A new painting for you to see - 'Come. Drink.' While I was painting, our frogs were very busy..........................!
'They're through!' I gazed in wonder and delight at my newbies - tiny leeks, tomatoes and, surprisingly - carnations and hollyhock seedlings. If you've never planted seeds, you wouldn't understand the massive ripple of excitement that goes through me when I see new seedlings pushing their way through the compost. My mind races ahead to the, hopefully, bumper crops of tomatoes in the summer, bottled for the winter months, or the glorious scent of sweet peas. (They're not through yet!) Gathering up the harvest is a few months away yet. In the meantime, I have to keep close watch over the seedlings, as they're delicate, fragile and vulnerable to fungal diseases. They need constant tending - the right amount of light, warmth and water. Get it wrong, and I'll lose them!
Seeds themselves are a wonderful feat of God's creativity. Locked inside the protective coat is the potential for a root, and then a shoot to grow; the root pushing downwards for stability and nutrients and the shoot upwards heading for the light. In the right environment, the plant will reach its full potential, flourishing, fruiting and producing its own seed. But what happens to the seed coat? That gets left behind to decompose in the earth.
Jesus talked about this. He said:
'I tell you the Truth, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed, but if it dies, it produces many seeds.' (John 12:24 NIV)
Of course, Jesus wasn't giving a lesson in botany at the time! He used everyday life to explain His Way of life. His was a different way - some call it 'counter-cultural'. Jesus was inviting folk to follow His way. He went on to explain:
'The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me and where I am my servant also will be. My Father will honour the one who serves me.' (John 12:25-26 NIV)
These seem very hard words - especially if you've just read them for the very first time. But sometimes through our lives we reach a full stop. Maybe the job you've enjoyed - along with its lifestyle - is coming to an end, plunging you into uncertainty. A relationship you hoped would work out has abruptly ended........ Suddenly you're at a 'full stop' in your life and crying out, 'There's got to be more to life than this!'
Jesus offers us this promise:
'I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.' (John 10:10 NIV)
The promise Jesus is offering here isn't about a full diary and super-busy life (that may lead to possible burn-out !), he's talking about a different kind of Life. This is a Life that is abundant in every kind of way enabling the fullest potential for now and for future eternity. Jesus the Rescuer offers to take us away from our 'full stops' in life to offer us a life of following him - the way of sacrificial love for others. This is all about leaving the old ways behind to walk a new path to reach fullest potential as Jesus intended. This is a life-time project! Remember how long it takes for a small tomato seed to finally grow, flourish and produce its own fruit and seed? About six months. Just for fun, what about an oak tree from a small acorn? About fifty years!
All of this was brought home to me this last week when I was talking to a young woman of about thirty who had recently been baptised as a Christian. Her life had been completely transformed from shy, purposeless and living a lonely life in her flat to now bubbling with life. She said she had a new sense of belonging and value. She no longer felt lonely, even though she lived alone. Her new self-confidence gave her a new purpose in life - she'd even applied to go to college - something she never dreamt she could do! Her new confidence to live her life to its fullest and now follow Jesus was beginning to take shape!
So what about you, reading this right now? What about accepting Jesus' invitation for a super-abundant life?
One of my first paintings, but just felt it right for this month's blog - enjoy!
'We're going to the mooon!'
So, with a cardboard box, a cone for the top fashioned from paper, paper triangles to steady the rocket when it lands on the mooon..........'We're nearly finished making it.....' Oh, the excitement! Jumping up and down, clapping and laughing. Then my young granddaughter suddenly stopped and said, 'But nana, how will I get in?' Of course, we need a door! So the bottom of the tube-like box is undone. Plenty of space for a little person. We need provisions: a fluffy pink handbag with little girl essentials, a set of very small cymbals (?), crayons and notepad (very important), a small cake and a favourite friend. We're ready to go! The joy of a three-year-old's imagination!
That same excitement is captured in the Bible when the Lord speaks to Job:
'Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation?
Tell me if you understand.
Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
Who stretched a measuring line across it?
On what were its footings set
or who laid its cornerstone -
while the morning stars sang together
and all the angels shouted for joy? (Job 38:4-7 NIV)
Wow! What an amazing picture of our Creator God at work, with singing and excitement going on all around Him! The pinnacle of the Lord's work though, was in creating man. In the first book of the Bible, in Genesis, after God had created the earth and the cosmos and found it all to be 'good', we read this:
'Then God said, 'Let us make man in our image, in our likeness and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth and over all the creatures that move along the ground.
So God created man
In His own image,
in the image of God
He created him;
Male and female
He created them.' (Genesis 1:26-27 NIV)
We get a bit more insight a little later:
'The Lord formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being.' (Genesis 2:7 NIV)
This wasn't a chance moment of creating man. This was intentional. God had an idea - 'Let us make man.' Then comes the moment when God gets His hands dirty - scooping up dust to create and form the man 'in His own image.' If you've ever watched a fine craftsman potter or sculptor of clay at work, you'll get this picture. This took time, refining and perfecting the finished work. But this wasn't going to be a statue on a plinth, God had a very real purpose for this being. He was to be responsible as steward for the beautiful earth God had made. So we read God 'breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and the man became a living being.' This was an intimate moment. The first thing the man saw was God. And God was well pleased with His created works. We read, 'God saw all that He had made and it was very good.' (Genesis 1:31 NIV)
Right now you might be reading this and thinking, 'Rosa, that's a great story!' and leave it. But others of you might be thinking, 'There's something in that. I get ideas too.' Whatever you think, the fact is creativity is in our DNA. The saying goes, 'Like father, like son.' Just think, everything around us started with an idea that was then formed and made. The Creator God who created in the past is still creating and will continue to create into the future, many times using us, His created beings.
Anything created starts with an idea or even a heart-felt longing for better or different.'It shouldn't be like this. If we did it this way.......' We've been given a responsibility to continue that creativity, but so often, maybe way back in our childhood, the ideas and imagination that was, was suddenly put on shut down, never to recover. The conformity that takes over in adulthood, the storms and trials of everyday living take over.
What happened to that idea that you had all that while ago? Does it still stir emotions within you? Isn't it time to release it and create what you have in mind? Remember - only you can do it, as you've been given the idea! What's stopping you?
Christmas brings with it opportunities for different creativities! Fiddly fun making dolly's new clothes - note pockets on waistcoat matching with skirt and bag! Very swish! Then with the creative team at church, this is our Winter wonderland foyer ready for the Carol concert - which you can watch! Go to UTube Elim Coventry livestreaming 'Let there be Light' - enjoy!
'How many's that?'
'Don't know. Lost count. About fifteen, I think.'
It was January 1st, about 9.00 am (honestly!) and we'd decided to reline our leaky wildlife pond.The slow leak obviously didn't worry our resident frogs as we went on to find perhaps another fifteen or so of various sizes, including three oversized ones that looked as though they were about to give birth! We also discovered a long, creeping insect I suspected to be a dragonfly larva. All very fascinating!
Anyway, after carefully moving everything out, we put in the new liner and returned the frogs with their water and thick, black mud back into the pond. Phew! A good morning's work. The rocks were returned with just one more to go. 'That's it, love - right there,' I said, But this rock slipped through Roger's hands.
Thwack! Oh no. Right through the liner........
At the time of writing this, we're awaiting a pond repair kit...................
One thing I love about gardening is that there's always something new, different or challenging to learn or discover! Much like Christianity - it vibrates with newness!
Over two thousand years ago - a very long time now- two little boys were born in Palestine, very unexpectedly a few months apart. They were cousins. The elder was called John. The younger was named Jesus. They grew up to lead very different lives, but both were 100% focused on their life mission. As adults, we first meet John, at first sight a strange character living out in the desert:
'While Jesus was living in the Galilean hills, John, called 'the Baptiser' was preaching in the desert country of Judea. His message was simple and austere....'Change your life. God's kingdom is here.'....
John was dressed in a camel hair habit tied at the waist by a leather strap. He lived on a diet of locusts and wild field honey. People poured out of Jerusalem, Judea and Jordanian countryside to hear and see him in action. There at the Jordan river those who came to confess their wrong-doings were baptised into a changed life.
'I'm baptising you here in the river, turning your old life in for Kingdom life. The real action comes next: the main character, Jesus......will ignite the kingdom life within you, a fire within you, the Holy Spirit within you changing you from the inside out.' (Matthew 3:1-2,4-6,11 The Message )
Jesus Himself was baptised by John, so starting His ministry. Both were young men, about thirty years of age. Both came to tell everyone they could about the New Era, but John recognised that he wasn't going to be centre stage. In fact, his life was cut short soon afterwards. His role had been to prepare folk for what was to come. He knew Jesus was ushering in a whole new way of life - a life changed 'from the inside out.' This was something very new.
Jesus' ministry was very short, just three years, working as a rabbi with a rag-tag group of twelve disciples He'd chosen, including a tax collector, a zealot and a few fishermen - not the usual educated young men that the other rabbis had! Jesus healed the sick, touching both lepers and the dead. He gave dignity and honour to women and children. He taught with authority a whole new standard of life, loving others with a servant heart. His brutal death proved not to be the end, though. His Resurrection brought in the New - the 'ignition' John had talked of - the Holy Spirit. Jesus had told His disciples before He died, 'I will ask the Father and He will give you another Counsellor to be with you forever - the Spirit of Truth.' (John 14:16 NIV) The Holy Spirit came at Pentecost to empower, equip and send out the disciples to tell others of this new way of life.
This message has come down through the ages to us today. This invitation is for us all. What better way of starting a new year than to accept a new and different way of life, changed from the inside out?
For your diaries..................
Three Worship Art Workshops at the House of Bread 2019!
Please go to our Events page for details......Thanks!
Come and join us in praying for our beautiful country..........
Walking through Coventry's pedestrian city centre, it doesn't take long to become aware of the loud hubbub of voices in what seems to be myriad languages going on around you. Neither does it take long to realise that some folk walk silently alongside someone who is talking avidly and doesn't seem to be taking part in the conversation. Then you notice that many of these folk are on their phones and chatting continually and animatedly. For someone who lived before mobile phones (yes, there was life before mobile phones!) the art of communication has changed dramatically!
And yet, even with all the communicational paraphernalia around us at our disposal, we still have a deep innate need and desire to 'communicate' to One much bigger than us to give us a sense of purpose and meaning. As a Christian, my belief is that this form of communication is called Prayer and the One I communicate with is our Creator God.
Folk have been praying to Him for many centuries, in many different ways and in many different languages. Many prayers are recorded in our Bible and just a quick thumb through will reveal that there seems to be no set way to pray, but all come from deep down in the heart and guts. There is nothing flippant about prayers.
Jesus had a lot to say about prayer. This was one story He told:
'Two men went up to the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee, the other a tax man. The pharisee posed and prayed like this: 'O God, I thank you I'm not like other people - robbers, crooks, adulterers, or, heaven forbid, like this tax man. I fast twice a week and tithe on all my income.'
Meanwhile, the tax man slumped in the shadows, face in his hands, not daring to look up said, 'God, give mercy. Forgive me, a sinner.'
Jesus commented, 'This tax man, not the other, went home made right with God. If you walk around with your nose in the air you're going to end up flat on your face, but if you're content to be simply yourself, you will become more than yourself' (Luke 18:10-14 The Message)
A bit of background: Pharisees were a Jewish sect who rigorously kept the Jewish laws. Tax men were often swindlers and weren't to be trusted, so, using these two characters for His story, Jesus would have instantly caught listeners' attention. There was nothing unusual about a Pharisee going to the Temple to pray - but a tax man?? Some listeners would probably have laughed, 'A tax man? Jesus is having a joke!' But no, Jesus wasn't joking. He was telling a hard-hitting truth. Don't pretend before God. Just be yourself and be blatantly honest. As Jesus said, those are the prayers God hears. 'Be yourself, you will become more than yourself.'
When we've come to the end of ourselves and our backs are against the wall, when there's no-where else to turn to or no-one to talk to - then we remember the empty hole within us and cry out to the Lord.
The apostle Paul wrote this to the Philippian church:
'Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.' (Philippians 4:6-7 NIV)
This is surely a win-win situation and has to be Good News! We have a God who is bothered about every aspect of our lives and will never turn us away. This invitation is for everyone, whatever our situation or circumstance. He listens out for each one of us. Now, here's a question for you:
If we humans can invent machines and satellites that enable us to communicate whenever we need to, in whatever language, isn't it possible to have a loving Creator God who can do exactly the same and much, much more, but without the gizmos?
Here's my latest painting - no title yet, but the whole idea is the Lord's breath breaking down barriers and making everything new. Love to know what you think!
Recently, I had the strangest dream. I don't normally have dreams which is probably why this stuck in my mind. It went like this:
'People were suddenly popping out of the ground. They looked human-ish except they were tall, spindly and walked jerkily like puppets. They were beautiful and lived in a lovely landscape with lots of flowers. I entered the dream and bowed my head to smell a flower, but there was no scent and it was made of metal, hard and cold. 'She's smelling the flowers!' one said and they all began to laugh. 'On our earth flowers are scented and are soft to hold,' I explained and they laughed even louder. Enter the Lord. 'Don't you see Rosa what a beautiful earth I made where the flowers are soft to hold and sweetly scented?' At that point I awoke!
Isn't it a wonderful thing that the Lord made His earth touch-feely and sizzling to the senses? Imagine how boring everything would have been if everything was as I'd dreamt!
One of my favourite places to go and pray is in a local park. There's a special point with a slight incline (can't all it a hill!) that overlooks the large pond and tops of a whole variety of different trees beyond. Whatever the season, it's lovely with lots to invade the senses. This is my Special Stopping Place (my own S.S.P!) with the Lord. Time to rest with Him.
There was a teaching given to me recently that I thought I would pass on to you. We begin here:
'God saw all that He had made and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning - the sixth day.
Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array.
By the seventh day God had finished the work He'd been doing; so on the seventh day He rested from all His work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it He rested from all the work of creating He had done.' (Genesis 1:31-2:1-3 NIV)
Genesis 1 tells us of God speaking the whole of creation into being. It was satisfying work - it was 'very good.' So, on the seventh day He took a very well-earned rest, and, it seems, so did the man and woman He'd made. In all the times I'd read this story, this point was completely missed by me! Have you ever done that? In my own mind I imagine life in Eden as being the best in ultimate living - gardening in beautiful weed and bug free allotments in the day, walking in the garden with the Lord in the evening. And working from a place of rest rather than slogging seven days a week and becoming more and more exhausted!
'Well,' you might be asking, 'It was alright for Adam and Eve, but what about me in my frenetic, distracted life? Some days I'm so busy I don't get time to eat!' We've all been there - there's got to be a better way!
Let's look at what Jesus said:
'...when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.' (Matthew 6:6 NIV)
Two words to note: when and go.
When: the Lord loves us to talk to Him daily. He loves relationship - give Him a few minutes of your time each day.
Go: leave behind distractions. Dare I say, be radical and leave your phone behind/switch it off!! This is quality time. It's precious.
There are lots of benefits to doing this but the unexpected one for myself has always been that whatever situation I've been in, I've always come away from my S.S.P feeling calmer and at peace in myself, ready to take on whatever work comes next, knowing that the Lord is dealing with everything and is with me.
So, I guess there's a challenge here - do you have an S.S.P??
A very helpful book I've read recently on this is 'Survival guide for the soul' by Ken Shigamatsu. It's his sequel to 'God in my everything'. An excellent, 'can't put it down' type book!
Seems a very long time ago I painted this one for friends at the time, but it came to mind when I was doing this blog, so I thought you might like to see it!
A small vase with a few bright purple dried flowers/a colourful teapot/a masterly piece of woodturning of the Cross/four small stones/a few drying bean seeds/a small vase with Roger's buttonhole from last Saturday's special wedding. No, this isn't one of those remembering games - it's a snapshot of our kitchen window sill right now! OK. Not very tidy I must admit, but an honest snapshot all the same!
If cameras were around in Jesus' day perhaps one photo His disciple Peter wouldn't have wanted was of him floundering in the waters of Lake Galilee, crying out for help. How did a skilled fisherman like Peter end up in the water? Jesus' disciple Matthew explains:
Jesus had just fed 5000 people and sent His disciples on ahead in the boat to the other side of the lake. Meantime, Jesus went alone up the mountain to pray well into the night.
'Meanwhile, the boat was far out to sea when the wind came up against them (the disciples) and they were battered by the waves. At about 4.00 in the morning, Jesus came towards them walking on the water. They were scared out of their wits. 'A ghost!' they said, crying in terror.
But Jesus was quick to comfort them. 'Courage. It's me. Don't be afraid.'
Peter, suddenly bold, said, 'Master, if it's really you, call to me to come to you on the water.'
Jesus said, 'Come ahead.'
Jumping out of the boat, Peter walked on the water to Jesus. But when he looked down at the waves churning beneath his feet, he lost his nerve and began to sink. He cried,'Master, save me!'
Jesus didn't hesitate. He reached down and grabbed his hand. Then He said, 'Faint-heart, what got into you?'
The two of them climbed into the boat and the wind died down. The disciples in the boat, having watched the whole thing, worshipped Jesus, saying, 'This is it! You are God's Son for sure!' (Matthew 14:23-33 The Message)
Trust Peter to give walking on water a go! Interestingly, he didn't get out of the boat until he'd heard Jesus call him to do it. He had such an impulsive character that I'd have thought he would have jumped out straight away, but he didn't. Perhaps as a disciple he was beginning to learn that when Jesus commands - It Is. So he would have concluded that if Jesus commanded him to walk on the water - he would! Simple!
So he got out of the boat.
And began to walk on the water towards Jesus.
I wonder what the other disciples thought at that moment? Unfortunately, nothing is said. In fact, reading the story you can easily skip over those few words without properly letting them sink in. Just for a very short moment Peter really did walk on water. What a great snapshot that would have made! Peter must have focused on Jesus as he walked. Imagine how he felt.......
But then, perhaps he was suddenly distracted by the storm surrounding them all and earthly reality kicked in. He began to sink into the water and feared being drowned. Thankfully, Jesus was watching His disciple carefully and was ready to quickly grab him and return him to the boat. Jesus' words 'Faint-heart (Greek literal 'Little-faith') what got into you?' must have resounded in his head. Yet just for a moment he was focused on Jesus and really did walk on water.
Emotional somersault time for Peter.
Perhaps you're reading this right now and are identifying with Peter. Not that long ago you had tasted success, now it's gone. The 'Why?' questions crowd into your head. Perhaps you feel you're drowning, not in physical water, but in circumstances, chaos and uncertainty. Follow Peter's example - look up and cry out to Jesus for help. Remember Jesus' words, 'Courage. It's me. Don't be afraid.' Watch his hand shoot into your 'deep water' to grab you quickly.
My Summer-time project - just finished! No title yet, just the verse that inspired it - 'There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God.' (Psalm 46:4)
'Let's cover mummy's feet with sand!' So we did and then mine got covered too! My little three year old grand daughter ended up with sand almost to her knees, much to her delight! She was so delighted we had to cover her legs to her knees a few times! Here we were in not-so-sunny (well, actually we were indoors!) in Costa del Milton Keynes! In the middle of a shopping trip enjoying sand, brightly coloured stripy deck chairs and watching amusements for the 'Big' children. An indoor beach! What unexpected fun! This was one of those special step aside days when females from three generations could just enjoy each others' company.
There are special 'step aside' moments we can have too. Moses had one of those moments that changed the whole direction of his life..
'Moses was shepherding the flock of Jethro, his father-in-law, the priest of Midian. He led the flock to the west end of the wilderness and came to the mountain of God, Horeb. The angel of God appeared to him in flames of fire blazing out of the middle of a bush. He looked. The bush was burning away but it didn't burn up. Moses said, 'What's going on? I can't believe this. Amazing! Why doesn't the bush burn up?'
God saw that he had stopped to look. God called to him from out of the bush. 'Moses! Moses!'
He said, 'Yes, I'm right here!'
God said, 'Don't come any closer. Remove your sandals from your feet. You're standing on holy ground.' Then He said, 'I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob.'
Moses hid his face, afraid to look at God.' (Exodus 3:1-6 The Message)
This was just another day for Moses - alone tending his father-in-law's flock in the arid landscape that was now his home. He had been raised by Pharaoh's daughter in Pharaoh's palace and had lived there until he was forty when he had to run for his life. He was now eighty years old and he'd been doing this job for forty long years. But now something extraordinary broke into his routine - a bush that was burning except this bush didn't burn to a cinder. Probably in that hot dry climate Moses was used to seeing the occasional bush suddenly erupt into flames, but it would turn to ashes in minutes. This bush just kept on burning and unusually, it wasn't burning up. It caught his attention - wouldn't it have caught yours? It certainly would have caught mine! Moses stopped in his tracks. With curiosity getting the better of him, he stepped aside to see what was happening.
It was at that moment that God spoke. He introduced Himself. He knew He had Moses' full attention. God had got a new job for Moses. (Note that - Moses was eighty - you're never too old to start something new!) God said, 'The Israelite cry for help has come to me and I've seen for myself how cruelly they're being treated by the Egyptians. It's time for you to go back. I'm sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the People of Israel, out of Egypt.' (Exodus 3:9 The Message)
This was the mission God had for Moses. However, Moses was very reluctant to go. His mind must have been in a confused whirl at this sudden intervention into his quiet life. Despite the Lord's patient encouragement, Moses suddenly cried out, 'Oh Master, please, send somebody else!'
That could have been the end of the story, but the Lord never gave up on Moses. Despite all the hardships that Moses faced during the next forty years leading the Israelites away from Egypt to Canaan, the Promised land, the Lord was always with them.
'By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so they could travel by day or by night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.' (Exodus 13:21-22 NIV)
God provided for their every need. Although they were in the desert, they never went hungry or thirsty. God guided them and prepared their way forward.
F.F. to Jesus, about 1400 years later. The day before He was killed He said this to His disciples:
'I will ask the Father and He will give you another Counsellor to be with you for ever - the Spirit of Truth.' (John 14:16-17 NIV)
After the Resurrection, Jesus said this:
'..surely I am with you always to the very end of the age.' (Matthew 28:20 NIV)
So listen out for the Lord! He is still with us. You may not come across a burning bush that talks, but you may have had a heartfelt nudge or an email from a friend who hasn't written for a long time, or maybe you've had a chance conversation that has made you stop in your normal routine tracks. Whatever. Pray. Check it out with honest friends. Pray again. You may repeat the process! When the Lord grabs your attention and you step aside for a moment, remember you don't just step aside, you step aside into. God has planned the way forward already and He will be with you every step of the way.
There's a WORSHIP ART WORKSHOP on
8th September 2018 from 10.00-2.00
at THE HOUSE OF BREAD,
Bring a Bible and a packed lunch.
Cost is £10.00. To book your place email email@example.com See you there!
The caption for the picture reads,
'If Creation sings your praises, so will I!'
Our raspberry plants have raspberry sawfly caterpillars that have munched their way through the leaves and left them looking like fine lace. The squashes are only producing male flowers. The string beans have black fly and so does the rhubarb. It has been so hot some plants look like a blow torch has been put over them. To cap it all, it hasn't rained for eight weeks.
So I could carry on complaining and seeing everything through a grey lens.
But let's look again at the same garden in a different way and take off those grey lenses.
The sawfly caterpillars don't eat the raspberries and we've had a good crop. Black fly? Well, that can be squished or washed away and I've already made twelve jars of rhubarb and ginger jam - yum! To date, the beans are beginning to produce and the squash? Well, I was advised to try feeding them and two little squashlets have appeared! Thank God for our beautiful garden. We can share its pleasures and produce with everyone else.
O how we can complain, looking downwards instead of looking upwards and counting our blessings.
About five years after Jesus' death and resurrection, the apostle Paul had an amazing conversion experience to Christianity and so began his own Christian journey (AD 35). During his ministry he wrote many letters to the various churches he and others started. Some of these letters have survived the centuries and we have them in our Bible. In one letter, to the Corinthian church, he wrote this:
'I've worked harder, been jailed more often, beaten up more times than I can count and at death's door time after time. I've been flogged five times with the Jews' 39 lashes, beaten by Roman rods three times, pummelled with rocks once. I've been shipwrecked three times and immersed in the open sea for a night and a day. In hard travelling year in and year out, I've had to ford rivers, fend off robbers, struggle with friends and with foes. I've been at risk in the city, at risk in the country, endangered by desert sun and sea storm and betrayed by those I thought were my brothers. I've known drudgery and hard labour, many a long and lonely night without sleep, many a missed meal, blasted by the cold, naked to the weather.
And that's not the half if it, when you throw in the daily pressures and anxieties of all the churches.' (2 Corinthians 11:23-29 The Message)
And we thought we had problems! If you've just read those words for the first time, you're probably thinking as I did when I first read it, 'What's with this guy? Why didn't he just quit? Walk away for an easier life - surely there was a better way!'
The apostle Paul was an incredible man. For Paul, the difference between giving up or not lay in his heart and in his vision. He wrote this to the church in Thessalonica:
'Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.' (1 Thessalonians 5:18 NIV)
Paul knew who he was. His identity was in Christ. He kept his eyes fixed on Jesus, giving thanks even when the going was tough. He knew that Jesus would keep His promise, 'Surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.' (Matthew 28:20 NIV) Jesus would be with Paul in his shipwrecks, struggles with friends and enemies, and through all the dreadful beatings. With that sure knowledge, Paul was able to find the blessings, to give thanks and out of it all, find joy.
This isn't easy is it? But finding the blessings, however small, even in the most difficult 'shipwrecks' of our lives stops us in our tracks and forces us to pause even for a moment. We move our eyes from downwards to upwards, causing us to praise and give thanks. Recognising our blessings will also cause us to look outward as our blessings will bless and help others. Blessings are contagious! Not only that, giving thanks will draw us closer to Jesus, as we become surer that he really is with us too. And note - the 'very end of the age' hasn't arrived yet.................................
Introducing young artist Becky Addenbrooke who had her exhibition here 15th-16th June. It was a great success! Praise the Lord!
The June blog was almost ready - written and ready to go. But then, a crisis hit. My man had to go to hospital. The diary was cleared. All normal routine dropped, and a new routine pushed its way in like an unwelcome guest.....Personally, I went into autopilot and physically became very tired. My hospital-buzzing brain couldn't pray - it just wanted to rest.
And here's the big 'However'! However, friends were praying for us - and if you're one of those friends reading this right now, thank-you! It made a big difference as I felt we were being 'carried' like small children through the drama the whole time. Roger is home now and recovering well.
The whole incident had me thinking about prayer and the wonder of it all. One particular story came to mind. It comes from the book of Acts, chapter 12.
The fledgling Christian church had begun to grow beyond the confines of Jerusalem, as Jesus said it would. However, King Herod Agrippa of Palestine had John's brother, James, killed and Peter arrested.
'After his arrest, Peter was put in jail where he was handed over to be guarded by four groups of four soldiers each. Herod planned to put him on trial in public after Passover. So Peter was kept in jail, but the people of the church were praying earnestly to God for him. The night before Herod was going to bring him out to the people, Peter was sleeping between two guards. He was tied with two chains and there were guards on duty at the prison gate.' (Acts 12:4-6 Good News Bible)
What an incredible picture. Herod seems desperate to have his show trial using so many guards for one man. News of Peter's arrest must have been circulated quickly and several met together to pray. This wasn't a polite prayer meeting.The writer of Acts, Luke, used the word 'ektenos' to describe the intensity of the prayer. These were cries from the depths of their hearts. Perhaps their minds went back to previous times when Peter had been arrested and miraculously released - surely the Lord could do it again? What a prayer! And what was Peter doing while all this was going on? He was sleeping! Some would say, sensible man! Chained to two guards and with guards at every entrance there wasn't much else he could do! But it also shows a deep inner peace, perhaps trusting that the Lord had everything in control, although on the face of everything, the outlook looked very bleak.
But then.......the miracle happened that the group prayed for! Peter was released (you'll have to read that part of the story yourselves!) and next we read this:
'Then Peter realised what had happened to him and said, 'Now I know that it is really true. The Lord sent His angel to rescue me from Herod's power.......'
Aware of his situation, he went to the home of Mary, the mother of John Mark, where many people had gathered and were praying. Peter knocked at the outside door and a servant named Rhodda came to answer it. She recognised Peter's voice and was so happy she ran back in without opening the door and announced Peter was standing outside. 'You're mad!' they told her. But she insisted it was true.....
Meanwhile, Peter kept on knocking.
At last, they opened the door and when they saw him they were amazed. He motioned with his hand for them to be quiet and he explained how the Lord had brought him out of prison. 'Tell this to James (Jesus' brother) and the rest of the believers.' he said, then he left and went somewhere else.' (Acts 12:11-17 GNB)
I just love the human-ness of this story. One moment the group are crying out in prayer for Peter's release, and when they're told by Rhodda their prayer has been answered, they tell her she's mad! Meanwhile, poor Peter was desperately trying to get inside....
How often do we pray like this? Our head knowledge tells us 'Expect our loving Father God to listen to us and provide as we need.' Yet our hearts say, 'I'm only human. Miracles happen somewhere else - not here.' It's that step of belief isn't it? It can be so difficult to take sometimes. We're always so surprised when something happens that cannot be explained. We take a step back to remember, 'Yeah, I've been praying about that,' and gaze in awe at the wonder of it all - an Almighty Creator God who listens to our prayers!
This was April and early May........
After all that Winter grey - colour!
There were workshops at Elim, our home church, and the House of Bread, Shipston.
Yes, that's me up the ladder painting a backdrop for the kid's Hawaiian gathering for later this month....
and finally an exhibition at beautiful Bottesford - visit it when you can!
The Bible bit....................................
A moment during a morning beach BBQ. Peter and a few of the disciples had returned to Galilee as instructed (Mark 14:28 & 16:7), from Jerusalem after Jesus' death.
'Jesus said to Peter, 'Feed my sheep. I'm telling you the very truth now: when you were young you dressed yourself and went wherever you wished, but when you get old you'll have to stretch out your hands while someone else dresses you and takes you where you don't want to go.' He said this to hint at the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. And then He commanded,' Follow me.'
Turning his head, Peter noticed the disciple Jesus loved following right behind. When Peter noticed him he asked Jesus, 'Master, what's going to happen to him?'
Jesus said, 'If I want him to live until I come again, what's that to you? You - follow me!' (John 21:18-22 The Message)
This wasn't the first time Peter had been invited to follow Jesus (see Luke 5:1-11). By the time of the morning beach BBQ, Peter had accepted Jesus' invitation, given up his life as a fisherman and spent the next three years as one of Jesus' special apprentices - listening, learning and practising everything Jesus taught. By the time of the BBQ, Jesus had died, resurrected and was soon to return to His Father - but even then it seems Peter hadn't fully understood what 'following' meant.
Jesus knew this and during the forty days of His appearances after His death, He taught them:
'Jesus said to them, 'This is what I told you when I was still with you. Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.' Then He opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.' (Luke 24:44-45 NIV)
Shortly afterwards was Pentecost. Folk from all over the Empire would gather in Jerusalem for this festival - including the disciples. So they were altogether in an upper room at the house where they were staying. It was at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came that everything finally made sense.
After that day we read in the book of Acts how the disciples completely devoted themselves to following Jesus. This was now a 24/7 ministry with no plan 'B' to return to fishing!
'They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer...... All the believers were together and had everything in common, selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.....And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.' (Acts 2:42,44-45,47 NIV)
Reading on into the book of Acts and on into the story of the apostle Paul, it doesn't take much to quickly realise that the Christian road is a difficult one. And as it was then, it is for us! Ministry is hard work. We get tired, distracted, disappointed, and often doubts and frustrations come to niggle our hearts and minds to tell us to stop. It would be so much easier, the niggle says - why keep going?
You've already read the answer to that! 'And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.' Probably all these folk 'adding to their number' were as much of an amazement to the disciples as it is to us reading those words. But the thing is everything we do for the Lord, however mundane, is used by Him in unexpected ways. We might see what we do as full stops in themselves, very often not seeing the full results of our efforts. But the Lord doesn't see our efforts that way. Each one is part of a much larger picture. He is the Alpha and Omega. His vision casts backwards to past eternity and forwards to future eternity, and all of it is based on love. Our effort is part of that massive Story. So why stop? Unless you feel this really is the end of the season and a change is needed, keep going! If we stop,we might just miss the blessing that was there for us all along.
So, a Truth I learnt this month:
Keep going. Keep going. Keep going. Until the Lord tells you to stop. No-one else. Not your nagging doubts. Only the Lord. Only He knows what's ahead.
Introducing Becky Addenbrooke....come and visit her first exhibition of paintings, June 15-16th, 9.30 - 6.00pm. All welcome. Come and enjoy lovely art work over coffee and cake! Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for details.
A bit of a different subject for me!
'Red, blue, yellow, black, white.'
'Yep. That's it.Those are your basic colours.'
We gazed in awe at the myriad colours of the stained glass windows as the sun brought each coloured piece to life. Roger and I were taking a young friend of ours around our magnificent cathedral in Coventry thoroughly enjoying the visit while the sun soaked the windows. Well worth a visit on a sunny day! There's something very special about sunshine through coloured glass - something very beautiful and unexpected as the colours shine and reflect on plain walls and floors.
About two thousand years ago, God did something very beautiful and unexpected as He intervened in our history. He gave us His Son, Jesus. Everything about Jesus was unexpected and His life initiated a whole new era. (If you've never read an account of Jesus' life, grab an opportunity over the Easter break to find out about Him!) Take a look at this one particular evening, just before His death:
'The evening meal was being served.........Jesus got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing and wrapped a towel round his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples' feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped round him.' (John 13:2,4-5 NIV)
What was Jesus doing here? Bearing in mind that everything Jesus said and did was a teachable moment, what Jesus was doing here was truly significant and completely outrageous!
This evening meal was a special one as this was the Passover meal. It was celebrated every year and was steeped in Old Testament Scripture, history and tradition over several centuries. Yet, this was the evening Jesus chose to break with tradition!
Etiquette taught that feet should be washed on arrival by a slave, as most folk wore sandals. Feet became very dirty on the dusty roads with many animals roaming around! Foot washing was the lowest of all the household jobs reserved for non-Jewish slaves, wives and children. Jewish slaves were not required to do this.
Jesus and His disciples sat down to eat that evening without having had their feet washed. Perhaps there was no slave around - they certainly seemed well versed in 'that's not my job !' So Jesus, their Teacher and Master, got up from His meal to do the job no-one else wanted to do! He took off His outer garment and wrapped a towel around His waist. Sitting here in the twenty-first century, we have no idea of the shock waves that must have gone through the disciples when they watched Jesus do this. By wrapping a towel around His waist, Jesus was identifying Himself as a slave. He washed each of the disciples' feet, including Judas, whom He knew would betray him. It seems nothing was said by the disciples - perhaps a stunned silence! -
until Jesus reached Peter.
'Jesus came to Simon Peter, who said to him, 'Lord, are you going to wash my feet?'
Jesus replied, 'You do not realise now what I'm doing, but later you will understand.'
'No,' said Peter,'You shall never wash my feet!'
Jesus answered, 'Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.'
'Then Lord,' Simon Peter replied, 'not just my feet, but my hands and head as well!' (John 13:6-9 NIV)
Typical of Peter! He was obviously shocked at Jesus' action and in his own way was voicing what the disciples felt. After washing the disciples' feet and putting on His outer garments, Jesus sat down and explained His action:
'Do you understand what I have done for you? ........You call me Teacher and Lord and rightly so for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet. I have set an example that you should do as I have done for you.' (John 13:12-15 NIV)
I wonder what the disciples were thinking at this point? Jesus' action was so counter-cultural that His words 'you should do as I have done for you' perhaps had them thinking, 'What?? Wash filthy feet? Me?'
In fact, they hadn't clocked Jesus' example at all, as in another account of the evening we read this:
'After the meal a dispute arose among them as to which of them was considered to be the greatest. Jesus said to them, 'The kings of the gentiles lord it over them, and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest and the one who rules like the one who serves.' (Luke 22:24-26 NIV)
This was a tough lesson to learn! But look at how gently and lovingly Jesus was teaching them, not only in words but example. He knew well the world's expectation of a leader - lording in power on a foundation of fear. His example as Teacher and Lord was new, based on a foundation of love with gentle humility and encouragement. This was a whole new way to live!
So did the disciples ever learn this message?
We read this right at the beginning of Peter's second letter:
'Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ.' (Peter 1:1 NIV)
For Peter it had been a difficult journey to this point, through the Cross and to the other side to the Lord's Resurrection and then to finally being empowered at Pentecost. A difficult journey, but not impossible as Peter chose to accept Jesus' invitation of love. Perhaps this is one invitation to think about!
Worship Art Workshop at the House of Bread, Burmington, Shipston-on-Stour, CV 36 5AE. 14th April, 10.00am -3.00pm. Bring Bible and lunch. Cost £10. To book your place email Rosa on email@example.com
See you there!
This was a project - just finished! - for Thrive junior ministry. This is a backdrop, 2.5m wide and 2m high! It's just about the biggest thing I've painted!!
My teenager stood in front of me, squinted eyes fixed hard on me, head to one side. She broke the short silence. 'How did you know I was going to do that?' she asked.
'I'm your mum.'
Head down, she muttered something incomprehensible, turned and sloped off.
Those of you reading this who've had the privilege (?) of raising teenagers will identify with this moment! Personally, as my daughter was growing up, I found it incredible just how much about her I did 'know', even though right from the start she was always very much her own person! Call it intuition or a mother's sixth sense, but I was always surprised at the deep sense of just 'knowing' that simply couldn't be explained.
About 1000 years before Jesus, King David wrote this with the same sense of surprise about God:
'God........I'm an open book to you;
even from a distance, you know what I'm thinking.
You know when I leave and when I get back;
I'm never out of your sight.
You know everything I'm going to say
before I start the first sentence........
Is there any place I can go to avoid your Spirit
to be out of your sight? (Psalm 139:1-4,7 the Message)
His surprise continued:
'Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out;
you formed me in my mother's womb.......
You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit,
how I was sculpted from nothing into something.......
all the stages of my life were spread out before you
The days of my life all prepared before I'd even lived one day.' (Psalm 139:13,15-16 The Message)
What an awesome insight King David had - this Creator God shaping him physically from day one and being bothered about the details of his future life! Suddenly this warrior leader must have felt very small. Small enough to ask, 'What is man that you are mindful of him? The son of man that you care for him?' (Psalm 8:4 NIV) This is a question I've asked myself lots of times! Why should God want to know about me? It's ridiculous!
To help my understanding, I went rooting around to find out how the ancients used the word 'know' and quickly discovered how limited our word 'know' is in its meaning and scope. When we think of 'knowing' for the most part it simply means obtaining head knowledge. For the ancients, it meant a great deal more involving all the senses. Look at these words describing 'to know' - to understand, experience, perceive, notice, discover, learn, pay attention to, and my favourite, to cherish. 'Knowing' was an all encompassing, whole life experience.
So God doesn't want head knowledge about me. He wants to embrace my whole life experience. But why?
I guess we fast forward to Jesus for the answer.
Jesus was a fantastic story teller - perhaps the best ever!- and told several stories about His Father God. Perhaps His most famous story is one about a lost son, dubbed 'the prodigal son'. We'll look at part of the story - you'll have to read the rest for yourselves! It's found in Dr. Luke's Gospel, chapter 15.
Jesus told the story of two sons. One day, the younger son demanded his inheritance from his father. So, his father divided his property and the young son left home with his inheritance. He travelled far from home, wasted his inheritance on wild living until he had nothing left. Then a famine hit the land he was in, so he got a job as a farmhand on a pig farm. By now he was really hungry, but he was given no food. That was when reality struck and he remembered how well the farmhands were treated back home. He decided to return, offering his repentance to his father for the way he'd treated him and giving himself to work as a farmhand for his father. He honestly felt he didn't deserve anything. But look at what happened next:
'When the son was a long way off, his father saw him. His heart pounding, he ran out, embraced him and kissed him. The son started his speech, 'Father, I've sinned against God, I've sinned before you. I don't deserve to be called your son ever again.' But the father wasn't listening. He was calling to the servants, 'Quick. Bring a clean set of clothes and dress him.....Then get a heifer and roast it. We're going to feast! ....My son is here - given up for dead and now alive! Given up for lost and now found!' (Luke 15: 20-24 The Message)
Radically, Jesus taught the disciples to view God through a different lens - that of Father, a loving Father waiting for his reckless young son to return home. In the story, despite the fact his son had insulted and rejected him, the father still loved him. There was no rejection or retaliation by the father to his son - just sheer love and delight when he returned home. In fact, the father got the best party ever going for his son! That's crazy!
This is an amazing God. He wants to know me and have a relationship with me simply because He loves - and loves and loves! He waits for me to return, reaching into my very 'lostness', however far away I might think that is. Why? He loves. Just like the son had been prodigal with his inheritance - extravagant and reckless - so our God is prodigal with His grace and love - hopelessly extravagant and reckless! True - such love is ridiculous, especially when we know we don't deserve it, but that's the nature of our Father God.
" See, I am doing a new thing" - my latest picture, hot off the press!
'Hibiscus schizopetalus' the label said. Wow! There's a name to conjure with! Googling it, I discovered a flower that thinks it's a lantern - a very beautiful sight! Check it out for yourselves! Over Christmas (seems a long time ago now!) I also discovered a new way of making a cheese sauce. I'm sure some of you out there reading this are very proficient in several ways of cheese sauce making, but I've always known one way which has served me well and I've stuck to it - until now! I love discovering new things, new ways to do things, creating new ways to paint - bringing in the new. Although done at any time, January can be a pivotal month of looking back at the year just gone and of looking forward to the new year ahead. What was good and needs to continue or repeating? What was not so good and definitely needs pruning out? Is there something new that needs to be brought into my life? What about that new fitness program I was thinking about???!
About 1000 BC, King David found himself in such a moment:
'Before long, the King made himself at home and God gave him peace from all his enemies. Then one day, King David said to Nathan the prophet, 'Look at this, here I am comfortable in a luxurious house of cedar and the Chest of God sits in a plain tent.'
Nathan told the King, 'Whatever is on your heart, go and do it. God is with you.'
But that night the word of God came to Nathan saying, 'Go and tell my servant David: This is God's word on the matter: You're going to build a 'house' for me to live in? Why, I haven't lived in a 'house' from the time I brought the children of Israel up from Egypt till now. All that time I've moved about with nothing but a tent.......So here is what you're to tell my servant David:.......God Himself will build you a house! When your life is complete and you're buried with your ancestors, then I'll raise up your child, your own flesh and blood to succeed you and I'll firmly establish His rule. He will build a House to honour me and I will guarantee His Kingdom's rule permanently. I'll be a Father to him and He'll be a son to me.'(2 Samuel 7:1-6,11-14 The Message)
What a wonderful play on words! With the Lord's help, David had built Israel and established Jerusalem as its capital. He had built himself a fine home. So what was his next move - surely a House for the Lord! But the Lord had another 'house' in view - the royal dynasty of King David and the Lord's own future Kingdom. The Lord's words would be fulfilled in the Kingship of Jesus Christ, born from the house of David (see Matthew 1:1). God's horizons are vast! Like King David, we only see the immediate and tentatively plan for the future, and very often miss what's right under our noses!
Fast Forward in time to the apostle Paul who had the awesome job of explaining the Gospel, mainly to ordinary folk who knew nothing about Jesus Christ, but were looking for a different way to live from what was around them. A bit like you and me really........sometimes Paul would use the analogy of buildings and building stones to help explain the gospel. Here, in a letter to the Ephesian church, he used the idea of the Temple in Jerusalem, much in use at the time.
'He (Jesus) came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through Him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Himself as the Chief Cornerstone.
In Him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a Holy Temple in the Lord. And in Him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit.' (Ephesians 2:17-22 NIV)
To the core of his being Paul understood Jesus' words, 'Surely I am with you always to the very end of the age.' (Mt 28:20) and also fully understood that Jesus' Kingdom had nothing to do with buildings. The Lord is a People Person, not a buildings person. The Lord is bothered about folk like you and me - whom Paul calls 'foreigners and aliens'. The Lord is still building His Kingdom on the firm foundation of the lives and teachings of the apostles and prophets. But the most important 'stone' - the 'Cornerstone' on which everything depends, is Christ Himself - the God who simply loved and loves unconditionally and sacrificially. What better foundation is there?
But Paul tells us there's more:
Those who are following Jesus are 'being built together'. Jesus spoke Peace - that is, unity and working together in harmony. However, in order that the parts really do get built together, they have to fit! In reality, that means being shaped, honed and perhaps having a few untidy corners cut off! But all of this is done 'in Him' - in Christ - in Love.
Buried underneath these words of Paul is an invitation to come, belong and follow Jesus. So while you're considering having a 'prune' of your diary, why not think about this - what are you building your life upon right now? What are your foundations and what do they look like? Perhaps it's time to consider Paul's invitation.........................