Supporting churches to include people with Autism and Learning Disabilties

Posts tagged ‘#Bible’

3 Ways to Disciple Adults with Learning Disabilities

  1. Reach
  2. Grow
  3. Send

This is the ministry statement of our church, you can see more about it here. It seems simple…and maybe we do make it more complicated than it needs to be.  This year we are seriously praying about and exploring how we disciple our adults with learning disabilities.

Reaching

We don’t run our Good News Group through the school holidays, except for a BBQ that we are having on Wednesday. People miss it, but it also gives us as leaders, time to reflect and seek God for his plans for the coming year. When we took on the role of leaders (unexpectedly!) Bob, Gill and I agreed that we could not do it without a sense of God’s vision for the ministry.  The first indication from God was to “reach out”.  At the time we were concerned,  each of us had commitments and other ministries that gave us very little time or opportunity to get out and about into our community, but we prayed… Thy Will be Done.

Growing

What we have seen is God building a ministry that is reaching out in ways we could not imagine in those early days.  This blog and my website – www.reachoutasc.com with resources that people can use is part of that, along with the Disability Network we have helped set up.  It seems like God’s intention has been for us to reach out to other churches and support them in their inclusive ministries…and there is more of that to come.

This summer God has been leading us to pray more and more about growing disciples.  We have high expectations of God’s Word in our Bible teaching, we share and teach the Gospel and spend much of our time helping our members understand God’s Word.  It is a joy to see how how members are growing in their knowledge and response to the Bible.

We already spend a good portion of our time sitting with our members individually and in small groups to talk with them about putting God’s word into practice in their lives.  We have prayed with them and taught them how to pray.  We listen to their problems and issues and help them apply God’s word to those.  We encourage those that are able, to read the Bible for themselves (the Prospects booklets have been helpful for this, especially as they also come in a CD version for those who can’t read – see below) So far, this has been our experience of growing disciples.

But a new hunger is welling up inside us to explore making disciples in a much deeper way.  I am currently chatting to our vicar about discipleship, and looking at how we can adapt and apply the principles and practices to our group.  We would like to start with some small group or 1:1 Bible study where the participants have more opportunity to contribute and do some self study.  The challenge is finding material that is either adaptable or has already been written with adults with learning disabilities in mind.  We have done some in the past, using a variety of resources.  One of these is the Easy English version of the Bible Click here to go to it, which is accessible online.  It has been really useful to us in preparing our weekly teaching sessions but most of our group do not have access to the internet and so it isn’t very accessible to them!  I’m quite excited about Biblical’s plant produce an accessible Bible, in partnership with Torch Trust, Prospects and Urban Saints and will be writing a blog post for them soon. You can see an article about it here…

Sending

This should be a natural extension of our discipling.  If we are growing strong, confident believers, then they should be able to go out and talk to others about Jesus, whether that is within the other church ministries, such as the children work, to the other residents and carers who share their homes, or actually getting involved in missions further afield.  This is something that will be wonderful to explore.  We have begun but there may be much more we can explore as we reach out, grow disciples and see where the Lord takes these wonderful people we have the privilege to be joined in faith with.  We don’t want to see their disability as a barrier or a limitation, but as a gift and opportunity to reach others for Jesus.

What are your experiences of growing and discipling children and adults with learning disabilities, or with autism?

It’s Christmas!

Donkey’s, sheep, kings, innkeepers, shepherds, Mary, Joseph, angels, robots, dinosaurs and aliens…

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Yes, it’s the Nativity season, and in my primary teaching years it was the most stressful yet exciting and yes, shedding-a-tear-time in the whole year.  We generally kept to the Nativity theme, although some links were quite tenuous! My favourite one was done completely in rhyme, the whole way through.  I managed to get about 5 consecutive years out of that one…but then someone brought in ‘The Grumpy Innkeeper’ and we had to go with that…but still…

Do you remember the Nativities you were involved with as a child?  I have vivid memories of going to school in my pyjamas when I was 7 years old…and the song…”Girls and boys, leave your toys, make no noise, kneel at His crib and worship Him…” I can still remember most of the words!

My worst experience was at Sunday School. There was a lack of boys in the group and they needed a Joseph…I can’t tell you the embarrassment of being a 12 year old girl being forced to be Joseph in the Nativity…the only saving feature is that they made me wear a beard – and so at least I wasn’t that recognisable.  My brother took the mickey out of me for ages after that!

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Finally, in my last year at primary school I got to be Mary, with lines to learn and everything.  My best friend was angel Gabriel, but we kept being late for before-school rehearsals and were threatened with the sack!  We weren’t sacked in the end, phew! My mum remembers this performance with pride, but only because I carried on courageously as the scenery collapsed around me…and stood my ground as I refused to hold Joseph’s hand as we walked around the school hall on our way to Bethlehem!

We all remember the Nativity and children everywhere are going through the same story these next few weeks. for many of them it will be the only time they hear anything about God’s Son Jesus and let us pray that seeds will be sown as they wonder who this baby was and what relevance he has to their lives.

Churches too are gearing up for the celebration….and we too, at the Good News Group are getting ready to share our version of the wonderful story this Wednesday.  Please pray for us.  It is our main outreach of the year and we encourage all our members to invite their friends, housemates, families and carers to come and share in our joyful celebration.  All our members are involved and doing something, reading, praying, acting, puppeteering and the tableau that we will create as we go along will not leave a dry eye in the church!

Here’s a photo or two of our service last year, and if you are local – come and join us 5.45pm start, Leyland St Andrew’s church!

Actors and Readers

Actors and Readers

Singing and Signing "Come and join the celebration".

Singing and Signing “Come and join the celebration”.

A Book, Summer and Welly Throwing!

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The Good News Group takes a break in the summer, while leaders go on holiday or have children to look after (the members are more sensible and take their holidays when schools are in, much cheaper!), but we do find ourselves missing each other.

Keswick 2014 (7) Keswick 2014 (22)

To keep us all in touch we organised our annual trip to the Keswick Convention where Prospects (www.propsects.org.uk) were running a week of sessions for people with learning disabilities. As we are supported by Prospects, it was great to meet up with their leaders and other groups like ours. We enjoyed learning about the Bible together and as usual our members were eager to join in the drama!  A very hot and sunny day enabled us to enjoy a picnic on the school lawn, followed by a noisy sing-a-long on the journey home. (M6 only held us up for an extra hour!)

Summer BBQ 2014 (7) Summer BBQ 2014 (11) Summer BBQ 2014 (14)

This week we had a BBQ on the church field.  It was good fun, and after the unsettled weather, we were blessed to be able to sit outside. We really thanked God for enough food (down to the last sausage) and a good laugh as we engaged in a welly-throwing competition.  Well done Karen and Martin for being the competition winners and for the carers Mel and Mark who did super throwing too!

I'm not a great designer but needed a temporary cover!

I’m not a great designer but needed a temporary cover!

We have had a vision to share our Bible teaching materials with others and so I’ve spent the summer putting together Book 1 – “Understanding the Gospel.”  This is a collection of 6 sessions that were inspired by the “Two Ways to Live” booklet by Phillip Jensen & Tony Payne. However, we built a full service and teaching session around each section of their booklet. Our adults with learning disabilities find it easier to access the Bible through story. So firstly we link an idea to a story and use different communication styles, repetition and visuals to engage them with that story. We use an easy English version of the Bible. For some, sensory activities are the way that they engage with the story and so we include them too. We choose a simple objective, a message we want them to learn, in just one sentence, then the talk we do is based on helping the members understand this message.  Active prayer is also important to us as we teach our members HOW to pray for themselves.  I’m just finishing off a take-home sheet for each section. I have been asking people to trial these for us and will be setting up a survey online to see how they find it.

We’d love you to pray for this. We’d like to have it published and available to all churches. We don’t want to make money from this but do believe that these materials can be used in all-age services and with 1:1 Bible study with people with learning disabilities. I’m sure there are parents with children with learning disabilities or autism that might find these useful too.  I have enough Bible teaching sessions from our group of 6 leaders to write another dozen books, from the old and new testaments – opening up the Bible to a large group of people who find sitting through an academic sermon difficult, or who can’t read the Bible for themselves.  I only have confidence in them because I see our group members engaging, enjoying and learning from our teaching. They love the Bible, understand the gospel and respond to it by wanting to make Jesus their king.

You’ve been quiet – please do comment and say hello, I know you’re still there!

We’re in Christianity Magazine!

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We are very excited. The buzz of anticipation has been growing for weeks as we knew it was going to happen! And today it did!
Back in February, Sarah Lothian, journalist and writer, travelled up to attend one of our Good News Group http://wp.me/P2MVJu-6n meetings and interviewed some of our members and serving team.
And now, in the August edition, her 1000 words about our ministry has finally appeared and we couldn’t be more pleased. You can find it here…http://www.premierchristianity.com/Current-Issue

So if you have read this and decided to investigate the link to this blog here are some of my favourite posts that I think give an overview of our passion to teach the Bible to adults with learning disabilities well, to build our members up as disciples of Jesus and contributors to the body of Christ and to deal with some of the difficult issues that this and any ministry might come across.

You can get in touch with comments and questions at includedbygrace@talktalk.net

  1.  _45233302_f238da6b-d622-47fe-9753-72aba54ab2c3I did a series of posts about the different BARRIERS people with learning disabilities can face    “Barriers” http://wp.me/s2MVJu-barriers  “Barriers 2” http://wp.me/p2MVJu-4t  “Barriers 3” http://wp.me/p2MVJu-4C  “Barriers 4”  http://wp.me/p2MVJu-4H  “Barriers 5”  http://wp.me/p2MVJu-8I
  2. IMG_0223 This lead to a couple of posts about how we can communicate well to people with learning disabilities: “A model of God’s communication” http://wp.me/p2MVJu-4U , “Explaining ‘sin'” http://wp.me/p2MVJu-8y
  3. IMG_0214 I’ve done some posts about our teaching the Bible sessions and topics.  From creation to revelation we don’t want to leave out any part of the word (although we haven’t got through all of it yet!!!!)  Judges: http://wp.me/p2MVJu-80  Creation: http://wp.me/p2MVJu-8q  Christmas: http://wp.me/p2MVJu-mb  Noah to Jesus: http://wp.me/p2MVJu-ok  Peter: http://wp.me/p2MVJu-p1
  4. MP900390083 These post cover some of the issues we’ve had to deal with such as discipling, prayer life and discord: “Washing up and a one-legged puppet”  http://wp.me/p2MVJu-bC  “Enabling PLD to be active in prayer”  http://wp.me/p2MVJu-8b  “Age-Appropriateness” http://wp.me/p2MVJu-5e   “Adult’s behaving badly”  http://wp.me/p2MVJu-mD  “Whose choice is it?” http://wp.me/p2MVJu-oP
  5. gold-panning I write a lot.  Here are some articles and stories I have written… “Life’s not fair…Ecclesiastes and Wisdom”  http://wp.me/p2MVJu-p8  “Panning for Gold and being honest with God” http://wp.me/p2MVJu-oF  and finally my short story,  “She danced for Him.”  http://wp.me/p2MVJu-m6

Do take the time to look at some of these, make comments and please do return.  We’d love comments about the article and to know about your stories of working with people with learning disabilities in church too!   We are putting together our teaching materials to publish and share with others so if you are interested in learning about these, get in touch.

God bless you all.

Rejoice in the Lord, good people!
    It is only right for good people to praise him.
Play the lyre and praise the Lord.
    Play the ten-stringed harp for him.
Sing a new song[a] to him.
    Play it well and sing it loud!
The Lord’s word is true,
    and he is faithful in everything he does.
He loves goodness and justice.
    The Lord’s faithful love fills the earth.
The Lord spoke the command, and the world was made.
    The breath from his mouth created everything in the heavens.
He gathered together the water of the sea.
    He put the ocean in its place.
Everyone on earth should fear and respect the Lord.
    All the people in the world should fear him,
because when he speaks, things happen.
    And if he says, “Stop!”—then it stops.[b]
10 The Lord can ruin every decision the nations make.
    He can spoil all their plans.
11 But the Lord’s decisions are good forever.
    His plans are good for generation after generation.
12 Great blessings belong to those who have the Lord as their God!
    He chose them to be his own special people.
13 The Lord looked down from heaven
    and saw all the people.
14 From his high throne he looked down
    at all the people living on earth.
15 He created every person’s mind,
    and he knows what each one is doing.
16 A king is not saved by the power of his army.
    A soldier does not survive by his own great strength.
17 Horses don’t really bring victory in war.
    Their strength cannot help you escape.
18 The Lord watches over his followers,
    those who wait for him to show his faithful love.
19 He saves them from death.
    He gives them strength when they are hungry.
20 So we will wait for the Lord.
    He helps us and protects us.
21 He makes us happy.
    We trust his holy name.
22 Lord, we worship you,
    so show your great love for us.

Psalm 33 – Easy English Version    https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=psalm+33&version=ERV

Panning for Gold and being honest with God.

 

Nothing, especially God, is simple.

SCBUIf someone was born with a disability; and if I believe psalm 139 about God creating us in the womb; then has God created the person with that disability or impairment?

Ummm…hard and uncomfortable question…

These past few days I have been encouraged and challenged to dare to ask God and myself the hard things I wonder about disability. The things I usually push to the back of my mind…fearful of not knowing…or not wanting to explore the deep places of God where I might find some answers and probably more questions.
It started with the Association of Christian Writers weekend at the gorgeous Scargill House in Yorkshire. Adrian and Bridet Plass along with Sheridan Voysey, encouraged and challenged us writers to ‘Pan for Gold’ in the story of our lives and of those we write about. Gold, you see, takes some patience to collect. It settles in miniscule flecks and after a lot of patient ‘panning’ to filter away the unnecessary and irrelevant.
The gold of our lives can be found when we look with patience and perseverance, carefully sifting and finding. As writers we looked at how we share our stories in memoir that can be meaningful to our audience. Sheridan Voysey shared his story and how he had brought it under a theme, of broken dreams and new beginnings. But honesty is very important. God can deal with our honesty because we bring it to him with all the repentance, confusion, emotional baggage and rawness that go with it. God loves us to come to Him as we are, not as we pretend to be.

gold-panning

My life story is inextricably linked with people with a disability. I have supported and worked in care, education and churches for a long time. I realised that I have many questions I haven’t dared to ask. Many of them are linked with those “Whopper questions” that dare to ask God ‘WHY?’ They sneak about the back of my mind threatening to make themselves know while I politely push them back and tell them…Not now!

So, here were these questions about why people are born disabled, why do they face so many obstacles, why do they suffer… and then a huge cavernous hole with devouring monsters opens up in front of me, threatening to unleash the whole caboodle of tricky questions about life, suffering, death, blessing, growth and God! Thanks Adrian…I thought they had been well-sealed away.

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    And two days later I attend the Enabling Church conference of the Churches for All organisation in West Bromwich, near Birmingham. So many people, worshipping, listening, discussing and sharing together. There were signers and interpreters, Braille hymnbooks, subtitles, wheelchair users, blind, deaf, learning disabled, able-bodied and autistic people – all together with the purpose to find out how to make churches more inclusive.
And we didn’t dwell on the big questions, or did we?  Here are some of the things that made an impression on me…
Professor John Swinton started it off by saying
“There are many different ways of being a human being and encountering the world.”
He encouraged us to;
“Be a guest in the world of a person with a disability, learn from them and their lives, let them               serve and give to you.”
Haydon Spenceley, a PHD student who happens to be a wheelchair user said;
“People with disabilities have enough pain, suffering and injustice, without the church making it worse.”
Ann Memmott explained how an autistic person can be supported in church and that current research is showing maybe up to 1 in 30 people have autism. What are the statistics in your church?
Jonathan Edwards, (the Baptist Minister), challenged us to find out what the reality of the Welfare Reforms mean to people with disabilities in our congregations and communities. He said we should be speaking up for the vulnerable and speaking out for those who have no voice, or who can’t.
Finally I listened to Care for The Family’s additional needs team. They spoke about how we all long for acceptance AND for significance…therefore HOW can we identify and encourage people with learning disabilities and additional needs to develop and use their gifts in our church?

This post is not about providing answers. In fact the questions may not have any neat or simple idea or answer. I am exploring questions and challenges God has brought to me through these two experiences and praying about how they challenge us in our church. I have to ask myself –
Do I trust that God loves us, accepts us, helps us, blesses us, builds us, moulds us, disciplines us, is delighted with us and brings out the tiny flecks of gold in our lives through patient, careful ‘panning’ of the experiences, the pain, the suffering and the triumphs of our lives?

What about you, dare you ask some big questions?

Isn’t that panning for the gold?

From Noah to Jesus

This is our puppet stage for our Noah series – thanks to Bob and Amanda for their creative work!

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At the Good News Group we want to help our members understand that the whole Bible leads us to Jesus and this term we have been studying Noah. It being a short half term of 4 sessions the story of Noah just happens to take up 4 chapters of Genesis…so that was helpful – one chapter a week!

As usual we tell each part of the story in different ways so that the wide variety of people we have coming to our group can hopefully access the story on a level that is appropriate for them. Again, pictures, Makaton, sensory experiences and objects, repetition, simple and clear verbal language, puppets and drama have been used. Here are some pictures…

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We have been through the story and not shied away from the harsh facts of people’s SIN (ignoring God) caused God to want to destroy them. I think our group are getting used to the concept of SIN (and GRACE!) as we tell the gospel through all our teaching – not to make them feel dammed – but to explain that we cannot earn our approval from God…and that wonderful glorious gift of GRACE that came through Jesus.

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Just before Easter as our teaching on the Easter story came to a close we set up a way for our members to respond to the gospel. This is not easy when we don’t know what our members understand but we trust the Holy Spirit to do His work and want to give a clear opportunity for everyone to come forward and receive Jesus as their saviour.

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We use a set of dark and white cloths. The dark cloth represents our living in darkness when our SIN means we ignore and say ‘no’ to God. Each person is offered one of these (with added visual symbols to help them remember what it means) and then invited to come to the cross and exchange it for a white cloth which represents our SINS being forgiven and forgotten. We pray with our members in small groups or individually and always respect their choice of whether to respond or not. We tell them that a Christian is someone who has said ‘YES’ to God and believed in his son Jesus.

Like all analogies this isn’t perfect, perhaps a bit messy, but it is about empowering our members (and their carers) to make a decision about whether they want to be a Jesus follower or not. We cannot make that decision for them but are endevouring to present the Gospel in a way that they can understand and respond to if they wish.  (And many of them have…)

 

High Expectations

inclusive church
“Disabled people are not incomplete examples of so called “normal” humanity but complete persons before God. Their impairments and disabilities are part of their human identity…God has called each of us into being. None of us is a surprise or an accident or a mistake and certainly not an embarrassment to God. He has called us into being and each one of us has a vocation.”
Bob Brooke p28 in “Enabling Church” by Gordon Temple and Lin Ball (2012)

What do you really think of people with disabilities? Are they people we care for or minister to? Are they numbered amongst your friends or in your family? Do you see having to make accommodations for them as a chore? Are they a part of the church that can’t serve but need people to serve them? Are they receivers rather than givers?

The language we use about people with learning and other disabilities in society and in our churches reflects and informs our attitudes. Currently there is a new Children and Families Act going through parliament which sets out a new SEN code of practice. It is all about meeting the needs and providing the services children with SEN and disabilities need from others. The media has been full of negative reports concerning the assessment of people’s disabilities for benefits and whether they deserve housing benefit if they have a room in their house that is necessary or not. Attitudes, comments and beliefs that inform people’s view of people with disabilities are becoming more negative…so much that I wonder what happened to all the positives of the 2012 paralympics.

The Bible states:
“For it was you who formed my inward parts;
You knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
That I know very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
When I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes looked upon my unformed body.
In your book was written
all the days that were formed for me,
When none of them as yet existed.”
Psalm 139 verses 13-16

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.”
2 Corinthians verses 4-7

An inclusive church is one that sees each person as having equal worth and as having something to contribute. The trouble is that we often deliver a ‘one-size-fits-all package that means that some people are excluded. We use complicated language, we ask people to stand to sing, we ask people to serve and then expect them to do it in a way that lives up to someone else’s strict expectations. This leaves many people feeling a failure in the church, not just those with disabilities. Only this week I was speaking to a friend who is a new Christian. She has joined a good church but already finds the language and expectations confusing. How can we talk about a God of grace when they are trying to fit people into a mould she doesn’t understand, or feel that she can never fit into?

We are trying to address this at our Good News Group. First we have to establish a right attitude…God loves us all equally. We are all his children and all have a purpose in his plans. We can all receive and serve.

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In reality it means flexibility….In how we do things and expect things to be done and in how we teach the Bible.
In how we do things we have to look for ways the people with disabilities can use their interests, gifts and willingness to serve the group and the wider church. Therefore we started asking for volunteers to do many of the weekly ‘jobs’ that enable us to function. It has been very successful in that the team feel less pressured and have more time to build relationships with the group, some things are done slower or differently but they get done with a sense of achievement we can all appreciate. The members of the group are active and not passive and are learning new skills. There is a greater sense of ‘oneness’ in the group rather than ‘us and them’ and it is beginning to feel more like the kind of ‘real’ church we see the Bible asking us to be. We are looking to find ways in which the members can be involved in contributing to the leadership of the group. We already seek their views and take on their ideas but how about seeking to find those with leadership potential and giving them a place and voice on the leadership team?

In teaching the Bible the early leaders made a declaration not to treat these people like children but to aim to give them access to the Bible as adults. This is what I first admired about the group when I joined. The challenges have been that those preaching have had to learn new ways of communicating and making that teaching accessible. We have had to learn about our members and how they learn. We watch their responses and reflect on what works well and what doesn’t. We bought a symbol package, learned Makaton and puppeteering, and found sources of good pictures that weren’t childish. We learned to explain complicated and academic words clearly and step by step. We learned how to address challenging concepts such as sin, salvation and reconciliation. We explore the old and new testaments and don’t rule any part of the Bible out because it is unpalatable. We have learned to see Jesus in the whole Bible and help our members see Him too.
I have been delighted and amazed at the response to our Bible teaching but I know we cannot rest…

Where we in our group have high expectations of what our members can do and can access in terms of understanding the Bible, we know this is a small and insignificant part of the whole church in this country. I long to take what we have learned and talk and equip other churches to see how people with disabilities can make the body of Christ whole. So many churches are lacking because they don’t have people with disabilities or if they do, don’t know how to really include them. Those of us who do must speak up more and reach out. We should be sharing and challenging and equipping others to be inclusive church. I long to see a shift and change that moves us away from rituals and specific ways of doing things and instead be real families that love and serve Christ Jesus our Lord.

Thanks to those who are already doing this – I know some of you and you inspire and encourage us all at GNG and me personally. Here’s a great resource to start you off:

Click to access Life-to-the-Full-Church-resource-booklet1.pdf

Please do comment –  I love it when you do  🙂

Angel Messages

d0066The first thing I love after a break from Good News Group is the greetings I get as I walk through the door. After a long day at work and a staff meeting I rush to church to stumble in with my bag of admin and resources…to a warm and wonderful welcome from our group members. No matter how stressful the day – two minutes after arriving at Good News Group I feel like I’ve been sat in a large armchair and given a hot mug of tea and a soothing shoulder massage…

This term everyone is gearing up for Christmas. We have decided to look at John the Baptist and how God gave the message loud and clear…JESUS IS COMING!

IMG-20131112-00849I think I got the easiest week to deliver…How the angel Gabriel came to deliver the messages of the birth of John to Zechariah and Elisabeth and then of Jesus to Mary.

Again I tried to include sensory experiences, visual and drama. The smell of incense was a good element to use as Zechariah offered it up to the Lord in the temple. We had a married couple whose anniversary it was that day so they were an obvious choice to play Zechariah and Elisabeth which they were both delighted to do.

One aspect of the story I wanted to show was that angels are not the fluffy, fairy-like people we often associate them with. Fortunately the video clip I found had a ‘real’ looking angel on it and we talked about how angels are God’s soldiers and messengers. It was fun dressing up one of our male leaders as a soldier. To finish off I asked two of our members to come and be God’s messengers. We spoke about how God sent a message to Zechariah, and then to many people through his son John…and the message that JESUS IS COMING is still the message he gives us today.

The ‘messengers’ gave out a little envelope to everyone and inside was one of these…

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(This is a red heart Christmas Tree decoration with a heart shaped message that I printed off onto sticky label paper on my computer.)

Remember everyone…JESUS IS COMING and we hope and pray that message brings joy to your life.

Amen

 

“En-courage-ment leads to courage”

photo from microsoft office images

photo from microsoft office images

A conversation with a lovely friend led to her sharing this quote she had read that day… and it gave us both such a shock that we paused in what we were saying to take in fully what we had just heard.
How many of us spend our lives under criticism or discouragement? Do you feel that you never measure up to other people’s expectations and all you get is criticism or put-downs from them? May be it’s your parents, your partner, your employer, your pastor or even your children who constantly, day-by-day make you feel that you don’t measure up…
No wonder we lose all our courage. That’s what DIS-COURAGE-MENT means!

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Losing our courage means we don’t have confidence in what we do. We give in to others and can more easily be put-upon or bullied. Our faith, too, can suffer from lack of courage. We choose to do safe things that don’t upset others, we can be easily led by those who are stronger than us, we listen to others rather than what we discern through prayer for ourselves.  Discouragement can break our hearts. We may feel that God does not use a person like us.
Well, maybe it isn’t like this for you – but it is for me. Discouragement is something that saps my energy, my faith, my courage. The more discouragement that comes, the more I am easily offended and defensive. What others say hurts more, offends more and builds resentment that leads to dark and depressing thoughts.
“Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my saviour and my God.” Psalm 42:5

En-courage-ment
It is amazing that the opposite can make such a difference. Encouragement can lead to COURAGE.
Courage is when we can get out of bed and keep going through each minute of an ordinary day when our lives are full of trouble, hardship and distress. Courage is when, despite what others are saying or have said about us, we realise we have gifts from God that can be used to serve and bless others. Courage is when we can speak out against injustice and dare to disagree with those who are in power above us when they persecute or mistreat ourselves or others. Courage believes God hasn’t finished with us yet and that we can serve him by loving others just as he loved us. Courage is learning to forgive those who have hurt us or discouraged us. Courage is when we can believe that we are loved by the Almighty God who made the whole world and yet knows how many hairs we have on our head. For some people, courage is in the everyday ordinary happenings – for others, it is facing death in battle or persecution.

Are you trying to fit in a box?

Courage is this and so many other things.
The danger is, however, that we rely on people to give us the encouragement we crave. If we do, then I am afraid to say, people will always let us down. We are all the same. I let people down just as often they let me down.
We should try to be ‘encouragers’ because we are to reflect Jesus in our lives, however…
…God is truly faithful, consistent and encouraging. If we first get our encouragement from him we will have true courage. We will be able to be encouraged even when other people are not there or are not encouraging us.
Here are some of the verses that have always encouraged me…

  • “If the Lord delights in a person’s way, he makes his steps firm; though he stumble, he will not fall, for the LORD upholds him with his hand.” Psalm 37:23
  • “God is our refuge and our strength, an ever present help in trouble…Therefore we will not fear…” Psalm 46:1
  • “Find rest, O my soul, in God alone, my hope comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, he is my fortress, I will not be shaken. My salvation and my honour depend on God, he is my mighty rock, my refuge. Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.” Psalm 62:5-8
  • “Teach me your way, O Lord and I will walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart, that I might fear your name. I will praise you, O Lord my God, with all my heart, I will glorify your name forever. For great is your love toward me, you have delivered me from the depth of the grave.” Psalm 86:11-13
  • “When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul.” Psalm 94:19
  • “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5
  • “From one man he made every nation, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. For in him we live and move and have our very being.” Acts 17:26-28a
  • “THEREFOR THERE IS NOW NO CONDEMNATION FOR THOSE WHO ARE IN CHRIST JESUS…” Romans 8:1
  • “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” Romans 15:4
  • “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” 2 Romans 15:13
  • “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’” 2 Corinthians 12:9

I could continue writing encouraging Bible verses out all day long. I have underlined them in my Bible so I can quickly find them when I need courage.
In all things we can be encouraged because of Jesus. God promised to send a rescuer for his people…for all those who would accept him. We can’t earn this rescue and we can’t earn God’s love. It is a free gift that was bought at a great price. Thank you Jesus that we don’t deserve your rescue but you loved us so much that if we accept your gift, then we are saved.
Be encouraged.
What en-courages you?

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