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Tagged: thoughts

Feb 19

Supporting LGBT Young People with Faith

In January my wife Sara and I had the great privilege of leading a training session for chaplains working in Further Education (FE) Colleges across the Bath and Wells Diocese. The question they asked us to cover was a great question – how can we better support LGBT young people who have a faith? A few people have asked for the content of our session, so this is a very condensed version of our ten recommendations for chaplains.

Listening is the role of any chaplain, but it is particularly important when it comes to LGBT young people. Let them tell their story. Listen without agenda, bias or judgement. Ask them what they need from you – don’t assume you know even if you’ve worked with LGBT young people before. We are all different, and what this young person needs from you may be completely unique. Being heard is often a healing act in itself for LGBT people, who are often made to listen to the views of others on their sexuality and identity.

It’s important not to use what is often referred to as ‘heteronormative’ language (defined in the Oxford dictionary as ‘denoting or relating to a world view that promotes heterosexuality as the normal or preferred sexual orientation’). For example, if you’re working with a female young person don’t assume they’ll have a male partner. It’s also really important to challenge homophobic behaviour and language, even what may be seen as harmless joking or ‘banter’ by others. Challenging this educates the young people you are with, but it also communicates you are a safe person to speak to about gender and sexuality issues. Ensure you educate yourself about pronouns and correct terminology, particularly when working with transgender young people. Ask them what pronouns they prefer – he/she/they.

In most faith communities there’s an understanding that we all land in slightly different places when it comes to theological issues, particularly secondary as opposed to primary issues. In youth work, a key principle has always been to journey with and walk alongside young people as they find their way and discover things for themselves, rather than indoctrinating them or creating copies of ourselves! We may give our opinions when asked but we don’t enforce our worldview onto someone, or indeed any viewpoint about a specific theological issue. It’s exactly the same when working with LGBT young people. Walk with them, equip them, resource them, but don’t assume they’ll end up in the same place as you theologically – whatever viewpoint you currently hold on this issue.

One of the many gifts the LGBT community has to give to the church, and in fact this is true of any minority group, is the unique perspective and experience they have on the world and the church. They look at things through a unique lens, and give us the opportunity to see things in a new way. For example, with some of our straight married friends, we love the way our same sex relationship allows them to reflect on aspects of their relationship, that they normally wouldn’t reflect on. We often give the example of how in our early married life we were free from assigning household tasks in accordance with gender stereotypes. Instead we assigned them based on gifting and availablity, and in doing this we enabled some of our straight friends to see they could do the same! This is a trivial example but there are much larger ones – we have so much to learn from every minority group and if you are truly listening and in relationship with LGBT young people you will learn lots of exciting and life changing things!

Whilst being hurt by church is not an experience that’s exclusive to the LGBT community, it is a common one. For LGBT people, church can often feel like a very unsafe, non-affirming and even hostile place where you are vulnerable to prejudice and at risk of being on the receiving end of discrimination and judgement. Don’t push a young person to be part of a faith community if that’s not what they want or are ready for, or unless you can guarantee their safety and protection. Have a wide definition of church – know that a young person can experience church in all kinds of ways and in all kinds of places. It’s worth saying too that church can be a positive place and there are some amazing churches that are fully inclusive and fully affirming. You might need to help a young person to do their research if they’re looking for an affirming faith community.

When I was about 15 I had some amazing youth leaders who recognised some of where my gifts were starting to show themselves. They took risks with me and let me preach, teach, lead small groups and be involved in lots of exciting ways. The chances they gave me helped me learn more about myself, more about the person God had made me to be and the things he was calling me to do. However if I’d have been known at that time as gay, I wouldn’t have been given those opportunities. Lots of churches at the moment seem to find it acceptable to ‘welcome’ LGBT people, but to restrict and limit their involvement and participation. This is very damaging to LGBT people as they are held back from being all they are called to be, but it also damages the church as needed gifts and talents are withheld from the church and wider community. They are welcomed as guests, rather than included and involved as family members. This isn’t going to change quickly! Things are moving, but whilst that happens there is an army of young, gifted LGBT people who are called to all kinds of spiritual gifts – worship leaders, small group hosts, youth workers, preachers etc, who are simply stopped from exercising these gifts if they are in non-affirming churches. Therefore if you have any opportunity as an FE chaplain to empower and enable a young LGBT person to try something out, to be involved, to lead, let them do it!

Speak out where you can on behalf of LGBT young people. Better still, take their voices with you. LGBT people are often restricted from leadership meetings or any structure or system which has the power to effect change, especially young LGBT people. Think about ways in which you can help their voice to be heard and listened to. The times my wife and I have felt the most loved by those around us, is when they have stood up for us, spoken out on our behalf, challenged prejudice and discrimination, risked their own relationships and hurt with us as we have felt hurt.

Sexuality and gender are complex issues. They involve long and often difficult journeys. It may take time for a young person to find an identity they feel comfortable with, to settle or decide on language or pronouns. Give them time, be prepared for the long term as well as the short term. Understand that young people will shift and change in their views, understanding and expression as they grow older.

 

What does it look like to be a holy, LGBT Christian? To be set apart, purified and counter cultural? This is an exciting question, and it’s a question the church isn’t often prepared to help LGBT people answer, as they’re only just starting to figure out you can be fully gay and fully Christian! Don’t feel you can’t challenge a young person about their behaviour – there are ways to explore sexuality that honour God and please him, and there are ways to explore sexuality that are destructive and unhelpful. When I’d come to the resolution that I was gay and that God was ok with it, I remember desperately searching for books, internet articles, anything that would tell me ‘what the rules are’! Sexually yes, but in other ways too. Until there are more books written, until we talk about this in church, until churches actually teach and guide people and provide LGBT role models in leadership positions who can help young people figure this stuff out, it will always be tricky and new ground for young people to explore. Don’t be afraid to ask the awkward questions and have the difficult conversations, you’ll find LGBT young people are actually yearning for someone they can speak to about the tough stuff.

Being LGBT, young and Christian can be difficult, but it can also be amazing. Don’t assume it’s a problem for a young person, or something they see as negative or difficult, they might be fine with it! Show them that their sexuality is a strength, that it’s part of who God made them to be. With it they can go places others cannot go, reach people others cannot reach, and see things in a unique way unlike anyone else.

 

(These recommendations come with a few disclaimers! I am no expert – I’m drawing on my own experience as a gay, married Christian with over fifteen years of youth work experience. Therefore these are opinions, and you’re welcome to disagree with them. I’m aware that issues transgender young people face have not been covered in detail here, nor issues young Muslim or Jewish young people face. For that I highly recommend www.keshetonline.org and www.imaan.org.uk)

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Dec 23

Everyday Advent

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I’ve always been fascinated by advent. I love that we have an entire season in the church calendar devoted to waiting. This year I really wanted to reflect on it more, so I decided to set myself the challenge of taking a photo every day in December until Christmas, that made me think of waiting. These were often boring, mundane moments of my daily life, but through it I learned so much more about what it means to wait. I’ve written before about waiting so I won’t say much more, but below are all the images, and below that, my listed thoughts of what each one taught me. Do feel free to download and use them if they’re useful – you should be able to do so through my Flickr page.

Advent Photos 2015
We wait all the time.
We wait to be taken somewhere new.
Sometimes, it’s worth the wait.
Some waits are short waits.
Waiting makes the end result better.
Some waits remind us of other waits.
Some waits feel longer than others.
Sometimes we’re not the only ones who are waiting.
We wait for black and white to be filled with colour.
Waiting is nearly always preparation for something.
Sometimes we need to create things that are important enough to wait for.
In the waiting there are always glimpses of what is coming. Sights, smells, sounds and tastes. Waiting can be beautiful if we choose to see them.
Sometimes when we stop and wait, we enable others to go.
Waiting is never forever.
Waiting can bring us rest. We can embrace that rest, or resent it.
Waiting is only a temporary stop. Don’t worry, you’ll go again soon.
In a waiting time new things grow, often in unexpected places.
Sometimes, others are waiting for us.
In a waiting time we can often go from serving, to being served.
When you wait, you start to notice the beauty in ordinary things.
Waiting can be a warning. It might not be safe to go yet.
Waiting times remind us that we’re often not in control.
Waiting time is never wasted time.
In a waiting time we learn to let go of the things we no longer need.

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Mar 03

Talk from The Table – ‘What is Paradox?’

It was a great privilege to be involved in ‘The Table’, an event co-curated by CYM (Institute for Children, Youth and Mission, FYT (Frontier Youth Trust) and CMS (Church Mission Society). The Table is a series of events aimed at pioneer youth and community workers, of which this was the first. We explored the idea of ‘Tensions Around The Table’ – things we often find clashing and contradicting and how to find balance in all that uncomfortable tension. I gave a short lecture on what paradox is, which you can listen to below. We’ve got another event coming up in April, where we’ll be exploring how to create church with young people. You can find out more about that here.

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Jun 05

The Beautiful Table

'Last Supper' by David LaChapelle

‘Last Supper’ by David LaChapelle

My Christianity began in a small village church in Nottinghamshire. After re-finding faith as an adult, and now a parent, my Mum felt it was important my brother and I were brought up in the church, and so off we went, every Sunday, to an old little grey Anglican building. I still remember the moss covered path and before it the stone archway that anyone under the age of eleven could be found climbing all over whilst waiting at the end of the service for parents to finish their cups of weak, luke-warm tea, always served in those green cups and saucers that you never see anywhere else.

This little church holds my first memory of communion. The slightly weird thing that all the grown ups did at the same time, in the same part of the same service they had every Sunday. The thing you had to attend special classes to be a part of and you couldn’t even do that until you were in big school. It seemed unfair, and I remember feeling the exclusion of it, eased slightly on the occasions my Dad was brave enough to sneak me a bit of bread he’d put in his pocket at the altar. I’d had it explained to me in Sunday school, that Jesus had this Last Supper thing with his disciples, that he broke bread and drank wine with them, and asked them to do the same when he had gone, in remembrance of Him. I got it, but I never really got it.

Recently I’ve been thinking again about what my Dad did, and how, despite him not doing it with any deep or even faith based intentions, what he did was a beautiful picture of not just the Kingdom of God, or of communion itself, but the deeper, wider, richer sense of communion that means so much to me as a Christian now. It has reminded me that communion doesn’t have to be an empty, duty motivated or meaningless tradition, it is a scandalous, revolutionary, subversive and dangerous act, which, when done with sincerity and understanding, leaves no one the same again. Because of course, like any sacrament, communion is not just about that physical wine or grape juice, those tasteless paper thin wafers or a beautiful, fluffy chunk of a freshly baked loaf, it is an outward sign of something much bigger, something significant and mysterious. Sometimes as Christians, because of the hundreds of times we practice and take communion, we can forget this. We forget some other things too…

We forget who is invited to the table, and to whom the table belongs.

Communion

You see with all our religion, rituals, rules, regulations, systems, policies, structures, classes and courses around communion and faith itself…we have ended up excluding the very people Jesus spent most of his time with. The very people the table is for. We think that we get to decide who should be able to take it. We think we have the right to say that some are in, some are out, some are worthy, some are not. We draw lines between secular and spiritual, Christian and non-Christian, liberal and conservative, right and wrong, sinner and saint. We think we get to write out the invites and give them to who we want, when the party isn’t even ours.

While we’re on parties and invites, there’s a great parable Jesus told (you can find it in Luke 14:15-24) about a wealthy Master who was holding a huge banquet for his friends. The invites were sent out, the feast was prepared, but when the time came, they all made their excuses and none of them came. So instead the Master tells his servant to go and find anyone he can – poor, broken, rejected, and they sit in his presence and enjoy an incredible banquet. This is the Jesus I know – whose radical inclusivity turns our exclusive, ‘club mentality’ religion on it’s head. And this is our job today as Christians – servants of a great Master who is throwing a party to which anyone is invited. They just have to want to come. That’s it. Our job is to find someone, anyone, but particularly those who feel they aren’t invited; the rejected, the marginalized, the persecuted, the broken, sick and lonely, and tell them that they are invited! They are welcome at His table. My Dad, without realizing it, did what we are called to do, to fight against systems of control and powerful institutions who think they have the right to write the guest list. We get to steal a scrap of bread and give it to those who others think shouldn’t have it, so they know they are welcome, loved, accepted and included.

We forget we shouldn’t be at the table.

I sometimes think about that first communion, that Last Supper. This was not a quiet, peaceful reverent occasion, where everyone got along and had a lovely time. It was already a table filled with misfits, not good enough and mostly uneducated teenage boys. Even the fact that these young men were Jesus’ disciples was incredible – the opposite of the other Jewish Rabbi-Disciple relationships at the time, which saw only the best, most intelligent, wealthy and studious boys make the cut. Instead Jesus chose (amongst others) some fishermen, a tax collector, a zealot and a guy who he ended up nicknaming ‘son of thunder’ because of his temper. Not exactly ‘the best of the best’.

At this meal, Jesus knew one of those disciples would betray him, another would deny him, three times. But these men were at Jesus’ table, joining in with this meal, part of this revolutionary kingdom that would go on to change the entire course of human history. They weren’t just invited to the feast, they were about to be put in charge of it! They were not past sinners, they were present sinners, and still Jesus washes their stinking, filthy feet, shares a meal with them, and trusts them to spread his message to the rest of the world. Ridiculous.

None of us have earned the right to be welcome at His table. We are not good enough, we are present and future sinners, and yet we are invited to the feast. So why do we think we get to decide who is in or out, in leadership or membership? Jesus’ ‘leaders’ wouldn’t even make the shortlist in most of our contemporary churches. We look for the most talented, gifted, educated and impressive, and in doing this we exclude and reject world changers and revolutionaries. I love the David LaChapelle picture that began this post, because it reminds me who is invited to Jesus’ table, and what a scandalous act of grace it is that there is room for me. Not because of anything I have done or said, but in spite of what I have done and said. Because of Jesus, there is a place at the table set for me. I am invited and I shouldn’t be.

We forget the power of the meal.

Communion 2In any church, or communion, or community, you get a lot of different people. People who don’t all think the same things, people who disagree. There are divisions and differences and those things are painful and sometimes, unresolvable. That is really hard, and it costs us. We get wounded and cynical and we feel like giving up on church, yearning for our faith to be simple again. But in communion, we are reminded not of our divisions and differences, but of our commonality and unity. That whoever we are, whatever we think, in Christ we are part of one community, one Body, the Body of Christ. We belong, we are welcomed and we are loved.

There is something mysterious and beautiful that happens around the sharing of food. We all eat it, we are all hungry, we all need food both physical and spiritual. I think communion is a great reminder of this. And obviously this goes beyond a communion ritual on a Sunday. For me it’s happened over a late night curry with friends, sharing a cup of hot chocolate with young people on detached work, eating pizza with a group of skate park volunteers before we let in 40 excited kids, a cup of tea and a slice of cake with my 94 year old Gran, being offered a sweet by a kid I don’t know at my church. These moments transcend our differences, delete our ‘otherness’ and blur our divides. They are holy, mysterious and beautiful. Only communion can do that.

I’ll finish with one final picture, unfortunately a KFC advert, but a great image of how I hope to live. Making room at the table for others, in deep gratitude for my own place there, meeting and encountering others who remind me of all the ways I am the same as everyone else, when everything else in the world seems to want to highlight the differences and push us further apart. Smiling, laughing, eating, celebrating, in the presence of the one who laid the table, started the party and still sends out the invites today.

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Oct 30

Halloween

Yes, it’s a pumpkin hamburger.

I’m one of those annoying Christians who really dislike Halloween. However the reason I dislike it is not the same as lots of people I know, who see it as a celebration of evil and a trivialization of the occult. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t love that stuff either and I’ve seen the damage it can do, but the reason I dislike Halloween so much is unfortunately the same every year…the behaviour of Christians.

I am a Christian, and it is this belief that shapes everything I do and everything I think. I believe there is a kingdom of light, God’s kingdom, and I believe there is a kingdom of darkness belonging to Satan who is real and active in our world; stealing, killing and destroying. I believe these two kingdoms are at war, and I am engaged in this war, to defeat darkness and bring the kingdom of God to earth, which is how the story will end. Lots of people don’t think that which is fine, but it’s what I think.

I don’t have kids, but if I did and it was Halloween personally I would not dress them up in witch, demon or devil costumes, because for me those things are representing a kingdom I detest, a kingdom that hurts and binds rather than a kingdom that heals and sets people free. Do I expect other people who are not Christians to have this view? No, and I can’t help but feel sad when I hear Christians publicly condemn and rebuke those who dress their children up in costumes like this, when their worldview and beliefs are totally different. If I was sat in macdonalds enjoying a big mac, and a Jew walked in and started telling me I was wrong or even evil for eating meat that was not kosher, I would probably think something along the lines of, ‘how weird that this woman with totally different religious beliefs and values is expecting me to live the way she does when I have my own set of religious beliefs and values!’ It probably wouldn’t make me want to be a Jew any time soon either. I find it baffling when we condemn others by not living the way we live, but we are infuriated when others do the same to us.

This is a pumpkin that looks like Darth Vader.

Please hear what I’m saying – I would not dress my kids up in these costumes! It would be like a Jew dressing up as a Nazi for fun. Not sure what my obsession with Jews is about today. Anyway, while we’re on the subject of Jews and Nazis, remember when Prince Harry was slated for wearing a Nazi costume to a fancy dress party? (story here) Now is Harry the only person to have ever worn a Nazi costume to a fancy dress party? I think probably not. But why did people react so strongly to him wearing that costume? It was because of who Harry is, what he represents, the kingdom he is a part of. He is part of the royal family and it is that family he represents. To wear something that symbolizes such horrific violence, racism and evil goes against everything that royal family is supposed to stand for. And there you have it, that is why I wouldn’t dress as a witch, demon, devil, or anything for that matter that stands for something that hurts and destroys people. Because I am part of a royal family called to bring justice, mercy, forgiveness and love. I do not expect people not currently part of that family or representing that kingdom to feel or do the same.

I also watch with horror at the way people hide their kids away from anything even vaguely related to Halloween, filled with fear and suspicion and passing on the same. I totally get that how we raise our kids is so important, specifically how we raise them to cope with the kind of world we find ourselves in. The world is a dark place, where witches and vampires and demons have made their way into every part of society. For the first time recently, Halloween became the third highest grossing festival, behind Christmas and Easter. It’s here to stay and it’s getting bigger. Whether Christians like it or not, their kids are growing up in a world where this is normal and this presents us with an important question about how we respond, but also how we equip our kids to be in the midst of all of it. Can we hide them away? No! They are going to see it on TV, read it in books, talk about it with their friends and hiding them away from everything is not the answer. All it does is make them fearful, irrelevant and uneducated. I agree when kids are very young they need to be protected and I know there is a balance to be held here – but banning kids from having anything to do with Halloween parties and telling them their friends are joining in with Satan doesn’t seem to do much other than scare and isolate them! I would want my kids to go to the Halloween parties, to talk about Jesus, to not dress up as a demon or a witch and to know that they shouldn’t be afraid of evil spiritual beings because they know Jesus, who has already defeated that kingdom anyway. We are in a tough world and we need to raise tough kids who can face darkness fearlessly and sensitively.

I have spent most of my life reaching out to young people who aren’t Christians, to meet their needs and encourage them to explore faith for themselves. Through years of doing this, the two things that have always been the biggest barriers to them meeting Jesus are Christians and Church. Young people often feel judged by Christians for the way they behave and they reject the church for being old fashioned and irrelevant. So when a Christian posts something public on their facebook page and condemns people involved in Halloween as being evil, what do you think that does to someone who isn’t a Christian? How do you think it would make them feel? Loved and accepted or judged and rejected? I’m aware of what a huge missional opportunity Halloween is, and it makes me sad when we miss it, and instead use it as an opportunity to drive people further away from God by our judgements and criticisms.

When you ask most people on the street trick or treating why they are doing it, very few will reply with “we just love celebrating evil and witchcraft”. It’s fun to dress up in stupid costumes and get stuff for free. That is it and for lots of people that is as far as it will go for them. Just because some people use Halloween to speak curses over people, hurt others and commit crime, doesn’t mean everyone does.

This is a pumpkin that looks like a space invader.

Let’s look at Christmas too. Christmas was a pagan festival celebrating the return of light (More on that here), that Christians took over. Jesus was not born on December 25th. Christians engaged with a pre-existing festival and redeemed it into celebrating the arrival of the biggest light of them all! They didn’t run away scared and condemn it, they made it their own! They didn’t reject Christmas, they redeemed it. Why can’t we do that with Halloween? Why can’t we get right in the thick of it, giving out stuff on the streets when everyone else is taking, blessing instead of cursing, helping instead of tricking?

Richard Niebuhr wrote a very famous book about how Christians engage with culture – Christ against culture, Christ of culture, Christ above culture, Christ in paradox with culture and Christ transforming culture. (Explained better here) It is the transforming part that is so Christlike, so Godlike, to take something and completely transform it. We can do that too, we can transform culture, not think we are above it or be against it. In an essay once I argued that for me Christ went one step further, that he created culture. He created a new way of living, a different way of being in the midst of the existing, a third way, a new kingdom crashing into and dismantling another.

Jesus was and is brilliant. He went to all the places he shouldn’t. He hung out with all the wrong people, saying all the wrong things. He got quite a reputation and was even accused of being demon possessed himself! He confronted darkness, he didn’t hide from it. He was different in the midst of it. And I believe that we are all called to do that, all of us. We are not called to be a fearful, judgmental people who shrink back and stay in holy huddles, but a people who actually believe what they say they believe, that Jesus has defeated darkness already and that we have his power in us to do the same and therefore that we will go into every dark place with no fear, to transform and redeem in his name and for his glory.

Fear is a powerful thing, and for a bunch of people who are supposed to know the creator of the universe, the most powerful being in existence who defeated and conquered death, we sometimes act like we’re pretty scared. What makes me the most sad about this, is the stuff we’re NOT scared of. We’re not scared of the fact that the biggest humanitarian crisis of our generation is going on in the world right now where millions of people are homeless, with countless children orphaned and traumatized. We’re not scared that most churches haven’t even mentioned this on a Sunday. We’re not scared of our out of touch, elitist government as they privatize our services and force people into increasing levels of debt and poverty. We’re not scared that more people die of suicide than car accidents, we’re not scared that prescriptions for anti-depressants have doubled in the last decade, we’re not scared that one in six young people are not in employment, education or training of any kind. How about we start getting scared about the stuff that actually matters, about stuff that actually bothers God, about the stuff that we are supposed to be acting on and speaking out against as the Body of Christ. There are plenty of things to get scared about, Halloween is not one of them.

I am not afraid of death, or witchcraft, or evil, or the occult or the demonic or any other principality or power in this world or out of it. Why? Because I know a guy who not only defeated all of that, but who laughs at it, who made a public spectacle of it. (1 Corinthians 15:55-57, Colossians 2:15) His name is Jesus, and that name holds more power and more victory and more protection than anything else in heaven or on earth. I think it’s about time we realised who this Jesus is, what he has done, what he will do, and I think it’s about time we rose up and walked and talked like we believe that knowing him actually makes a difference in our lives and means we don’t ever need to fear anything ever, even Halloween, in fact especially Halloween.

Halloween: Trick or Treat? from 10ofthose.com on Vimeo.

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May 06

Creative Redemption

redemption_signA few years ago, a friend and I decided to make proper use of a mid-week day off, and travel to a nearby beach town. Because of the timing of our visit and the fact that it was mid-week, everywhere we went was eerily quiet. Walking down the main street we were greeted by the flashing lights and electronic sounds of games arcades, and we decided to visit one, to spend some of our hard earned two pence coins! As I walked into our chosen arcade, a big neon sign caught my eye, with the word ‘redemption’ on it. This was the cash desk where vouchers or tokens won on certain machines could be redeemed for cash. As I looked around a sadness hit me, as I saw many people playing on slot machines, people of all different ages, at about 11am in the morning. You could tell that for some this was a daily hobby, spending hours of time and lots of money in the hope that they would hit the jackpot and be able to make the journey to the redemption desk to exchange their winnings for something greater.

It made me think about how we all search for redemption in one way or another.

That sign has been on my mind again recently as I’ve explored what redemption might mean, a word we use a lot in ‘Christian-land’. We talk about God redeeming us, redeeming things, his redemption plan for the world. I’ve always thought about redemption in terms of being saved by God, that God has redeemed me, which I believe is true. But there is another meaning of redemption which I’ve perhaps neglected, one that takes me back to that slightly sad games arcade in that quiet beach town on my day off.

The second meaning of redemption is about gaining or regaining possession of something, normally in exchange for something else. So in that games arcade, you win tokens which you then exchange for real money. You give in what you have (or what you have is taken from you) and you receive something much better in exchange, something of a higher value. Something better than what you had before.

When I’ve lost things in my life or things have been taken from me – friendships, jobs, projects, whatever…it at times has felt unfair. People have often told me that God will, in time, redeem that situation, that I will get back whatever I’ve lost if I trust Him and wait. But what I’ve come to realise is that it’s so much better than that, and it goes right back to the very core of who God is; a massively creative creator, who is always pioneering new and amazing ways to restore, heal and bring people back to Himself.

Sometimes we don’t get back what was taken from us…we get something even better.

Take the story of Joseph (from the book of Genesis in the bible) as an example. I often imagine what Joseph must have felt like, being ripped away from his father, broken relationships with all his family, sold into slavery and thrown into prison. I wonder about those months and years that he spent in prison, with everything that had happened going round and round his mind. What did he think the redemption plan was? If it was me I would have probably imagined my brothers repenting, me being allowed to go back and live with my family, doing what I was doing before. What was God’s plan? Joseph became one of the most powerful men in Egypt, he saved the lives of thousands of people preventing them from being killed by famine, and in the end his relationship with his family was restored. Wow. Do you think he ever even imagined that as he sat in prison, alone, with his life in shreds? At the end of the story when being reconciled Joseph says this to his brothers; “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” – Genesis 50:20

Or Job. Job literally had everything taken away from him apart from his life. Through all his pain and questioning he never lost faith in God. At the end of his story we are told that ‘the Lord restored his fortunes and gave him twice as much as he had before’ – Job 42:10.

Or Moses. Because of a stupid mistake Moses went from being the son of a Pharaoh to a shepherd tending sheep in the wilderness. He lost everything. But it was Moses that God used to set the Israelites free from slavery. That’s kind of a big deal.

The bible seems to be full of people who in their loss, in their mistakes, in their grief, trusted God and waited, and out of that came a redemption plan that reached so far beyond their own imaginations. Greater purposes came from those messy situations, where what was taken or lost got replaced with something so much greater, something that stretched so far beyond meeting their own needs into meeting the needs of others.

When things are broken we can try to fix them so that they become exactly what they were before. We can see redemption as getting back what we had before and nothing else. But sometimes we need to just put the broken pieces in the hands of God, trusting that He, as the ultimate and most incredible creator we know, will take those pieces and make the most beautiful mosaic, something that will reach out and bring purpose, destiny, healing and redemption not only to our own lives, but to the lives of many other people.

I love this so much about God. That His creativity is not limited to the earth and the things He has made or done in the past. He is endlessly creative in the ways He engages with us; His provision, His interaction with us, the way He brings healing and restoration, all done differently for each individual, a masterpiece He paints differently for each of us. Even His redemption is creative beyond our comprehension, beyond anything we could ask or imagine in our wildest dreams.

“When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body” – 1 Corinthians 15:37-38

We can be like seeds that get crushed. But it would be ridiculous to try and gather all the tiny parts of a seed and try to put it back together again, as it was before. We would know that this brokenness, the crushing of the seed, put in the right hands and given the right care, can grow into the most incredible tree, that brings life, fruit and shelter to many others for years to come.

I want to be able to trust that God, the first and ultimate artist, is the one who determines what kind of plant the crushed seeds of my life will become. What a relief, because every time I have had a plan in my head and I’ve finally let it go and let God take control, what grows is mind-blowing, overwhelming, something I never could have predicted or created.

It actually makes my own plans look ridiculous.

That is creative redemption, and day by day I am absolutely loving seeing it happen in my own life, and in the lives of others.

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Apr 06

You

What if I really knew You?
You. The You that’s true.
If I could look into Your eyes.
Rip up the disguise I’ve made with my lies,
You see it’s easier when I make the real You hide.

What if I really knew me?
Me. The me that’s true.
If I could see me through You.
If I could just let you out of Your cage,
Have the courage to let things rearrange,
To let my view of You completely change.

You see You’re really all that I have,
And all that I am wants to know all that I can,
About this man they call Jesus.
You know, the one that freed us.
The one who heals us,
The one that came to earth to redeem us.
The one who still sees us,
Who knows what it’s like to be us.

There’s not a thing you’ve been dealt that He hasn’t felt,
Because no trial or temptation from Him was withheld.
He knows pain and shame and disgrace and blame,
He knows screaming and bleeding you see that’s why He came.
He overcame.
Now the debt’s paid and we’re being remade,
Into the light and out of the shade,
A fearless people no longer afraid.

Knowing all this, what can I say?
How can I possibly live the same way?
How can I ever just walk away?
There’s nothing I can do that will ever repay,
No gift I can give that would help to convey,
No word in any language that would help me to say,
Not a masterpiece painted that would rightly display.

So maybe I’ll just do what You do.
You gave Your life so I’ll give mine too.
Die to myself and live only for You.
You. The You that’s true.
The You that’s not through, with me or with You.
You see there’s some stuff for us to do.
People that need to know this too,
Who’d be helped and healed if only they knew,
That the kingdom of God is breaking through.
The now and not yet like yeast in bread,
As creation groans for all that’s unsaid.
The cancelled debt, all our regrets,
The effects of our mess that he just forgets.

What if they really knew You?
You. The You that’s true.
If they could look into Your eyes.
Rip up the disguise we’ve made with our lies,
And see they don’t need to run or to hide.

So help me show You.
You. The You that’s true.
In all I say and all I do I’ll be a light that shines for You,
A broken vessel You’re making new,
A wounded healer that You move through,
So in my weakness they’d see You.
You. The You that’s true.

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Jan 24

Silence

Why do I hide from the silence?
Because in the silence I find you.

It’s like this mirror that’s held up to me
And most of the time I don’t like what I see
So I duck and I dive and I run and I flee
Well that’s better than facing my inadequacy.

Why do I hide from the silence?
Because in the silence I find you.

It’s like this light that shines in my dark
Revealing the bitterness and pain in my heart
And all the ways that I miss the mark
And how I constantly need to restart.

Why do I hide from the silence?
Because in the silence I find you.

It’s not just the bad it’s the good stuff too
Everything you are and everything you do
It overwhelms me and if I took it all in
Well I know it’d change everything.

So why do I hide from the silence?
Because in the silence I find you.

This world it creates so much noise
With all our technology, gadgets and toys
Staying plugged in is an easier choice
Than to act on the challenge that comes from your voice.

Why do I hide from the silence?
Because in the silence I find you.

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Dec 28

New Year

The-Future-Is-Exciting

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I always get super excited about New Year. I’m not a huge fan of the overpriced drinks, overcrowded nightclubs and unrealistic resolutions people set for themselves, but there is one reason for my excitement that has been the same now for ten years.

Nine years ago, a brilliant friend and I got together one new years eve, to eat nice dinner and hang out. We started talking about our year, reflecting on the things that had gone badly and the things that had gone well. We started talking about the things we wanted to achieve over the coming year, and we decided we would write ten of those things down on a piece of paper, put them in envelopes and give them to each other to keep safe until the next year, when we would open them and see how many we had managed. We thought it would be cool to include a message to ourselves, something we thought we’d need to tell ourselves a year on, perhaps something we might forget that we’d need to be reminded of. That’s exactly what we did, and we’ve done it every year since.

photoThis year I found all the old envelopes and it was amazing to look back at ten years of me – all my hopes, dreams, and disappointments. Every year it is such a profound and moving experience, and is one that I can’t recommend highly enough. So I thought I’d tell you about it.

One of the most fascinating things has been seeing how the targets I set for myself have changed. The first few years I set myself such stupid, unrealistic goals. My targets were vague, generic, non-specific and I’d need to be a superhero to get close to achieving most of them! As I’ve got a little older I set goals that are more realistic – or to quote to the well-known goal setting acronym ‘SMART’, my goals are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time sensitive. Sometimes I set goals that I know I will achieve. For example a couple of years ago I set the goal that I would have an MA in Applied Theology. I didn’t plan on failing my MA, but there were no guarantees – I had to work hard to finish it and it was still a massive achievement worth marking and celebrating. Some targets are things I’m pretty sure will happen, others are things I have no clue about, and some are targets I know may be on there for a few years yet.

becomingThere has also been a switch in priority for me. The first few years were all about the outcomes, the numbers, how many goals I could tick off and what number out of ten I had achieved. This year I didn’t even count the ones I had managed to do, but I reflected a lot around the person I had become, how I had grown and changed whilst trying to achieve those things. I don’t measure success now by my achievements, but in whether I am becoming more like the person I believe God wants me to be.

My favourite part is definitely the message I write to myself. It sounds like a slightly weird thing to do, a bit like talking to yourself, but it’s actually a bit clever. If you think about it, apart from God, there isn’t a person in the world who knows you better than yourself. You know what you struggle with, what you can be a bit lazy with, the things you forget and need to be reminded of, and what refocuses your heart and mind. So who better to be challenged and encouraged by, than yourself? It’s often a tool used in therapeutic situations, for example where someone might be encouraged to write a letter as an adult to themselves as children. It helps them reflect on what they might have needed to hear at that point in their lives, who they were and who they are now in comparison. You’ll see athletes psyching themselves up before the big game and even in the psalms we see David telling his soul to wake up! (Psalm 57:8)

It’s also fascinating that despite being adamant at the time that you will remember what you’ve written down, a year later I guarantee you will have forgotten nearly all of it. I can sometimes remember one or two of my targets, or maybe a sentence in my message to myself, but there are always surprises.

Finally the most important thing it does, is to help me remember how faithful God is, and how He has never ever failed me. Last year when I wrote my targets I was in a bit of a weird place, recovering from a painful year and making some big decisions about where I should be and what I should be doing. To open the envelope this week left me stunned, as I could see the place I was at, the things I was thinking when I’d written it all and how God has used every inch of it to bring me to where I am today. I can see His genius plan throughout all ten years of those hopes, dreams and questions, even when it’s been tough or hard to understand. Those pieces of paper are my markers, my evidence of God at work in my life and I will keep and treasure them forever.

So whatever you are doing this new year, I would really encourage you to find someone who knows you really well, and give this a go. Even my hairdresser and her sister are trying it out this year! If you don’t feel comfortable doing it with one other person why not do it with a group of young people you work with, your small group, a team at work or your family? I guarantee it will be a worthy use of your time, and maybe even like me, you will find it quickly becomes your favourite Christmas/New Year tradition.

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Dec 20

I See Miracles

This one’s for all you festival fakers.
You spiritual high chasers and miracle makers.
Now I know you’ll write me off as a liberal,
Say I’m a little over critical even verging on political
But I see miracles.

Now I’m not disputing what you say you’ve seen
Not saying you’re too keen not trying to be mean.
But I’ve sometimes seen that what we think is mystical
This weird metaphysical is nothing but egotistical

I see miracles.

Not in the stadium shows or front church rows,
Or preachers who teach us how prosperity grows.
Or hyped up, psyched up emotional groans,
Or prophets and healers sitting on thrones.

I see miracles.

In the single Mum with three kids to feed,
Failed by a system of unspeakable greed,
Who chooses work instead of weed,
Despite her need she will succeed.
Or the teenage lad without a Dad,
Who sticks at college when it makes him mad.
Or the bomb blast survivor confined to a chair,
Who’s forgiven her attackers, shocked they just stare.

Greater things than this you’ll see
I know who said it but what did he mean?
The promises on God TV?
Or real people, you and me?

So this one’s for all you festival fakers
You spiritual high chasers and miracle makers.
Now I know you’ll write me off as a liberal,
Say I’m a little over critical even verging on political
But I see miracles.
Yes I see miracles.

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