to God and ask for help. I ask God to walk with me through it. That might mean that God provides someone to walk alongside me, or that I suddenly get inspiration for how to get through it, or it might even mean that I have a good cry on God. But by acknowledging that there is something worrying me, I’m suddenly not dealing with it on my own. And sometimes that knowledge is enough.

So… as we approach the final term of the school year with changes ahead for us all, may we all let go and let God. Remembering we don’t need to be anxious because God is with us wherever we go.

Challenge: is there anything you are worried about that is taking over, that you need to hand over to God and ask him to walk with you?

Prayer: father God, we thank you that you have promised to always be with us, which means we do not need to be anxious or try to do anything in our own strength. Help us all to remember this promise, and to let you help us. Amen

I am set apart

I know that a lot of people complain about school uniform, but I actually think it is quite a good thing. I’ve seen the pressure that people feel under before non-uniform days, the conversations that take place, discussing what is going to be worn. But a school uniform… there is no thought process required, you wake up and you put on your clothes – SIMPLES! As well as there not being any thought process required, it also means that everyone is wearing the same, therefore possibly one less thing that can be picked on.

Obviously people try to personalise their uniforms, whether that is by rolling up skirts, or blazer sleeves; wearing nail varnish; not wearing a tie; doing something with their hair. Quite often though, everybody will be doing a similar thing, therefore it’s not actually that personal after all. Throughout our lives we will spend our lives trying to fit in. Whether that is by watching the same things as others; buying similar clothes; listening to the same music. Even if we don’t necessarily like those things we will say that we do, in order to fit in. However, in 2 Corinthians Paul writes “Why work so hard to fit in when you were called to be set apart”

What does it mean to be set apart? It means to live differently, and to be recognised for doing so. Not because you want to be different and to rebel, but because you are choosing to live in a certain way.

Jesus was the perfect example of someone who was set apart. He went against what his society expected him to do. He spoke to people who others wouldn’t; he had friends who were women; he ‘worked’ on the Sabbath; and he challenged the authorities. Why did he do these things? Did he want to make a scene? Did he want to look good in front of his friends? NO. He was following His father’s will, he was doing the right thing, he was demonstrating love.

In RS lessons I hear a lot of comments from pupils about what they believe Christians are, and how they should behave. And yet… because of the cross… we are told that we don’t need to worry about that. When asked which was the most important commandment Jesus summed them up into two. The first commandment was “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength.” The second “Love your neighbour as yourself”.

Two separate commandments and yet actually they are very carefully intertwined. If someone does the first, that should automatically lead to the second. If you think about someone in your life who you admire, look up to, respect, then you are likely to do things which they would do, or things that they would like to do. Christianity isn’t about a load of rules, it is about living in love, because that is what Jesus did, and that is why Jesus came to earth in the first place, because God loved humans.

What did Paul mean to be set apart? It’s not about purposefully doing things differently to everyone else because you want to make a point. It is about acting in love and not worrying about if that makes you stand out from the crowd. Not joining in when others are gossiping, not watching a tv programme because of the message it gives. I’m falling into that trap again aren’t I of listing everything you shouldn’t do. So what else might it mean? Taking the time to help someone who is upset, telling an adult if you know someone is being bullied, giving your pocket money to charity, spending some of your free time volunteering.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if nobody stood out for doing those things? But for now, that is what we are, we are called to be set apart, do you have the courage to do so? If not, don’t worry you can always ask God.

Challenge: think about the different things you do. Do you do them because other people are? Are they loving things to do? Is there you should stop doing or anything you can start doing to stand out in love?

Prayer: Father God, thank you that you have chosen us, and that you have chosen us to be set apart. Give us the strength and courage to be willing to stand out from the crowd and act in love, that people may know from our actions that we love you. Amen

I am Free

Yesterday I watched Selma, a film showing one of the particular battles that Martin Luther King Jr fought, when fighting for the civil rights of black Americans. This particular battle was about voting, which is quite appropriate this week as we find out that we have a general election coming up in June, and yet there are still so many people who don’t vote (but we’re not going to get in to that here). What was Martin Luther King Jr fighting for? He was fighting for freedom. His people were supposed to be living in a country of freedom, and yet his people, although not slaves anymore, were still treated as second second class citizens. They kept being given more freedoms, such as no segregation, but they had to keep fighting.

It is easy for us to forget how lucky we are to live in a country where we are free. Free to vote, free to believe what we want to believe, free to speak out. It is also easy to forget what people had to experience in order for us to have freedom, and lives that were lost in the process. There are still so many countries around the world where that freedom, that we take for granted, isn’t a reality.

The element of our Easter identity that we are looking at the week is “I am Free”. Last week we looked at being a child of God, and we all know the most important job of parents is to buy presents for their children. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross said “Free Choice is the greatest gift God has given to his children”.

Rules rules rules, this is what a lot of people associate with Christianity, a list of things you’re not allowed to do, and a list of things you must do. Where does free will come in to it and how does it link with Easter?

When I look at the 10 commandments, I see common sense guidance. If everyone used them as guidance then the world would be a much happier place. Rules, bizarrely, are a necessity for freedom. If we didn’t have rules then the world would be in mayhem (more so than it already is). Having free will means having the ability to choose, choosing whether to follow the rules, choosing whether to do right or wrong. People often use the argument of there being wars, crime, horrible people in the world as a reason to not believe in God. Yet, those things are caused by people’s personal choices not by God. If God were to stop everything bad that was happening, then we wouldn’t truly be free. What would you prefer a life of freedom where people make mistakes, or a life of dictatorship where you are essentially a robot with no ability to make a decision? Therefore no ability to learn from mistakes.

 Free will comes with responsibility. People make mistakes and people break rules – after all that’s what they are there for. If you think back to the story of Genesis, God had created this amazing world, and humans. The humans could eat from anywhere in the garden except one tree… what did they do? They ate from that one tree. There were consequences for those actions. That is always the case, yes we have free will but we have to think about the consequences of our actions, not for ourselves but for others as well. Free will doesn’t mean blindly following rules, but it does involve a thoughtful process. Martin Luther King jr and Mahatma Gandhi are two famous examples of people who were willing to go against the rules in order to fight for freedom for all. Sometimes that is a necessity. For both of them they believed they were fighting (peacefully) in order to reflect a world they felt God would want – where all were free and equal.

How does this link to Easter? In Jewish tradition, in order to atone (make right) when they had sinned they would have to offer a sacrifice to God. However, in Christianity, there is the belief that when Jesus died on the cross, because he was innocent, he died as a sacrifice for us all, and that is why he rose again – he defeated death.

Therefore, as we saw last week, it doesn’t matter if we do things wrong because we can be forgiven and God will always love us. We don’t have to do anything special to gain that forgiveness we just have to ask for it! Does the mean “hey hey free will, I can do whatever I want, I’ll get forgiven anyway”. Not really, it means we have been given the gift of freedom, we should use that gift to reflect the love it was given in, but safe in the knowledge that we are going to make mistakes and that is absolutely fine and will not take us away from God.

Prayer: father God, we thank you for your gift of free will, and that we live in a country of freedom. We pray for those countries around the world where people do not have freedom, and the people fighting for freedom. We also pray that people in this country we acknowledge the freedom they have and what has gone in to it. May we use our freedom wisely to show love, safe in the knowledge that when we do make mistakes we will be forgiven. Amen

Challenge: find out about countries where there isn’t freedom, or about people who have fought for freedom in the past. Are there any areas in your life where you think freedom is being taken away, is there anything you can do?

I am a Child of God

Alleluia, Christ is risen. He is risen indeed, Alleluia.

Easter identity

I am writing this on Good Friday – the day we remember Jesus being crucified. Ready to be published on Easter Sunday – the most important festival within the Church – the day we remember Jesus defeating death and rising to new life. This is the fundamental event that the Christian faith is based on, more important than Christmas. BUT… what does this mean for Christians? That’s the question we’re going to be exploring this term, our Easter identity. What do the events of Good Friday, and Easter Sunday mean for us today. In John’s Gospel there are 7 ‘I am’ sayings, these are statements that Jesus says about himself – including ‘I am the resurrection and the life’. We are going to consider 6 ‘I am’ statements that Christians can say with confidence, because of the death and resurrection of Jesus.

I am a Child of God

When I was growing up I was convinced that I was adopted, I couldn’t see any similarities between me and my family at all. There was definitely no way I could be related to my brother, he is tall and thin, and those of you know me know that I am most definitely not. Also… I was musical… my family definitely not. I couldn’t see it at all. As I’ve grown up I’ve started to see similarities, but they have also been pointed out to me. I still remember one point when I was working as a TA in the school where my mum worked. I’d never supported in a class with her, but one day she was covering a lesson I was supporting in. There was a boy messing around, and in complete unison we both told the boy off using exactly the same words. When people look at photos of me and my mum, I quite often get comments of ‘you can tell you’re your mother’s daughter. People have even said there are physical similarities between me and my brother – apparently from the forehead to the eyes we look the same! I can also see character similarities, especially between me and my mum, but I also get my dry humour, sarcasm and hair from my dad! Although there are many differences between me and my family, there are important links and similarities. Also, I’m no angel (shocking I know), I have made many mistakes and continue to do so, but no matter what I do, my family are always there to support me, their love in unconditional. Even though I live 200 miles away from my family whenever I get on the phone with my mum it’s just like we’re in the same room, and as soon as I go back to Birmingham, the accent comes back and I’m just a daughter with her parents, fighting with her brother! It is the same with God.

We are told in Romans 8 that through the Holy Spirit, which came after Jesus rose and ascended to heaven, we are able to call God ‘Abba Father’, sometimes this is translated as ‘daddy’. No longer are we separated from God, but we are his children. No longer do we have to perform rituals in order to contact God, but we can just call him daddy. As children of God, we are also heirs of His Kingdom – how exciting!

But what does it mean to be a Child of God?

Good question. Firstly it is about being created in the image of God. As I said, for ages I couldn’t see any similarity between myself and my family but as I grew up I started to see it. Some of this was physical, but a lot was what I’ve picked up from spending so much time with them. I am not my mum or my dad, but I reflect them. Similarly, it is very difficult for us to see anything of God within us, we are not God, but we are made in his image, and therefore we reflect him. The more time we spend with Him, the more of His characteristics we will pick up and reflect in our lives. You never know people may start to look at you and your actions and say “you can tell you’re a child of God.”

Secondly, it is about recognising that once we are a child of God, there is nothing we can do to stop being a child of God. Resego Motlhokathari says “You don’t stop being God’s child when you mess up. God knows your heart and He loves you.”. What an amazing promise. This doesn’t mean that we should just purposely go around messing up, but it does mean that we don’t need to worry if we do, it doesn’t stop God’s love for us. Similarly there will be times where we ignore God, or don’t actively spend time with Him, but no matter how long that is, as soon as we turn back, he is there with open arms and it’s like we’ve never been away.

Thirdly, and finally it is recognising that others are Children of God as well. We are all made in the image of God. We may not recognise it in ourselves or in others, but we are. Yes there will be disagreements, as there are often were between me and my brother but… at the end of the day we loved each other and would do anything with each other. We are not going to like everybody but that doesn’t mean that we don’t treat them in love, as Gods child, our brother and sister.

It takes no effort to be a Child of God, but it is life changing if you recognise what it means and declare with confidence “I am a Child of God”. Over the last couple of days I have seen many posts on social media saying “the invitation to be a Child of God is universal but it does require an RSVP”.

Prayer: Daddy, we thank you that we have been able to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. Thank you that we are able to call you daddy, that we are created in your image and that we can call ourselves your children. We pray that we are able to recognise you in us, and that we will be able to reflect you in our lives. Amen

Challenge: list all the characteristics of God that you can think of (you can research them if you want) then look at which characteristics you reflect, and help others to see what they reflect as well. Think about which you could develop more and ask God to help you.

Rejoicing


As we approach the countdown to Easter we look at the final of our spiritual disciplines, this is one which doesn’t necessarily seem like a discipline, but also one which can be hard to do, or one which we fail to do the most, and that is… rejoicing
We live in a world where we are told about the bad things that happen all the time; a world which takes great joy in sharing mistakes that people have made; spreading other people’s misfortunes; a world where it is all too easy to complain about things that are happening but it seems more and more difficult to rejoice.

After the shocking events in Westminster this last week I was overwhelmed by the amazing responses of the people in London, around the world and in the media. The response to show that we will not be deterred or afraid; the love of those who helped; the unity of different religious leaders coming together. It would have been so easy to focus on this awful act being done in the name of a religion, but instead there was a rejoicing of the love being shown. In fact I am reliably informed that the highest trending twitter feed the following day was national puppy day.

When a major city is attacked we all come together, show our solidarity, show we are one people not many. Unfortunately, on a day to day basis this unity which does take place isn’t reported, but the differences and disagreements are. Why does this have to be the case?

This is why rejoicing is a spiritual discipline. And why it is so powerful. The only way to dispel evil is through love. Yes we can act in love, which is powerful, but we also need to rejoice in love. Easter is the most important of the Christian festivals, it was at Easter that Jesus defeated death, it was because of his resurrection that we all have the opportunity to have eternal life, and to be in relationship with God. Joseph Prince says

Whatever barren situation you are in, rejoice and tell God, “Father because of the sacrifice of your son, I am blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ. You have already given me everything. So I am going to act like it is so and rejoice!

As I say so many times, if you choose to live a Christian life and follow Christ then that is most definitely not taking the easy option, and is likely to face difficulty. But throughout it all we must remember all the blessings we have been given and rejoice in those. They will give us the reminder we need of good in our lives, but will also be a witness to others. Maybe we can start a new trend of sharing only the good things we see, or focussing on them anyway? We have good reason to rejoice, so let’s do it!

Have a great Easter Break, celebrating the news the Jesus Christ is risen!