Love EVERY neighbour

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Yesterday I was watching an episode of ‘the middle’. The mum of the family had gone shopping, purely to get a container of the nicest cooked chicken ever. When she went to pay for it she realised she didn’t have her purse. The man in the queue behind her offered to pay for it, she tried to get his address to be able to pay it back, but he said “don’t worry about it, just promise me you’ll pay it forward” by this he meant, do something similar for someone else. The mum of the family did what she always does and used this as an opportunity to ‘better’ her family. So she made all the family ‘pay it forward’ to another member of the family, they picked names out of the hat, and then announced the name. Some of the things turned out really well, but there were, inevitably some disasters.

Why do we do nice things for people? Is it because we’ve been told to? Is it because we’re hoping to get something back? Is it because it makes us feel better? In ‘friends’ (yes I do watch a lot of tv), there is an episode where Joey tells Phoebe that there is no such thing as a selfless act. She refuses to believe him. But as she tries to prove him wrong she understands more and more that maybe, he was right. Afterall why do pupils pay £1 to wear non-uniform? Is it to benefit the charity they are supporting? Or is it to be able to wear their own clothes? The question really is… Does it matter?

The theme this week is ‘love every neighbour’ and the thought comes from John Bunyan who says…

You have not lived until you have done something for someone who can never repay you

This week is Christian Aid week. The aim of Christian Aid is to eliminate poverty. They do a variety of work, including emergency aid when disasters strike. But two of their main things are:  to work alongside communities in poverty, and to expose poverty and to challenge and change systems that favour the rich.

They work alongside communities, not to take over, but to support and educate them in order to be support themselves and to take themselves out of poverty and build up their own communities. It’s very easy, when you see someone struggling, yo just take over and do the job for them. But does that actually help them? What happens in the future when they get stuck again? Christian aid aims to help people develop their own communities, so that Christian Aid are no longer needed.

They also expose poverty, and try to challenge and change systems that favour the rich. Essentially they recognise that unless they tackle the root of the problem, the problem will never go away. The people of Christian aid would be much happier if there was no need for their charity! They run advertising campaigns to show what atrocities there are in the world, they lobby governments in order to change and eradicate the root causes.

Why do they do this? Because they are following Jesus’ command “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind and all your strength, and love your neighbour as yourself”. Their love for God, makes them want to  love their neighbour. Not just their friends, or people on their street but everyone. There is no discrimination in who they help, they do not have to be Christian communities, and the do not try to convert them to Christianity. They recognise that Jesus helped those who were rejected by others, and they want to do the same. Jesus tried to tackle root problems, and they are trying to do the same.

These things take time, and the people of Christian aid may never see the full eradication of poverty, or even the full result of their work in communities. But they are demonstrating their love for every neighbour and are not expecting anything back from those communities at all.

Christianity is not about following rules, it’s not about saying words, it’s about accepting the love of God, and showing that love to others. Not because you’ve been told to, not to get a reward, but because you want to.

Challenge: visit the Christian Aid Website. Find out more about what they do, and see if there is something you want to get involved with. That may be raising money, it may be raising awareness of the issues.

Prayer: Father a God, we thank you that you love us, and that we are able to be in relationship with you. We thank you for the work of Christian aid, not only physically helping people, but tackling root causes. We pray that you may light on ur hearts to want to show your love to those in need, both in theories but also in our own communities. Amen.

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Which path do I take?

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Choices choices choices. On Saturday I said to a friend “make the decision for me, I have no capacity to make a choice”! This was a very important decision. Did I want a chocolate caramel or strawberry cornetto?

We have to make choices all the time whether it’s what we’re going to wear, whether to play or do work, pudding or no pudding, or just which pudding.

The year 11s are about to start their last week of GCSE study, their main exams start in a weeks time. Then what? Do they stay at school for A levels; do they do A levels somewhere else; do they go to college; do they get an apprenticeship?

They have many paths to choose from, and the path they choose IS going to have an impact on the rest of their lives. This is quite a scary and daunting prospect to be facing at 16.

The year 13s will soon be finishing their formal, compulsory education, so have to decide whether to stay in education or whether to get a job.  Even more daunting.

We all have to make decisions and the way in which we make those decisions is going to differ. We may follow our instinct, we may ask other people’s advice, we may choose what we want to do, even if it’s not necessarily what we know we should be doing.

Our thought for the week comes from proverbs and says

Seek God’s will in all you do and he will show you which path to take

People have a tendency to turn to God when the going gets to tough and there is a big decision to be made. The problem with that is that they sometimes find it difficult to determine what God is saying, or where he is directing them.

What this proverb is saying is that if we are constantly seeking God’s will, in the small things as well, then he will always show us us which path to take. But how do seek Gods will? We know what is expected of us from our parents, friends, families and teachers because we spend time with them. It is the same with God, by spending time reading the Bible, and in prayer, we will understand what Gods will is. We won’t need to ask every single time, but we will find it so much easier when we do.

Its not promised that it’s going to be an easy path, but it is the correct path. The great thing is though, even if we choose the wrong path, let’s face it we all will, God will always be with us and be holding our hands.

Our lives are full of decisions, some bigger than others, but still decisions. Seek Gods will – He will show you.

Prayer: Father God, we thank you that you guide us, help us, and direct us. May we seek your will every day so that we seek your will in the big things as well. Amen

Challenge: think about a big choice you’ve got coming up, spend some time praying and seeking Gods will in that decision.

Looking up to heaven

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I quite often hear lots of voices in my head, telling me to do different things in different situations. Those voices are the voice of my parents, teachers, friends, celebrities, and so many more. We get influenced by so many people, so many things, that sometimes it can get a bit overwhelming.

This is honestly something I have been thinking about a lot recently. The effect that everyone else and everything else has on us. Not just when making decisions, but also when living our everyday lives, and the way in which we choose to live.

This week’s quote for the week comes from Connie Ten Boom who says

If you look at the world, you’ll be distressed. If you look within, you’ll be depressed. If you look at God you’ll be at rest.

 It’s about getting balance in our lives. If we only focus on what is going on in the outside world, we can get jealous, or think that we should be living in a certain way, there are unnecessary pressures put on us which can cause us to get anxious. If we only focus on ourselves then we can become selfish, but also focussing on the negatives about us. We need to find the balance between the two.

For Christians this balance come from not looking at the world, not looking at ourselves, but looking to heaven. By looking to heaven we can know that God is with us, beside us in everything. By looking to heaven we can change ourselves to be reflective of God, and to change the world.

So next time, you find yourself in a troublesome situation, listening to the voices, listen to yourself, but at all times Seek God and what he wants to say to you.

I’m going to leave it there for this week.

Prayer: Father God, we thank you that you still speak to us and guide us today. May we always seek your will in our lives. Amen

Challenge – Rather than reading what I’ve got to say. Spend some time listening to what God wants to say to you.

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

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