Meekness and Majesty

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On Thursday the country celebrated the Queen’s 90th birthday. Queen Elizabeth II, who is now the oldest reigning monarch, and the longest reigning monarch. I know the Queen can bring up a lot of controversy, not the Queen herself, but the very idea of a monarchy is one that can cause discussion and debate. I’m not going to even tackle that subject as I don’t think I would say be able to do it justice, but I do want to think about the example of the Queen, as a person and as a Christian.

Yesterday I was watching the documentary that was shown on BBC on Thursday, with the family looking at old videos. There were a few things that struck me whilst I was watching. Firstly, it was that the family, were a very close family that like to have fun. A lot of the videos involved laughter and playing. There are many videos of the Queen as a little girl teaching her sister dances and songs. There was a lot of rolling down hills, through all of the generations. Princes William and Harry spoke of how the whole family, including their Granny and Grandad do enjoy banter.

The second thing that really hit me, was a comment that Prince Charles made. He was talking about the fact that she was the longest reigning monarch. As he pointed out, this is a record she would prefer not to have. She became Queen because her father died at a young age. She was a new mother, with two young children. She didn’t become Queen because she wanted to, but because she was destined to. She became Queen under horrible circumstances, in a time of grief, but she took that role as she was meant to.

The Queen has spoken at length about how, at the centre of everything that she does, is her faith. Her faith is a living faith, not just something that she does for show. The quote for this week comes from the Queen who says

For me the teachings of Christ and my own personal accountability before God provide a framework in which I try to lead my life. I, like so many of you, have drawn great comfort in difficult times from Christ’s words and example

The Queen, like us all, has gone through difficult times, and yet throughout it all she knows that she is not alone. She speaks about Christ’s words and example, and I think that that is evident in her life. She is in the spotlight, and she knows that she has a certain role to fulfil, you can see from the videos that she loves her time which is just her and the family, but she knows what is expected of her and she does that.

What better example to follow, than Jesus, who too, had to do a certain job. We see a few times, that he has to battle with that job. Whether that was during the time in the dessert before he started his ministry, or when he is in the garden of Gethsemane and asks his father to take the job of dying away from him.

It is very easy for all of us to look at others, and think, oh I wish I had that life. But I know that as great as it may look having various houses, having exotic holidays, and having servants. I know I wouldn’t want to swap places with the Queen, and I have the upmost respect for her. She never publically questions what her role is, she does it, with the grace of God, and the example of Jesus keeping her going at all times. Do we do that with our everyday lives?

She knows she couldn’t do it alone, in the same way that Jesus had to draw on his Father. They both show those two contradictory characteristics… Meekness and Majesty.

Challenge: Think about what your role is, at home, at school, at work. Do you do it unquestioningly, or do you fight it/whinge about it/ complain about it?

Prayer: Father God, we thank you for the example that you have set for us, and that you never leave us. Thank you for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and that you are her cornerstone, and her example. We pray that you can be the same for us. Amen

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Mind Your Language

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We are coming up to the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death. I feel, at this point in time, that I should own up to the fact that I didn’t enjoy English at school. I love reading, and I have always loved reading, but I wasn’t a fan of having to analyse books. I wanted to just read the story, and enjoy the story, without having to analyse each sentence. Then, I discovered Shakespeare, and it was a different language. I couldn’t even just enjoy reading, I had to work out what was being said. BUT THEN…

We were reading Twelfth Night, and we went on a school trip to Warwick Castle, where Twelfth Night was being performed in the grounds. Different scenes were in different parts of the castle, and we had to run around to watch the play. The trip started off well because our English teacher was wearing yellow tights (that will only make sense if you know the play), but the play was fantastic. Suddenly Shakespeare made sense, I didn’t necessarily understand every single word that was being said, but I understood the story – and not just because my teacher was reading it to me.

My best friend’s dad plays percussion for the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-Upon-Avon, this meant that we got to go to quite a few opening nights. I had developed a love for Shakespeare, and I would take any opportunity I had to go and watch the plays.

A couple of years later I was in Copenhagen, Denmark. I had gone on an Orchestra trip with my school. We had had a tour, and some lunch, and then we had free time. We had to meet back at the place we had lunch, at a certain time. My friends and I got lost! We knew that the place we had eaten at was called “The Ugly Duckling” (after the Hans Christian Anderson story) so we asked people for directions. Unfortunately, it is not called “The Ugly Duckling” in Danish! So no one knew what we were talking about.

Language is essential, it is a necessity in life. How else would we be able to communicate with each other to explain things? The problem comes when the meaning is lost. In Denmark, we needed to know the Danish. Shakespeare wrote plays, not books. They were meant to be performed. Would you sit down and read a script from Eastenders?

Things being lost in translation, it’s something that happens a lot now. But that is mainly through social media, texts and emails. I can be rather sarcastic at times, it’s not my strongest feature, and I completely blame my dad. But what I find is that you can’t always get sarcasm across in a text. The tone we use when we speak, and also our facial expressions, help to explain what we are trying to say.

I know so many people who have been hurt by words that have been sent in a message. I know I feel safer hiding behind technology, but we have to be careful, and sometimes we have to realise that we do need to speak to people face-to-face.

The quote I chose from Shakespeare for this week was

“Words are easy like the wind; faithful friends are hard to find”

This is so true. We can say things to people easily, but actually many friendships don’t really need words.

A teaching that I feel is key to the Christian Faith is that actions speak louder than words. Jesus showed this, if we think about the Last Supper, when he washed his disciple’s feet. He wanted to show them something about himself. This is something that the Salvation army still do today, for homeless people.

Challenge: Think about how you use words. Try to make a special effort to say at least one nice thing to people each day this week. Think about whether your actions reflect or speak louder than the words you say.

Prayer: We thank you that you have given us language to communicate with each and to communicate with you. Help us to use the language you have given us, to worship you, and to show your love to those around us. Amen

To be a pilgrim

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If you could drop everything and go anywhere in the world, where would it be and why? It might be somewhere as far away as possible, or somewhere you have special memories of, or maybe somewhere with special meaning.

This week we are thinking about being a pilgrim. A pilgrim is simply someone who goes on a pilgrimage. A pilgrimage is a special journey to a special place. Within Christianity there are many places that people would go on pilgrimage to, including places in the Bible, Lourdes, Rome and of course Canterbury cathedral.

One of my best friends went to Jerusalem last year, and she went to many of the places that are mentioned in the Gospels about Jesus. The places have given her a much more real understanding of those Gospel stories and you can’t mention any of the stories without her saying ‘I’ve been there’ but I’m not sure that she would say it was a pilgrimage, it was a holiday where she visited places important to her faith.

The special thing about a pilgrimage is that it is actually more about the journey than it is about the place. It is about specifically taking time away from the normal everyday life and things, to go to a place, and to develop as a person in faith. Many pupils in the past have taken part in the Easter Monday youth pilgrimage to Canterbury cathedral, and I have heard many say that it wasn’t necessarily the planned bit at the cathedral that was the highlight, but the walking together with other members of their church, and other churches along the way.

The pilgrimage is the journey, not the destination. Our entire lives are journeys with highs and lows, sometimes they seem a bit mundane and sometimes they seem crazy and really difficult. It’s always good to look back and realise where you have been and how you have got to where you are.

The thought for the week says
The best journeys answer questions that in the beginning you didn’t think to ask

In September I started a course to answer a very specific question that I was struggling over, and had been struggling over for some time. During the course that question was answered but so many more questions were asked and answered as well. I learnt so much about myself, and this was mainly because I took the time to answer that one question in the first place.

The challenge with pilgrimage is taking the time out of the busyness of life to go somewhere, but to go there on a journey rather than just arriving at a destination. Yes there are specific places which are considered holy within Christianity but this could be somewhere special for you.

Prayer: Father God we thank you that you journey with us and we pry that we will take the time to specifically walk with you and spend time with you on our journeys. Amen

Challenge: plan a date when you can go on a pilgrimage to Canterbury cathedral (or somewhere else of your choosing) but don’t just get a bus/train to Canterbury choose one of the many walking/cycling routes – and make sure you let me know if you do manage this one!

Eternal Life

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It’s Holy Week, the week where we remember Jesus’ time in Jerusalem, and the events that led to his Crucifixion and ultimate Resurrection. It’s also the end of our series on God’s promises. Since Christmas we have discovered that God promises us that we are not alone; everyone is welcome; we are reunited with God; God works for good; we do not need to be anxious; God gives us strength; God gives us what we need; God gives us strength in weakness; we are forgiven; and finally this week, the ultimate promise of Eternal Life.

When we think about eternal life we often think about having a life when we die. That is definitely part of the promise, then when our physical bodies die, we will continue to live with God in heaven.

But the promise for this week suggests something more. In the Gospel of John Jesus says:

“You don’t have to wait for the End. I am, right now, Resurrection and Life. The one who believes in me, even though he or she dies, will live. And everyone who lives believing in me does not ultimately die at all.”

We do not have to wait until the end, because Jesus is here, right now. A verse often referred to is John 3:16 which says

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”

The word used here for eternal life actually means age-long. Our life with God doesn’t start when our physical bodies come to an end. Our life with God starts when we recognise what He did when Jesus died on that cross and rose again. That Jesus went through that for us.

On Thursday when we remember the last supper that Jesus had with his disciples; when Judas betrayed him; and when he was arrested

On Friday when we remember Jesus hung on a cross and dying

On Sunday when we remember Jesus defeating death and rising to new life

Let us also remember, that it is because of these events that we can know that we are not alone; everyone is welcome; we are reunited with God; God works for good; we do not need to be anxious; God gives us strength; God gives us what we need; God gives us strength in weakness; we are forgiven; we have eternal life.

Jesus told us that He died that we might have life, and have life in abundance. This Easter let us remember what happened, so that we might live life abundantly; but most importantly let us live life abundantly.

Prayer: Father God we thank you for the many promises that you give us, and we thank you that you came to earth as a person and died on the cross so that those promises may be fulfilled. May we know that we have life in you, and reflect that life every day. Amen

Challenge: This Holy Week, read through the story of Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection. Remind yourself of the cornerstone of our Christian Faith. AND OF COURSE… have a fantastic Easter

Forgiveness

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I didn’t get any of my wedding cake! I don’t like rich fruit cake, so although that was what our main 3 tier wedding cake was, we had a special chocolate cake made as well! But… The person handing out the chocolate cake never gave me any 😔. I was told it was delicious, but I wouldn’t know because I DIDN’T GET ANY!!!!! As you can tell, 11 years on, I still haven’t quite managed to move on from the situation.

Have you ever held a grudge? I imagine we all have at some point in time, it may have been something silly like NOT GETTING ANY WEDDING CAKE or it may be something much more serious. As we approach Easter we start to discover a couple of the more substantial, life-changing promises that God gives us. Today’s is that God doesn’t hold a grudge, because of God we can be forgiven. The promise is in the first letter of John and says

But if we confess our sins to him, he can be depended on to forgive us and to cleanse us from every wrong. And it is perfectly proper for God to do this for us because Christ died to wash away our sins.

On the cross, Jesus was crucified between two criminals. We are not told what their crimes had been, but we can assume it was major. One of the criminals on the cross recognised who Jesus was, and although we don’t hear that he actually verbally asked for forgiveness, I think that through that recognition, in his heart, he recognised what he had done wrong and he said sorry for it. Jesus then said that he would see him in heaven.

As with many things in Christianity this idea can be misunderstood. Some people think that this allows anybody to do anything. But that is not the case. There needs to be a recognition from a person, that they have done something wrong. Normally whenever a child gets told off, their automatic reaction is “I’m Sorry”. But quite often, that is all it is, it is an automatic reaction, not actually said with any meaning or understanding.

Yes God can and will forgive anything, after all there is no sin that is bigger or smaller than any other, but it has to be asked for; you can’t really ask for forgiveness, and therefore be forgiven, if, actually, you don’t really know you’ve done anything wrong.

In the story of Jonah, he is sent to Nineveh to tell the people to turn away from their wicked ways, otherwise God will smite them. The people of Nineveh took those words on board, they declared a period of fasting, and wore sackcloth. Whilst this was happening Jonah went up on to a local hill so he could watch the smiting take place, he was quite looking forward to it – afterall it was what they deserved. But God was true to his word, they had turned away, so he did not smite them. Jonah was not happy.

Because we are forgiven it doesn’t mean that we can just do anything, knowing that we can just say sorry for it after. It means we can try to make amends for what we have done, but it must also mean that we can try not to do those things in the first place.

A sin is ANYTHING that separates us from God. Therefore we are not going to live sin free lives. But we can try to, and we can recognise when we do those things, and we can ask God’s forgiveness, and we will be forgiven.

Afterall the promise says it is perfectly proper for God to do this for us because Christ died to wash away our sin. God knew that we would make mistakes, and that is why he came to earth as Christ and died on the cross. That does not mean that we shouldn’t try to avoid making mistakes in the first place though.

God doesn’t hold a grudge, as with the people of Nineveh, they then moved on in their relationship with God. Therefore, as we have been forgiven, we should also forgive. That doesn’t mean that we have to accept any wrong that is done to us, but we should accept apologies, and we should move on with our relationships. We should not keep holding that one event against that person. I have made a decision whilst writing this blog that I am never going to mention the wedding cake again!!!!! Forgiving others, is a very difficult topic and I imagine that requires a whole blog just for that! But what I want you to take away from this is that if you recognise what you have done wrong, and you acknowledge that and ask God, he WILL forgive you, because Jesus died for that reason. WOW! I know I say this every week, but what an awesome promise!

Prayer: Father God, we thank you that Christ died so that we may be forgiven and reunited with you. We thank you that you forgive us, but we pray that we will not take to mean we have an excuse to do anything but that we will try to live lives that are worthy of you. Amen

Challenge: Spend some time with saying sorry but also thanking him that we can go to him when we do wrong. Think about if there is anyone that you still hold a grudge against – try to let it go.

Strength in Weakness

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“There’s no way I’m going to manage this”

“I won’t finish it anyway”

“I can’t cope anymore”

“I quit”

We have probably all said one or all of these statements at some point in our lives. But that’s fine, the fact is, we are human. We make mistakes, and we struggle. We get fooled in to this false sense that if we are struggling, we are failing. I see it with pupils (and staff) all the time; and it can be really upsetting; and I just want to shout… that is not the case.

As Human’s we are made to be in relationship…

With each other. What might be my weakness may be someone else’s strength. I am very good at trying to do everything myself; this inevitably leads to me getting completely and utterly wiped out. I have had to LEARN, and I mean LEARN, that I need to ask for help. I am not invincible and actually I need to work with other people.

As Human’s we really are stronger when we are working together. Yes, we each have our own giftings which mean we need each other. But also when someone is going through a tough time, we are able to be their help and support at that time. Whether that is to give physical help; giving advice; being an ear to listen; or being there to be ‘normal’ when things in their life are not. We can be the strength for each other when we can’t find it for ourselves.

Jesus asked for help; whether that was asking if anyone had any food so he could feed 5000 people; or whether it was allowing someone else to carry the cross for him, because he did not have the strength to do it.

We need to ask for help when we need it; but more importantly, I think, we need to accept help when it is offered rather than being martyrs.

2. With God. God didn’t need to create human’s, but he chose to, because he wanted to be in relationship with us. How awesome! Our promise this week comes from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians

My grace is enough; it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness.

How FANTASTIC is that promise? God is our strength in our weakness. If I’m honest the main thing I love is that it actually states that I am going to be weak! God doesn’t expect me to be invincible so why do I expect it of myself?

But what is this promise saying? Through God’s grace, he came to earth, he suffered, he rose again, in order for us to be reunited with Him. And because of that he is there for us and he is strong for us, when we can’t do it anymore.

God’s strength is there all the time, but we may not recognise it, But there will be times when all we can do is to shout out to God and ask him for help, and it is then that his strength comes into it’s own and we see it for what it is. Suddenly, what we thought was impossible, because we couldn’t see how we could carry on, is possible because God is being the strength we need. I don’t think it will always be supernatural strength, but sometimes God will provide those around us to be our strength and our support.

My Granny’s favourite poem, which I read at her funeral, was Footprints. If you haven’t read it, please do, and I always remember the part where it talking about during the hardest parts of the life there was only one set of footprints, why did God abandon at that point? God didn’t abandon, that was when God carried.

Once again though, we cannot just expect God to be our strength, we need to recognise that we need help; and we need to come to God. Below is a link to a song which talks about this verse, and the idea that we need to fall at God’s feet – quite a powerful idea.

Challenge: Look out for those who need help and support this week. Look at what you are doing and see if you need to ask others for help. Listen to the song, sit at God’s feet and ask him to be your strength.

Prayer: Father God, we thank you that you sent your son, so that we may be able to come and sit at your feet. We pray that we will not try to do things in our own strength but that when we are struggling we will come to you and to seek you. Amen.

This is the link to the song. Your grace is enough, more than I need

Rest

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Over the last few weeks I’ve had to speak about the Genesis story of creation with a variety of classes. There’s a few things that I have been picking out. Firstly every day God looks at everything and says “it’s good” not “it’s alright” or “it’s not too shabby” but “it’s good”. Secondly he didn’t need to create any of it but he wanted to, he chose to. Thirdly, on the final day he rested. Again, he didn’t rest because he was tired, he rested in order to enjoy what he had created.

Last year I made a decision, which has changed my life. That decision was that I was not going to do any school work on Saturdays. Saturday was going to be my day off. Don’t get me wrong, my Saturday’s are still usually very busy, whether that’s catching up with friends, tidying the house, making soup, visiting family, but I didn’t do school work. I take a rest from it. That means in a Sunday afternoon, once I’ve got back from church and had lunch, I have about 4-5 hours when I am focused and I actually get more done. I’ve been remote when I’ve got a lot to do, just to work that one Saturday, but then I stop myself, knowing that if I do it just that once I will do it again.

This has changed my life because it means I am enjoying the rest of my life. I have a day which enables me to rest and relax, to not be focused on the job, to not even think about it, but to cherish the life I have. I have a day off!

Rest is essential in any person’s life. It is what we need to help us to grow as people. If we work constantly we will burn out. We need to have time which is just for us, to do whatever it is we do to relax. That may be meeting up with friends, it may be playing a sport, it may be sitting watching a film, but it is for us.

God sets us the great example by resting on the seventh day, as I said, it wasn’t because he needed to, but it was because he wanted to enjoy his creation. God also knows us a bit too well and that brings us to the promise of this week, spoken by Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew

Come to me and I will give you rest—all of you who work so hard beneath a heavy yoke.

God knows that we don’t always rest, and that sometime we feel that we can’t rest, until our bodies have given up on us. So he promises that if we go to him, he will give us rest. We live in a world where expectations are so high, that we often feel we have to be working constantly to meet those expectations. But actually we aren’t  going to be effective if we don’t have rest.

There are so many tests that have been done that I could quote stressing the importance of rest, but I’m not going to. Instead I’m going to talk about chocolate! Mars got it right, you need to  Work, Rest, and Play. All three are essential to a healthy, productive, successful life. But remember if you struggle to do any of these, then just make sure that you underpin all of these with pray!

God will provide what we need, and if we need rest then that is what God will provide.

Prayer: Father God we thank you that you chose to create us, and that you give us so many opportunities. We pray that you will give us the strength to recognise when we need to rest, and to see the opportunities that we have to rest, and to use those for your glory. Amen

Challenge: Work out what it is that you do to relax, look through your week ahead and fix in a time of rest. Then the challenge is to stick to it!