Month: April 2017

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.