hospitality mini-series

Desert Dad and I gave a sermon a few weeks ago, under the title ‘Is the church really family?’. It came at the end of a short series looking at singleness, marriage and family life. Speaking on 1 Peter 4:7-11, we focused on hospitality as the primary way in which Christians can really become ‘family’ to each other. If you’d like to listen to the sermon, you can do so either here (for the shorter version) or here (for the better version): your choice. Scroll down to 24/11/13, Al and Lucy Rycroft.

I made the two commonest errors known to inexperienced preachers: I spoke too fast and I included too many different ideas. (Sorry.) And there were plenty of thoughts I had to leave out when preparing. So, over the next few weeks, I’m going to be jotting down a few of them on this blog – things I didn’t have time to include in the sermon, as well as things I didn’t have time to go into in depth. I was immensely challenged – and still am being – by God’s promptings during sermon planning!

To whet your appetite, here’s what I have lined up:

1) Why open our homes?

2) What hospitality isn’t (Mary and Martha)

3) Hospitality = generosity (The little boy with the packed lunch)

4) The ‘how’ of hospitality no.1 – being intentional

5) The ‘how’ of hospitality no.2 – designing your home

6) The notion of personal space

7) Where’s the comfort?

8) The blessings of a hospitable home

I may play around a little with the titles, but that’s a rough outline. Mainly, I hope it will bless those of you who feel utterly exhausted by the idea of having others in your home, because hospitality is certainly not something to feel guilty about.

See you for the first installment in a few days’ time…

reflections on running a church toddler group (3)

This is the final of a trilogy of reflections on what it’s been like to lead our church toddler group, Tuesday Tots. My first post spoke of how our group is unashamedly Christian, but with no agenda for others to subscribe to our beliefs. My second spoke of the busyness and exhaustion entailed through running the group. This post looks at the importance of prayer.

I am a do-er. Prayer does not come naturally or easily to me, because I want to be active pretty much all the time. If I’m not engaged in a task on my to-do list, if I’m not feeling ‘productive’, then I struggle. So I’m incredibly grateful that, when we started Tuesday Tots, there were some wise friends around who inspired particular prayer prompts for the group. These prompts slow us down – they remind us that “unless the LORD builds the house, the builders labour in vain” (Psalm 127:1).

Firstly, we always pray for Tuesday Tots before we open the doors. Secondly, we aim to devote an hour or so of our Monday evenings to pray specifically for this group, and other mums/toddlers outreach projects around the city, from wherever we are. Getting together in an evening, when there are young children around and often husbands who work long hours, isn’t easy, but praying in our individual homes at the same time as others still gives us the solidarity of praying with others, in spirit if not in physical presence.

It’s not easy stopping to pray – but, ever since we started Tuesday Tots, I’ve been challenged that unless we’re committing this project to God in prayer, we might as well not be running it. A prayerful friend told me she never takes on a new commitment unless she knows she has the time to pray regularly for it. This sounds so obviously something I can agree with – and yet I still busy my life with action after action, filling every conceivable minute with ‘work’, rotas, good deeds, hospitality, church things, family and friends. All of these are good in themselves, but I know I take on too many commitments/relationships/favours without first asking myself whether I have the time to support them in prayer.

It was prayer which initially fuelled Tuesday Tots. A few of us sensed God particularly asking us to pray for the future of mums and families’ outreach in York, not knowing that just a few weeks later an opportunity would open up to start a new toddler group. God even seemed to be asking me to lay aside a different ministry – when I didn’t yet know what for. So, as Tuesday Tots started with prayer, so it is sustained by prayer. We don’t make decisions without several of us committing them to God first. We don’t make the group more complicated than it is, unless God makes that very clear.

And we’ve seen Him guide us so clearly! From additional volunteers turning up unexpectedly on the mornings we’ve needed most help, to raising our kitty from £10 to £90 in just a fortnight – God has been faithful, and will continue to be as long as we place this group into His hands.

Why am I waxing on about prayer? It’s been my observation that some church ministries – particularly those not overtly linked to worship, evangelism or discipleship – often function with little reliance on the Holy Spirit. Things happen because they always have done, because someone had a great idea, because there seems to be a need. But not necessarily because God is saying Here and now, this is what I want you to do. It feels like many ministries are a slog – and, whilst following God’s plan isn’t always going to be easy, I wonder how much we slog away at stuff which should have been finished long ago (or not started at all)? Carving out time for prayer helps keep us on God’s track.

Those of us who lead Tuesday Tots often feel that God keeps us on the edge – providing just enough of what we need (money, helpers, attendees), but not so much that we stop trusting Him. It’s been an exciting 15 months of relying on Him for the group, and gives us an enormous peace for the future. We don’t know whether the group will last another 20 years or be done with by the summer – but we feel sure that God will sustain it for as long as He wants, and that’s totally OK with us.

2014: the year of no guilt!

Happy new year!

(Have you noticed yet that it’s been nearly two months since I wrote anything on here? Should I give the usual excuses? Can we just gloss over it please? Thank you. Ahem.)

One of the most helpful things about blogging, now I’ve been doing it for 18 months or so, is that it acts like a kind of diary of what’s been going on in my head. I’ve just been re-reading the posts I wrote last Advent/Christmas/New Year, and it’s helped me to understand just how much God has done in our lives in the last 12 months. There’s an exciting story to come on this blog at some point during 2014 – but unfortunately it can’t be shared just yet. Those of you closest to me will know most of it, and some of you will have read it in the press. That’s a fraction of the story, but there’s a lot more to come. Ooh, now I’ve written that, I can’t wait to tell you!

But back to the New Year and all that. At the start of 2013, I resolved to make it a year of celebration. It was the first time that my resolution had been so open-ended and, I have to say, it worked a treat! It’s great to have resolutions, great to want to make positive changes in our lives, but the future is unknown, and any resolution kind of needs to take account of that if it’s going to be successful. Resolving to live a more celebratory lifestyle could have had many different end-results, depending on how our year went. As I look back, I’ve realised that the main way last year was more celebratory for us was that we made an effort to cook up a roast each Sunday, and invite different people to share it with us – some close friends, some people we hardly knew, and anyone in between! It’s become a family tradition now, something I know we’ll continue into 2014 and beyond. And of course there were other celebrations: celebrating God’s provision in Sabbath week, preparing parties to celebrate the kids’ birthdays, and celebrating this beautiful city I’m privileged to inhabit. I had no idea that the year would involve such unexpected happenings, but my resolve to celebrate through it all gave a kind of anchor to the ups and downs of the year.

This year, I’m going for a similarly open-ended resolution: I’m resolving to shed the guilt.

This needs some explaining. Guilt often gets a bad press, and I’m keen to point out that it can lead to positive things. Guilt is the way our conscience tells us when something’s not right, when something needs to be altered in our lives. But, more often than not, guilt enslaves us, strangling us to the point of gasping for contentment and life in all its fullness. It has the opposite effect of causing positive change – it causes negativity, as we not only fail to address the specific issue, but feel absolutely rubbish about it too. This year, I want to stop letting guilt take hold of me:

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.” (Romans 8:1-2)

I suppose I want to learn to follow more the law of the Spirit, and less the law of myself, which sets stupidly unrealistic standards, and then feels guilty for not meeting them.

I want to stop feeling guilty for shopping at Tesco, letting my kids watch TV, not doing any cleaning ever, sending my kids to preschool, not having a paid job, buying ready meals, patronizing Amazon, spending money on crafts, writing a blog, not writing anything on my blog, and oh the list goes on.

Do any of you feel the same? Do you have your own list? I pray 2014 can be a releasing year for us all!