Celebrating Community

The Dearne Community Arts’ Festival aims to champion creativity and celebrate community, and this week it managed to do both with the unveiling of the community mosaic in its new permanent home at Goldthorpe Library. The mosaic, started last summer at our church under the watchful design eye of artist Ruth Waterworth, involved 15 local organisations and 252 adults and it was great to have about 50 people at the official unveiling, led by Barnsley Bard Ian McMillan. Members of Dearne Kids, the local Brownies & Guides, Dearne Churches Together and Goldthorpe Library coffee morning, along with pupils of Goldthorpe Primary School and Sacred Heart Primary School and members of Barnsley Libraries and other local groups, came along to see Ian McMillan unveil the mosaic and enthuse about how this represents so much that is positive about our local community.

Looking through the photobooks of previous arts’ festivals:

Ian McMillan:

Artist and mosaic designer Ruth Waterworth:

More photos:

At this time when there is so much negativity about a small number of disruptive youths and the damage being caused locally, it is good to remind ourselves of the many positive things which happen locally and the very large number of people who work tirelessly, often in an entirely voluntary capacity, to make where we live a better place. If you’ve not yet seen it in person, you can view the mosaic at Goldthorpe Library on the first floor. It’s well worth a visit!

Laying Down The Baggage

Fiction has a series of bags and pockets that seem to contain magical depths. From Lily Bobtail’s ‘just in case’ pocket (from which string and other objects emerge to save Peter Rabbit from peril)…

… to Mary Poppins’ magic bag (from which hatstands, mirrors, plants and lamps emerge to make her room more habitable)…

… to Hermione Granger’s small, beaded, purple bag (from which clothes, books, potions and Harry Potter’s Invisibility Cloak emerge)…

… we see small items which have apparently endless capacity and long for such articles ourselves.

Failing possession of such bags, we have to resort to increasingly efficient packing and bigger bags! We pay extra for the privilege of having 22kg of baggage with us on our holidays. We buy bigger cars to cram in all the ‘stuff’ that we deem necessary for everyday life (pushchairs, car seats, camping equipment and so on.) Life may not consist in the abundance of our possessions (Luke 12:15), but you’d never think so from a cursory examination of our lives.

Many of us seem to carry our 22kg baggage allowance around with us on a daily basis, not just for a holiday! Imbued with Lily Bobtail’s ‘just in case’ philosophy, we seem to think we need to carry emergency provisions everywhere. Unsurprisingly, we become weary and burdened along the way.

Jesus’s invitation was to such people: ‘come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.’ (Matt 11:28) When we feel we have to carry everything around so we can cope with every emergency and tragedy of life, it’s a cumbersome thing. God does not intend us to carry the weight of the world on our shoulders. Our shoulders were not designed for that.

Instead, God offers us an exchange. We lay it all down at His feet and take His yoke upon us – one that is light and easy to bear. (Matt 11:28-30) He offers to walk alongside us, providing grace and strength to us at the right time. We don’t have to store this in ever increasing bags, hoarding it as a miser hoards silver and gold for a rainy day. We simply walk alongside Him, seeking His kingdom first, and we find the other stuff provided when necessary.

This is a radical, new way of living. It’s one which provides rest for our souls. As we learn the unforced rhythms of grace, we find a lightness in our spirits. Because God cares for us, we can live care-free lives, without baggage. (1 Pet 5:7)

A Busy Week

In addition to our usual weekly clubs (youth club for 5-11 year olds on Monday evening and Parent & Toddler group on Friday morning), we have a busy week ahead. The ‘Frontlines’ Bible study group is meeting on Tuesday evening and so our other midweek meeting will be on Friday morning when we will have a prayer meeting at 11.30 a.m. It’s so important that we pray together and listen to God’s voice as we share our hopes and fears with Him. As Oswald Chambers reminds us, ‘prayer is the greater work.’

On Wednesday 15th January, the Dearne Community Arts’ Festival community mosaic will be unveiled by Ian McMillan at Goldthorpe Library at 11.00 a.m. The mosaic was begun at our church on 1st June last year and in total, 15 community organisations and 252 people were involved in creating this stunning piece of artwork, designed by Thurnscoe artist Ruth Waterworth. If you’re free, do come along to the library (we’re upstairs!) to see it in its permanent home and share with those who created the mosaic. Free refreshments provided afterwards. If you’d like to be involved in this year’s Dearne Community Arts’ Festival (scheduled for Saturday 26th September at Astrea Academy Dearne), there’s a planning meeting on 15th January at 1.00 p.m. in the Snap Tin Cafe. All welcome.

On Saturday 18th January we’ll be holding our third Team Building Day between 4 and 6 p.m., led by Sarah Davey. The acronym ‘Together Everyone Achieves More’ is so true, and the church is a place where we all have a part to play in what God wants to do in our local community. This time, we’ll be looking at communication and vision as we think about how to share the gospel effectively in our particular setting. There’ll be fun, games, challenges and the opportunity to reflect on what God is showing us and how we want to take that forward. Afterwards, we’ll be eating together, so either bring some food or some money for a takeaway and enjoy getting to know people better in a very relaxed atmosphere!

In addition, we’ll be having some new front doors fitted on Friday and hopefully some new window panes to replace those which have been broken or ‘blown’ in recent weeks. Please pray for all that is happening in the building this week and for our area at this time when vandalism and crime seem to be flourishing. May God move by His Spirit and use us to be His hands and feet in our area, ‘with God in the community and with God for the community.’

Total Acceptance

Dave spoke tonight from Acts 8:26-39, the passage dealing with Philip’s evangelism of an Ethiopian eunuch, one of the first non-Jewish people to accept Christ as Saviour. Philip was involved in evangelism in Samaria following the martyrdom of Stephen, but an angel appeared to him to direct him to a deserted path where he was to meet with the equivalent of the Chancellor of the Exchequer from Ethiopia!

We know very little about this black African who was reading from Isaiah in what was not his native language. Presumably he was a God-fearer, but the fact he was a eunuch meant he could not be admitted into the temple. Perhaps he longed for acceptance and affirmation and this journey home may have seen him feeling rejected and no wiser than when he arrived. It is significant that the passage he was reading (Isaiah 53) spoke of suffering, rejection, humiliation and abandonment. God is able to draw alongside us, no matter what we are going through.

This passage teaches us many things. In Philip, we see a willingness to obey God, no matter how bizarre the angel’s instructions must have seemed. That obedience led to the salvation of one man, reminding us that God went to great lengths to speak to the Ethiopian. Each individual matters to God. He gives us total, unconditional acceptance and love, reaching out to us. God took the initiative in this encounter, demonstrating the depth of His love and concern. When we know ourselves to be totally accepted and totally loved, we can continue our journey as the Ethiopian did: rejoicing in God!

Avoiding the Blame Game

Stephen spoke this morning at Cherry Tree Court from John 9:1-3. Here, we find Jesus encountering (and ultimately healing) a man blind from birth, and the questions asked about his blindness still reverberate in our society. When something bad happens, the tendency is to look for someone to blame, and so people asked Jesus if the man or his parents had sinned, implying that his disability was a direct consequence of sin. The question was simply whose.

Blaming others is a natural human defence mechanism, going back to the first sin (Gen 3:11-13). We like to find fault or to blame others, and even God does not get away scot-free, for we are self-centred – and when we suffer tragedy, illness, suffering, pain, sorrow and loss, our first question is often, ‘What did I do to deserve this?’ Jesus challenges this tendency to blame ourselves or others, refuting the direct correlation between sin and problems. He told the people that ‘this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him’ and we are forced to see in this encounter that God can be glorified in all circumstances of our lives, even those we struggle to accept. Jesus performed a miracle and restored the man’s sight and He can perform miracles for us too. God makes the difference in our lives and is the presence we need to face every problem.

God wants us to move beyond blame-shifting and even beyond our relentless need to have answers to all our questions. He wants us to be confident He is on our side (Rom 8:31-32) and to walk in daily dependence on Him. God is the solution to everything we face in life; He is the presence who truly makes a difference.

Everyday Obedience

It’s easy to be as dazzled by the enormity and power of God when we read of Saul’s conversion as Saul was dazzled by the light from heaven. However, tucked away in this miraculous conversion story is a tale of everyday obedience which had remarkable consequences. This is the story of Ananias (Acts 9:10-18).

Ananias was a disciple based in Damascus. We know nothing of him other than what we read in these few verses, yet he was the person God chose to go to Saul and bring him into fellowship. He was clearly a person who listened to God and who was close enough to him to be honest and open in his responses to Him. When God told him to go to a specific place to meet a specific person (the detail is reminiscent of Philip’s experience in Acts 8), he objected, knowing Saul’s reputation as well as anyone! Nonetheless, when God gave him further instructions – including the revelation of Saul’s future purpose as an apostle to the Gentiles who would experience much suffering (Acts 9:15-16) – he shows the depth of his servanthood through his simple obedience.

Ananias’s greeting to the persecutor-turned-believer demonstrates he had fully grasped (and fully trusted) what God had told him: ‘Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ (Acts 9:17) In welcoming Saul as a brother, he showed an acceptance we are all called to emulate (I wonder if Paul thought of Ananias as he told the Romans, ‘Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.’ (Rom 15:7)) In modelling obedience to Saul, he became the living embodiment of what Christian discipleship looked like. He reached out to touch the blind man and immediately Saul could see again. We don’t know what happened to Ananias after Saul’s baptism, and if you are like me, you itch to know the details of the life of this remarkable man. What we do know from these verses is that Ananias played a key role in the acceptance of Saul as a true believer and he demonstrated an obedience that went far beyond his doubts and questions.

In my own life, I wonder about the combination of the spectacular and the ordinary. The spectacular and miraculous happen much less frequently than I would like; the times when I have heard God’s voice in the way Ananias did are not that common. But at the same time, I know that the ordinary and everyday are just as much part of God’s modus operandi as the miraculous and stupendous. Ananias will forever be remembered for his everyday obedience, but for Paul, this was yet another turning-point orchestrated by God. Even our everyday conversations and chance encounters can be vehicles for God. Do we have the same kind of listening ear that Ananias displayed? Do we have the same willingness to obey?