Wedding talk

Below is a talk I gave at my friends wedding yesterday. It was a beautiful day.

In a few moments we are going to look at the verses that Emma & Edd have chosen for today.

But first a story.

Hands up if you knew Emma when she was 16?

When Emma was about 16 she would meet with a small group of friends and my wife, usually after school and normally in the context of tea and cake! The purpose of these meetings was to support each other, journey a few things in life and pray together. On one particular session the girls were considering their hopes and desires for the future. Naturally the discussion lead into which subjects to continue on with, possible universities, careers they aspired to etc. Emma was 16, but one of her hopes was an outstanding and brave one for her age. “actually I hope to meet a nice man and get married”. Now of course these were confidential meetings and so I didn’t hear about any of this until roughly 6 years later.

Edd was beginning a gap year at All Saints, Ilkley. I was to be his supervisor and so we began with outlining Edd’s responsibilities and how he would spend his time. Edd was involved in lots of activity at church, there was a Tuesday night group (TNT) that met in church. Edd seemed keen to go but I felt I needed to let him know he didn’t have to and it was ok to have Tuesday nights off. But Edd did keep on going to TNT and by now Emma had returned to Ilkley from university and was also attending TNT.

The gap year progressed and soon it was reported to me that Edd & Emma were now ‘together’. As the end of the year approached, Edd, who had made some courageous decisions during the year, was beginning to question what was going to follow the gap year. To help I devised an exercise that divides life into different parts and then Edd over a number of weeks would pray about and dream how he would like that part of his life to look. This is a difficult thing to do as it means naming your hopes. But in the relationship section Edd was certain, he saw himself as married in the future. He would drop subtle hints about that future being with Emma and in the not too distant future, but also expressed concerns that perhaps Emma didn’t feel the same way. One evening after meeting with Edd I went home to Jemma and told her how keen I thought Edd was about Emma. Something jogged Jemma’s memory and for the first time she told me about the time Emma had shared how one of her hopes for the future was to meet a nice man and get married.

This meant I had a decision to make. a. Was Edd a nice man? b. Should I tell him Emma probably was the marrying type!

Well I decided not to tell Edd, if he was going to get there then he had to do it alone. Today we’re all glad you did Edd but for quite a few months I wanted to say just get on with it, it was obvious to all outsiders. I would see you and then go home and say to Jem, “Edd still hasn’t proposed!”

That’s my story about Emma & Edd getting together, but I wonder if you noticed something in that story? Both had hopes and desires for the future, in some ways those hopes are beginning to be realised today. The other thing was to get to today Emma & Edd had to be active and involved. Naming our hopes is a powerful thing but also makes us feel vulnerable. Of course Edd had to propose and Emma had to say yes!

Today is the start of your married life, neither of you actually only wanted to be married, this day as the pinnacle. Instead what you hoped for is this day as the beginning of a life long love relationship. A relationship in which you will flourish and can nurture your hopes and desires.

A life long love relationship…

The reading chosen by Emma and Edd begins with these words, “Therefore as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved..”

These verses are taken from a letter written to a community of Jesus followers. A community beginning to understand they are chosen by God, made right by Jesus and a community being brought into a life long live relationship with almighty God.

Now the other thing I didn’t mention when I told my story is Edd and Emma today place God at the centre of their wedding and so their marriage because they too are Jesus followers. Beginning to understand they are chosen by God, made right by Jesus and lead into a life long love relationship with almighty God.

So what we read today from the Bible is as applicable today as it was when it was written. It’s about a life long love relationship, in the letter between Jesus and his bride, the church, today between Edd and Emma at their wedding. But more than that hopefully there will be something for us all to consider.

Another question, perhaps an obvious one – who spent a bit longer than normal choosing what to wear today?

Why do I ask? Well our reading puts focus on how we clothe ourselves. It seems to suggest that when considering a life long love relationship it matters what we wear.

Because of this I have investigated and discovered that Edd has an odd dress sense.

So it matters what we wear particularly when we’re at a wedding, but we all know this is not just about how we look but who we are, our character.

We are to put on clothes like compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, bearing with and forgiving others.

Take a moment to consider if these were items of clothing which would you readily wear and which feels ill fitting for you? How many times do we hear people say things like “I’m not a very patient person” or know those who struggle with bearing with others and find it tough to forgive?

Consider again the list, compassionate, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, bearing and forgiving others.

Edd and Emma asked my children to lead the bridal procession today – they all looked great in their outfits but Judah, my son is 2 and a bit sensitive about what he wears. At the final fitting there was no way we could persuade him to put on his cool new red shoes. We didn’t push it but if we had it would have ended with a tantrum as he protested about not wearing that particular piece of clothing. Isn’t it sometimes like that with this list? The items we don’t like, we’d run a mile before facing wearing something we don’t like. The truth is this list is really hard to achieve, it’s a high standard.

The passage goes on to say “wear them all and cover them with love”. Judah’s outfit was incomplete without his shoes and so we are encouraged to wear all of these virtues and cover them with love

Today when love is in the air, covering with love feels easy. But when Edd criticises your cooking, or leaves his pink tutu on the bathroom floor, or you’re late because Edd is painting on his smile. Emma how does covering with love go then? We all recognise this?

The only person to wear these clothes full time and cover them with love was Jesus. That’s because they are His clothes, His attributes, His characteristics.

Today Edd has hired his clothes, they will need returning, if they’re not returned the shop will take them back. The love we are to put on is Jesus’ love, Jesus’ love is freely given, it can’t be earned and it’s non returnable.

So, yes it matters what we wear (our character) and we have to be involved and active in sustaining a life long love relationship but Jesus knows we won’t always get it right, we will mess up. And that’s why we cover all with Jesus’ love.

Jesus’ love never runs out. It doesn’t depend on mood or circumstance

Jesus’ love says I choose you, you are of great value to me. I would die for you, I’m fact I did die for you.

Jesus’ love says, when you fall come to me without delay…because when you give me your failures you give me the joy of being your saviour.

It matters what you wear but Jesus’ love is not about rules or religion it’s about a life long love relationship.

So, if (or when) you mess up, remember that I’ll fitting piece of the list? Don’t worry – receive Jesus’ love. Today he invites us again, to bring our burdens, receive His forgiveness and begin afresh.

We don’t need to change to believe in Jesus’ love, it’s our belief in Jesus’ love that changes us.

Finally, quoting verse 16 “Let this message of Christ dwell among you richly..”

Emma and Edd, today you start your married life with hopes and desires for the future.

We remember God is our hope, God shared and shapes our hopes, God partners in our hopes.

My prayer is that the message of Christ will dwell among you richly.

Amen.

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Come and stand amazed.

It’s Christmas Eve, a few really quick thoughts as the excitement levels are rising. The kids at home are racing around, shouting, singing, beginning their celebrations.

I love the end of advent, I love all of advent! the busyness, waiting and preparations suddenly stop as Christmas arrives.

Everyone has to stop, shops shut, we gather together, no more getting ready. It’s here! Come and stand amazed…at how many presents you have? At how much food there is? At what God has done?

This afternoon I am leading Christingle services at All Saints in Ilkley. For many these services mark the end of the getting ready and the beginning of their Christmas celebrations. Standing in the gap between preparation and arrival, an orange, a candle, red ribbon and a few sweets – telling of God’s story of redemption and restoration through Jesus, the light in an often dark and confusing world.

I have been thinking about how to lead the service, my talk and how it will be heard by a church full of families. Mary and Joseph and the nativity characters also stood in the gap between get ready and he has arrived. As I prepare I feel under qualified, with little to offer.

I have made a simple little collection of photos from my phone, our year as a family. Highlights include visiting Uganda, Iva being born and time as a growing family together.

Rewind 10 years and life for me was hopeless – I stood on the brink of darkness. Everything lost and that’s when into that darkness came God’s light and life.

As I look at his film I am reminded of a passage from the Bible.

“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”

‭‭1 Peter‬ ‭2:9‬ ‭NIV‬‬

God lead me out of darkness and as Christmas arrives I can’t comprehend what God has done, I look at the change in my life and I stand amazed.

Family of faith

Jemma writes ….Our two year old daughter has had a bad few days with her chest and it has thrown everything out of balance. Her twin brother is thoroughly out of sorts too as she just isn’t playing with him like she usually does and we are all worried when she goes quiet and still on the sofa. It hasn’t been easy as we have waited to see if her oxygen levels are normal or not and if she needs to go back to hospital. The combination of extra anxiety and extra tears has meant yesterday was not the greatest day.

I had planned to see two dear Christian friends to pray but couldn’t see either. As the day progressed I found it easier to worry and harder to pray as I waited for news on my poorly girl. Despite all these years of faith and seeing God come through for us, it is still hard work to give my children in prayer and trust.

It says in Galatians 6.10 we should do good for everyone and especially those in the family of the faith. I was challenged on that by a friend once who found it really upsetting and to be honest I wasn’t clear on the distinction myself. Many of my friends and family whom I love dearly are not in that category. Those of faith and no faith help and support and love in so many ways so why the distinction?

We are on a meal rota at church and yesterday we were sent a meal and some chocolate brownies from someone we rarely see. I speak to her very little and even then for very brief conversations. Our paths don’t cross in any other scenario but in church. But there she is sending a meal over to help us with our new arrival.

When I think of this gracious lady I think of us both standing and praying with a mutual friend from church, days before our friend died. I watched this lady climb on the bed next to our friend on that day and hold her as she cried. I will never forget the gentle compassion and love of that moment. I know from this experience together that she has prayed through suffering, when things are hard and confusing and not going the way she wants them to. I know this lady loves the same Jesus that I do and I know her heart turns to Him as mine does. And so we don’t need to speak often, we don’t need to particularly understand each other or talk more or even be intentional in our connection. I just know she is in the family of the faith and it helps.

It is word becoming flesh through the meal rota at church and she has helped me see Him in a day where it was hard to pray. It is a good reminder for me when it is hard to get everyone out on time for church and I get tired and can’t face seeing people. I have to keep giving into church for those people I intentionally connect with but also for the myriad of unintentional connections that God has planned for us all to help us see him in our everyday lives. Where in the world would you get that other than in church?

Thankfully Joy didn’t need to go back to hospital and is on the mend. During that anxious day God through the family of faith once again showed me we are not travelling through on our own. It is a gentle link, not one that demands even a response. A link that can join many little connections together in my memory that point me to His word and towards the way the truth and the life. Something I need to remember and pass onto the children. To keep doing good for everyone and especially those in the family of the faith.

Coping or flourishing?

Paternity leave is over and Lawrence is back at work. My first day without him went smoothly but I’m thinking ahead to bed time tonight as he is out. I start looking at the calendar for the evenings coming up when I’m on my own and I begin to get a growing sense of trepidation.

Since becoming a parent I have often tried to rationalise why tears and upset from one, or worse still, all of the children at bedtime sends me into a such a state of high anxiety. I want to meet their needs, emotional, spiritual and physical and I can’t lose that sense of urgency if they are upset. The way children cry at about that time regardless of the issue they’re upset about somehow signals to the mum in me that there is a major problem, it’s all my fault and it’s my responsibility to fix it. My response to that is pretty dependent on what kind of a day I’ve had and how resilient I’m feeling. On bad days I usually direct the identical message at Lawrence when he walks in…

Yesterday I had a midwife drop by to weigh the baby. She asked me how many children I had and when I told her she said ‘gosh I don’t know how you cope I struggle with one!’. Just in that moment it made me question if it actually was possible to live our life well.

It got me thinking about several similar situations when people have unknowingly spoken right into a deep fear I have in my ability to cope. An older and wiser Christian impressed upon me that I should be able to manage my own children without help. Ouch….with one year old twins and a four year old I thought it was normal to feel like I was only one or two steps away from chaos, but she did have a point.

I look back on the last seven years and I have very rarely actually been out of my comfort zone with managing behaviour. It is true that the twins did do a spectacular job in the kitchen with yoghurt and smoothie when I left them alone for a few minutes. It is also true that our dog did walk round with a green stripe down its back for a few weeks from an ambitious painting session in the back yard. But, it is amazing how much of my life is about fear of not coping or looking like or actually being out of control of my own children rather than the reality of that happening.

When I look to Jesus he doesn’t say come to me and I’ll help you cope. The bible tells me that Jesus came into my life to give me hope and a future and that He came to give me life, life in all its fullness. That has quite the opposite affect on my heart and hope levels. My Jesus wants me to flourish in this life and when things get tough He is always there guiding and encouraging me.

Following Jesus doesn’t give us a stress free life. We experience the hardships, the ill grandparents, the worry about bills, mortgages and school choices just as much as any family. But with Jesus at the heart of it we can rest even in the unhappiness and know the creator of the universe has faith in us to draw on him and live it well.

So last night I didn’t shout at the children or feel like my head was going to explode at any point. I had quiet cuddles and prayed for them and with them. It isn’t always like that but it was last night. It struck me today that I don’t actually need to cope or be in control. Following Jesus leads us out of being in control and into a messy life, trusting a perfect creator in an imperfect world to lead us through it.

I begged in prayer for just one baby, having four was way beyond what I could have imagined. Having a large family isn’t for everyone but each and every person has dreams and hopes for their future. Our God is so good and can be trusted with them. If you talk to him He will do something beautiful that is unique and special just for you.

So next time I’m out walking the dog with the children going in three different directions, I’m going to remember this. When someone shouts cheerfully over; ‘you’ve got your hands full’, or ‘rather you than me’, I won’t let my over sensitive nature get the better of me. It may not look like or even be fun in that moment, but thanks to Jesus, being a mum with all its mess and stress, is actually my dream come true.

Family bonding

Baby Iva came home a couple of weeks ago and we’ve been getting on with bonding as a family. Joy and Judah were unsure at first how to relate to their baby sister. They are all a bit young yet for Iva to be held for any time in their arms safely but naturally they desire intimacy and want to get close to her. This can lead to slightly over exuberant attempts to cuddle baby. Babies are mostly cute for adults but actually quite fascinating for 2 year olds. Poking, prodding, patting, jiggling, trying to swing round and round ensues.

We have always encouraged our children to pray with us. Each night we run through a list of people we ask God to bless, family members, church friends, teachers etc. I pray Luke 2:52 over them, that like Jesus, they will grow in stature and wisdom, in favour with God and man. In other words that they will be physically and mentally well and will develop spiritually and socially.

Over the last week instead of the twins wrestling with little Iva like a rag doll. We have focussed on praying for Iva as the most intimate and loving thing we and they can do for her. It’s a lovely opportunity to teach them how important praying for each other is.

I am enjoying seeing little hands lovingly placed on Iva and then gentle voices whispering prayers for their sister. We finish with an amen and now a celebration dance as the twins shout ‘yay we prayed for Iva’.

Ordinary moments yield true beauty in God’s kingdom.

Zimbabwe

Jemma and I visited Zimbabwe in April 2000. We found a stunningly beautiful country and extremely generous and hospitable people. As part of the trip we spent a short amount of time in Harare, the capital city. My memories of what we saw there will always stick with me and as I’ve followed news developments this week in Zimbabwe my mind has turned to April 2000 and our stay there.

Anti government demonstrations had been taking place as we arrived from the uk. Land reform was underway, mainly white landowners were being forced off their land. Jobs were lost, the agriculture sector began to collapse and there were lots of reports of brutality. Exiting the airport we found a heavy military presence and a few demonstrators who seemed to be in small clusters along the road side. We didn’t think much of it until we noticed many of them had blood stained clothes, bruises and bleeding faces. Something nasty had happened to these protesters, it was in plain sight of everyone and a warning to all who witnessed it had been issued.

In the city centre, around the presidential and government buildings were groups of heavily armed soldiers and road blocks in place. The soldiers were agitated and intent on moving traffic and pedestrians on as quickly as they could. It felt like a level above normal security. Our guide calmly told us we would be shot if we tried to break the security line.

What shocked us most was the sense of normality that surrounded these events. To us it wasn’t normal and it seemed a pervasive fear was being spread by those in control.

I have tracked from home the news from Zimbabwe for the last 17 years, some of it has made pretty grim reading. Robert Mugabe has clung to power and reports suggest the levels of brutality towards anyone who poses a challenge have continued to rise over that period.

Eugene Peterson @PetersonDaily wrote this week, “The kingdom of self is heavily defended territory.” It is still unclear as to what has happened in Zimbabwe this week is the end of Robert Mugabe’s ‘heavily defended territory’. He still holds some popularity for reclaiming land that was taken by the British in the 1920’s and is unlikely to resign without resistance. There are also suggestions of Chinese influence.

But the principle of defending your territory happens in workplaces, churches, families and organisations all over the place. Born out of insecurity and fear, it is always ugly and there are usually casualties.

Jesus taught his followers that the key to finding life is losing it for His Kingdom’s sake. In God’s kingdom success is not measured by how much you have rather how much you give away.

My prayer is for peace and stability in Zimbabwe.