Friday, 31 March 2017

40 Acts of Lent: day 27 - 2:1

Act twenty seven - 2:1  by Dan Chalke
We've come to expect bargains. And we love a 'two for one' or a 'buy one get one free'. But how often do we use them as an opportunity to share with others? Better still, don't wait for the bonus; buy extra anyway and make someone's day.
"You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, 
and ... your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God."
                                                                                                           2 Corinthians 9:11 (NIV)
'Buy two give one away' lacks the appeal of the more popular slogans commonly used to entice our business. But what it lacks in consumer appeal it more than makes up for as a principle or challenge.

I have a friend, Susie, who made an all too familiar New Year's resolution… to get a little fitter. She shares my disdain for the gym but has remarkably managed to keep going. Eventually my guilt prompted me to discover her secret. She told me that she only ever promises to go for five minutes; after that she's free to leave. Five minutes! I thought, "What's the point?" But she explained that five minutes always becomes 30, 60 or even 90; it's the initial commitment that's the toughest. I realised that it's not just a great way of tricking yourself into the gym; I'm discovering that it's an easier way to become the generous person I'd like to be.

Parting with large chunks of my hard-earned cash is a not-too-enthralling prospect that invokes a similar degree of guilt as the gym. But choosing to buy an extra ticket to the cinema or even just an extra coffee is definitely manageable and is slowly developing into a much richer, more generous habit. It may not seem like much but I believe that it's the little random acts of generosity that build stronger relationships and healthier communities.

So as long as Susie continues to promise five minutes in the gym, I'll commit to buying 'just one more coffee' and we'll see how far I get.

Choose how to complete this act...

Head to the supermarket, stock up on BOGOFs, and start handing them out to everyone you see: 'Hey, I just got this for free and I don't need it – want it?' A bar of chocolate, a bottle of water, a newspaper, a concert ticket, gift vouchers for the cinema – take your pick.

Don't wait for the offer; buy it yourself. Get the next person in line a pint/coffee/sandwich along with your order. Or, pay for a bus ticket for the person behind you.

Planning on grabbing tickets for something, or going out for a meal? Who could you invite along that would least expect it and you could foot the bill for? Invite someone out from the fringe of your social group, or prioritise spending time with someone close to you and treat them to the occasion. Or how about going all out and paying for someone else's dinner secretly?

Thursday, 30 March 2017

40 Acts of Lent: day 26 - grateful

Act twenty six - Grateful    by Emily Owen
Taking people for granted. It's an easy trap to fall into, even if we think we're genuinely decent people. Gratitude takes effort. It takes remembering. It takes serious, considered, wonder-centred thankfulness.
"Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus."
                                                                                                            1 Thessalonians 5:18 (NIV)
Someone scared me once by asking, 'What if you woke up today with only the things you thanked God for yesterday?' For a while this panicked me into praying a 'thank you' for everything I could possibly think of, but I was saying thank you for the sake of it, not because I truly meant it.

God tells us to be thankful for everything: '…give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus' (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Gratitude isn't just for when things are easy; sometimes it is hard to be thankful for anything at all, and this is when we need to stop and remember that God is with us in all circumstances. Life, and every good thing in it, is a gift from God – we have a lot to be thankful for.

However, we have to mean it when we thank someone. A casual 'thanks' is often a throwaway comment, something we say without thinking. But a genuine thank you has power; it adds value to an action, reflects kindness and even lifts our mood. If you are thanked you feel appreciated, just as if you thank someone else you are reminded of good things in your life. Saying thank you inspires and prompts generosity; the more someone thanks you the more you want to help them out. The more you thank God for the good in your life the more you want to praise him.
Imagine if by simply thanking someone you encouraged them- oose how to com to do something nice for someone else. The ripple effect of two straightforward, yet powerful, words has the potential to go a long way and make a lot of difference.

Choose how to complete this option:
Write down a number of people from your past who've supported and helped you. Commit to contacting each, to tell them 'thank you'. P.S. Not all in one day!

Write a letter thanking someone. This might not be the easiest thing for a lot of us. If you're not prone to cracking out the fountain pen and writing paper, you can write a well-composed Facebook message – and sometimes, a few well-chosen words can mean more than a page of prose.

How about thanking someone who doesn't usually get thanked in person: your bus driver, the local postman, the colleague who always puts on a fresh pot of coffee or empties the dishwasher. Appreciating these people will add a whole ton of value to their day, and being thankful is a great way to begin your week.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

40 Acts of Lent: day 25 - Stuff

Act twenty five - Stuff  by Rachel Aston

Hands up if you buy and hold on to things that you don't use, when they could be just what someone else needs. Give your wardrobe, garage, or loft an overhaul.

"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, 
and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 
For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."
                                                                                                        Matthew 6:19-21 (NIV)
From a young age, I loved clothes. My childhood was spent dressing up Barbie and creating outfits on my Fashion Wheel; my teenage years scouring Bay Trading for bargain buys; and my student years developing a serious sale-shopping habit. As I graduated into grown up life, and an income, I began to build my shoe empire.

Now, I never fell into any kind of financial trouble because of shopping. However, I knew that I was developing a habit of shopping as a 'pick-me-up', when I felt that a new outfit would help me to feel renewed and better able to deal with a challenging situation or disappointment.

Yet, as a Christian who didn't want to be defined by stuff, a feminist who didn't want to be defined by appearance, and with twinges of conscience about the impact of consumerism on people and planet, I found myself seriously challenged by God to quit my habit. In particular, having started work on a major campaign on the commercialisation of childhood and taking the campaign test to see if you really needed to buy something (what will happen if I don't buy it?!), I committed to giving up clothes shopping for a whole year.

To keep myself accountable, I wrote a fashion blog, featuring my outfit of the day (#OOTD) and updating people on my progress – financial, spiritual, emotional – and it ended up being a truly enriching, creative and freeing year.  I did return to shopping at the end of it, but having let go of the compulsion to buy stuff to 'feel better'. I would urge anyone else pondering a 'stuff detox' to give it a go!

Choose how to complete this act...
Put a Post-it note in your wallet/purse that says 'Do I really need this?' If you don't, put it down and put the money you were going to spend to better use (maybe in a future challenge).

If you're buying something new, make the purchase more meaningful. What it's going to replace? What are you going to do with the old item instead? Who could it be of use to?

Assess your stuff. What do you really need? What can you give away? Are there hoarding habits that need to be changed? You can use Freecycle/Gumtree/foodbanks/charity/buy-swap-share to move your things to people who might make better use of them.

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

40 Acts of Lent: day 24 - Date

Act twenty four - Date   by Mark Heasman
Lots of us – especially as we grow into adulthood – struggle making acquaintances into friendships. Building relationships takes time and effort. Today, put aside your busyness and agendas, and make the effort to cultivate an acquaintance.

"A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity."
                                                                                                                       Proverbs 17:17 (NIV)
Have you heard the story of the professor lecturing on time management?
Letting actions speak louder than words, he fills a large glass container with several fist-sized pebbles and asks the room if it is full. "Yes" comes the reply. So he takes handfuls of smaller pebbles and shakes them in to the container. Still not full. A bag of sand follows. Surely full now. Finally, a jar of water is poured in and nothing more can be added. Point made.

The moral of the story? The big important things need to go into our life ahead of the small and trivial or it won't all fit.

As Kevin De Young unpacks in his great little book 'Crazy Busy' many of us have "a pervasive sense of being unrelentingly filled up and stressed out". Modern life can often be hectic and our busyness can sideline relationships before they've had the chance to begin. Without time, acquaintances will never become friends and the big things are lost.

My parents were experts at making time to build new relationships. As I child I remember them inviting people back for lunch every Sunday after church. Anyone new would get an invite.  Those on their own had a place at our table.
Building strong relationships needs thought too. It requires effort and energy to make space in our schedules and to be imaginatively creating places and doing things where they can flourish and grow.

Those Sunday lunches remain an abiding memory and have a huge impact on how Claire (my wife) and I view our home today. It isn't a museum or playroom for our children but a resource God has loaned us for His purposes. Whether that's hosting bonfire nights for our church family or inviting friends and their kids over to camp out for the night, we've discovered great joy in making what we have available to others in return for special memories that grow into lifelong friendships.
We haven't always got it right and sometimes get the mix of people wrong but, hey, God knows who's going to be there and why!

What are the big stones you need to be giving attention to today?

Choose how to complete this act...
Bring something nice in for whoever you're with today – whether that's in the office, gym, college, or school run. If you're not going out, make a plan so that you're ready for the next time you do.

Invite a slight acquaintance for coffee/to watch the match at your local/for a walk – whatever works for them. Don't leave it vague – make a date.

Make a date with the neighbours.
Make it worth their time coming over. Don't scrimp on effort – give your best.

Monday, 27 March 2017

40 Acts of Lent: day 23 - 'boost'

Act twenty three - Boost by Dan Blythe
Most people don't have a clue about their value. It's true across the spectrum: culture tells men and women they're only valuable if they look a certain way, upbringings leave people insecure, job prospects have many feeling down about their worth. These people are in your circles, too. How much longer can they go on not knowing their worth? It's time to give them a boost.

"Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, 
as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear."
                                                                                                               Ephesians 4:29 (ESV)
There are many great places to live in the world but to me there is no place quite like London. I love the pace, the diversity and the history. London continues to expand and because of that there are construction sites everywhere.
Now, I am no expert in the field of building but I have noticed two types of machines on building sites. Cranes, which lift things up, and bulldozers, which knock things down. If we relate this to the verse above, I believe Paul is saying our talk should be like a crane rather than a bulldozer. We should lift people up rather than knock them down, be constructive rather than destructive, be positive rather negative, so that we may give strength and grace to the people who hear us.
One thing I have come to realise is that regardless of age everyone deals with the issue of fear.

Over the last few years I have personally received courage through receiving encouragement from others. We all have the ability to give someone courage by encouraging them. Every encouraging thought we have about someone but fail to pass on actually deprives them of that blessing, strength and courage.
Let's be fearless today and every time we think an encouraging thought; let's share it in order to build that person up the way Jesus would. Let's meet them, tell them, call them, text them, email them, Whatsapp them or comment on their social media. Whatever it takes, let's be counter-cultural; let's pass strength and courage on because, today, we are shaping the way the world sees the church – let others see us as those who build people up, rather than tearing them down.

Choose how to complete this act...

Talk about them behind their back. This one can be done really simply and still have a huge impact. Tweet at them telling them something they've done that meant something to you, spotlight them in an Instagram post, or casually mention in conversation at work how brilliant another member of staff is. Easy but profound.

Put a word in. Maybe they'd be perfect for an upcoming position at work or in church. Maybe they've achieved something recently that deserves to be publicly talked up. If you can think of even the smallest reason why bragging about this person could lead to greater things, then don't hold back.

It's easy to spot ten ways your best mate is brilliant, but what about people you find difficult? What's great about them? It's easy to dig out the worst, but search for the gold. We guarantee you can find something. Take time to really consider them, and then be as brave and bold as possible, and let them (and those around them) know.

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Sermon, Sun 26 March wk30: Worry...WMRBW

READINGS: Ps 34:1-10 and Matt. 6:19-7:12

Let’s pray: may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts,
be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

It was the spring – for me, autumn for you – of 1988
and no matter where you were, one song dominated:
you’d get in your car, and there it was on the radio;
you’d be on the beach, and someone nearby would be singing along to it on their Walkman – Walkman - remember those??
You’d head off to a cafe for an iced coffee or find yourself in a shopping mall...
and there it’d be, cheerfully playing in the background.
It was this song...
Let’s see if you remember it...

[we then listened to a shortened version of the following...]

‘Don’t worry, be happy’:
and once this song got into your head, it was there for the rest of the day...
ahhh, sorry about that.
It hit the charts, raced to #1 on the hit parade and seemed to stay there for an eternity
well, at least through spring and most of summer.

‘Don’t worry, be happy’:
in this continuing teaching section on prayer, in the Sermon on the Mount,
this song could almost be the theme tune –
gently playing in the background as Jesus talks of not being worried about
storing up treasures on earth;
of not being worried about being on an endless treadmill of consumption –
worrying about not having this or that or the other;
and of not being so worried, or preoccupied,
about what other folk do, that you end up acting as their judge and jury.
‘Don’t worry, be happy' sings Bobby McFerrin –
‘Ask, seek, knock,’ says Jesus.
Bring your worries to your heavenly Father who hears you...
bring your worries to your heavenly Father and in doing so, unburden yourself....

The Sermon on the Mount is the largest chunk of Jesus’ teaching gathered together in one place.
If the Sermon on the Mount were a meal –
I have a hunch it would be a bit like a banquet:
so many great courses making one amazing dinner.
Each course, in and of itself, important, and with its own individual flavour
to add to the whole.
And, here we are: on our third week working through the Sermon on the Mount:
we’ve discovered those who God would call blessed;
we’ve been exhorted to be salt and light in the world –
to flavour the world with the values of the kingdom of God.
We’ve heard Jesus teaching about the Law:
that God’s law is not about revenge,
God’s law is about justice soaked to the brim in mercy and compassion –
and that Jesus is the fulfilment of the Law –
the law of love...even for enemies.
Last week, Jesus moved onto matters of prayer:
of how to pray...
and provided a structure for prayer in the form of the Lord’s Prayer
and, along with prayer, a reminder of just who you’re praying to:
a reminder not to pray or do charitable acts in such a way to draw attention to yourself,
but rather, the purpose of prayer, of the spiritual life is to draw attention to God.
This last is teased out a little more this week, as Jesus talks of ‘treasure’:
where our treasure is, there our heart will be...
or, what is it that we are primarily focusing on – that takes all of our attention?
Is it God?
Or someone or something else?

‘Don’t worry, be happy’: says our theme song...
If your whole focus is taken up with collecting ‘treasures’,
of gathering up things,
of keeping up with the Joneses,
of buying into the fear that not having the latest thing will make you feel somehow less...
somehow inferior...
not cool,
or that you’re falling behind because you’re not keeping up with the latest trends,
well, that makes for a whole vicious circle of worry.
And, just when you do get a whole lot of stuff, there’s the added worry:
what if it gets damaged?
What if someone takes it?
The whole insurance industry is built on worry.

Then there’s a whole sermon we could have on issues around the human body:
I saw a report earlier in the week featuring a number of very different women.
The interviewer asked each woman, individually, how she felt about her body.
Not one responded positively:
all zoomed in on at least one thing that they hated:
too tall,
too short,
hair too fuzzy,
hair too straight,
eye colour,
skin tones.
Every    single   woman    was dissatisfied
and felt that somehow they’d failed –
as if it was personally their fault for what in reality was the genetic hand they’d been given:
for not being tall or small enough...
as if they were to blame for the texture of their hair or for having naturally dry or oily skin.
A whole culture of body shaming has been built upon
being worried about how you look...
or how others look...
A whole culture built around saying that you don’t measure up to what is an unreal standard.
Whole industries created upon insecurities...
Not having the right label, the right clothes, make up, shoes...
and, when you do get what some invisible group have determined is ‘right’ changes.
But then, consumerism feeds on the fear of lack –
is built upon worry.
And it was ever thus.
Human beings have always found ways of measuring themselves against others
and falling short:
men judged for not being athletic enough...
women, for being too athletic.
And so it goes.

Responding to this overwhelming mass of worries, Jesus redefines ‘treasure’:
shines a light on what matters in life, exposes the damage that worry causes.
Things in and of themselves aren’t bad.
Jesus isn’t trying to make everyone miserable,
rather, he’s saying that completely focusing on gathering treasures,
being driven to get more and more things,
is not a particularly helpful way forward when it comes to finding happiness in life:
It leads to worry – and a sense of never really being satisfied;
of always living your life with a feeling of lacking something...
‘if I could just have that one thing more, life would be fine...’
To which Jesus responds with a ‘no’ and directs his listeners to
‘look at the birds of the air...
Aren’t you much more valuable than they?’
And, ‘consider the lillies of the field.’
‘Solomon in all his splendour’ was positively dowdy compared to these.

Jesus reminds his listeners that they are beloved –
that God, who is into details such as ensuring that birds are fed,
and that flowers and glorious and beautiful...
that God is concerned with them –
that God is concerned with us.
Loves us.
It’s a love that fills the lack
for it’s a love that never rusts,
that can’t be destroyed or taken:
it’s a love that lasts for eternity.
‘Don’t worry, be happy’:
Writer and pastor Neil Chappell notes that:
‘The opposite of worry/fear/anxiety is faith – or better still – trust. 
If we were to trust in God as simply and completely as the birds of the air 
and the flowers of the field do, we would not be anxious. 
We WOULD still have responsibilities but we would not be anxious about them.’ 

On the first Sunday of Lent, we did that wee tradition started when I came here,
of burying the ‘alleluias’...
And when we do this, when we put them away symbolically,
we take them to the foot of the Cross.
There they sit, covered over, but we all know that they’re there.
For we know how the story of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem ends –
not with death,
but with resurrection.
Love wins.
If love wins, even over death, why should we worry?
And remember the early resurrection appearances –
Jesus’ first words are designed to take away fear, and worry:
to the women,
to the disciples,
he says ‘Peace be with you.’
And we, who worship here, who go about our day to day lives as people
who follow in Jesus’ footsteps, are inheritors of his words of peace.
Even when the whole world around us seems to be going crazy,
we need not worry, nor fear....

Find your treasure in God
and there you’ll find a place from which to navigate your way through
the strange and challenging times we’re living in.
Don’t worry about anything:
live into the promise of God’s kingdom,
live like you are God’s beloved...
treasured by God –
because you are.
Make God your treasure, your centre.

Wendell Berry – a poet and farmer – wrote a beautiful poem called
'The peace of wild things’ which beautifully echoes Jesus’ words about life
and all its potential worries:
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

‘Don’t worry,... be happy’:
and find your place of peace,
find rest from your cares...
in God’s care and love. Amen.

Saturday, 25 March 2017

40 Acts of Lent: Day 22 - Mother's Day Origins

Act twenty two - Mother's Day Origins by Peter Lynas
Surprisingly, Mother's Day started off as something completely unrelated to mums. If you trace it back, Mothering Sunday was originally the one day in the year when house servants were allowed to return home to their 'mother' church, and spend time with their own community. So on Mother's Day this year, let's take time to be generous to people we've overlooked in our community.

"Jesus saw his mother and the disciple he loved standing near her. He said to his mother, 
'Woman, here is your son.' Then to the disciple, 'Here is your mother.' 
From that moment the disciple accepted her as his own mother."
                                                                                                    John 19:26–27 (The Message Bible)
'I'm not a mum' was my immediate thought when I was asked to write a reflection for Mother's Day. But of course you don't get a mum to write on the day we celebrate mums. I do however have a mum, I'm married to a mum and I am Dad to a couple of mums in the making – in about 20 years. Mums have shaped my life and I am so thankful for them.

I'm one of three boys and though we weren't particularly troublesome my mum spent her fair share of time at various sporting events, at A&E and possibly at the odd police interview – for my brothers obviously. No wonder she had a wooden spoon – though I couldn't possibly say what for!

But Mother's Day can also be tough for those who, for all sorts of reasons, won't be able to celebrate or be celebrated. That's when Jesus' words really kick in. He isn't abolishing or undermining family as we know it, but he is enlarging our understanding – telling John to look after his mum as if she were his own and telling his mum that John was her new son.

We tend to think of Mother's Day as being exclusively for mums but Mothering Sunday has roots that spread much wider. It was the one day in the year when house servants were allowed to return home to their 'mother' church; it's a day to re-establish connections and honour the people and communities that nurtured us.

So on Mother's Day this year, let's take up Jesus' challenge to honour, celebrate and embrace all the mum figures in our community, whether they be biological, step- or spiritual mums.

Choose how to complete this act...
Let's acknowledge the mothers in our lives, but why not push the boat out more than usual this weekend? No more garage forecourt flowers or hastily scribbled cards. But, let's also be more mindful of those near us who might be overlooked today. Those who'll find this weekend hard for a variety of reasons.

Working this weekend, leading a team, or know tired people serving at church? Could you step in and cover them so they can go home early to spend time with their families?

Plan a lunch for tomorrow for more than just your own family. Invite your church family. Make a plan with others, so that everyone you know (especially those on the margins) is looked after today – whatever their family circumstances.

Friday, 24 March 2017

40 Acts of Lent: Day 21 - refuge

Act twenty one - Refuge by Paul Catterall
It's not exaggerating to say the world today is a divided, polarised place. Attitudes to the 'other' and, frankly, anything outside of our own culture, have shifted positions of fear into the mainstream. Now is the time to counter fear with generosity and ask the question – who is our neighbour?

"For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, 
I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 
I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me..." 
                                                                                                                  Matthew 25:35–36 (NIV)

The Bible teaches us much about God's heart for the poor and the 'sojourner' – the stranger living amongst us. Jesus himself spent time as an asylum seeker in Egypt where his parents fled from Herod's genocide. There is a whole book in the Bible that tells the story of Ruth the Moabite 'refugee' who married Boaz. Have you ever wondered why Matthew lists Ruth and four other women in his genealogy of Jesus? Because quite simply the good news – the gospel – is for everyone whatever their background or past.

God calls us to love Him and to love our neighbour; these are the two most important commandments (Luke 10:27 and Matthew 22:37-39). Acts 1 tells us that we are to receive the Holy Spirit and then to be witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the world.

This was made very real for us at Jubilee Church Teesside when in 2000 we began to have visitors who were asylum seekers from the ends of the world. What was then a predominantly white British church was about to change. New friendships were spawned and the eyes of the church were opened to ways of responding to the many difficulties faced by the much wider refugee community living locally but made up of people from different faith backgrounds who had fled persecution and conflict and sought sanctuary in the UK. With the aim of showing the love of God to everyone seeking refuge, members of Jubilee Church got to work – a move that eventually led to the formation of Open Door North East.

One particular story really sums it all up. Kamilia (name changed) was a Muslim lady abused and rejected by her husband and then abandoned in the UK. She was sleeping in a shop storeroom when we first met her. When she eventually got her refugee status she came to say thank you and these are the words she said to us without realising that she was quoting the very words of Jesus:
'I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me.'

Choose how to complete this act...

GREEN OPTION: Sometimes the most generous thing we can do is educate ourselves on the issues. Take time today to look into which newspapers spread fear about refugees, then write to the companies who advertise in them (major supermarkets are a good place to start), asking them to remove their funding from the papers. You could also do your own research into migrant groups in your area.

YELLOW OPTION: Make a practical difference today for those seeking refuge. Men, this is your time for a clear-out (groups supporting refugees often report low numbers of good quality men's clothes). Or regularly donate tinned and dried food to those helping destitute asylum seekers or check out Welcome Boxes, a group who make arriving in a foreign land a little bit easier for refugees.

RED OPTION: Can you play a bigger role in reaching out and caring for asylum seekers and refugees who are far away from home?  You might be just the person to set up a new Welcome Box project in your town, or offer help to Home for Good's work with refugee children, or support one of the many excellent The No Accommodation Network (NACCOM) member projects providing hosting and homes for asylum seekers left destitute and with no recourse to public funding in the UK.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

40 Acts of Lent: Day 20 - React

Act 20 - Restock

Today is not beginning as any of us planned or hoped as we hit the midway point of Lent and 40acts. Yesterday, innocent lives were lost during a senseless attack in the heart of our capital. In these moments of terror and uncertainty we must never forget that we can control one important thing, how we react. Today we're calling on you, the 40acts community, to double down on generosity and love for others.
“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season 
we will reap, if we do not give up.” 
                                                                                                          Galatians 6:9 (ESV)

Your thought for today: 
Yesterday started just like any other day.
It ended with an attack on innocent people and the home of our democracy.
The hours after followed a pattern with which we are all too familiar: shock, disbelief and fear followed by mourning, a deep sense of loss and resigning oneself to face tomorrow with courage and determination.
During my journey home on the tube I struggled for answers and for words.  And then I remembered the comment, widely reported at the time, uttered by an Amish man whose granddaughter had just been murdered while at school by a man intent on horrific acts of violence.
"We must not think evil of this man."
Another member of the man's Amish community had continued, "He had a mother and a wife and a soul and now he's standing before a just God."
These men were living through an attack on their children, their community and their quiet and peaceful lives.
Hours after the horrific shooting that had left 6 people dead (including the gunman), members of this Amish community were comforting the widow of the man who had killed their loved ones.  It was reported that one Amish man held the father of the gunman in his arms for perhaps an hour while comforting him in his grief.
What motivated these people to such extraordinary acts of forgiveness, sacrifice and love?
The good news of Jesus Christ. It changes everything.
We're halfway through Lent and 40acts.  As a community inspired by the single greatest act of generosity the world has even witnessed – the cross – we seek to live lives of radical generosity to our neighbours. All of them.
Before Jesus died on the cross He asked the Father to forgive those who persecuted Him.  He sacrificed His own life as atonement for our sins.
With this in mind, we must not think evil of this man. Nor must we allow fear to creep into our communities as a result.
We, who have received forgiveness, must be generous with our forgiveness for others.
We must rise above the temptation to hate, to marginalise, to alienate.
We must treat our neighbours as ourselves.
We must forgive.
We must love.

No options, just radical, generous love today...
Wherever you are today, the most generous thing we can do is share the hope that is within us with those around us. How can you extend hope on a day like today to your colleagues, neighbours and friends?
A smile at the stranger on the bus, holding open doors, putting others first. Treating stressed out colleagues to lunch, a message of support to the emergency services or your local MP. Gathering together to pray for our communities.
Love and compassion today will take many forms.
Let us not grow weary of doing good

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

40 Acts of Lent: Day 19 - on time

Act 19 - On Time

Act nineteen - On Time  by Chine McDonald
What does being on time have to do with generosity? A whole heap more than you'd think. Keeping others waiting starts with a belief – however buried – that our time is worth more than theirs. We can become expert in finding reasons why our lateness is justified but do we consider the impact it has? Time to consider the generosity of punctuality. Challenging a lifestyle of lateness is a simple way to start being generous in unexpected ways. Rally yourself up to the task of being on time.

"So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you..." 
                                                                                                                      (Matthew 7:12 NIV)
When I was younger, I was a stickler for timekeeping. Perhaps as an unconscious effort to rebel against the concept of 'African Time' that I had grown up experiencing, I hated the idea of being late. As the editor of a magazine, I remain that little girl who will do anything to be on time – even if it means less sleep. As someone who has always wanted to be a journalist, I have grown up revering the Holy Grail that is 'The Deadline'. Journalists are slaves to them. We thrive on the adrenaline that comes with an impossible deadline. If we fail to meet them, we feel our journalistic credentials are somehow tarnished. But it's not just about our CVs. A reporter on a paper who fails to file a story in time holds up the whole production line – the subs desks, the printers and the delivery vans, which means the newsagents don't get their stock and Mrs Smith isn't able to read her paper over breakfast.

Journalistic deadlines aside, I've found that as I've grown older, and maybe more self-centred, I've become less punctual. Instead of a desperate scramble to make sure I get to an appointment early, I've become comfortable sauntering in two, three, five, or even ten minutes late. Maybe because I've stopped off to get a coffee beforehand. Maybe because I just had to have those extra few moments in bed. Maybe because I've essentially been thinking about what's most comfortable for me, even if it means making others wait.

Being punctual is more than just good manners. It's a mark of consideration for others and a demonstration of the Golden Rule in which Jesus commands us in Matthew 7:12: 'So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you.'

Choose how to complete this act...
What and who needs you to be on time today? Make sure you arrive/deliver/respond on time. (And if you've arranged to meet a friend today, avoid the 'running a few minutes late' text by setting out                    ten minutes before you need to.)

How about being early? Send what you need to send before the deadline, arrive early to greet your colleagues before work today, arrive early to catch friends when you hang out with them. And so on.

Early AND organised? Arrive early to that meeting or get-together, organise the room if it needs it, get the refreshments in, and sort out everyone's favourite treat.
           You never know, you might make their day.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

40 Acts of Lent: Day 18 - pray

Act 18 - Pray
Prayer works best when we don't think of it as a task. We don't have to pray – we get to pray.
When we understand that prayer's a good gift from our generous Father, who's keen to talk with us, prayer isn’t another rod on our backs, but a joy.
We can be creative with how we talk to God.

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; 
for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”   
                                                                                                         1 Thessalonians 5:16–18 (ESV)

Your thought for today: 
I have to admit that, like many of us, I sometimes struggle to pray. Most of us if we are honest would love to have a better ‘prayer life’. Even with the best intentions, we can be distracted.
Here are some things that have helped me to pray more in all kinds of situations.

  • Writing to God: In difficult times, I have found it hard to pray, so I have written to God about how I have been feeling. I have felt the presence of God powerfully at these times and felt God’s tender loving care.
  • The Ironing Prayer: I’m not a fan of ironing, but I almost look forward to it since I turned it into an opportunity to pray for my family. As I iron their clothes, I pray about situations facing them and sometimes feel God prompting me to think differently. 
  • The Fridge List: In the past I have written a list of people’s names on my fridge to remind me to pray for them every time I open the fridge. You would be surprised how many times you end up praying each day!
  • The Prayer Room: I have just moved house and I am decorating a ‘prayer space’ with family and friend photos, to remind me to pray for God to intervene in their lives. Over time, praying in this place becomes a place of refuge, as the peace of God can be felt. For several years I have been praying for a friend to become a Christian: she has in recent weeks! 
  • A Mile with Jesus: You ask Jesus to travel with you by car, by train, walking or at home with a map. When I have done this, God has shown me the love He has for EVERYONE and has led me to pray for complete strangers in ways I would never have considered.

For all of us, we will find it sometimes easier to connect with God than at other times. The secret to prayer is to persevere, to keep praying on all occasions and with thanksgiving.
Whatever you face today, I am certain that inviting God into the situation will transform it.

Choose how you’ll complete today’s act: 

Create a clear space for prayer. Look at your typical day and decide where and when prayer could fit into your routine. If you’re already doing this, pray more.  Downloading the Prayermate app is a great place to start!

Get creative with your prayers: pray for your town or city while you walk to work; pray for a different person every lap of the pool you swim; pray for a friend every time you brush your teeth – the possibilities are endless!

Involve others - team up with someone to pray regularly or organise a prayer walk in your local area. Sign up to pray for your street as part of the Neighbourhood Prayer Network.

Monday, 20 March 2017

40 Acts of Lent: day 17 - Generation

Act seventeen - Generation   by Tola Fisher
An elderly person sitting alone for days; a new mum on her own with the baby and no one to share the moments and the pressure with; a teenager struggling to make friends. We're missing out if we only interact with our own generation, and we're leaving others isolated. Today, generosity steps out of its box as we celebrate the richness of mixing with different generations with simple acts of presence, conversation, and touch.

"The commandments, 'You shall not commit adultery,' 'You shall not murder,' 
'You shall not steal,' 'You shall not covet,' and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: 
'Love your neighbour as yourself.' Love does no harm to a neighbour. 
Therefore love is the fulfilment of the law."
                                                                                                               (Romans 13:9-10 NIV)
My decision to take a sabbatical from work to do a ski season last year on the wrong side of 30 was not something I entered into lightly. When watching Chalet Girl beforehand, I knew it wouldn't be exactly like the film (although, being totally awesome in a ski competition and meeting a hot, rich guy wouldn't be too bad...), but I didn't see how teenagers, most of whom would have just left home, could run a chalet and deliver quality service to hundreds of paying guests.

I'll be honest, I expected chaos. I prepared myself for tears, drama and high jinx but looking back I can say I've shaken off the judgement clouding the experience. We had all of the above but it also helped me address some of my own issues. I've never been particularly good with failure and, as an adult, skiing was much harder to learn but, in the way that falling down does not prevent a toddler from learning to walk, I was amazed that the only person judging me for my spectacular wipe outs on the slopes was me. The thing is, when you're young, you're always learning, but as an adult we somehow think we have to have it all figured out and anything less than that is frankly embarrassing.

Our common purpose bonded us in a way no other situation could and acceptance plays a big part in that. I learned that I have much to give and receive from living with strangers, including the opportunity to channel my natural maternal instinct towards the support of others in the absence of their own parental guidance. I was the 'Chalet Mum' and I still miss my team today.

I remember thinking, as a teenager, that the world was my oyster and that my future held endless, joyous possibilities. As an adult, stone cold reality had sucked that out of me but spending time with my young team, all so energetic and full of life, reminded me that I can still chase those dreams. Even they didn't see age as a barrier!

Choose how to complete this act...
Got five mins? Call your grandma, or your grandson, or your teenage cousin. Make a point of reconnecting with someone from a different generation.

Got a neighbour you could go hang out with? More specifically, what about a lonely older neighbour? Or a young mum or dad who you could go and listen to and share your own experiences with? While you're there you might find there's something you can do with them over time – a shared interest, or a favour like mowing their lawn.

Feeling genuinely inspired? Find out how to become a mentor to a young person, or a young colleague. Look into joining a befriending scheme for older people who might not have much interaction with the world.


Sunday, 19 March 2017

Sermon, Sunday 19 March wk29: Prayer - just do it...WMRBW

READINGS: Ps 131; Matt. 6:1-18                                
Let’s pray: May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of all our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

I was sitting in the rec. room at Bible College.
It was the 1980’s –
I confess to wearing what could only be described as a poodle perm.
But there I was, quietly sitting on a sofa reading for self-improvement.
In the background, the sound of a ping-pong ball
was...well, pinging and ponging across a table.
Two of the more energetic and rather competitive young chaps
were in a serious battle of wills, trying to out-do the other.
I turned my attention back to my self-improving book –
a book on prayer.

As I read, a feeling of despondency...and guilt... crept in.
As the writer described the hard work of a disciplined prayer life, and how one should pray,
I was realising that clearly, I just didn’t measure up to his standards.
At that moment, I’m sure the thought of heading off
to find something more agreeable to do, like eating some chocolate,
probably wandered through my head.
Whatever cheerfully distracting thought did pass through my head,
instead, I steeled my resolve, and attended to the wretched book once more.
But not for long.
A huge shout and a cheer from the ping pong match went up.
Game over, and the boys came across to join me.
They looked at the book.
‘Ahh great book!’ said one.
I smiled, an unconvincing way.
‘Nothing like spending time with God,’ ventured the other. He continued:
‘It’s such a privilege and a joy, you know. I get up at 7 and then I’m at prayer by 7.30. 
That hour of prayer sets me up for the rest of the day.’
I smiled again.
Before I could reply, the first responded:
‘7.30? ...Really?  An hour...only an hour? 
I make a practice of getting up at 5, with the aim to be on my knees in prayer by 5.30. 
That three hours in prayer is precious, precious time with my heavenly Father. 
I can’t imagine spending any time less than that in prayer.’
They began a deep and meaningful conversation on prayer that was
as competitive in nature as their game of ping pong had been.
A serious battle of wills commenced, as both once again
were caught up in trying to out-do the other.
I watched this spiritual slugging match for all of about 5 minutes,
then slunk out, into the night, clearly a spiritual lightweight.
The self-improving prayer book was quietly put aside for the evening
in favour of listening to cheerful music with equally lightweight pals.

Over the two years at Bible College, there were many other self-improving books on prayer.
One advised, in a rather admonishing tone that if you only had one hour to spare for prayer,
the most efficient way of praying would be to break that hour into timed sections:
5 minutes for praising God;
15 minutes for confessing how much you really didn’t measure up;
5 minutes to thank God for His many blessings;
25 minutes to pray for the world, and for others;
5 minutes to bring to God your own prayer needs;
and then, to finish up,
5 minutes for a little more praise.

Each self-improving prayer book did it’s darnedest to instruct one in the art of prayer –
each with its own particular method,
each quite concerned about just how efficient your prayer should be.
It was the language of time management and getting results.
It was the language of business and sales targets.
It was a language I struggled with, as I tried so hard to fit myself
into the spiritual box and measure up, when it came to prayer.
I listened to other competitions, disguised as conversations, on the subject of prayer...
And continued to feel beaten down by it all, and filled with guilt.
Really, all I wanted to do was have a quiet chat with God...
but the books made it feel almost impossible just to settle for that,
and the conversations I’d heard just made me feel shame.

It’s a funny old thing, isn’t it:
that when the subject of prayer comes up, so often, there can be a feeling of guilt.
We know we should crack on with praying, some of us have even overheard
those odd spiritually competitive conversations on prayer.
And you know, I suspect, that these sorts of conversations, which are essentially
a form of boasting about how pious, how spiritual a person is, ...are nothing new.
In fact, we know this, because Jesus, in our passage from the gospel of Matthew
tells us that it’s happening and says to those listening to him
'Gonnae no do that.'
Especially when previously, in an earlier chunk of this very same section of teaching,
Jesus encourages his followers to let their
‘light shine before others, so they may see your good works 
and give glory to your Father in heaven.’
This in Matthew 5 verse 15.
So, what’s this   all about?
I wonder if it’s about motivation?
If Matthew 5 verse 15 is focused upon giving glory to God,
this later section in chapter 6 examines just where else the glory might be given.
Rather than shining a light on God, this very public, showy kind of prayer
has as it’s motivation a desire to place the focus squarely on
the person praying, ...or fasting, or almsgiving –
three particular forms of spiritual practice in Judaism at that time.
The aim was to play to an audience, and rather than put God at the centre,
it was – and still is – about putting the one doing the act of piety in the spotlight.

Jesus here, is critical of an approach to prayer and piety that is very much:
‘Look at me! Look at how fabulously spiritual I am!’
Jesus asks his followers:
Why are we are praying, or helping the needy, or fasting? What’s our motivation?
Is it to impress others?
If it’s to impress others, well, a big show is needed.
People should see...
and, being seen, for the person who is seemingly being very spiritual, becomes it's own reward.

There are several problems with this approach:
obviously, the motive is all messed up...
but there’s also this:
perhaps those looking on might be impressed,
but perhaps they might also be mightily discouraged,
might feel that they could never pray or be as spiritual as the one putting on such a show...
might feel that for whatever reason, they don’t seem to fit the right spiritual box...
and they might feel shame for being something –
being someone that they were not created to be in the first place.
It harms those who sincerely want to love God,
but just don’t feel they play spiritual ping pong very well...

Jesus asks his followers:
Why we are praying, or helping the needy, or fasting – what’s our motivation?
And shows a different way, with a different focus:
that prayer and any other ways of practising spirituality should come though
a desire to express one’s love of God...
and a desire to express a love of neighbour.

Jesus asks his followers just to be real, to be authentic,
and to look to, and focus upon God –
whose love is reward enough.
Jesus asks his followers to get on with loving God,
by spending time with God.
He offers a simple framework for prayer for followers who might get stuck...
but in the end, he teaches his followers – us –
in that strangely counter-intuitive way he seems to have,
that, the best way of shining one’s light so that people give glory to God,
comes, not from a competing in some public spiritual Olympics,
but rather, comes from a heart focused upon love and service to God,
where prayer is done quietly in whatever way encourages a relationship
with the One who loves, and is faithful to us.
We turn to God in the quietness of our hearts, in the way that is true to who we are.
If getting up at 5 and praying solid for 3 hours in the morning works for you – great.
Do it.
If you have the sort of personality that likes a more structured framework
to help you keep focused upon God, then by all means pray in timed sections.
But, if you find your natural way of being with God is done by rambling in the woods
or tramping up to the tops of hills... that’s fine too.
Make space to work out how best you pray – where, and when...
And then,

Oh, and in the end, my own wrestling with how to pray eventually resulted in an answer –
a way of praying that suited who I am, which was a relief.
And yes, I discovered that just wanting to have a chat with God
without any additional suggestions from some of those self-improving books, was just fine.
What I’ve also discovered over the years is that the matter of prayer is a lifetime’s work –
that we’re in it for the long haul...
but we’re in it with God
who knows all our thoughts,
all our prayers,
spoken and unspoken.
God understands the garbled mess of words we sometimes come out with,
and hears the cry from the heart that we may not even know we’ve uttered.
God is with us in this journey of prayer.

Jesus, teaching his disciples, encourages them to examine why they pray;
encourages them to pray.
So I say to you:
Pray in the way that is uniquely your way
of being with God –
pray without guilt,
and pray without feeling shame caused by those who want to turn prayer into a competition
or who claim prayer can only be done this or that way.
Crack on, and pray:
with God at the centre,
with God as your focus,
with love for God as your motive...
Pray to the One who loves you
and who hears you,
and who is with you.
And, as you do so, you might just find yourself bearing spiritual fruit
that helps bring in God’s kingdom
and also, find yourself transformed in the process. Amen.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

40 Acts of Lent: Day 16 - Beyond

Act 16 - Beyond

Jesus didn’t settle for ‘just enough’ or the wine at the wedding would have been drinkable rather than top quality. So today, scale it up! Don’t measure out the generosity – go large.

 “See what great love the Father has lavished on us; 
that we should be called children of God.” 
                                                                                                           1 John 3:1 (NIV) 

Your thought for today: 
When generosity goes ‘beyond’ it somehow stays with us, like an indelible mark. Like the time the girl standing behind me in the lunch queue covered the bill without hesitation when she saw that I hadn’t enough money to buy my lunch. Or the time I visited Thailand for 3 weeks and stayed with a lady who housed and discipled 16 teenage girls in a two-bedroom flat. This lady shared absolutely everything she owned with the girls. Her generosity went well beyond our expectation, hosting dinner each night for us when she barely had enough food for herself.
Just last summer I was having pancakes with a large group of young students and when it came to paying the bill, we learnt that one of the students had paid for the entire group’s drinks and meals with the very little money he had.

1 John 3:1 talks of our identity as Children of God; we are those who have been lavishly loved through Jesus. It also gives us reason to believe that our generosity should therefore be lavish. To be lavish with what you have is to give open-handedly and abundantly. Radical generosity is the surrender of our time, talents, and treasures as an act of love to others, without expecting anything in return.

I wonder what our culture would look like if we were lavish in our generosity, going beyond expectation simply because we love other people rather than as a response. It might look different in each individual’s life and context, but it would be an incredible witness of the Father’s love to our friends. I challenge you to bless someone unexpectedly this week. Wherever you are, go beyond their expectation, step out of your comfort zone and really surprise someone, or some group, with God’s overflowing love and grace.

Choose how you’ll complete today’s act: 

Has someone done you a good turn lately? Go out of your way to thank them with an extra twist of appreciation. Tell someone what a great job they’re doing – just because. Your turn for the washing up?             Do the drying up too.

What today hold for you? Watch out for generous opportunities and then knock it out the park for good measure. Find a way to bless someone over and above.

What's the most extravagant present you've ever been given? If you went the whole hog, no expense spared, what similar thing could you do today for someone you know? This doesn’t have to be financial            – use your imagination to be extravagant – but think creatively with whatever resources you have.

Friday, 17 March 2017

40 Acts of Lent: Day 15 - Influence

Act 15 - Influence
Act fifteen - Influence by Alexandra Khan
We all have influence, even if we're not aware of it. It's not something reserved for limelight seekers. Influence is simply the impact we have on others that changes how they feel or act. Think about the areas of your life where you have a voice that's listened to. You might be naturally sociable and have a wide network of friends, or have a close group of those who trust you. Wherever your influence is, use it wisely and generously today.

"Do not despise these small beginnings…"  
                                                                                              Zechariah 4:10 (NLT)

In late 2010 I sat in Café Rouge with the man who would become my line manager. "Where do you want to be in five years?" he asked.
I was 23; young enough to believe I could still change the world, old enough to know I couldn't just sit and wait for it to happen.
"In five years I want your job," I replied, without skipping a beat.

Fast forward nearly seven years. I still don't have my manager's job, nor do I have the kind of influence I thought I'd have at the age of 30. I've grown in unexpected ways. My knowledge and experience have opened up different spheres of influence. And actually, I'm alright with that.

Having influence isn't about the number of Instagram followers you have or the title on your business card. It's about using what's in your hand.
For me, that looked like this:

Taking traumatic life experiences and using them to help others with similar struggles
Using my love of digital media to help grow one of the most generous communities in the world (here's looking at you, 40activists)
Speaking out and then putting my money where my mouth is for causes that I'm passionate about, like domestic abuse, clean water and poverty relief

For others, that looks like using a skill in a selfless way every day, or being a dedicated parent, or climbing to CEO of a mega corporation, or being distinctly ordinary and yet still extraordinarily distinct because that is how each of us was created to be.

We all have influence, and it isn't linked to our job titles or our following (Jesus started out with just 12 followers). Your influence is limited only by what you are prepared to do with the gifts, experiences and passions you've been given.
Consider them, today. And be inspired to use them generously.

Choose how to complete this act...

Not sure you have much influence in other people's lives? Think about who you interact with on a daily or weekly basis. How do you behave around them or on social media?
           Are there things you need to change? Could you make more of a conscious effort to                                         engage with others more meaningfully?

It's easy to feel powerless in the face of large scale injustice or to switch off when it comes to national or international events.
            But you have influence that reaches much further than just those in your day-to-day.
              Take stock of what you feel passionate about. Can you write a letter, add your name to a                               campaign, share something on social media? Don't file it away for later – do it now.

If you really want to go all out, publicise your cause/charity with an event. It may not happen today or this week, but you can get the ball rolling with inviting a speaker, and researching a venue.
           Make a big noise, and create some community memories to boot.