June Family Update

Another month has passed and tomorrow sees us move into our new home. This is the first home in 5 years marriage that really feels like it is our place. When we first got married Mark moved into the home I already owned and while I had not lived at St Andrews Hall in Vancouver, I had already been to Regent and knew St Andrews. This time Bishop’s Cleeve and Cheltenham are new areas to both of us to live and explore.  Today sees the gathering of belongings from parental homes, and a table from Brighton(http://www.thelongwalkhome.co.uk/?p=2370, plus see comment re chairs). It is a family move tomorrow with Grandpa, Grandad and Nana all involved.

We are excited about this new adventure after three trips across to the Gloucester, Cheltenham area house hunting. Each time less hopeful than the one. On the way home from the third trip in torrential rain I prayed for a way for us to stretch our budget even further and within minutes we had a text message with a generous offer of some help to let us increase our budget. My other back burner prayer was for a church that had a Sunday school class using similar material to the one Matthew and I had been involved in at Tenth. To our delight that night Mark found one in a village nearby. With our increased rental budget we could now consider looking at homes in the village. So one more trip across to look at a couple of homes and meet with the vicar and we agreed to live in Bishop’s Cleeve. The postal service did nothing for our stress the following week though, losing both pieces of hard copy mail that would mean we could access our savings and sort out the paperwork on the house. While the postal service worked against us, when we met the vicar he asked us if we were needing anything and we mentioned the house did not come with kitchen white goods. He offered to put an email out to the church and by the time we had driven home (2 ½ hrs) we had two offers of help from people at church with white goods going spare.

June has been very much the month of house hunting and focus on moving which has been hard going for all of us and the boys have been out of routine with trips here there and every where and Mum and Dad distracted. We are very much looking forward to having time settle into our new home, put down some roots, join our new church, establish new family traditions and some healthy sleeping patterns.

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June has also been a time for family and we have had fun with family on both sides. Nana had a the opportunity to drive in an Austin Martin so we all watched her, in the rain, race round the track at Dunsfold a couple of weeks ago. We’ve enjoyed great meals with family at various points, time for young cousins to play and adult siblings to reconnect.

Ordinary time continues in the life of the church and in our lives too and day to day life goes on with lots of reading, lego, baking and a lot of laughter and excitement between two young boys. Matthew just needs to walk into a room and Jonathan beams however hard the tears were coming. Jonathan is also beginning to grasp signing which is good and is very clear in his wants and dislikes in life. Matthew loves ‘doing school’ at home and so its been fun to start exploring letters and numbers in the world around him.  He has also got a place for preschool this September for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons just around the corner from our new home.

Well I should get back to some packing while one is watching Thomas and the other is sleeping.

Hymn of the week

Not much on the blog recently, we are busy with lots of moving preparations.  I’m posting this with boy number 2 asleep in the sling – he really does need to sleep longer than until 4.45am!  In the midst of all the busyness of life here is a wonderful hymn reminding us of God’s care for us.  I’ve sung it to an older tune, but it also works well to the same tune as “Abide with me”.

  1. “Immortal honours rest on Jesus’s head,
    My God, my portion, and my living head;
    In him I live, upon him cast my care;
    He saves from death, destruction, and despair.
  2. “He is my refuge in each deep distress,
    The Lord my strength, and glorious righteousness;
    Through floods and flames, he leads me safely on,
    And daily makes his sov’reign goodness known.
  3. “My every need he richly will supply,
    Nor will his mercy ever let me die;
    In him there dwells a treasure all divine,
    And matchless grace has made that treasure mine.
  4. “O that my soul could love and praise him more,
    His beauties trace, his majesty adore,
    Live near his heart, upon his bosom lean,
    Obey his voice, and all his will esteem.” (William Gadsby)

Hymn of the Week – The Lord is King

This a great hymn affirming the reality that God is indeed on the throne. This is a reality we need to remind ourselves of, and a cause for rejoicing.  The answer to the question of verse 2 is, of course, that we all do – and that is precisely why we need the reminders of the rest of the hymn. So read and rejoice that our God does indeed reign, and then pray and work for that reign to be more widely seen in our day, until the day his reign comes in all its fullness.

  1. The Lord is King! lift up thy voice,
    O earth; and all ye heavens, rejoice!
    From world to world the joy shall ring,
    The Lord omnipotent is King.
  2. The Lord is King! who then shall dare
    resist his will, distrust his care,
    or murmur at his wise decrees,
    or doubt his royal promises?
  3. The Lord is King! Child of the dust,
    the Judge of the all the earth is just;
    holy and true are all his ways;
    let every creature speak his praise.
  4. He reigns! ye saints, exalt your strains;
    your God is King, your Father reigns;
    and he is at the Father’s side,
    the Man of love, the Crucified.
  5. Come, make your wants, your burdens known;
    he will present them at the throne;
    and angel bands are waiting there
    his messages of love to bear.
  6.  The Lord is King! lift up thy voice,
    O earth; and all ye heavens, rejoice!
    From world to world the joy shall ring,
    The Lord omnipotent is King.

(Author: Josiah Condor)

 

Worship in Spirit and Truth in a world of Estate Agents…

Our major occupation right now is looking for a house to rent.  We are rapidly discovering how pretty descriptions and pictures can conceal many a blemish.

One beautifully photographed property had somehow managed to miss the wobbly floorboards, the gaps in the lounge floor, and the mould being carefully cultivated on the wall of the “kitchen diner”, along with the condensation inside the double glazing and the paintwork flaking off.

Truth can be in short supply in the property world (although some other agents are, in all fairness, pretty good), adding to the frustrations of long distance property search.

I am reading John’s gospel at the moment, and recently read chapter 4 with its record of the fascinating conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman.  The juxtaposition of this and the property search causes me to reflect on what the reality of worshipping “in spirit and truth” means.

Jesus’ words in John 4 speak of God as “spirit”, and that all who worship him must do so in “spirit and truth”.  Our initial reaction to this can be to think of “God is spirit” as primarily being about God not being limited by a physical body, but being a “pure” spiritual being.  We then link the “truth” section of the sentence to ensuring our ideas of God are right. Worship, we conclude, is not really linked to the physical world, and the really important thing is correct theology. Somehow this then links into the “real” world where such beings as estate agents live, although the link is often unclear.

A second reading of John 4 makes it seem unlikely that Jesus is talking in these terms. He is talking to a woman with a very messed up life. A woman who has just tried to move the conversation away from the awkward ground of her failed marriages by discussing the dispute between Jew and Samaritan over the correct place of worship. It doesn’t seem like Jesus to go along with this dodge by launching into a philosophical treatise on the need for pure worship.

To understand what is going on we need to get ourselves back in time, to listen with Jewish ears to the words of Jesus. Fortunately we have the way to do this bound together with John’s gospel – the Old Testament. What does “God is spirit” – and the demand to worship in spirit and truth – sound like to someone who has read the Old Testament (perhaps especially here the first 5 books, given that the woman is a Samaritan)?

The first reference to the spirit of God is in Genesis 1, when it is the spirit brooding over the waters who brings life. The word “spirit” (in both Hebrew and Greek) is also the same word as “wind” or “breath”.  “Spirit” is not about “non physical”, but is closely linked to life itself.

Truth is also not primarily about an abstract concept, but about relational faithfulness. When John in John 1 talks about Jesus being full of grace and truth, he is alluding to the Old Testament concepts of mercy and faithfulness. “Truth” in worship is not mainly correct ideas of God (although they are vital) but about faithfulness, commitment and loyalty.

Jesus says this to a woman who has had 5 husbands, but the man she is with now is not her husband. To a woman whose life is messed up, and who knows all about the reality of unfaithfulness and death, Jesus comes and says that the true God is life in himself, the source of all life, and requires his worshippers to worship with all of that life in utter faithfulness.

Philosophy might be safer. Abstract theology can be a safe retreat from the mess of the day.  Demanding from this woman a life marked out by truth, a life of complete integrity, sounds like a demand for the impossible. In reality it is a demand for the impossible. Which is exactly why Jesus is offering living water. Water that produces the life and truth that the Father requires. Water which does not come from a well at noon, but is poured out by Jesus from his cross.  Water that provides the life needed to come to God in spirit and in truth. The impossible life which the Father requires is lived in the power of the Spirit who comes from the Son’s life poured out.

In a world of estate agents it reminds me that I must remember that God is my life – not finding a house for my family. God is the one who provides, not me.  My first need each day is to drink from his well of living water. That is how I will be empowered to live a faithful life in an unfaithful world, and it is how I will be able to live in a world of death.

Father, give me afresh today your living water, that I might truly live a life of truth in a world filled with lies and death.

Hymn of the week… O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing

Despite the first line this is indeed “O for a thousand tongues to sing” – but the well known verses are hidden in a poem by Charles Wesley celebrating the anniversary of his conversion. Read it and see what motivated one servant of God. Remember as you read verse 15(!) that here was a man who preached to prisoners awaiting execution – this is no mere rhetoric. The gospel Wesley preached offers assurance that, whatever we have done, no matter how far we have run, there is forgiveness and there can be new assurance of God’s love. v5 and v14 read together beautifully place together the subjective and objective reality of the Christian’s salvation. Read and ponder these words from 250 years ago.

1. Glory to God, and praise and love
Be ever, ever given;
By Saints below, and Saints above,
The church in earth and Heaven.

2. On this glad day the glorious Sun
Of Righteousness arose;
On my benighted soul He shone
And fill’d it with repose.

3. Sudden expired the legal strife;
’Twas then I ceased to grieve;
My second, real, living life
I then began to live.

4. Then with my heart I first believed,
Believed with faith Divine,
Power with the Holy Ghost received
To call the Saviour mine.

5. I felt my Lord’s atoning blood
Close to my soul applied;
Me, me He loved—the Son of God,
For me, for me, He died!

6. I found, and own’d His promise true,
Ascertain’d of my part,
My pardon pass’d in heaven I knew,
When written on my heart.

7. O for a thousand tongues to sing
My dear Redeemer’s praise!
The glories of my God and King,
The triumphs of His grace.

8. My gracious Master, and my God,
Assist me to proclaim,
To spread through all the earth abroad
The honors of Thy name.

9. Jesus, the name that charms our fears,
That bids our sorrows cease;
‘Tis music in the sinner’s ears,
‘Tis life, and health, and peace!

10. He breaks the power of cancell’d sin,
He sets the prisoner free;
His blood can make the foulest clean,
His blood avail’d for me.

11. He speaks; and, listening to His voice,
New life the dead receive,
The mournful, broken hearts rejoice,
The humble poor believe.

12. Hear Him, ye deaf; His praise, ye dumb,
Your loosen’d tongues employ;
Ye blind, behold your Saviour come;
And leap, ye lame, for joy.

13. Look unto Him, ye nations; own
Your God, ye fallen race!
Look, and be saved through faith alone;
Be justified by grace!

14. See all your sins on Jesus laid;
The Lamb of God was slain,
His soul was once an offering made
For every soul of man.

15. Harlots, and publicans, and thieves
In holy triumph join;
Saved is the sinner that believes
From crimes as great as mine.

16. Murderers, and all ye hellish crew,
Ye sons of lust and pride,
Believe the Saviour died for you;
For me the Saviour died.

17. Awake from guilty nature’s sleep,
And Christ shall give you light,
Cast all your sins into the deep,
And wash the Ethiop white.

18. With me, your chief, you then shall know,
Shall feel your sins forgiven;
Anticipate your heaven below,
And own that love is heaven.

A Wellspring for parents

I remember a friend saying to me when I asked for wisdom on parenting; she and her husband are raising 4 teenager boys; she said make Sundays special and keep reading God’s word. To be honest I was also hoping she would recommend a parenting book that would give us the answers. We are still working out rhythms of the week and how to make memories throughout the week. Even as I write this I am not sure if its ready to be a post. God’s word is living and the boys and ourselves find ourselves regularly in new seasons with new challenges and the need for training and discipline. So what I want to share is simply a glimpse at this moment in time but is far from a concrete complete thought with all the answers.  It may also feel somewhat abstract as I am not including specific examples because they are not general biblical interpretations of specific passages but simply in the context of scripture God’s word to me in that moment of a specific situation.

Our main parenting book which we have found most helpful is a general book though the authors do have a faith background. We have also read a few books on parenting from a Christian perspective but more often than not while we may come away with nuggets we have also been frustrated with how verses have been taken out of context and how then broad general applications and principles have been arrived at which don’t always fit with the broader big picture of God, His  character and scripture. I remember reading one such book talking about grace being the central theme to parenting and using the example of the prodigal son. The author sought to assure us that we are not to beat ourselves up if our children go off the rails as that parable was included to show that God Himself could not manage to keep all His children on the straight and narrow so how could we be expected to either.

I realise this is my second post that plays down parenting books. There are many good books out there but there is not one that holds all the answers to all of our parenting concerns but there is One who is Father of all and while not all of His creation recognise Him as their father, that does not alter that He is the one whom we can turn to and learn how to respond in parenting situations. He will give us wisdom, instruction, words of insight with understanding, wise dealing, righteousness and justice.

No, the Bible does not tell us how to breast feed, it does not tell us how and when  to wean, potty train, or how to get your child to sleep longer and take naps. But it does speak of the range of human emotion, it does speak of relationships, it does tell us not to exacerbate our children and for them to obey us. It speaks of a Father who is slow to anger and full of mercy and compassion, of a Father who loves us freely and unconditionally. It speaks of a Father who is not afraid of the mess we can make with our lives. It speaks of a Father who has plans and hopes for us. It speaks of a Father who lets us live our lives and welcomes us home. It speaks of a Father who forgives before we even recognise we need to say sorry. It speaks of teaching our children the way they should go, of telling them the stories of scripture, to fill our homes with all that God has done for us.

And so more and more often I find myself returning to my friend’s wise words to keep reading God’s word. For when I do, I find God revealing more of Himself, more of His love for us, more of my stubborn ways of responding, ignoring, fighting back and I realise how our 3 year old is a tool in God’s hand showing me my character and when I think about how I love him I glimpse how much God loves me. But so often my love for my sons is so deep that it gets buried underneath the latest tactic to get them to respond ‘appropriately’, to have manners and not let me be shown up in front of others and to sleep more to give me more time for my own things. But as I was reminded this morning in my reading of Acts, God does not require our service. He has not reached retirement sitting back waiting for His children to wait on Him hand and foot. Rather He is the One who gives life and breathe to all, He is actively pursuing us, providing for us and is there for us.

So now when I reach a point of frustration in parenting or do not know what to do about a certain parenting challenge I find myself going back to God’s word. Initially I went to His word looking for answers to my son’s behaviour and heart but kept coming away with His Spirit having attended to my heart and mind in regard to the situation. Aslan’s words once more come back to me that he is only telling us our stories and we don’t get the full ins and outs on other peoples stories including our children. So now I find myself asking Him to reveal what His word says about Him, His love for me as my Father. I don’t look for specific parenting passages as such but simply whatever I am reading as I work my way through the Bible. Right now I am in Acts and God is revealing many words of wisdom and insight to the specific situations we find ourselves in and I am confident that these same words will speak more wisdom and insight at another time too. God’s word is life giving and as I spend more time in His word and make the time to spend in it I am reaping wonderful blessings in my relationship with my boys, and while I still get cross and still sin, I am finding new ways of connecting that minimise exacerbating our boys and enable us to grow together. I am less afraid of mess, of outbursts of anger and frustration. Potty training and weaning will all happen in their own time and before I know it rather than wishing our boys slept longer I will be having to usher them out of their beds before the morning is over. I am learning that the milestones in parenting are not so much the developmental milestones as the ways we as mum and dad and the boys respond to different situations, joys and disappointments. To how we overcome fears, and how we care for one another and how we are all growing in trust of the One who parents us all with unfailing love and mercy and compassion.

Gold from the past

The previous post reminded me of this collection of Simeon quotes I discovered in the course of an essay on Charles Simeon. My intention is to post quotes from other “greats” and also from some more unlikely sources at periodic intervals on the blog. Simeon’s language can seem old fashioned, and certainly some of the concepts are not emphasised much in contemporary church life – but it is worth reflecting on what we can learn from them all the more for that reason.

Simeon had been informed as a new undergraduate at Kings College Cambridge that he had to attend communion, and so began to read as much as he could find on the meaning of the service.  During Easter Week, after a period of 3 months he began to understand what he was reading. He saw that “Has God provided an offering for me, that I may lay my sins on his head? then God willing, I will not bear them on my own soul one moment longer.”  Throughout the week his hope of God’s mercy increased until on Easter Sunday he described awakening with great joy and peace and “at the Lord’s table in our chapel I had the sweetest access to God through my blessed Saviour”.

After this experience he did not encounter anyone else with the same understanding as him for three years, and although he described the service in chapel as “very irreverently performed” it was nonetheless the case that “the prayers were as marrow and fatness to me”. 

His letters and personal notes contain striking quotes: Simeon wrote of how an observation of Thornton had remained with him, namely “the three lessons which a minister has to learn, 1. Humility – 2. Humility – 3. Humility.”   In reflection on the 40th anniversary of his conversion Simeon wrote “There are but two objects that I have ever desired for these forty years to behold; the one is my own vileness; and the other is, the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ”, his attitude one of being “humbled in thankfulness” continually.  In old age he wrote to a granddaughter of Henry Venn “I would have the whole of my experience one continued sense – 1st of my nothingness and dependence on God: 2nd of my guiltiness, and desert before Him: 3rd of my obligations to redeeming love, as utterly overwhelming me with its incomprehensible extent and grandeur.” 

Simeon to a young missionary:

“You have always appeared to admire Christianity as a system; but you never seemed to have just views of Christianity as a remedy; you never seemed to possess self knowledge, or to know the evil of your own heart… …but you now begin to feel the burden of sin… …to your need of a dying Saviour to atone for you by His blood, and a living Saviour to renew you by the influences of his Spirit. Seek my dear friend to grow in this knowledge… Christianity is a personal matter, not to be commended merely to others, but to be experienced in your own soul.”

 

To speak of the evil of our hearts in Simeon’s language of “self loathing” is not popular today, but its essence is to see sin as against the glory and love of God, and therefore to realise the utter horror of sin, and our own sinfulness. Only as this is known will the wonder and glory of the love of the Christ who went to the cross for our sin be fully known in us.

 

In his final weeks of illness before death Simeon wrote:

“No! I am, I know the chief of sinners; and I hope for nothing but the mercy of God in Christ Jesus.. .. I look as the chief of sinners, for the mercy of God in Christ Jesus to life eternal; and I lie adoring the sovereignty of God in choosing such a one – and the mercy of God in pardoning such a one – and the patience of God in bearing with such a one – and the faithfulness of God in perfecting his work and performing all his promises to such a one.”