The Most Sacred Place

A marble slab covering the rock-carved tomb in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem’s Old City has been lifted as part of a delicate $4m restoration of the most sacred monument in Christianity…

From Jesus’s Tomb in Jerusalem Exposed by Conservationists

Reading about this made me pause and reflect on the difference between the concept of ‘religion’, with its sacred places and concrete expressions of the inexpressible, the ‘religion’ in which God, or gods, are always at arm’s length, forever requiring my obeisance and devotion-at-a-distance. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to visit Jerusalem and the church where Jesus was said to be laid to rest (albeit briefly)!

Unlike the world’s idea of ‘religion’, however, it would not be because I believed something special could occur because I was there. There is no special place in the whole of creation where God is more accessible than anywhere else. The most sacred monument in Christianity is never going to be carved in stone. It’s just not possible.

All of us who are part of the Body of Christ are the most sacred monument to His presence. God’s presence, His favour, His nearness, are never found outside of ourselves. When we choose to follow Jesus, when we choose to give ourselves back to our Creator, we are His presence. If you want to be close to Him, if you want to find a place where He can reach you, or you can reach Him, you don’t have to go anywhere; you just have to love. You just have to be kind. You just have to be.

Immerse yourself deeply among people, by sharing their life, by friendship and by love. Give yourself to them completely, like Jesus, who came to serve and not to be served; you, too, become one with them. Then you will be like leaven, which must lose itself in the dough to make it rise.

~ Little Sister Magdalene (as quoted by Contemplative in the Mud)

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest… learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls…”

~extract from Matthew 11:28,29 (NRSVA)

Choices

One of the first things I learned at Celebrate Recovery is that I can make choices. I also learned that my choices affect my life and the lives of those around me. Childhood abuse robs the victim of the awareness of being able to make choices, and as an adult I am still learning this. On the other hand, it has given me a keen insight into how and where we make choices and how seemingly innocuous acts can be part of something that helps another human being, or something that actively harms them, even though we’re not actively aware of it at the time. I think we who call ourselves followers of Christ must take stock of our choices, particularly in our consumer-driven culture.

…the endless debates about the rights and wrongs of aid often obscure what really matters, not so much where the money comes from but where it goes…

No one in the aid debate really disagrees with the basic premise that we should help the poor when we can… The philosopher Peter Singer has written about the moral imperative to save the lives of those we don’t know. He observes that most people would willingly sacrifice a US$1,000 suit to rescue a child seen drowning in a pond, and argues that there should be no difference between that drowning child and the nine million children who, every year, die before their fifth birthday. 

~ from Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty

by Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo

For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish…

Mark 14:7 (NRSVA)

For the first time in history it is possible to eradicate extreme poverty (defined as those living on less than US$1.25 a day). One thing we can do, as ordinary people who are not managers of NGOs or politicians or Bill Gates, is to make ethical choices in various aspects of our lives. I can choose to buy food that has been produced by someone who received a fair wage, I can choose to buy clothing not produced in a sweatshop, I can choose to be a good steward of the resources I have been granted. I can choose not to buy or use the services of companies that are known to exploit people or resources.

Part of this choice for our family has been to sponsor a child through Compassion UK. Compassion work with and through local churches in more than 30 of the world’s poorest countries and, because of this, people’s needs can be met more accurately. They are child-focussed, Christ-centred and compassion-based. Theirs is the only child sponsorship programme that has been proven to work and Compassion always publish their yearly accounts for the public to view. Click the link on the right hand side of this page to find out more. You may need to scroll down to see it.

The Very Thought of You

Our dear boy has been poorly. He spent a week in hospital and is now home and feeling very sorry for himself. We are assured it’s nothing serious, but how do you explain that to a young man with autism who can’t understand why he is in pain? Yet these things do bring us closer to one another, and thus closer to God, because in each small (or large) act of patience or kindness there is an eternity of love: there’s God. Our friends who live in the city (where the hospital is) welcomed me into their home last week for as long as I needed it. I recalled the words of Jesus to His disciples:

“We are intimately linked in this harvest work. Anyone who accepts what you do, accepts me… Accepting someone’s help is as good as giving someone help… It’s best to start small. Give a cool cup of water to someone who is thirsty, for instance. The smallest act of giving or receiving makes you a true apprentice. You won’t miss out on a thing.”

extract from Matthew 10:40-42, The Message

So I just want to say thank you, especially to Frank, who took on the role of mummy and daddy while Prince was in hospital and I had to be away from home. Frank is currently in London on business and I miss him. For six years he has been my best friend, my lover, my confidant and I love him more and more (plus, I don’t know how he puts up with me). So this is for him (and Him):

https://m.youtube.com/?hl=en-GB&gl=GB#/watch?v=cr4ncMR5EVQ

 

My Brothers, My Sisters

Caring isn’t a Christian’s sideline hobby. Caring is a Christian’s complete career. We don’t just care about people — caring about people is our job — the job every single one of us get up to do every single day. That’s it. Caring is our job, our point, our purpose. We’re here to care like a boss… 

Because God forbid, you don’t get a roof over your head, food on your table and the safety of no bullets shattering your windows because you deserve more — you only get all that so that you get to serve more.’

Read more of Ann Voskamp’s brutally honest post about the desperate realities of life as a refugee fleeing Islamic State here:

Into Iraq #2: What the News isn’t Telling You & Why We Can’t Afford to Pretend it’s Not Happening

You can donate via Ann’s page to The Preemptive Love Coalition, or you can donate to Open Doors. Both are there on the ground with the refugees. I have no more words. Just read it. Please. Give what you can.

Reblog: Advent Activities

I am so looking forward to using our advent wreath this year, with the accompanying book Unwrapping the Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp. We are going to inherit my parents’ Christmas tree and we’ll decorate with home made ornaments created using origami and salt dough. Today is ‘make Christmas cards’ day, using cards from last year 😀

I am also thrilled to be trying out Ann’s guide to a grateful Christmas, where the focus is gently moved away from consumerism and back towards a celebration of the birth of the most special baby.

My Make Do and Mend Year

As Christmas of My Make Do and Mend Year approached a couple of years ago, I had a rant about advent calendars, and blogged about my idea for doing an activity each day with the Smalls.
I totally LOVE this idea, probably more than the kids do. They have been bought Lego calendars by a relative, which I am sure will be a billion times more exciting than my attempts to step away from consumerism, but I am determined to persevere with this idea!

So for anyone else wanting to do a similar thing, here is my list of 24 Advent Activities for you to pick from if you’d like 🙂
I’ve tried to vary it a bit from last years, but some of these things are becoming tradition.
(I know it’s probably too late now, but if you are still wanting a homemade Advent calendar, then there are…

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Consider Yourself at Home

Jesus… looked at the people sitting around him and said, “Look! Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does what God wants is my brother, my sister, my mother.”

Mark 3:33-35 (GNT)

‘Consider yourself at home’ is how we should welcome people into our churches. This is how we should love one another within our churches. There should be no ‘insiders’, no ‘outsiders’. We should greet one another as if we are greeting Jesus, for we all belong to Him, we all live through Him, we all live in Him. We should value one another as we value Jesus, forgetting our differences, recalling our shared joy, our shared hope.

We have many parts in the one body, and all these parts have different functions. In the same way, though we are many, we are one body in union with Christ, and we are all joined to each other as different parts of one body. So we are to use our different gifts in accordance with the grace that God has given us. If our gift is to speak God’s message, we should do it according to the faith that we have; if it is to serve, we should serve; if it is to teach, we should teach; if it is to encourage others, we should do so. Whoever shares with others should do it generously; whoever has authority should work hard; whoever shows kindness to others should do it cheerfully.

Romans 12:4-8

Church should be the place where we model community, the community that our culture has so sadly lost. Church should be the place where outsiders can come and meet Christ in the warmth, in the generosity and in the loving wisdom of those who are already there. Together, Christ uses our fractured, broken, silly selves to make a glorious reflection of His face.

A Voice for the Voiceless: The White Ribbon Alliance

Speak up for people who cannot speak for themselves…

Proverbs 31:8 (GNT)

Remove the chains of oppression and the yoke of injustice, and let the oppressed go free.

Isaiah 58:6 (GNT)

…your light must shine before people, so that they will see the good things you do and praise your Father in heaven.

Matthew 5:16 (GNT)

Immerse yourself deeply among people by sharing their life, by friendship and by love. Give yourself to them completely, like Jesus who came to serve and not to be served; you, too, become one with them. Then you will be like leaven which must lose itself in the dough to make it rise.

Little Sister Magdeleine (1898–1989)***

*** From Contemplative in the Mud

THE CALLING

Wonderful post today from Ann Voskamp over on Catalyst Conference, How not to Miss Your Real Life Calling. One of the most surprising things, I have found, is God’s desire for mercy rather than rules.

Later, as Jesus was in the house sitting at the dinner-table, a good many tax-collectors and other disreputable people came on the scene and joined him and his disciples. The Pharisees noticed this and said to the disciples, “Why does your master have his meals with tax-collectors and sinners?” But Jesus heard this and replied, “It is not the fit and flourishing who need the doctor, but those who are ill! Suppose you go away and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice’…”

Matthew 9:10-13 (JB Phillips)

When I think about this I recall the number of times Jesus ‘broke the rules’ and got up the noses of the Pharisees, etc. A life with Christ doesn’t follow society’s conventions – instead we learn to share Jesus’ radical, groundbreaking, earth shattering, curtain-tearing love.

…Jesus uttered a loud cry, and breathed out His life.

And the curtain [of the Holy of Holies] of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.

Mark 15:37,38 (Amplified)

Doing God’s will makes you neither special nor worthless. Grace is not given because of your endeavours, or lack thereof. Grace is freely bestowed. This is why we love.

Illness. Lent. Possibility.

Yesterday I came across the blog of someone I knew in childhood and who, to all intents and purposes, seems to have led a charmed life. She is a successful photographer. I don’t want to deny her that success – of course not. She was always artistic as a child so I can see where her talent and skills came from. But for several hours afterwards I felt like I was useless. Less than. I wondered whatever happened to my hopes from childhood, what happened to that bright-eyed little girl who was once top of the class? I was reminded more than ever of the fact that I am unwell, I’ve not had a ‘normal’ life and that I gave up on having any ‘dreams’ at all a long time ago.

 

But… this is what happens when we look at ourselves through the world’s eyes. When we start comparing. This is a neat trick of the enemy – it is oh-so-easy to compare myself to others – not just in terms of my achievements, but my intelligence, my looks, my <ahem> weight… The objectification of women so prevalent in our culture is not just a result of the actions of men. Women wholeheartedly buy into it and ‘sell’ themselves too – by which I mean we place a worldly value on ourselves when we only value ourselves in the world’s terms.

 

When I look at myself with un-worldly eyes, i.e. the Holy Spirit, I can see how much I have suffered, yes, but also how far I have been redeemed! Then I see that this suffering has been, in a strange way, a gift, or at least it has brought with it some quite extraordinary gifts which are not come by except by suffering. I know there are plenty of my readers who will relate to this because they have been through their own ordeals. One of the most precious gifts suffering produces is that of compassion. As my online blogger friend Christine over at Glory to God blog put it, I am ‘not afraid of brokenness’. What a wonderful, insightful compliment. That really made my day (we followers of Christ would do well to encourage one another more, don’t you think?).

 

[Of course, I had to go and spoil it by showing the neighbourhood kids that I am Crazy Shouty Lady. I told a group of them off when my two girls came in sobbing their little hearts out. Tiger Mother Crazy Shouty Me didn’t stop to ask God what the right way to resolve the situation might be <wince>. On the other hand, a few years ago I wouldn’t have said boo to a goose, even a belligerent bunch of kids, and now look at me all Shouty… I dunno…]

Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner

 

Having said that, I do get fed up with this illness. It is so frustrating! Six months I have been on this programme of treatment and I’ve not got far. This is my fault. I have tried to rush my recovery and every time I do, I set myself back. Stupid is as stupid does o_O Only it’s not stupid, not really. It’s just me trying to be ‘all things to all people’ (which is good) but in my own strength (which is bad). I don’t have much physical strength, let alone spiritual muscle (ha!). But all this is teaching me to rely on God for literally every step that I take. If I do too much, which is easily done, I spend the next few days bedridden – this forces me to pray often and ask God to guide me (Crazy Shouty moments notwithstanding).

 

I always thought of myself as a good student. Maybe that bred arrogance because it has taken half a year of me trying to do it my way for me to finally realise that it’s not working. Now, finally, I am learning. Where the world sees illness and the inability to ‘achieve’, God sees hope:

 

‘Giving… has more to do with

giving ourselves

than with giving from our resources.

At a table where the scribes and Pharisees saw sin,

Jesus saw possibility.’

From The Little Way of Lent

by Fr. Gary Caster.

Has the world discarded you? Does the world look down on you? Jesus doesn’t.

‘We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars’ wrote Oscar Wilde in ‘Lady Windermere’s Fan’.

Whether we have made bad choices, or life has thrown us down, in the end it doesn’t matter. ‘All have fallen short’, St. Paul tells us. What matters is when we stop pretending that we’re ‘ok on our own’. This is how we make room for the greatest gift of all – the gift of Grace.

 

Jesus will never discard you, or disown you. He won’t treat you like dirt. He will eat at your table, raise a glass with you, call you friend – and in the eating and the drinking you will partake of the Bread of Life and the Living Water, freely given, freely received. Jesus holds out a hand and says two simple words, “Follow me.”

‘…[Jesus] said to him, “Follow me.” 

And he got up, left everything, and followed him.’

 Luke 5:27 (NRSVA)

Operation Christmas Child

It’s that time of year again… time to dig out your shoeboxes and fill ’em up with TOYS.

 

I LOVE DOING THIS!

 

This year we have three shoeboxes left over from buying start-of-school-year shoes, and over the past week we have been buying all manner of delights to fill them with, ready to send to a child who would not otherwise get anything for Christmas. Operation Christmas Child is run by Samaritan’s Purse, an American organization. You fill your shoebox with toys, sweeties and gifts and then take it to a collection point. Many churches and schools collect shoeboxes. It is easy to do and great fun. It is also a wonderful way to teach children about those less fortunate than themselves. For most children in the UK, the idea of a child getting nothing for Christmas is unimaginable.

 

Here’s what we have been filling our shoeboxes with:

Bar of soap

Sweets (voluntarily bought by my lovely Fluff out of her own pocket money!)

Toothbrush

Toothpaste

‘Magic’ Disney flannel:

It expands into a flannel on contact with water

Skipping rope, bouncy ball or beach ball (one for each box)

Pencils with rubbers on top

 

Sharpeners

Colouring pencils

Colouring books

Miniature farm animals

Finger puppets

How cute are these?!

 

and

Marbles

To find out more about how you can bless a child in the developing world this Christmas, please click here.