“Food-Shop” Challenge, Week Two

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I just wanted to write a quick update on the plan to cut my food bill in order to send money to Tearfund for those suffering a famine in East Africa.

I didn’t run out of fruit as I’d feared!  Hooray for bumper bags of apples.  The Lord provides.

I was definitely more aware of my general spending throughout the week, which can only be a good thing.  Especially living in a city, it’s so easy to fritter away cash throughout the week.  A coffee here, a sandwich there – it all adds up.

We decided to do it for a second week, which I think is definitely a good idea because you might find you can freeze things or you bought slightly too much of something the first week and can eek things out a bit.  What I mean is, I found it easier the second week to spend less because I’d made some foolish mistakes the first week, like buying too many sausages.  Also we were all set for dishwasher tablets and nappies.

Also, my children surprised me by not minding at all about some of the changes that I thought they’d really notice.  Eg.  I bought a giant tub of cheap natural yogurt instead of exciting little munch bunch ones (other brands are available), and they are perfectly happy with that.  They are also, dare I write it, happy with bread and butter!

I was reminded on Sunday, hearing a talk on giving (coincidence?), that our main motivation for giving is the generosity of Christ.  “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9.)  We should always be giving sacrificially to the Lord, our of gratitude to Christ for all he’s given to us.  So this little food-shop challenge is an extra bit of giving in a crisis, but the ultimate motivation is still the same.  This is something else to chat to the children about – what a blessing it will be for them if they can grow up as cheerful givers.

 

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“Food Shop” Challenge, Week One

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This week our family has spent less on food in order that we can send some money to those suffering famine East Africa (click here for the Tearfund appeal page).  It’s a pretty straightforward idea: we don’t really have spare cash lying around, so we need to go without some things in order to be able to give.  I know some people do things like live off £1 a day for 5 days, but when you’re feeding little ones that doesn’t seem like a very good idea.  It might not sounds like much, but our budget is tight already so it is a bit of a challenge, but definitely worth it.

There are several benefits, besides the fact that you’re able to help those suffering a famine:

  • It helps the children to have a global perspective, in their own little way.  As we eat our meals we can pray together for those in Sudan, Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia.  We can pray that it will help them to have concern for people in other nations as they grow up.
  • It helps us all to see how rich we are.  I cut our grocery bill by a third (it would have been more, but we needed nappies and dishwasher tablets – I know, first world problems!), but we’re still eating well.  They won’t go hungry, that’s for sure.  They just won’t be as spoilt for choice.  “It’s Cornflakes or Cornflakes, peeps!”  Knowing we can live comfortably for less helps us see how much we have.  This in turn should make us thankful to God for all he gives us.
  • It’s challenged me to have more concern for the poor.  Last night we had a homeless man sleeping outside our flat.  On the way past him, Ezra said “I think that man is poor, like us.” This led to a long chat with him about what “poor” really means!  It does not mean, you can’t afford a birthday party at the local soft play, or you can’t afford a Chelsea (eek) football kit.  But as I was putting dinner on the table, I was challenged by the thought that Spike was sitting out there, cold and hungry.  By going without some treats so we could send money to Africa, were we really showing care for the poor, or was it just a token effort?  So Mike took him down some roast pork and veggies, which were much appreciated.  Would I have done this if we weren’t already focussing a bit on the poor this week?  Would Ezra have said anything?  I don’t know.  But I’m glad he did.

So that’s it really.  Hope you find it helpful or thought-provoking as an idea.  We’ll probably do it again next week – and hopefully we won’t need any expensive things like washing powder.  I’ve done this before – for Napal that time –  but my memory of it is blurry.  (Maybe I was pregnant?) Hopefully if we do it often enough, our children will see it as normal and it will give them a more healthy perspective on wealth and poverty.  You might think it’s nowhere near enough, but I think it’s one way we can help others and teach our children to be grateful to God for our food, rather than taking it for granted and rattling through “grace” without really meaning it.

If we do things like this, let’s do it cheerfully.  God loves a cheerful giver.  As Chauncy the Raccoon says, “Those who are generous are blessed when they share their bread with the poor.”

For Ezra’s Sake

Dear friends,

Thank you for reading this. I’ve been wanting to talk to you about something but wasn’t sure how. You could say that in writing this open letter I’ve taken the coward’s way out. But hopefully I can express myself better this way, which is good because this is really important.

My best friend at school was Rachel (a lot of you know that!). We’re still friends now but inconveniently she lives 214 miles away. But back then, at the Comp, we were inseparable. Her mum was a PE teacher, but not in our school. I expect if she’d worked in our school it would have been hard for Rachel. It’s pretty inevitable that school kids complain about most teachers at some point or another. Few teachers escape unscathed from the cutting remarks of a hormonal adolescent mob. (I know this because I once was a hormonal adolescent, and later I was a teacher.) But if Rachel’s lovely mum (whose name I can’t even mention here, out of respect) had worked in our school, I wouldn’t have insulted her. I wouldn’t have made up a silly name for her, or rolled my eyes when I knew it was time for PE with her, or made fun of her when, for example, she wore something that didn’t match (I’m speaking hypothetically. She always looks fab). I wouldn’t have done that, of course. Why? Well, at the very least out of loyalty for Rachel, and out of respect for her mum. As a friend, the least I can do is not slag off her mum.

Maybe you can’t relate to this. Maybe you don’t like your mum, or maybe your best friend hated her own mum. Maybe you all got together and tore your mums to shreds on a regular basis. So let me try another example. Here are some pictures of my firstborn son, Ezra*.

I love Ezra John Brooks. He is precious to me beyond measure. I love the bones of him. I could eat him. When I listen to him explain something to me, my heart skips a beat. I heard him tell his teacher yesterday, “I’ll bring in my slip for the trip tomorrow,” and my heart swelled with joy. I know, it’s pathetic! What’s happened to me? It’s called motherhood.

So try to imagine for me, if you can, that you and I are together one day, running for a train. Infuriatingly, we just miss the train, arriving just as it pulls away, and you yell down the platform, “EZRA JOHN!”
That would come as quite a shock to me.
Or if you stub your toe and you shout, “Ezra $*!#ing John Brooks that hurt!”
Or maybe you order a glass of white wine and it costs £8. “For Ezra’s sake!” you exclaim.

If we’re together, and I hear you use his name like that, how will I feel? In my head I might think, “Hey, don’t blame him!” But the reaction would first and foremost be emotional. It would be like a knife to the heart, wouldn’t it? Hearing you use my son’s name like a swear word would make me feel like you were dragging my gorgeous boy through the proverbial mud. His name is part of him; they can’t easily be separated.  Now, I know you’d never do that. It would be a pretty weird thing to do! But even if people had, for some terrible reason, started using Ezra’s name in that way, I’m sure you wouldn’t use it. Not in front of me. And actually, out of respect for me I don’t think you’d do it while I wasn’t there either. “That’s my friend’s son” you’d think. “I’ll use a different word.”

Perhaps you don’t have a child of your own. In which case, try to imagine how you’d feel if I used the name of your favourite niece or nephew, or your boyfriend, or your Dad, or anyone you love and cherish. If I used their name when I was angry, or in pain, or sick of waiting, you wouldn’t just object intellectually: you’d be hurt.

Now here’s the really awkward part. If you use The Lord Jesus’ name as a swear word, that’s how it makes me feel. It’s a knife to the heart. He is my most precious thing, my treasure. He is ‘my North, my South, my East and West, My working week and my Sunday rest.’** He is so precious to me that my identity is wrapped up in him. When you insult him, you insult me (and vice versa). You may think this is crazy or weird, but it’s still true. So I wonder if I could ask you, at least when you’re around me, and even if it’s just for my sake, could you please, please not do that? I’d be so grateful. Some of you don’t do it, so if you’re thinking “I’ve never done that!” then thank you, and I hope you found this worth reading anyway. But I’ve written this more for the people who do use Jesus’ name like that. I love you, and I love spending time with you. I’d also really be so pleased if you could take this on board. Here are some words from one song which helps to put across how I feel about Jesus’ name:

What a wonderful Name it is
Nothing compares to this
What a wonderful Name it is
The Name of Jesus

You have no rival, you have no equal
Now and forever, our God reigns
Yours is the kingdom, yours is the glory
Yours is the Name, above all names

What a powerful Name it is
What a powerful Name it is
The Name of Jesus Christ my King.
(Hillsong, What a Beautiful Name)

Lots of love,

Me.

P.S. This isn’t the best reason not to misuse God’s Name, but it’s a valid one.

*I  picked one of my children for the sake of this article, but it could have been any.
**WH Auden, Twelve Songs (IX).

Ready?

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I asked for lots of “old lady” presents for my Birthday last month – and I was so pleased with them! Afternoon tea, tickets to watch the theatre at the cinema (it’s cheaper), and a book about Winston Churchill. This is the first of what may be several blog posts influenced by the big man himself, Sir Winston, First Lord of the Admiralty and Prime Minister of Great Britain (yes, that Winston Churchill).

The other day I read a speech he made to the House of Commons in 1911 when he was trying to introduce unemployment insurance. He talked about the fact that when the economy is doing quite well, we forget what it was like in harder times:

“Providence has ordained that human beings should have short memories, and pain and anxiety are soon forgotten. But are we always to oscillate between panic and torpor?”

I think (surprise, surprise) that he makes an excellent point. In many areas of life, we can so often act quickly and enthusiastically when something is urgent (e.g. you have 24 hours to do your tax return or complete your school application) or something is really concerning (e.g. you’re about to go overdrawn or get a parking ticket, or you think your child has a tropical disease). But the rest of the time, we can be a bit lazy and complacent.

We can see in God’s word that Sir Winston is right about humans being forgetful. Take the book of Judges for example: God’s people rebel, they get in trouble, they cry out for help, God saves them, they rebel etc. etc. Or consider Pharoah’s cupbearer in Genesis 40-41. Terrified about his dream, Joseph is the only one who can help him. Joseph asks him for one favour in return: “The chief cupbearer, however did not remember Joseph; he forgot him.” Then, when he’s panicking two years later, “Today I’m reminded of my shortcomings…” (Unbelievable!) Or in the New Testament, there are so many reminders to pray and keep trusting in the Lord (e.g. Philippians 4:4-7; James 1:22-25; 1 Peter 5:6-11), because we forget to do it, or we’re just lazy (or torpid, as Churchill would say).

As I wrote last week, we’ve been thinking about spiritual disciplines. I think many of us who struggle to keep up with regular, persistent prayer, find it much easier when we’re in a panic over something. My child is being bullied, or my husband might lose his job, or my mum has had some worrying test results. At these times, I don’t struggle to remember to make time to pray. It’s my priority. But when things are just pootling along nicely, I soon forget those concerns about provision or life and death, and then I might find my prayer time slips down the “to do” list.

So rather than “oscillating between panic and torpor,” would it not be better for my relationship with the Lord and with everyone around me (as well as my own sanity) if I chose secret option C? Perhaps we could call it Readiness. If I’m praying regularly for people I love, and thanking God for his ongoing provision, and asking him to help me serve him better, and the million other things there are to pray about, then when the air raid siren goes off I won’t be running around scrabbling to find shelter. I’ll be ready. I’m aware I’ve moved into a war metaphor now instead of an unemployment metaphor. Maybe it’s because I’m reading a book about Churchill, (did I mentioned that?) or maybe it’s because God uses a war metaphor when it comes keeping going in the Christian life:

Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled round your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.  In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. (Ephesians 6)

Let’s put on the armour of God, so that when the unexpected happens (bullyinh, bereavement, redundancy), or even just the everyday stuff (tantrums, tummy bugs, mess) we can stand firm and not run around like headless chickens, as though we don’t have an awesome and powerful God who is in control of even this.

Related post: Fight for your Life.

As ever, please share if this is helpful, and leave a comment if you have any!  Thanks for reading.

Monkey See?

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I’m trying to teach my children the piano. I can play, but I never do. They never practise, so we’re not making much progress. I know that if they saw me play, they’d probably play too.

When my husband does the washing up, he sings worship songs as loud as he dares (my children are heavy sleepers). When my 5-yr-old son plays with his Lego, he sings worship songs, too.

I have a lovely friend who always comments on my children’s clothes when I see her. She told me one day that her son is really fussy about what he wears, and she doesn’t know where he gets it from.

My neat-freak friends despair when their children cry over spilt yogurt; my own children are hopelessly messy and I know where they get that from.

I used to have so much trouble getting my children to eat vegetables, and when I asked people for advice they usually said first, “do you eat vegetables?”

 

Your children don’t just learn from what you say. In fact, many would argue that they learn a lot more from your actions than from your words. This is such a sobering thought.

A mentor of mine, Linda Marshall, used to say to me that if you wanted people to learn something, you should tell them, show them and then tell them again. I need to remember that the “showing” part speaks volumes.

I’ve been challenged over the past week about “spiritual disciplines” (which means reading the Bible and praying). I do these things, but I am not as committed to them as I am to teaching my children to do them. So if I don’t prioritise them myself, why should they value them? And worse still, am I teaching them to be hypocrites?

Thinking more broadly, I might teach my children to put Jesus first, but if I clearly put their education or their extra-curricular activities first, then why should I expect them to grow up following Jesus? I know this is a problem in many youth groups: parents end up blaming the youth leaders because their children give up on church, but they’ve clearly modeled to their children over the years that church is bottom priority.

We’ve just started a series at church on The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). These words from Jesus are seriously challenging:

‘Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.’

As Pastor Andy Mason said, the wide gate isn’t necessarily the way of sex, drugs and rock and roll. It can also be the way of false religion and hypocrisy. And what could be more hypocritical than telling my own children to rely on God through prayer, but not doing it myself? Instead of just telling my children to scoot along the narrow way that leads to life, I need to be on it myself. Otherwise why should they believe me?

They won’t find it much of a struggle to praise the Lord if they see that I truly love and worship him myself, with my words and my actions. This means that when I say, “Not now, I’m just reading my Bible,” I’m actually doing them a great favour. I read a leaflet once that said you shouldn’t feel guilty about reading a book in front of your children, because you are teaching them to love reading. Don’t feel bad about praying or reading the Bible when your children are safely doing something else (CBeebies?), because you’re showing them that this Jesus thing is real for you, too. It also shows them that we can’t sustain ourselves; we need Him to feed us and help us each day. As Pastor Andy says, if Jesus needed to pray each day, how can we survive without it?

And I just can’t mention the narrow and wide roads without ending on a Colin Buchanan song:

“Big car, sweet ride! But tell me where you gonna drive that thing?
Cos there’s a wide, wide highway and it leads to destruction;
There’s a narrow, narrow way and it leads to life;
You’ve got to drive, drive, drive with your eyes on Jesus
He’s the King, He’s the prize,
He’s the narrow, narrow, narrow way that leads to life!”

As ever, please leave your comments by clicking on the speech bubble at the top of this post.  And do share if you’ve found it helpful, thanks!

New Year, New Disappointments

Book review – John Hindley, Dealing with Disappointment

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Did you have a disappointing 2016? Well I do hope your 2017 is less so.

That’s not something people usually write in your Christmas card, but it’s pretty appropriate. We did actually get a card saying words to that effect, and I appreciated its realism.  Our 2016 wasn’t bad at all, as years go, but it was peppered with disappointments, as is all of life if we’re being completely honest.

Let’s take parenting as an example.  Being a parent is a wonderful blessing, for which I am truly thankful.  However, I would be lying if I said there was nothing disappointing about it.  The scope for disappointment is huge and varied.  Perhaps you were disappointed with how difficult (or easy) it was to conceive, or with how you felt during pregnancy. Perhaps you wanted a natural birth and in reality that was impossible – or vice versa! It’s easy to be disappointed with how little sleep you get and how slowly things improve.  You might feel disappointed with your child’s nursery (or at least the cost of it), or school, or their behaviour, or their interest in Jesus.  There are countless other opportunities to be disappointed as a parent, and I haven’t even mentioned the major one, the thing that disappoints me most, which is my own sin.  My selfishness, impatience, inconsistency, pride, self righteousness, unkindness and ingratitude.  And the rest.

So, what can be done? Well, I was so pleased to read this book by John Hindley, in which he goes through reasons we are disappointed and when that is entirely appropriate as well as when it isn’t.  As he writes, “you should be disappointed.”  It’s inevitable in this fallen world. This book, as the title suggests, helps us deal with that disappointment in an appropriate way so that we can use it to focus all the more on Christ’s return.

The first part of the book discusses why we are disappointed, and how the gospel can change our attitudes.  The second part is more practical, addressing different specific reasons for disappointment: our situations, our success, our ministry, ourselves, and God.  I found all of it really helpful: it really is a breath of fresh air.

Here are three highlights for me:

I really appreciated the way Hindley writes about parenthood, and even specifically motherhood.  I felt like he understands what it’s like.  He must communicate well with his wife, I assume!

The style of the book is really simple, clear and direct.  Hindley is succinct and challenging, which you really want when you’re short of time and looking for practical encouragement.

He emphasises the need for community , and how we are not meant to fight the Christian fight alone.

I hope that you will choose to read this book this year, because no matter how many times you are wished a “Happy New Year,” 2017 will not be free of disappointments. And that’s ok!  I hope you have a joyful January.

You can spend your Christmas money on this fabulous book here at the Good Book Company.

P.S. Did you notice I wrote this whole review without making any jokes about the book “not being a disappointment” or any similar cringe-worthy statements! It took some self control, I can tell you.  Well done me!

 

If only they’d checked!

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I really enjoyed this Christmas bite from the splendiferous Martin (he ain’t heavy) Ayers.  Perhaps you can spare 7 mins to have a listen too.  (I think it must have followed a little drama sketch, but you should be able to follow it without much trouble!)

Whether you’re an “Amos” or a “shepherd”, I hope you make the most of your Christmas xx