Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Park And Pride

I am not one for using public transport, it's usually less reliable and more expensive; but for my weekly trips into college I have overcome my dislike of, well, mixing with the public and have taken to using the 'park and ride' facility. 

However, after last weeks experience I wasn't sure if this was the right thing for me to be doing. I got on, and as I am carrying a decent sized 'satchel' and laptop I plonked them on the seat by the window and sat next to them.  I should point out the bus was barely occupied, I'm not completely uninitiated in 'bus etiquette' and was well aware that should the bus become full I would have to budge up and.......heaven forbid, sit next to someone.
Imagine then my reaction to an overheard conversation, that is the one thing I do like, the opportunity to eaves drop. I heard one man tell of purchases of over 20 t-shirts! 'They were only £1, well who wouldn't?' who wouldn't indeed? I thought, but said nothing. I am discovering that unless people are travelling together no one talks on the bus, which I like; I don't want to sit next to strangers let alone talk to them!
But it wasn't that I overheard which shocked me.  As I said, I was sat on the fairly empty bus next to my bags when I overheard a lady behind me say loudly to her friend " someone there's taking up two seats!"  I was incensed for I assumed it was me she was referring to, I looked around to double check, yep, definitely plenty of free seats still, I am not being selfish or thoughtless!  I did everything in my power to prevent my head from spinning around and glaring at her and asking if she was looking for an extra seat and would she like me to vacate mine? I refrained and played oblivious looking out of the window and occasionally at my phone, how very dare she! I couldn't help doubting myself though and wondering if I'd got the whole 'bus' thing wrong? Are you supposed to sit by the window leaving the adjacent seat free?
In our Sunday services at church we have been following the 'fruitfulness on the frontline' series, looking at how we can live out our Christian faith in our everyday lives, at work, school, with friends, at the shops etc. particularly how we show our faith in our actions to our non-Christian colleagues, friends and people we meet.  Each week on my drive to the park and ride I pray that if I can show God's love in any way either on the bus or on my short walk through town to college that my eyes and heart will be open and that I will see the opportunity.

After last weeks fail, today I thought I'd play by the rules, I got on the bus and it was a little busier than it's been before but still enough seats for everyone, I dutifully placed my satchel and laptop between my feet and sat at the seat near the window leaving the seat next to me free.

I watched as each passenger made their way towards me, then it happened; she sat next to me.  Don't panic I thought, it's only a short ride, just be polite it'll be over before you know it.  I felt hemmed in, I was by the window and had a person between me and the aisle, my exits were blocked this wasn't good.  In the past I have suffered from anxiety and although I am fine now part of me still needs that security of having an escape route, which is one of the reasons I don't like public transport because it leaves me in the hands of someone else, I have no control of when or where we stop, how fast we go, who travels with me. 

I looked at my travel partner and smiled, "good morning", this appeared to shock her; remember people don't talk to each other on the bus unless they're travelling together.  She smiled and greeted me back, an awkward minute or so passed while I guess we both wondered where this new relationship was going to take us, then she kicked it off with a query about the varying stops into town, buses are noisy things and I struggled to hear her quiet voice but I think she told me she was travelling in to the hospital each week to see her husband, here's my 'in' I thought, I'll tell her I'm at college at the church, she'll see what a lovely person I am and ask a bit about it, I'll explain she really should 'know Jesus' and hey presto, one more for the Kingdom!

Well as it happened God had put me next to another Christian! We had a lovely old chat about our 'church' backgrounds and whiled away the ride discussing all sorts of theology and doctrine, then before we new it our 10 minutes were up and we had reached town!  We exchanged names as we parted and I felt good about having shared my seat with someone, and even though Carol was already a Christian, maybe the earwiggers behind us might have heard something of interest in our conversation!

This evening, with my new found 'bus buddy' confidence I thought I'd make my seat available again, and it worked a second time! I got sat next to, I smiled a cheery 'hello' and sat and waited for the conversation to flow.....and waited.....

See, the thing is, Carol started the conversation this morning and that is where I fall flat; I'm no good at small talk, I just didn't know where to start so I spent the bus ride back feeling incredibly awkward and uncomfortable while I read the man in fronts Facebook posts over his shoulder - he also had a nasty cut on his head, I wonder how he did that?

I hope I see Carol again next week, I'll be praying for her and her husband if I heard right that he's in hospital.....

Friday, 18 September 2015

Who'd Have Thought It? Me? A Student!

When I started this blog the tag line said something like.....

"I'm not Theologically trained, but I've read some books and listened to the odd podcast......"

I was coming towards the end of a messy period in my life spiritually and mentally, and was always searching online for answers; some of which I found among blogs I still follow today and which inspired me to start this one.

However, my searching over the last few years has now led me to a place where next week I start a BA in Theology and Mission, so all being well in three years time I will be able to say 'I'm Theologically trained!'

It's funny how God calls us and directs us to things we feel very unqualified for.  Having pretty much flunked my GCSEs 20 odd years ago, it never once occurred to me I could go into higher education.  Growing up my experience of church and Christianity couldn't have been more dull and meaningless, yet here I am looking to learn how to grow Gods Kingdom and reach out missionally to my community!

Change is good, but there have been ups and downs along the way as we adjusted as a family to help me make this transition from self employed to student. Little things like 'who's going to make dinner?' To bigger things like 'can we survive on a student loan?' But already in the journey I have known Gods hand in the details and His answer to prayer constantly. So when I have my meltdowns of doubt wondering what on earth I have done, I remind myself that this is Gods plan for me and I am following His lead so although I may feel I'm out of my depth, I know I'm not following something I decided on a whim, I am answering Gods call to step out in faith and trust that He knows I can do it even if I don't!

One of the verses that has stuck with me from before I went to my first open day earlier in the year is:

Judges 6:14
The Lord turned to him and said "Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian's hand.  Am I not sending you?"

Gideon felt unqualified and weak and made excuses.  And I too have felt like that many times, but I know it is God who is sending me and therefore I have to trust that God can use me with the strength and knowledge I have, even if I don't feel it's enough, God does!

So as I embark on this journey of lie-ins, daytime tv..... ahem, I mean study, I am praying that God will open my heart and mind, that I will meet some wonderful people, that I will be involved in growing my home church and that my student discount card will be accepted in Costa. Amen.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

My Love/Hate Relationship With Soul Survivor

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; as I sit here, clean, on a comfy chair, drinking a nice glass of Red, I am reflecting on my time at Soul Survivor week B.

Having got home and into bed at 2:45 am this morning, I am tired and weary from packing up tents in the rain and then having to unpack and dry them out again today, I think I've decided I love and hate Soul Survivor in equal measure:

I love worshipping and celebrating God with 9000 other people - I hate sharing showers and toilets with 9000 other people.

I love to sleep - I hate sleeping in a freezing cold tent on a pump bed.

I love staying up till 1:30am pretending to be sensible and in charge, whilst cracking up at what the kids are getting up to - I hate packing up and travelling home at 1:30am.

I love listening to inspiring, humorous, Spirit led, Bible teaching - I hate sitting on the floor to do so.

I love seeing the young people respond to the presence of Jesus - I hate seeing the pain some of them are carrying.

But, it is a real privilege to go on this journey of faith with them, some of them who have never been to church before, some who are really committed Christians - all of them grow and learn something about themselves before they leave.

The challenge now as part of a youth work team is how to keep that momentum of growth going? How to bring Soul Survivor style worship to our own church?  How to present our youth group sessions with the style and humour that Mike Pilavachi does?  Or maybe, the challenge is for them to realise that something as grand as that can't exactly be recreated in their church, but the worship team will have a darn good go at learning the new songs, and we won't be presenting our talks as Mike or Andy do, because we are not them but what we have to say if it's from God will be as valuable and relevant to them and they can still learn from it!

Ultimately I find it helps us bond, the kids naturally open up more as to how they see this Christian thing in a way that they don't generally do in a normal youth group session, they have a taste of the Holy Spirit and they want more and I want them to have more, because with it comes freedom and release from the rubbish that a lot of them are holding onto and every one of the young people that attend Soul Survivor deserve what God has promised them, a life worth living to the full.
 Will I go again? Of course I will, love wins doesn't it?

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Soul Survivor

This weekend I'm heading off to Soul Survivor as one of the leaders for our church youth group, plus some other teenagers who are tagging along with us.  Last year was my first time and as I arrived home and crawled through the front door at around 2am, lugging my baggage behind me, I tiredly voiced the words "never again" like some sort of half paralysed zombie who'd only just made it out alive from the apocalypse.

Yet, here I am, about to 'do it again', and I can't wait! So what's calling me back? The quagmire we pitch our tents in? The sanitary towel wallpapered shower blocks? The return journey home in the middle of the night?

As a Christian I had felt the presence of the Holy Spirit personally in my life before and seen it in others, but I hadn't been anywhere to witness the movement on a grand scale, and I must admit last year I was a bit apprehensive as to what would occur and how much of it would be real and how much would be teenage hype.  I'd heard the stories of the place erupting in hysterical laughter and people collapsing left, right and centre and it all seemed a bit weird and unnecessary to me.

So I started the week trying to stay very much in control and to not allow myself to be caught up in what was going on, but was just observing and taking it in and wondering if I would be able to resist if I felt myself being drawn in, I was also conscious of the fact I was there as a youth leader and felt I needed to be in control at all times to look after them!  I needn't have worried about remaining in control, I only needed to leave that to the Holy Spirit, yes there was laughter and tears and collapsing but it was in His control and being in the midst of it didn't feel weird at all, it was a privilege.

As each day goes by the momentum of the presence of the Holy Spirit just fills the place and you sing the songs with more feeling, you pray more earnestly and you believe more than you've ever believed before and by the end of the week no matter how much you've resisted, you find yourself surrendering to the power of the Holy Spirit and having the most amazing experience because of it!

So of course I want to go back! Who wouldn't want to see the power of Jesus move amongst His children like that?
Oh, and the worship is pretty cool too!

Monday, 27 July 2015

Guardians Of Ancora: Review

Premier Childrens Work magazine this month had an interesting article on a new game launched by Scripture Union.  It's called Guardians Of Ancora and is aimed at 8-11 yr olds, I thought it looked pretty cool but being in the wrong demographic I encouraged my 11 yr old daughter to download it onto her tablet and let me know what she thought.

Although we are a church going family and she attends Sunday School, she is not, how can I put this, a keen Biblical scholar.  There was an embarrassing episode a while back in church where she volunteered to go to the front and take part in a quiz, it became awkward when the quiz master started to get the congregation to shout up the answers to her while I slowly sunk down in my chair amazed at just how little she was able to to answer!  It was all taken in good humour though and a few heckles were thrown about how the Sunday School teachers were obviously not doing their job.

But there the point was perhaps made that if church going kids aren't taking in Bible stories, how on earth do we expect non-churched kids to have a clue who David was and why his story is important today?
And this is where Scripture Union did their research and hit upon designing a game that can be downloaded for free onto a tablet, to engage children from all walks of life and bring the Bible alive, whether they're church attendees or not, and Guardians of Ancora was the result.

I had actually forgotten I'd suggested it to my daughter and I honestly thought she'd be put off by it being Bible based, but after about a week she came up to me and said "that game you told me to download, it's actually pretty good!"  She even told me that she didn't know the story of Jesus filling Andrew and Peter's nets with fish and now she did! 

I mean, come on! Eleven years of Sunday School and they haven't covered that story?! Nearer to the truth it's probable they've told that story dozens of times but she just hadn't taken it in, we certainly are living in an era where children engage with the world differently, we are the immigrants and they are the natives of this digital age!

The game is in its infancy so could do with a few glitches tweaking, occasionally your character can get 'stuck' in the graphics and you have to exit and start again, and I personally found it almost impossible to get the timing of the characters jumps right, meaning it got very frustrating and repetitive, the advantage being you don't lose lives, so the jumps could be attempted until you crossed the gap or threw the tablet in frustration, whichever came soonest; but as my daughter pointed out, I struggled to play it because I'm not 11!

Having said that, the graphics are great, the story's easy to follow and there are lots of extras like quizzes, missions, audio stories and places for you to make your own notes and drawings which can be shared with other players or kept private.

Also at the moment there are only 2 playable quests, which she has now completed, hopefully the others will be unlocked soon or the game may lose momentum for its early players.

I think my daughter is looking forward to the next quest. (And I must admit, I am a little bit too!) 

Friday, 24 July 2015

The Prayer Course: Review

Pete Greig says in the opening session of The Prayer Course that after the six weeks we will be "better at hearing Gods voice, experiencing more of his prescence, have processed our dissapointments and struggles with prayer and will possibly even be witnessing more miracles having unlocked the power of prayer!"

Johnny Hughes responds with "I'm in!" and that was how I felt too!  Which Christian amongst us wouldn't want that?  Although I was uncertain it would 'work' for me so to speak.

Along with so many other Christians I have found prayer so difficult, sometimes boring and
even pointless; I have gone through phases of praying for everything to refusing to pray for anything, but I knew I had to get this prayer part of my life in some sort of order so I suggested to our home group that we followed The Prayer Course.

Taking the process of prayer step by step following the Lord's prayer as a guideline, it was an interesting, thought provoking and sometimes heart wrenching journey through adoration, petition, intercession, perseverence, listening and warfare.

I can honestly say that having completed the course about a month ago now and taken the time to let what I learned settle, I have had answeres to prayers that have been ongoing for many years, been able to sense Gods leading and presence in guiding me through some big life decisions I have been working with over the last year, and I have seen a miracle in our financial circumstances in that the life change I am undertaking means giving up my job and being funded by the government, the grant offer is the same amount as my wages!

I feel a lot more in touch with my prayer life now, there is more meaning and understanding behind it, I'm not just randomly waffling away to the thin air (well I kind of am, but I fully believe there's more than just thin air there!)

If you are part of a small group I would recommend it as a course to follow but I'm certain even as an individual you would get something out of watching the short video clips! 

Try it and let me know how you get on!

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Throwback Thursday - A Post From The Past

This post was first published on 26/3/13. Quite apt to choose it now as I will be blogging shortly on The Prayer Course that our homegroup have just completed.

It's often said God gives three answers to prayer - "yes", "no" or "wait".......we seem to be getting the bulk of the "no" answers at the moment and it really does make me think 'why am I even praying?' I thought I'd be really clever and prove my point by specifically not praying and then if what I would've prayed for went the right way - case proved - circumstantial!

Don't misunderstand me and think I am losing my faith, I completely know God is there and loves me and cares about what I need, but I am starting to think what happens to us in this life is very much down to our own control and circumstances, the thing is..........I can't not pray!

I have developed such a relationship that even if the answer is going to be "no" I still find peace in having had the conversation and I know I will look back at this period of time in the future and make sense of the "no's"!

So I still pray, but avoid the specific subject of our want/need at the moment! I know many of my friends are praying for the same thing for us so I leave it in their hands! Pressure!

I have found recently the easiest way for me to pray is to elaborate on the Lord's Prayer something like this:

"Father, you are the one true God,
the only God who deserves all my praise & worship.
I pray that your world will be filled with people who follow you,
& every day your work will be done.
Thank you for all you've provided & continue to provide for me & my family.
Please forgive me for the things I've said & done that've hurt you & others,
help me to think before I act & help me to forgive others who hurt me.
Help me to not be tempted by things that are not good for me
& keep me safe from things that can harm me.
In your son's precious name. Amen"

Why pray? Because Jesus taught us to, and whether we believe it or not and even when it seems like God's not there, He is, and He's listening and it'll all be alright in the end, and if it's not alright, it's not the end!