Youth Report – Alex

I am back and as this is my first youth report of the year – Happy New Year!!
I thought I would take this time to reflect a little bit about my time in America and how valuable it has been for my ministry here in Liberton Kirk. While I was there I spent 2 weeks having the full Young Life Experience. I stayed with a Young Life family, ran a program (program is all the activities which happen at a camp – both morning and evening clubs and activities) at a camp for 800 young people, saw how they run weekly clubs and bible studies, and met some incredible people who are on fire to spread the Gospel.

The biggest thing that hit me while I was there was at the camp. With 800 teens aged between 15 – 18 and over 100 leaders, I was one of the two leaders who were paid to do youth work. This blew my mind. There were over 100 volunteers, mainly aged in their 20s, giving up their weekends to be shining lights to the young people who they work with every week. Not only that, but almost all of these volunteers run a 2 hour club (like our Delta) every week, a bible study (like our Connection Groups) every week and give up their time to build relationships with kids in their own free
evenings – all around a full time job.

This sort of commitment and vision is there because many of them were Young Life kids themselves, and saw their YL leaders commit their lives to serving them in as many ways as possible. What struck me so hard is the amount they give every week to serve the lives of these kids. For me, this was inspirational. Youth work is way more than a job or a
profession, for these volunteer leaders it is a way of life. Every meal is shared, every spare moment is filled, and every life they touch is one touched by Jesus. Imagine what this area would be if we, together, had this vision for our
local teens. Imagine if every table had an extra space set, if every moment was a chance to share and if every teen was touched by Christ . . . Imagine.

For some dates for your diary, through to the Summer, see box at the top of the next page.

The extra-ordinary powers of Yeast

There’s nothing quite like having your own bread maker. We were given one a few years ago, and I soon discovered I was not the only person who enjoyed waking up to the smell of lovely fresh bread, newly baked and ready for breakfast. I also discovered how vital the presence (or absence) of yeast was to the whole process.

My only experience with yeast up until that point had been limited to the trials and frustrations of brewing my own beer, and it was only through the baking of bread that I began to fully appreciate its extra-ordinary powers. It only takes just a little yeast (and a lot of kneading) to enable the bread to rise. But woe to you if it is forgotten! There is nothing more disappointing than wandering barefoot down to the kitchen first thing in the morning, and opening the lid of your bread maker, only to discover a loaf that has not risen.

Awareness of the extraordinary powers of yeast has been around for a long time. Two thousand years ago Jesus was aware that yeast was something everyone could relate to, and he used it as a powerful illustration to help him get some of his points across. On one occasion (in Matthew 13) it was to emphasise something else that was remarkable:

“The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.”

The Kingdom he is talking about here is his Kingdom – it is what becomes possible when and wherever people are willing to put their faith in him. Faith is like yeast, it is possible for a small quantity if faith in Jesus to spread throughout a whole community, setting us free from our burdens and fears, and giving us the strength to face the future knowing we are loved by an ever-present God.

Another occasion when Jesus mentions yeast (in Matthew 16.6) is to illustrate the very opposite. He had just fed the 5000, AND walked on water, AND healed lots of people, AND then fed another 4,000, when the religious leaders of the day came up to him and conceded that they might be willing to believe in him if he would only do something miraculous for them. Shortly afterwards (in Matthew 16.6) he said to his disciples…

“Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”

Faith is like yeast – a little bit of faith can quickly spread throughout a large number of people, but so, according to Jesus, can the lack of faith. We know this from our own experience. Just as it can take only one enthusiastic individual to fire up a whole bunch of people, so it takes only one gloom-monger to deflate everyone.

To have faith is to walk around with your eyes wide open to all the amazing and wonderful things that God is doing in our lives. To lack faith, is to walk around with your eyes firmly shut to all possibilities. God is looking for faith-spreaders, not faith-inhibiters. So, here’s something to ponder, the next time you bite into a good slice of bread: which one are you?

Much love

What’s so special about candles?

We live in the age of research, when we are constantly bombarded by cold callers and questionnaires, and when people’s reactions to statistical information tend to range from avid interest to suspicion and even hatred. But here is one statistic that has the potential to perplex us all. Did you know that in this last year the British public spent in the region of sixty six million pounds on candles?

Why is this so, when electricity provides all the light we need at the flick of a switch? Is it because we long for a simpler age, when the only source of light available was one that flickered in the darkness?  To anyone who had to live through the blackouts of the 70’s, (when coal shortages caused by the miners’ strike led to power shortages on a nationwide scale), you will know just how boring this was. If all you have is candle light, then you can’t see very well, you can’t do all that much, and if you are not careful, you will strain your eyes into the bargain.

No, it’s not for sentimental reasons, or for practical ones that we love candles, it goes far deeper than that. John Drane, the main speaker at this month’s annual conference for churches in South East Edinburgh, came up with a much better reason. He thought it was more to do with the sense that the candle flame has a ‘life of its own’, not dependant on anything else. This, he suggests, is why its glow has the ability to quieten and comfort, inspire and encourage, and lift our spirits.

One of the main reasons I love a candle is because its flickering flame is so beautiful and yet so vulnerable – it can so easily be put out. It is for this reasons that candles and Christmas go so well together. Listen again to these words of Graham Kendrick.

Like a candle flame, flickering small in our darkness
Uncreated light shines through infant eyes

Stars and angels sing, yet the earth sleeps in shadows
Can this tiny spark set a world on fire?

God is with us, Alleluia
Come to save us, Alleluia, Alleluia

 Jesus is the vulnerable face of God – ruler of all creation, yet small and helpless in a manger. From him the light of hope shines out in the darkness, offering us a choice – either acceptance or rejection. To reject him is to turn back to the darkness. To accept him is to accept the possibility of his light spreading through our lives and his hope burning ever brighter in the world around us.

  Yet this light shall shine from our lives, Spirit blazing
As we touch the flame of his holy fire

God is with us, Alleluia
Come to save us, Alleluia, Alleluia

May the Light of the World shine ever brighter in your life throughout the season of Advent and beyond, into the year to come.

With much love, John

A tale of clams, psalms and mobile phones

I love pasta, and one of my favourite sauces is vongoli sauce. No surprise, therefore, that when Lindsay and I went out for a meal on our first night in Venice, I ordered a plate of pasta piled high with clams. Delicious! The fun started a few hours later. I woke up at one o’clock in the morning with stinging eyes and short of breath. Lindsay took one look at my face, which was puffing up dramatically, and said “Oh no! It’s the shellfish!”

I was suffering from an allergic reaction known as ‘anaphylactic shock’. The only other time I had suffered from one of these was several years ago here in Liberton. On that occasion I had to spend a night in A&E where I was pumped full of adrenalin, steroids and anti-histamines. Our problem in Venice was we had no adrenalin, no steroids, and only some very low strength anti-histamine tablets. On top of this, all the hotel staff had gone home, none of the telephones seemed to be working, and the usually busy streets and canals were now deserted.

One of the worst things about anaphylactic shock is the rising sense of panic you feel, as the symptoms get worse and worse. I was soon sitting on the side of the bed, gasping for breath. Two things then happened which made all the difference. The first was that I became conscious of Lindsay sitting beside me with her hand on my back, reading these words from Psalm 40 …

I waited patiently for the Lord my God;
He turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
out of the mud and mire;
He set my feet on a rock
and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a hymn of praise to our God…

She then prayed, asking God to heal me. I’ve always believed in the Holy Spirit’s power to heal, but never before have I experienced such an immediate and dramatic change. Within seconds I was breathing more easily, and soon was aware that the other symptoms were lessening too.

The second thing that happened was that Lindsay phoned my sister, Ella, on my mobile phone. While the time was 1 am in Venice, it was only 12 midnight in Birmingham, and Ella picked up straight away. Ella is a retired GP, and her calming voice drove away what remained of our fears. We spent the next couple of hours sitting up in bed watching a Clint Eastwood film dubbed into Italian. It didn’t improve my Italian much, but it took my mind off things, and by the following morning I was almost back to my normal self.

You may be wondering what lessons have I learned from this episode. I would suggest the following (although not necessary in this order):

1. Don’t eat clams in Venice
2. God can and does heal today
3. If, while in some foreign clime, you find yourself in need of a doctor’s advice, you can always phone my sister in Birmingham!!

Much love,

Is the Bible green?

I have often said that, looking back in 50 years time, one of the main things future generations will judge us on will be the way we have disregarded the environment. Yet, what has this got to do with the Christian Faith, and does God have anything to say on the matter? From the 16th September, we will be embarking on a Sunday morning series which hopes to answer these questions. The series is entitled “The environment – why should we care?” and will be based on a recent publication called ‘The Green Bible’*.

Rather than just another book about the environment, the Green Bible relates environmental issues and concerns directly to God’s word as revealed in scripture. It contains the full text of the Bible, with passages with particular reference to the environment lettered in green (and is, reassuringly, printed on recycled paper). It is not just a Bible, however. It also has a 150 page introduction with articles by well known Christian writers (including James Jones, N.T. Wright, Ellen Davis, Desmond Tutu, Barbara Brown Taylor, and Pope John Paul II). It also has a very useful index. Even without the Biblical text, it would be a useful resource to possess.

Our Sunday morning services will also be part of a ‘Whole Church Study Programme’, where you will have the opportunity to sign up to one of the discussion groups meeting at various times during the week to discuss the issues raised. Discussion will be based around the ‘Green Bible Trail Guide’ – six weeks of daily readings found at the back of the Green Bible, which takes us through the basics of our faith as seen from the wider perspective of the whole of God’s Creation. It includes passages to read and questions to discuss. It also includes ideas for practical application, and a section entitled ‘Where do you go from here?’

The themes, which we will be preaching on each Sunday, are as follows:
The environment – why should we care?
…because God made it and it is good
…because it is where God can be found
…because it cares for us
…because God wants us to
…because our sin is harming it
…because of God’s promise that all will be made new

So, look out for the sign-up sheets, and try to get involved. Remember, the better informed we are the more we can do, and the more we can do, the better the future will be for our children and for their children too.
Much love

*The Green Bible is published by Collins, and can be ordered through the Faith Mission Bookshop

Beach Communion

Communion on the beach is not a new thing. In John chapter 21 we find the first written record of communion on the beach, when the risen Lord Jesus shared breakfast with his disciples. For them it was as reinstatement of old friendships and trust, as well as a re-committement to each other in the face of what lay ahead. For us on Sunday, it was an affirmation of our shared faith in Jesus, and of our unity as part of the family of God.

For the past few years we have finished our Congregational picnic with an act of worship, and last Sunday, in response to popular demand, we included family communion.

We had no books, so everything had to be well-known. We began with a simple children’s chorus – ‘I’ve got a very big God-O’, with one of the teenagers leading the actions. Andy Chittick, our youth leader, then led us in prayer, and Ruth Davies, our Reader, then presented a dramatised version of the parable of the ten virgins, (Matthew 25), drawing on various people of all ages who had been roped into the parts with little warning.

What lessons can we learn from the parable of the ten virgins?

  •  Firstly, that God’s Kingdom is like a big wedding celebration – something not to be missed, and well worth waiting for.
  •   Secondly, that our faith needs to be current – we can’t just rely on moments from our past.
  •  Thirdly, that our faith needs to be our own – it can’t be borrowed from anyone else.

We sang ‘Give me oil in my lamp’, (including the verse ‘give me wax for my board, keep me surfing’), after which we sat down in groups and talked about things we were thankful to God for in the last year, and things we were looking forward to in the year to come.

Finally, after three simple questions which affirmed our faith, we shared communion together. We all stood in a big circle around a small make-shift table. I made it clear what we were doing and why, and that by sharing the bread and the wine we were affirming our belief that Jesus died for us, and our commitment to follow him.

All ages were welcome, but no one was forced to be there, so, while a number of kids went off to play on the nearby sand-dunes, most  stayed with their mums and dads. As the bread and then the wine were passed around the circle from hand to hand, there was a clear sense of our unity in the presence of God. As  we shared the peace afterwords, there was a clear sense of celebration.

Our closing hymn was ‘Jesus loves me, this I know’, and for me it summed up all that had just taken place. I have many memories of sharing the Last Supper with many different people in many different places all over the world, but this is one of the best.

Here is part of the prayer that we used.

Loving Father, as we have shared in the Lord’s supper, we remember those who won’t be having any supper tonight. As we have come together as a family, we remember those who have no family, or who are sad about someone they love. As we have celebrated our faith, we remember those who are missing out on that faith.

Send your Holy Spirit upon us now, and upon this bread and this wine so that, as we share it together, we may be filled afresh with your love and be able to serve you better, bringing your love into the lives of those who need to feel it most .