Burnhope Love Actually

I’ve been reading a mixture of things whilst we’ve been away, but have particularly enjoyed the book of Proverbs. So much so, in fact, that I started to write ‘blogs’ based on some of its themes. When I realised it was ‘Marriage Week’ this week – 7-14 February – I thought that the last chapter of Proverbs would make the perfect blog material, being that well-known passage about the ‘Perfect Wife’!

So here I am starting a blog on Proverbs by starting with the last chapter, 31. Some say that the acrostic poem in verses 1-31 of chapter 31 actually sums up the book itself, as it personifies the life of wisdom in this ‘woman’, or ‘wife’ of ‘noble character’.

There was a time in my Christian life when this passage used to get quoted and preached at us women in an incredibly condescending and patriarchal way; this is what we should each look like if we’re going to be a truly glorious wife for our husband. Yuk! It’s because of this backdrop that I generally haven’t enjoyed reading the book of Proverbs, but when I read it for myself seriously again recently, I found it totally different. The Bible is often like that isn’t it? We can get stuck in a way of understanding it that closes it down to us, but one day we read the same thing again, and the Spirit opens up a whole new way of seeing and understanding that is life-giving and helpful.

So when I read through this passage what came to mind more than anything else was all of my friends on Facebook! So many posts are about you guys making things with fabric, baking wonderful meals, looking after your beautiful children through the day and night, trying and succeeding at business initiatives and pursuing great job opportunities, putting husbands first, encouraging them to watch and play sport as well as work hard for the family, and also showing compassion in thought and action for others in many incredible ways. Sometimes you even find time to get to the spa, or do some other relaxing thing. It did make me laugh that the passage even mentions snow,[1] and I am told that there is snow in Aylesbury today!

The reality is that whilst Facebook is great for connecting and staying in touch with people, it only ever gives us snapshots into each others lives, and usually only the good ones, which is fair enough for a public forum. What I realised when I was thinking about it was that actually we’re never going to manage to be all of this ‘perfect’ Proverbs woman at any one time. Between us we can – most days we hit all of these character attributes together. But individually most of us hit only one or maybe some of them at any one time depending on the season of life that we are in.

Sometimes our kids don’t get up when we ask them to, and rather than call us ‘blessed’, might choose a less repeatable word instead.[2] Sometimes, for various reasons our husbands are not ‘respected at the city gates’ — he may be struggling with ill health or unemployed and unable to find work.[3] Sometimes we may be ill and not able to look after everyone else, and so we are forced into having to ‘eat the bread of idleness’ even when we don’t want to.[4] Or just the sheer effort of looking after everyone else saps every bit of energy and effort from us and there is nothing to show for what we do, except perhaps some unruly children and a house that badly needs a make-over.

I think that where this chapter helps us is not in showing us how to be perfect, but in painting an ‘ideal’ scenario, a picture of shalom, which we can aspire to, but not to be made to feel guilty from. Our true strength comes surely from knowing what our strengths and weaknesses are, so that we can face up to them and be open and honest about them with our husbands, and our wider circle of friends. I think it’s great that in a book about wisdom, which was written in a hugely patriarchal society, it’s the woman who has the last shout, and by no means is this a woman who is only defined by her husband. Surely as well, the high point of this passage comes at the end, in the last two verses, which repeats the idea at the beginning in Proverbs chapter 1: ‘charm is deceptive and beauty fleeting, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.’ It’s our respect and love and awe of God (not fear in a negative way) that makes us the most beautiful that we can be. Worshippers. It’s because of this that we love, and serve and honour our pledges to God and humanity.

Steve and I were married for 39 years last month, and to mark the occasion, we have taken some time out for ourselves for a much longer holiday than we have ever had before. It’s been an incredible opportunity, albeit a very privileged one.

We have had time to have fun, reflect on God’s goodness together, talk about important things, mundane things, and enjoy some wonderful sights and experiences. But the main thing for both of us is that we have done it together. It’s not that our marriage would have fallen apart if we hadn’t done it, or that either of us was going to have some kind of breakdown, but it was just that we felt we should take the opportunity, at this point in our lives, to cut out, give each other some time and come back with a new passion and energy for the things that God has called us to do together.

Someone once asked us the secret of our ‘success’, which I think is a strange question, as I’m not sure how you measure that. If I look at our lives I would see achievements, yes, but not success. I said ‘forgiveness’. I think I still would, not because Steve needs forgiving all the time (just some), or glibly in a prescriptive methodological kind of a way, but just as a stance towards one another. Because the reality is that love covers a multitude of sins, and a successful marriage has got to be about working through everything life throws at us – together. I regularly need forgiving and so does he – not necessarily because of what we do or don’t do, but because we don’t always meet up to hopes or expectations. We don’t always agree, or understand each other, but we are always determined to believe in the other and come to agreement even if it’s to disagree. We’ve always determined to work through the hard times until we’ve found a more manageable, or even beautiful place again. That’s why marriage is a covenant, because it takes two to make it work. That’s why marriages break down, because one person breaks their side of the covenant, or the two stop working together. Funnily enough there is a fear element in that as well. We both know that there is a line that we cannot cross for the other to still love us.

I could write a list of things that have nearly made us give up, from silly trivial things to more important things. We have found that through each life stage we have needed to find and make room for each other in a new way – neither of us are the people who we married at 18 and 21! But each time we find each other again, work through the real life challenges that are a daily part of life, and help each other to aspire, with the Lord’s help, to be all that we can be, life finds a new even keel where we can be best friends and allies together and enjoy every day. Really importantly though, we could never achieve this without wise friends and family around us as well.

So it’s not because I’m this perfect wife, or because we have a perfect marriage, or I have a perfect husband, that I can ‘laugh at the days to come’.[5] It’s not because I’m proud or boastful or smug, or feel superior or ‘more wise’ than any one else that makes me stand up and say I am ‘clothed with strength and dignity’.[6] It’s because I am grateful, and in awe, and hopeful, and expectant that the same God that was with us when we came together, and has been with us through the joys and trials of life, will be with us for the next however many years of adventure we have together. For us, this is love, actually! Happy Valentine’s Day everyone!

Lyn Burnhope

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Perspective

Grand CanyonA few years ago, I had the privilege to be able to visit the Grand Canyon. It is the most amazing sight, and a very humbling experience.

As I stood on the South Rim and looked across, it was impossible to tell if the North Rim was 100 metres away or half a mile, and the whole experience was a little ‘heady‘.

As I watched, there were a few small clouds about which briefly covered the sun, and created shadows across the different part of the canyon walls. The sun would then re-emerge, revealing every shade of grey, pink and orange in the rocks – stunning!!

It then dawned on me that God had seen all these colours, fissures, promontories and rock faces from the moment they had started to be formed by the Colorado River, and He knew every millimetre of it intimately, including all the changes which had occurred as the rocks were weathered.

From flat ground to a mile deep canyon – God had seen it all unfold. He knows exactly how far it is across at any given point, and what it will look like many decades hence. What I could see was breathtaking, but God sees it all – the end from the beginning.

What we see is a cameo, bound by time. God’s perspective is four-dimensional, and boundless.

In Tommy Tenney’s book – God’s Eye View, there is a delightful account of his small daughter’s first experience of perspective:

My youngest daughter was about 4 years old, when she first discovered the principle of perspective. I had the privilege of watching the process literally from a front row seat (she was sitting in the window seat right beside me on an aeroplane).

I’ll never forget watching her little face when the plane engines roared and the plane began to pick up speed as it rolled down the runway……. something happened in her mind when the plane finally left the ground. Her body language told a tale of wonder……………I leaned forward just enough to see her face as she suddenly pulled away from the window and turned to me with great big eyes. She looked at me in wonder, and said, “Wook, Daddy, wook…………wikkle people, wikkle tiny cars, wikkle houses”.

From the elevated perspective of my maturity and wisdom, I explained to her, “oh no, my dear darling, those are not little people – those are normal sized people. Those aren’t little cars – they are normal-sized cars. It’s just called perspective. We are up so high that everything below us looks small”.

No, Daddy”, she said, “I saw them – wikkle people, wikkle cars, wikkly tiny houses”.

When you fly high, whatever is beneath you appears smaller, and whatever you get close to appears bigger in your sight.

Those who wait upon the Lord, shall renew their strength: they shall mount up with wings like eagles’.

Worship is the wind beneath our wings, which helps us soar high enough to begin to get closer to God who loves us literally ‘to death’, and to begin to get a God’s eye view of the things that concern us, so that we can live in the strength and freedom to begin to say – “Wook, Daddy, wook – wikkle problems, wikkle worries, wikkle circumstances”.

Perhaps our problems seem so big, because our altitude is too low.

Sheriden Hanson

Trusting God when things don’t go to plan

Road When I started university as a Student Child Nurse in 2010 I had the next few years sorted in my head. I knew my plan, reach for a 2:1, graduate, become a Child Nurse, hopefully get a job at The Royal Surrey County Hospital in Guildford, meet a man if possible and get married. Fairly standard in modern day culture. In my head, I never stopped trusting God for all these things. Through things going bad or good, I knew he was on my side and I didn’t need to worry about the future. It was when my plans got ripped apart that I realised, maybe I thought I was trusting God with my life but really I had my plans and wasn’t reliant on God for them.

In 2013 I started to become ill and it took health professionals six months to diagnose me with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (often known as M.E.) is a complex condition, affecting nearly all of the body’s systems. The patient experiences flu-like draining fatigue, unlike regular tiredness, not relieved by sleep or rest. It also involves a long list of other symptoms such as; mild to severe muscle pains, depression, difficulties with mental processing, dizziness, nausea, headaches, sore throats, drastically reduced mobility, light & noise sensitivity and heart palpitations. At its worst it can restrict daily activities such as showering and dressing. It often requires a huge adjustment to life in order to cope, e.g. not being able to work. There is no cure or drug treatment for Chronic Fatigue but it can be known to gradually improve with graded exercise therapy. For someone working as a Student Nurse, on a hospital ward, looking after others whilst feeling like I (melodramatically) was dying myself was awful. Looking back I don’t know how I managed to keep going for another year doing this, my only logical answer is God kept me going. I got to two months before the end of my degree before reaching the decision that I could not physically or mentally carry on anymore. I could barely do a simple drug calculation! I felt like my world was crashing down around me. Everything thing I had planned was in tatters, what on earth was I going to do now? This was when I realised I had never really been trusting God with my life. This was a whole new level of trusting God, when you have no idea what’s going to happen next but realise he will provide. And he did. I received a degree in Paediatric Healthcare (just not the nursing registration) because I had done nearly the entire nursing course. This was something that had never happened before in the university, a student not completing their degree yet still being awarded a different degree, there was no way this had been my doing but God’s! An answer to our prayers.

Facing a complete life transformation has not been an easy journey, especially coming to terms with new limitations I never had before. I have hit what felt like rock bottom and I am gradually working my way back up (I feel like a koala, clinging desperately onto God as he helps me back up!). Moving home so my parents could care for me was a positive and a negative. I was moving away from all the friendships I had back in Guildford. I just didn’t have the energy or concentration to drive that far to spend time with them, and the same with meeting new people and concentrating on conversation. People would think I was uninterested in them because I was too exhausted to process what they were talking about. I became so shut off from the social side of my life that it affected me mentally. I felt frustrated and isolated. It’s taken time to be able to handle these feelings on a day to day basis and yes, sometimes they do still get on top of me, but moving through this difficult time would never have been possible for me without trusting God – the new level of trusting God I mentioned. Sometimes I do have moments where I’m suddenly terrified about what is going to happen next, but then I remember all God has done for me in the face of having no idea what was ahead of me. I now rely on him for money, for my health, for my marriage and for my future. Something I didn’t realise I wasn’t really doing before. He is my hope when I feel I have none. God provides, we just need to trust that he does, even if not in a way we expect.

Chantal

Chantal Reynolds

Refugees: how can we help?

Refugees: How can we help, is there a hope and a future?
I’m Becky Snaith and I’ve been coming to Aylesbury Vineyard since January this year. Firstly, I’d like to start with an encouragement before I talk about refugees. At Aylesbury Vineyard, me and my husband received a warm welcome and became involved in areas within the church almost straight away. There are many aspects of the church that I feel are being done really well. The worship is great, people are very friendly and there’s a strong sense of compassion and belonging. Often we hear talks saying we should be doing this, that or the other. Take heart that your already doing it! Going to church is really exciting because there is so much potential to do God’s work through this place and to enjoy it.

Anyway what’s the situation with refugees? I’ll start off with a few facts and figures so you all know what we are dealing with.

Refugees

What is a refugee?
The definition of a refugee according to Google is:
‘a person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster.’ We’re talking about people fleeing the threat of or certain death.

  • 5 million refugees worldwide in 2014
  • 80% of refugees have been living in camps for more than 5 years, 50% for over 10 years
  • 70% are Muslim
  • Half are children
  • The world’s biggest refugee camp is in Kenya with 330,000 people

So that’s the situation, and it looks pretty bleak, pretty hopeless and can leave us feeling overwhelmed when we get a sense of the scale of the problem.

God’s heart for the refugee and what is he saying about this?
“True justice must be given to foreigners living among you and to orphans … Always remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God redeemed you. That is why I have given you this command.” (Deuteronomy 24:17-18)

So God is clear when he says he wants justice for the refugee and that as he has shown redemption in our lives we can be part of his plan to help these people.

He is also clear about serving people in practical ways. Matthew 25: 35-40 shows Jesus telling us that whenever you offer someone in need of food, clothing, visiting, looking after or hospitality, we are offering it to him… “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”  

What can we do to help refugees?
Firstly, this is not for everyone. God gives all of us different passions, so all of the people can do all of the work. If your time is devoted to something else or even split between many different things, this may not be for you. There is no need to feel guilty about not getting involved in every different ministry going. Burnt out people are less effective than well rested people that look after themselves. Something I am learning myself over the last few months.

However, if this is something you are passionate about and have some time for here are a few things you can do:

  • Pray – obviously something we can all be doing.
  • Support Aylesbury Vineyard Refugee Compassion – We are taking food to refugees in Calais, and you can help by collecting donations or coming on a trip to help volunteer.
  • Online advocacy – there are plenty of petitions to be signed urging governments to be compassionate, or you can email your local MP. Only recently our government back tracked on its decision not to let unaccompanied minors into the UK from around the EU.
  • If you’re very keen, you could sign up to host a refugee in your spare room through Positive Action In Housing.
  • This one is only for those who have seriously thought and prayed it through! you could offer to foster a refugee child through Home for Good.

Is there a hope and a future?
With the current refugee crisis in Europe, there is no end in sight any time soon. However many refugees around the world have gone on to achieve amazing things. My own Nan was a refugee and without her I would never have been born, so that’s a good start.

Many refugees sadly spend decades or even there whole lives in refugee camps. This needs to change. We can be part of this, attitudes need to change for anything to change. When we talk about immigration with our friend or colleagues. Particularly in relation to refugees we need to see it as a thrill not a threat. God is clear what he wants for people. We have the opportunity to get involved. There can be a hope and a future if we keep at it. Refugees need to be seen as people, friends, family and part of God’s plan. They are not a number, not a political bargaining tool or anything else.

Becky Snaith

 

Walking on the Waters

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=eLqTZ07ja7g (Song. “Oceans” by Hillsong)

When Peter let go of the side of the boat and strode out across the water in answer to his Saviour’s call he was doing fine – until he noticed the wind whipping up the huge waves all around him. (Matthew 14:22-33)

It’s not the scary stuff we are going through that causes us to stumble, it’s the world’s opinion of that stuff.

Within weeks of attending Aylesbury Vineyard I was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour. My prognosis (with treatment) was/is around 18 months. The testimony of how God prepared me, provided for me, supported me and healed me (in more than the removal of a malicious little tumour AKA “Bob the Blob”) is too long for this blog. But this song is just one his provisions for me. I first heard it in worship one Sunday morning immediately after (God-incidentally ) studying the story of Peter walking on the water earlier that week in my bible study group (not an Aylesbury Vineyard group).

It made me see that when all the world around you is expecting the worst, their words and actions can distract you from the real author of your fate. We all know we are supposed to “fix our eyes on Jesus” but sometimes it’s hard when waves rage all around you. I had read this passage countless times before and heard many a sermon in it but had never really noticed this little lesson: it wasn’t the fact that ‘humans can’t walk on water’ that disturbed Peter, it was noticing the waves. His human experience (no doubt accompanied by shouts from the boat!) told him that the waves were strong and could knock him off his feet and drown him. He had forgotten that he was already doing the impossible!

This little personal message from our awesome, powerful, almighty, healing God, given in song and music and His Word, picked me up in a week when I had been buffeted by human opinion. An oncologist had told me ‘nobody survives this’. God reassured me that He was in charge and I had merely to keep my eyes above the waves and reach out to my Saviour who is always dead ahead of me. I had asked Him and he had said “come”(Mat 14:29). I was already doing the impossible.

I have gone through an amazing year (see my blog: www.bobtheblobsblog.com for the whole saga) and every time I have felt a little shaken I have put this song on loud and sung along to it. I can thoroughly recommend you do the same!

Thank you Hillsong, and thank you Aylesbury Vineyard worship group for listening to God’s choice of song for me that week and playing it so movingly… without the least idea of what you were doing.

And most of all, thank you Jesus for calling me out upon the waters in the first place.

Tanya Malpass
Tanya Malpass

The Time Equation

I’m told that when I was very young, I adored my dad. I don’t recall that time in my life. My memory of my childhood is of a strict father, the kind of father typified by the classic line; ‘Just wait until your father gets home…’

My sister and I used to have a life sized stuffed St Bernard dog. We would have loved to have a dog of our own, but knew instinctively that we wouldn’t be allowed one. However, we played with the huge toy dog quite a lot, he was a favourite of ours. One day; whilst playing make believe with the dog we put him under the dinner table to wait for scraps to fall off the table. When my dad sat down to his dinner, he discovered the dog under the table and crossly dragged it out by the ear yelling about not leaving toys under the table or something like that. In the process, he ripped the dog’s ear and most of it’s scalp off, including the dog’s eyebrow. I was so distraught by what he had done that my mum placated me by taking the dog to ‘doggy hospital’. By which I mean she took the huge toy and sewed his poor broken head back together.

Back then I didn’t really understand the image of God as a Father. I kind of thought that that was why people feared God. And maybe that is part of it; but as I’ve grown older I’ve realised that God (and my dad) also loves us, and it’s because he loves us that he sees the greatness in us, what we are truly made to be, and it’s only when we do things that pull us further away from His likeness that we upset Him. God is a perfect Father, someone who loves unconditionally, sees the best in us and wants us to be all that we were made for.

Now that I’m older, I understand my father much better. I have experienced for myself the pressures of adulthood, of working, of trying to do the best by your family. I see that it wasn’t always easy for him, but that we are the lucky ones, because we got to experience a father who loved us unconditionally. I believe that our relationship with God is a little like my understanding of my own father. The longer you are in that relationship, the more it matures and develops. Your understanding of it grows deeper as you spend time together.

One of the biggest things I find challenges my relationships is time. I can’t seem to spend enough time with my parents, my sister, my husband, or my friends. When we do spend time with those that we love, we nearly always feel better for it, don’t we? How much more true must that be of the time we spend with God?

Mary is a good example of this in Luke 10:38–42. Her sister, Martha, is preparing a big dinner and feels that Mary isn’t pulling her weight, but Jesus lovingly corrects her, saying: “There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.”

So this month I’m planning on making more time for Him, I’m going to spend an extra two hours a week solely on this relationship. Most weeks I’ll probably split that time over a few days, but it will include different things, worship, prayer, reading and reflecting on the bible, serving him, and anything else that seems appropriate.

Is God asking you for more of your time? Or maybe there’s a loved one or a friend who deserves a bit more attention? Why not reach out to them today?

Becca Reho
Becca Reho

Kindness & Compassion

Hello. My name is Venetia Horton, and I have been coming to Aylesbury Vineyard for four or five years. I live in Thame with my husband and three cats, and I have one daughter and one granddaughter. Having retired from paid employment, I now spend most of my time researching and writing my book on the history of Christianity in Great Britain and Ireland.

One of the reasons I gave up my job was because I was finding it harder and harder to cope with a full day’s work. Then I found out the reason. I was diagnosed with a rare non-familial medullary cancer, and in June last year I underwent an operation to take out my thyroid. The following month I also had an op for skin cancer on my nose – you may have seen me wandering around with a bandage on my face!

So naturally I was a bit jumpy when a new lump appeared on my jaw in December and I was given an emergency appointment at the Churchill Hospital in Oxford. I asked people on the prayer chain for support, but I was quite surprised when one of them offered to take me to the appointment. I mean – she must have so many other things to do – I could get there by myself, couldn’t I? But she insisted that she would like to come, so one dark morning she picked me up and we drove into Oxford.

Thankfully, the doctor gave me good news and said there were no signs of cancer and that I would only need to go back for regular check-ups. But what has stayed with me, and what I am still giving thanks for, is my friend’s amazing kindness for the gift of her time.

I sometimes find it very hard to accept help. I even find it hard to ask the Lord for help, thinking he must have ‘more important’ stuff to deal with. But I have come to realise that this is not the right way to honour God.

I know – in theory – that one should surrender everything to the Lord, but this is hard. A friend once told me he used to mentally list all his precious CDs and records in prayer, saying ‘That’s yours, Lord, everything I have is yours – take it if you need it – or if it’s not doing me any good.’

When I was told I had cancer I was horrified, and it took me a few months to come to terms with the diagnosis. But when my friend insisted that she would like to come with me to the hospital appointment, I realised that I didn’t have to face this alone. I am so very grateful for her kindness and compassion.

Galatians 6:2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

Venetia_Profile

Venetia Horton

Be Thou My Vision

Be Thou My Vision

Not many people ever see me wearing glasses as I usually wear contact lenses. This probably stems from childhood bullying about my thick national health glasses (ironically really cool now!), plus the fact that I find them annoying. With contact lenses I have perfect vision, can see my eye make-up and, according to my singing teacher as a teenager, they “let people see my big expressive eyes” (whatever that means!).

However, this week my youngest child has got glasses and I have also got a new pair, as I am supposed to sometimes let my eyes “rest” from the contact lenses. So, today I am wearing glasses, to encourage the little one and just because they are new! And it’s got me thinking about our spiritual ‘sight’.

Glasses

One irritating thing about glasses is that they get dirty and the lenses need regular cleaning. Similarly, we need to be regularly cleansed to “see” Jesus. We need to keep a ‘short account’ with God – routinely bringing ourselves to Him in humble repentance to be cleansed. As David says in one of my favourite Bible verses: Psalm 51:10 “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” We need regular renewing. Just like our cells renew in our body, so we need to have our minds and hearts renewed. And Jesus is in the renewal business, as Paul says: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12:2) With a renewed mind, we can see things more clearly, as we should.

Sometimes through life events we get our vision totally steamed up. Has anyone ever tried crying whilst wearing glasses? Well, you really can’t see at all! When life throws things at us, it can result in us being blind as to what is going on. When this happens, we need others to help. This why God puts us in His Church, why He “sets the lonely in families” (Psalm 68:6) When life throws a curve ball, we need others to pray for us, bring us words from God and help lead us while we are blinded.  Sometimes, others can see things more clearly than we can and they can lead, encourage and help us until the mist begins to clear.

My vision is very bad, so my glasses lenses are pretty thick, meaning that the edges of my vision where my glasses don’t cover are severely blurred. I hadn’t realised how much I use my peripheral vision (a trick learnt as a teacher) and I do find it annoying. But it got me thinking that this is how we can be with our ministries, the areas that we are passionate about. We have a certain focus that God has put on our hearts, which makes other things around us a bit blurred. Actually this can be a good thing! God sets us on fire for certain ministries or things to pray for, sometimes for a season, sometimes for life. We are created for a reason and to have “vision” for what God wants us to do is a very important part of a purposeful life. I struggled with this a bit when I was younger and somebody once asked me what my “ministry” was – at the time I had no idea what that meant! But I have also helpfully heard it said, that if you have no “vision” for something yourself, you should support someone who does! That is just as valuable! We are all one body and all have a part to play, even in supporting something with a more obvious purpose e.g. the eye cannot work properly without the muscles around it, the blood vessels, nerves, tear ducts, eyelashes etc. We all have an important part to play!

Finally, if we do not have any idea what our focus should be, we are told something very simple – to “fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:2). This is true tunnel vision at it’s best! We can’t go wrong with this and it makes it ok when we can’t “see” our way through anything else that’s going on. Just keep looking to Jesus! Even this is not straightforward, as Paul says “now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face.” (1 Corinthians 13:12) Even at the best of times, our vision of Jesus can be unclear, as we come to it through the “lens” of our own experiences. We need the encouragement of each other and the Church to keep our focus on Him and, seeing Him through the Bible and others’ eyes, to keep on seeing wonderful new things about Him.

Therefore, we can sing this wonderful old hymn:

Be Thou my vision, O Lord of my heart
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art
Thou my best thought by day or by night
Waking or sleeping Thy presence my light

Please free to comment with any more “vision” songs, verses or thoughts! Everyone’s perspective is different and valuable!

Becky Stevens

Boasting gladly about my weaknesses

About a month ago I was at a conference. Normally I enjoy conferences, the worship, the teaching, hanging out with friends. But this time I wasn’t really feeling it.

If I was feeling anything it was exhaustion, frustration and I was kicking myself for missing out – why was I feeling this way? There was no logical conclusion, significant life event or major problem that I was facing.

During the worship I sat down and closed my eyes. It probably looked like I was praying but really I was trying to shut off everything around me.

Then, as I sat in this room full of people and noise I could suddenly feel a quietness. I could see myself from up above, except there was nobody else in the room, no people, no sound, nothing.

Then I saw a man who looked kind of like how I had imagined Jesus to look walk over to me. He looked kind, had a beard and long hair and was smiling. Okay, spoiler alert: IT WAS JESUS!

He sat down next to me and asked me about my day. I feel like writing this down all sounds way too casual: Jesus appeared to me (in my head), sat down next to me and asked me about my freaking day!

I’m pretty sure for the next half hour I wept uncontrollably. The truth that Jesus knew me, that he took time out of (what I can only imagine is) his busy schedule – and that he cared enough to sit beside me. And more than that – this wasn’t some strange coincidence and he had appeared by accident – he was actually interested in my day?!

Now I know this all sounds totally nuts because either:

a) You don’t get it (believe me, I used to read stories like this one and think exactly the same thing)

b) Or you get it and you’re thinking duh! That’s the whole point of following Jesus – the whole relationship thing isn’t just an optional extra – it’s kind of a package deal! *

But I’ve been a Christian for almost 20 years now and I honestly had never encountered Jesus this way before now. I’ve studied him, read the Bible, done Church, done home groups etc etc… now none of these things are bad at all – in fact I’m incredibly grateful to have some wonderful friends, a solid Church and Christian parents who have helped me in my faith. However, this personal experience has captured my heart more than anything else ever could.

This might be offensive but there is nothing else that compares anymore. Encountering Jesus has totally challenged the way I do everything. I don’t even know where to start – most days I now feel totally broken now, inadequate and smaller than I ever realised I was – but at the same time I feel whole, complete and that there’s something better worth living for – a true relationship with Jesus.

The scary part is – before I thought I was fixed, but underneath I was bitter, weak and struggling to have hope, feeling like a total fraud. But God met me there when I was prepared to be vulnerable, when I was okay with being broken and not trying to be perfect.

My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.
– 2 Corinthians 12.9 (NLT) 

Maybe my striving to be perfect all the time actually limited my experience of Christianity to being surface level. Jesus teaches us to surrender all to him, no matter where we’re at. If we don’t surrender and we’re constantly working out of our own strength, how will be ever know the greatness of Jesus and his power in our lives? 

Jesus doesn’t shy away from our brokenness. I’m learning that the cost of a relationship with Jesus isn’t about getting yourself sorted, becoming perfect and then taking up your cross – and that’s how we become salt and light. It’s about taking up your cross and being vulnerable.

*if this is you, you clearly have it sorted I would genuinely love you to write blog posts instead of me as you’ve clearly got it together.

Jess Gunaselvam

BROKEN YET BEAUTIFUL

Nicola's-Mug
I have a mug… it’s my favourite coffee mug! If you know me, you know how much I enjoy my first coffee of the day and if I get to drink it out of my favourite mug then it makes me extra happy! …Then a few weeks ago my mug cracked and my heart was sad.

Now it is fairly unusual for me to get upset over material possessions. My life on the missions field was pretty basic, we didn’t have lots of fancy stuff and we didn’t live in a culture where there was much and so my love for the finer things in life pretty much disappeared and I learnt to be content with little…

My life is very simple and I like it that way.
But then my mug broke :o(

It now has a huge crack down one side and a little chip on the corner and it doesn’t look so pretty anymore. My son asks me on a regular basis when I am going to throw it away and buy myself a new one, but I don’t want a new one! I like this one!  It may be chipped, it may be cracked, but I still love it just as much and as long as it is able to hold my coffee without leaking, it will still be my favourite.

As I look back over my life I realise I am no different to my little mug. I too am cracked, I have been broken, there are little chips all over me. I am very far from perfect. I am covered in blemishes both inside and out and my heart and my body carry countless scars and wounds, some you can see and some you can’t – but they are there and they are what makes me who I am.

Do I want to be cracked? Of course not…  Would I rather be perfect?… Who wouldn’t?! But that is not my reality.

We live in world obsessed with beauty, that finds anything less than perfection unacceptable and so people spend millions on the pursuit of it, on the eradication of all flaws and of any signs of weakness.

But I AM weak and I cant hide that, to be honest I spent years trying and it didn’t work out well for me.

I am flawed… I am broken… I am very far from perfection..

AND I HAVE COME TO ACCEPT THAT THAT’S OK!

There is a scripture in Song of Songs (Chapter 1, Verse 5) that has had a special place in my heart for many years now…

Dark am I, yet LOVELY

The TRUTH is that there is a greater reality than my brokenness, a greater truth that is written over me than my flaws and fears and it is simply, yet powerfully this:

I AM LOVED… not as I should be… not for what I could be… but JUST AS I AM.

Even in my weakness He calls me lovely.

I am not defined by my scars, by battles lost and battles won.

I am defined by LOVE Himself.

And He says that even in my weakness I am lovely, that it is right there that His strength is made perfect, that whilst I was still a sinner He chose to die for me and He bought me right up to His banqueting table and placed a huge banner over me that simply reads: LOVE

I am loved… that is who I am… that is my reality… that is my name… beloved… chosen… accepted… redeemed and made free…

Broken yet beautiful.

Nicola Neal