Malawi Day One

“It is good for you that I go away,” said Jesus to his closest followers on the night of the Passover. I suppose we commonly think of how they must have felt then.

Now, okay much less of a big deal, but leaving my family behind for two weeks made me think just now, somewhere between a sleep and a wake on Ethiopian airlines in the middle of the night: realise that the things I said to my family before going were really important. Whereas what I normally say is just ‘Daddy’ talking, or just another thing I say, with only a few hours before I’m not seen for a while, my statements set the tone for my absence.

So looking forward to visiting friends out on a YWAM mission base in Malawi, one of the poorest countries in Africa. Our flight was at 9pm, and Colin and I already hit some challenges. Challenge number one: had we packed our cabin bag prepared in case our luggage doesn’t keep pace with us on our transfers – Addis Ababa, Lilongwe, then Chileka Blantyre. (Check, Colin buying spare toothbrush)

Challenge number two: can we cope with the automated check-in, selecting seats for all three journey legs, and sticking our luggage bar codes on the right way round. (Well, sort of).Challenge number three: having virtually had no sleep (I think Colin might have nabbed an hour or two) can we handle the next two transfers and get ourselves safely to Blantyre? (Will update you on that one).

Coming back to Jesus going away, he made the most incredible promises to his closest friends. I have been thinking even just now how much I love my wife and children, and need them in ways I don’t realise unless I am away – let’s face it only for a few hours so far.

But it is often good to be going away, with a firm promise to hang onto and a great God to trust in. I am the Lord, I do not change.There is a hope that is so sure that the reality is much clearer than our every day. More certain than the sunrise, or than the pull of the tides, and far more certain than your next breath, He will finish what he started. This is why Jesus could say, facing a terrible death, it is good for you that I go away.

Again in a much smaller sense, it is good for Colin and me to be going away. Not just because we will appreciate our own beds more when we return (although I have no doubt YWAM hospitality will be very fine!). Why else? Come along with us for the journey and find out!

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Notes on Open Meetings

It can’t have escaped attention for those who regularly come to King’s Gate Church that we are having more Open Meetings currently.  This is not common in the church today!

We passionately believe in Eph 4:16 which says that ‘every joint supplies’ and that ‘every part does its share’ and we also passionately believe in 1 Cor 14:26 which states: ‘Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation.  Let all things be done for edification.’

I feel that we are a little cold, a little dull, a little out of shape when it comes to ministering to each other.  But I don’t think that means we should stop doing it.  On the contrary, I believe it’s time to press in.  You have what I need in Christ.  And I can share something that you will benefit from too.  Led by the Spirit, not by a minister. We can ALL minister.

I was reminded the other day that we had some splendid material on Open Meetings from our good friend Matthew Moore, on Sat Nov 3rd 2018 – I thought it would be timely to type out my notes from the meeting.   Can I emphasize that these thoughts were shared with us, and may not apply in every place!  Matthew was speaking from experience of our Body Ministry meetings several decades ago now, but also from his experience more recently in Bournemouth.

If after reading this, something hits you, please do try it or let the leadership team know.  We are continuing two Open Meetings a month at least until April 2020, God willing, so there is plenty of opportunity for us to grow in these things.

If you wanted to get more detail than this (and some of this may need some deciphering) go to our website and you can listen to his talks – this is the SECOND section, on the practicalities of how to have an open meeting.  Enjoy!

 

Notes on Matthew Moore, Open Meetings

Practical Suggestions

There is very little in the NT on how to have a meeting. Don’t be too prescribed. Give as much freedom as possible.

1 Cor 12 and 1 Cor 14.

1 Cor 13 – without this chapter, the others are destructive. Read it through.

We can’t meet this standard of 1 Cor 13 but we should remind ourselves of this. Sometimes I might not have the patience, but someone in the church will. ‘The strong do what they can, the weak suffer what they must.’

The Lord intended a different picture. ‘The strong suffer what they must, the weak do what they can.’

The weak – to be heard in church. Two ends of the room – to one lot life, joy and hope: and death, discouragement, to another. We have to find the Lord’s answer to this. Cover both ends of the room.

You might have thought the meeting was wonderful, but to someone else they thought it was terrible.

Some need to be told to buck up. For others, this message will destroy them. Shared life – we need to know the Body.

1 Cor 13 v. 7 ‘Bears all things.’ Might be a period when it falls on one person, but they can’t do it all the time.

STARTING: Not on time! Starting WELL is important. There is opposition. Could be your week. We need to win a victory if we don’t start well. Win the victory at the start, if at all possible. The ‘bad week’ must go on the altar.

1. Stand together. Don’t spread out too much. ‘Hallelujah I’m free’. If we’re spread out, we’re on our own. Don’t spread the chairs out in a hall.

In a living room it’s a bit different.

Everyone standing in the middle, or sat round together. Three songs in, sit down. But kicking off, we do it together. We are the Lord’s people, together as one.

2. Start with a song everyone knows. Something easy to sing. A chance to lay your week on the altar. Sacrifice of praise: I don’t want to praise God but I’m going to do it anyway.

3. Listening. Never tell someone who struggles to speak, to stop.

4. If you’ve already spoken three times, please don’t speak again! Save it. Two times is probably enough. If it’s a meeting fro everyone to share, and you’ve been speaking for ten minutes, that’s long enough.

5. If someone else has spoken for ten minutes, don’t contribute for more than five. After a third person speaks, that’s enough. A posh meal with several courses. Major piece of sharing. After a piece of beef, you won’t want turkey, no matter how good it is. Five minutes is probably plenty.

6. Something of weight needs a response. It can be hard if you’ve already got a revelation. It can come out another time. Should be a response on for example ‘grace’. A declaration.

7. Different courses: ‘Word of the Lord for the meeting’. If you can’t get your word in, speak to someone who can create a gap for you. Don’t put someone on the spot. Identify someone who’s going to speak first. People sometimes have been spoken over, and someone else is quicker. Don’t forget, the man at the pool of Siloam who couldn’t get to the water in time – Jesus healed him anyway.

8. Imagination and variety: everyone seek the Lord on grace this week. 50% will struggle and not do it. Don’t assume that everyone else will have done it.

9. Planned meetings – prepared over weeks. We’ve had some good ones in Bournemouth. Everyone takes part. e.g. Anna and Ruth about two months, prepared a day for the church. 10-15 people. 3 groups. Mobile phone. Photograph anything that shares the Lord on the whatsapp. Midday, particular pub. Had a meal together. Pm something on the armour of God. Meeting in the evening. Painting. Anna and Ruth took hours in preparation. There was a fun treasure hunt for everyone. New eyes for everything. Well-known songs, passages – making aspects of the meeting bespoke for individuals. How about a set of awards. No one told Anna and Ruth to do it. It came out of love.

When someone has an idea, the others should say yes. It can be a sacrifice, offering yourself to the Lord.

Willingness to listen to each other. Some people create their own space.

10. Have a topic, but you can bring anything. 6 months of meetings for a church. Take something and really go at it, not just the jewels on the surface. Book of John, the seven I Ams. Israel in the wilderness. ‘I am the gate’. Red Sea. Open it. Church in Holland did loads on the ‘I Ams’.

Default meeting style – that’s okay, but it WILL run out. Get to the end. The Lord does not run out, but particular things seem to, e.g. manna… but then you leave the wilderness.

Bournemouth: start with singing. Then share. Then a song at the end.

You should have a standard way of meeting, but look for variety. Different styles suit different people. Anna and Carol got everyone involved without trying.

Sometimes you need people with different experiences to come in. NT church, people do toing and froing. There is a need for interaction between groups in different places. Just brothers and sisters. More creativity in the Body. Get input from other places.

Whatever’s big in us is the Lord. For example, at CCF (former King’s Gate) there was a victory and discovery in praise and worship that has never died.

e.g. Reading church, a revelation of prayer. When you fight and push through, God will reveal himself. The Lord reveals different things in different places.

As life fades in one place, there will be restoration in another.

 

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Joy and End Times

How has my joy been going?  I have found that it is a very welcome addition to my efforts at daily prayer times.

It has ranged from recalling and declaring verses based on joy (‘The joy of the Lord is my strength’ / ‘You shall go out with joy and be led forth in peace’ / ‘Therefore with joy shall you draw water from the wells of salvation’), to finding a song and singing it right through from the hymn book, to ‘soaking’ in some atmospheric worship music and allowing the Spirit of God to minister, even to just finding a great big smile on my face at the start of the day as I recall what God has done.   I recommend it!

The second part of this blog title, as a very gifted Bible teacher in our church is preaching through Revelation (got to chapter 6 so far, see here for the first talk), is a post that I came across that I wish to quote here, as I know I need to look a little more into end times teaching in the Bible, and yet I have some concern about it, as it’s easy to lose one’s perspective and forget what the purpose of it is.

How many of you, even as a Christian, would scoff at ‘eschatology’ or end-time prophecy and just say it’s a load of gobbledygook?  But the reality is, as William Boekestein points out, that we are ALL eschatologists, just as we are ALL theologians (or, for that matter, mathematicians or linguists).  None of us can function in life without some sort of approximate, working hypothesis on these matters.  That’s why they’re so important.

Yes, eschatology does become more important both as we near our own death, and as we reflect on the fate of world history.  Time will tell how close we are to the end (one dear, ageing brother in my church is personally convinced that Jesus will return soon and it will be in his lifetime).  But the three suggestions that Boekestein has in terms of HOW we engage with eschatology I believe are vitally important.  We need to love each other above all things, and yet too many Christians are at each others’ throats on these issues.  You could be forgiven for thinking that pretribulationists, for example, and postmillennialists, are actually sworn enemies (and a lot of that boils down to replacement theology, or assumed replacement theology.

His three points are:

  1. Don’t speculate about the future.  Let your studies be based on the Bible.
  2. Don’t get argumentative.
  3. Don’t avoid it completely.  You will miss out in so many ways

Read more on his points here (and can I just say that you may find ‘Ask Ligonier’ a very helpful ‘question engine’ for your doctrinal questions, bearing in mind that the platform comes from a place of Reformed theology).

And what I would say, if you are WANTING to explore end-times theology more, is that the main Scriptures are a great place to start, e.g. Mark 13, Matt 24, 1 Thessalonians and of course the piece de resistance, the book of Revelation, which bristles with many violent images and also many incomparable descriptions of our glorious God.  Let’s not miss out.  I also fully recommend John France’s study on it (link above) as he continues – next study due out after 6th July.

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The Risk of Joy

Recently I have been finding it too risky to get joyful.  Let me explain what I mean. There is a danger in joy.  Happiness can be a liability.  Levity tends to calamity.

Do you fear that if you allow too much joy, too much of the goodness of God, of life, of beauty, of your love for others, to be expressed: that actually it will all disappear?  That we can’t allow ourselves TOO much peace, or pleasure?  That caution should be our watchword?

On a side note, joy MUST exist in spite of what is often the overwhelming sadness of life.  As Christians, we are called to joy.  Joy is what will last when all the tears are over.  And if we are not accustomed to joy, the ‘serious business of heaven’ as C.S. Lewis called it, heaven perhaps cannot be our home.  And of course sadness and joy are regularly intertwined, interleaved, interspersed.  The best entertainers know this, know that laughter will also make us more predisposed to be moved to sadness.

Another way of thinking about this, rather than joy as a danger, a risk – unwise, perhaps – is the timing of joy.  I think this is crucial, and that perhaps we confuse this with excess.  I think excessive joy is actually a requirement of the Christian walk.  ‘Joy unspeakable’ was how the apostle Peter put it.  The Psalmist speaks of ‘fullness of joy’.

Recently I have felt a nudge towards joy, in fact the phrase I had is ‘labour in joy’.  To work at joy.  To see it as a discipline.  This is a new idea for me, and I may report back on it.  But I feel that I need to do this first thing in the morning.  It seems the best time for joy. Yes, evenings should be filled with joy. Yes, there should be joy ‘in the journey’.  There will be moments in the day when joy will overtake us and knock us sideways.  Times where we can’t stop laughing out loud, so much so that others may be offended.

And let me ask a question: if you cannot be joyful in the morning, can you hope to be joyful elsewhere?  Start how you mean to go on.  If you want to be a runner, you need to run.  If you want to be an intercessor, pray.  And if you want to be a joyful Christian, then start by allowing the joy to well up in you.  God is my salvation.  I will trust Him.  And with joy I will draw water from the wells of salvation.  How much I need that water. How much I need that joy!

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Brighton Marathon on record

So I am now five days AFTER the marathon, rather than four days before. Similar to my last post, I thought I would put the quick and obvious FAQs at the BOTTOM of this post, feel free to skip to those. I will draw out some wider reflections in the middle as well as the Ten things I have learnt. For me, the marathon was never really a sporting target (although the next one may be!).

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I am blown away with the level of support for my chosen charity – even yesterday I got a further donation, going way over my modest target. That in itself is a fabulous thing and raising money for charity is addictive (but don’t worry, kind donors, I will not be making further demands on your pocket!).

Over the last few days, I have been reflecting on death – it was something I heard on Radio 4 about people deserving a ‘good death’, professionals working with the dying, and saying that ‘You only get one shot at it’. It’s a little like a marathon – okay you don’t only get one shot at that, but there is something ‘peak’, something extraordinary, something indefinably edgy and memorable, about running your first marathon.

I attended a Good Friday service earlier today and  there were some meditations on Christ dying on the cross, and how all his friends had left him, apart from just a few. How difficult that must have been, how unbearable. I’m not at all confident that I would have kept on going the last couple of miles of the marathon, if it weren’t for all the support. The knowledge that someone cares about how you do helps you to keep going mentally. A good death must include the presence of your loved ones, and others, cheering you on, rooting for you. Heavens knows, Christ didn’t die a good death in THAT sense, although in another kind of sense it was the best death of all.

crucifix

Whereas most life events pass everyone else by, if someone is passing away, they deserve some attention, a squeeze of the hand, a prayer, a word of comfort or recognition. Similarly – yes this is connected with the marathon! – if someone is running a marathon, doing something unusual, it is often enough for the most hardbitten loner to claw their way out of their shell, to give a clap, a cheer, a ‘You’re nearly there’! A ‘Come on, you can do it!’ A sense that somehow there is life on the other side of the marathon – was there? I hadn’t even realised!  I certainly wasn’t prepared to think too much about post-marathon until I had got there.

I also am secretly glad that I managed to complete it, as there is always that tiny fear that you’re an impostor, that you can’t actually do it, that you don’t have the will to succeed, that you will badly misjudge it. For a gripping, blow-by-blow marathon account of last week’s marathon, just published, nice and technical for runners, see here. This lady chose to start off in the blue 3:30 – 4 corral, whereas I went for the 4-4:30 option – how did she do? Read to the end to find out!

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What did I learn and what AM I learning through running? They do say that:

‘Everything you want to learn about yourself you can learn in 26.2 miles’.

I think I have learnt something, and I DO feel different about myself. Let me try and codify it for my own benefit. Ten things I have learnt:

ONE: I generally need to hydrate more by drinking water more regularly.  Regular sips works on the marathon, but in the build-up, regular glasses.

TWO: I have learnt that when you run regularly, your body tells you what fuel it needs, and what fuel it DOESN’T want. I am now a firm lover of nuts, porridge, bananas, pasta, and especially overnight oats.  Yes, running is good for the diet!

THREE: I have learnt that I can achieve more than I thought I could, through writing things down, and by sticking to long-term commitments.  Essentially I now feel that almost anything is possible provided a careful, wise approach is taken.  No doors are closed!

FOUR: I have had to revisit how I prioritise my life, and been less selfish about my time – so when I’m NOT running, to give more time to my family, and to ensure that my work does not squeeze out time for keeping healthy spiritually and physically.

FIVE: I have learnt that you make great friends through running, and you get to know the people you run with quite well!

SIX: I have become aware of so many different stories of for what and why people run, and have met so many inspirational people who humble me and help to train me at the same time.

SEVEN: I have also noticed that often the most significant advice for coping mentally with long distance running is shared on a club run, or in a one-off conversation, and always to be on the look-out for it. I may have read some material about running, but I always check it out with actual runners I know.

EIGHT: I was overwhelmed with support from friends and family – it’s a fine opportunity to receive support, and to accrue social capital; in other words, to strengthen bonds with colleagues, friends, loved ones, running buddies. All that capital can be recirculated and help to enrich others’ lives

NINE: There is something about the endurance required for a marathon that I find helpful in many aspects of life, especially spiritually – we all like a good sprint from time to time, but the marathoner has to keep their eye ahead on what is to come, not just on the stretch of ground in front of them.  I read somewhere to ‘run the mile you’re in’, which is also true so that you don’t fall to bits, but a steady temperament and not too much bravura is something I feel I have learnt.

TEN: In a similar vein, I have learnt something of my limitations which is just as good as being more willing to take risks: probably an Iron Man or Marathon de Sables is not for me.

So to put it more broadly, if asked ‘should I consider running a marathon myself?’ my suggestion to you would be not to write it off.  We are so conditioned by our own experiences that anything ‘out of the box’ can be ignored; but actually being open-minded might be the first step on the road to a fresh discovery.   But don’t start with a marathon! I spoke to someone earlier today who remarked that in his younger days, when he did plenty of sport, he decided to have a bash at a marathon – for the first 13 miles he kept up with the front-runners, and then he dropped further and further back, until the last mile he was moving his legs and arms, but didn’t seem to actually be moving forwards.  After he finished, he spent about five days in bed recovering.  Respect the distance!

sad-marathon-soljah

Even when I began parkruns a couple of years ago, a marathon wasn’t really on the cards for me – just a slight question mark, but I don’t think I would have been bothered if I never got there.  Then it gradually became more of a reality – a 10 mile race here, a 10k there, a half-marathon… and I bit the bullet and signed up last April.  I would warn you that running is a little addictive, and that there is a regular need to rein back and say, Hang on, I’ve got other things to do with my life.

It had quite a deep meaning for me as way back I put it on a life-ambition list, and I had always pricked up my ears when someone talked about it.  As a side note, I have noticed that not everyone wants to talk about running, and that’s okay too!  There is a slight tendency for people to move aside, and to leap to the assumption that you are some kind of sporting fanatic, some supernatural breed, simply because you have run one marathon.

More broadly speaking, is there a question you have been asking about your life, and you have simply said: No, that’s not for me?  And actually it is!  It might be finding a life partner, or new friendships.  It could be getting out more. It could be confidence in social situations, or taking up a sport.  It could be making a career change, after sitting in one job for too long.  Could that be you?  Yes, it could!  And my experience is that very few people are going to look down on you for ‘stepping out of the boat’ and taking a risk.  Make sure you count the cost, weigh things up, take it one step at a time, and you will surprise yourself what can be achieved.

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For me, the marathon symbolises the focus for the ‘second half’ of my life – no I’m not going to spend the rest of my days running marathons (probably not) but has given me a real uplift and a sense of achievement.  I have discovered I have a good level of grit and determination after all, and enough discipline to achieve something worthwhile – provided I am alongside wonderful, supportive people (and there are plenty out there).  Not bad for a four and a half hour experience on one Sunday in April!

Frequently Asked Questions

Did you finish it and what time did you get?

I am proud to report that I DID complete the Brighton 2019 marathon, and also to say that I came in under my outside target of 4:30 hours, with a time of 4:26:25 but did not hit what I had been hoping to, which was 4:15. However, I am very happy with it overall, like my son in the photo below!

looking for Daddy

Did you hit ‘the wall’?

No, I did not hit a point where I couldn’t go on any more. But I would say that with a qualification. The first one was that I think due to ingesting TOO many gels and electrolyte drink which was all a bit too sweet (I had coped with this up to 20 miles but found it got worse over more), and also that my tummy wasn’t quite in the best state due to a very early start, I felt a little nauseous and headachey most of the way through the run. The second qualification, was that I kept hitting LOTS of little walls after mile 23, and it was only thinking of my family, and why I was running, and the extraordinary support from complete strangers (mainly) along the route that helped me to finish it. I literally had to pump my arms to convince my legs to carry on running.

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Did you have a lot of support?

I had my name printed on my running shirt front and back, and this meant that lots of people kept calling out to encourage me, which I tried to acknowledge. I also had my wife and sons cheering on, with a large helium Batman balloon to stand out above the crowds – they caught me at three points, once just by St. James’ Street, one before the 13.1 mile arch, and then also just before the final stretch. The adrenalin, and distraction, and joy, of seeing people you know gunning for you, especially your children, is more wonderful than I can say unless you have experienced it. Very importantly, I ran for the first 22 miles with a runner from my running club, and that was brilliant to help keep me steady.  Not only that, but my Club had a strong team of supporters at the notoriously difficult part of the race just after the Shoreham power station, as well as others dotted further along the route, who got some brilliant (free!) photos and also gave fantastic encouragement. They gave up their Sunday to come across to Brighton and support in the cold and the wind. Thank you so much!

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Would you recommend the Brighton Marathon?

This is where I mention the route – the undulations in the first half I misjudged and I took a bit too casually.  If you’re looking for a great time, it may not be the best one to run because of this.  Also, coastal marathons are prone to suffer from headwinds.  I would also say that the volume and level of support at times was off-putting.

BUT overall I would recommend it – particularly for an early marathon, as you can’t beat the sense of anticipation, the camaraderie of all the runners, the sense of being a celebrity as you power past all the crowds (that was early on!) and the fantastic views of Brighton and the sense of occasion is also wonderful.  I believe that many Brightonians must deliberately put it on their calendar, carve out the time, go and buy boxes of jelly babies at their own cost, and stand out in all weathers to support.  All five races I have run so far have been well-supported, but this was by far the largest crowd.

You do need to know that around mile 20 you have to run round Shoreham power station and back, and that support thins out here for a while – this is the hardest slog of the route.  This is by no means a definitive ‘review’ of the Brighton marathon, and it’s important to remember that everyone’s experience will be different.  This video gives some idea of the route and atmosphere.  There are some logistical issues that are harder because it’s such a big event, such as picking up the race pack in advance, getting there on the day with all the ‘in’ roads closed, and timing your baggage drop and arrival at Preston Park well so that you have a calm start to the race.  They give you plenty of information in advance, however, and another plus point is the ‘Active Experience’ app which means that loved ones can track your progress throughout the race through your chip and number.

Would you run another one?

The answer to that question as I was running the last few miles would definitely have been a NO! But on reflection, looking back over my performance (see above for more on that) I would like to have another go at some point, probably not immediately. I am planning to continue running, because I have made good friends from it, it makes me feel good, and it is now firmly part of my life.

Are you going to try something new?

I am not planning on extending my reach by going for an Ultra, or branching out into triathlons, or anything like that. I love hearing (on runs) about people taking on new physical challenges. It is brilliant to hear of fellow club members setting themselves new targets and achieving them. It’s more about the journey, the adventure, the discipline required, than about hitting the goal.

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My Marathon in Photos

This gallery contains 22 photos.

For those who are interested, I blogged here about the build-up to my marathon, and here to the aftermath!

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Brighton Marathon Day Minus Four

So here I am, four days before my first ever marathon, not really thinking too hard. Go down below for FAQs as I want to reflect a bit more widely on what I am getting out of it.

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I have been ably supported by a wonderful running club, great running buddies, an excellent coach and running plan, and an amazing and tolerant wife and children, who have put up with me disappearing, particularly recently, for hours on end each weekend.  To be properly prepared for a marathon, one has to complete a number of long runs, building up week by week.

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Personally, I have run up to 20 miles, and on Sunday I will be trusting my legs, grit, the fact I paid money to enter, the fact I’ve had sponsorship, and the sheer number of people I have told, to spur me on to run those extra 6.2 miles.  Last weekend I ran ten miles, a ‘taper’ run, and I have to say my legs felt dreadful after it… I am told that this is quite normal. Read more about long runs here

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I had that odd experience, which shows that I am a ‘real’ runner now, of telling people when asked that I ‘only’ ran 10 miles.  A couple of years ago I would  have recoiled if someone suggested I even ran one mile.

What I’m most scared of is that after the heaving congestion of the start of the race, and once I can settle down to a steady pace, I will run TOO fast for the first few miles and not pace it well.  It might seem a bit strange, but we had a guest preacher on Sunday at church, and he quoted a verse: ‘Walk by the Spirit’ (Galatians 5:16 if you are interested). This can mean to ‘keep in step’ with the Holy Spirit.  It’s as if there are two soldiers marching side by side, and they are going at the same pace – not forced to – and it’s just a natural thing.  This is what I’m going to rely on; not following other people’s pace, not even completely sticking to my Garmin pace, but what I am feeling, and what I get from somewhere deep inside.  Read it how you will – an angel / heavenly figure / friendly fellow-runner to keep in step with, to keep steady next to.  And when it gets to 20 miles and I’m still good, then I’ll give it a bit more!

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Myself and a running buddy during the 10 mile taper last weekend

Other niggles or concerns four days out?  Just packing and remembering everything I need.  Anticipating the weather, and being fully prepared for it (hoping for a day a little on the cold side personally, little wind, dry, just a little sun).  Needing to remember to drink quite a lot.  Not wanting to over-indulge on food, but making sure I eat enough carbs.  Knowing I need to get to bed on the early side, and get some good nights’ worth of sleep.  That’s in no particular order because of course worries never present themselves in an orderly fashion.

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I suppose what really drives it home, is the knowledge that I have been training and building up for this from before Christmas, and in a few days’ time it will all be over, and I will know more about myself and also more about those closest to me.  It’s ultimately doing something a bit different, focusing the loose odds and ends of a diverse and straggling life, into enough of a pattern, enough discipline, enough of a line, to make a success of my first marathon run.  I know that for me (and perhaps for others too), it’s not simply about a marathon, not simply about running.  It’s about channeling the lessons learnt into other areas of my life, into my newish job as church pastor, into my job as a teacher, into being a father, a husband, a friend.  Long distance over a sprint, but knowing that even the long distance needs to be broken down mile by mile, otherwise it just seems too much.  At this stage, I’m not even THINKING about how I will break the miles up.

Questions that I’m wondering at the moment: Will I be able to ‘break up’ that wall into lots of ‘little’ walls, steadily hurdled by a strong psyche and a refusal to give in, helped by onlookers, by other runners, by the knowledge my family are there watching me somewhere? Will I find that I start to ‘reel’ other runners in as the last miles go by, and that will balance out the experience of being overtaken all the time?  Will I have enough energy to push through and find a bit of speed as I get towards the finishing line? Oh, the drama of race day!

Frequently Asked Questions

Are you ready for it?

Well, no – of course not.  But I have trained, if that’s what you mean.  Running a marathon has always been on my ‘life ambition’ list (don’t ask me what else was on it, I lost the piece of paper).  Since my sister ran the Paris marathon a couple of years back, it has helped to motivate me.

How long do you think it will take you?

For those who don’t know, when you sign up for a big event like the Brighton marathon (the second biggest in the UK after London), you have to give an estimate of your time.  I’m aiming to be between 4 and 4:30.  As this is my first marathon, whatever time I produce will ‘technically’ be my PB, but of course I won’t be happy with it!

Do you plan what to think about when running?

Interesting question I was asked today – no I don’t, but also I know that the ‘space up there’ will get filled.  Countless times I have been sitting in one spot, and getting no further with an issue or a problem; then I have got up for some reason and moved, and the answer has come to me.  Solutions, ideas, madcap schemes and general observations swim around my mind when running, and the ones that are worth retaining, generally stick.  Part of the fun of running outdoors is the way that what you see organizes in a serendipitous way what you think about.  Simply noting the changes in the season, the changes on a street or location I know well, brings pleasure, recognition, surprise, curiosity, plans.

Are you raising money?

I do not have a ‘charity place’, but I AM raising money for Compassion UK.  Feel free to sponsor me if you haven’t already, and a huge thank you to those who have.  They are one of the best Christian charities out there, fighting to give children in other countries more of a life chance.

Are you mad?

Probably – I don’t quite know how I ended up doing this.  When I started running, I just ran along the seafront.  Then someone told me about park run.

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Joining a running club seemed a natural progression, and friendly people told me how to go about it.  It was then I realised that the hardcore club members (and even NOT so hardcore) shaped their weekends around races.  Most races happen on Sundays, and with church a priority, it means I had to pick fairly carefully.  But after a half-marathon, and just about managing it with not MUCH training, I felt that I could go for a real marathon, before it got too late and I got too old!

What will you do next?

I have not yet booked up another race, but I will probably do something to keep some momentum going, if not in the summer, then early autumn. Like I say, I cannot do races too frequently due to church commitments.  I have found that the odd race scheduled in gives me something to aim for, but at the same time I don’t go crazy about it.  In terms of marathons, I will not know until I finish it how I feel about another.  I have vague plans to do the Paris marathon, and the Edinburgh marathon – I think ‘marathon travel’ is a great idea, but with two small boys I’m not sure whether I mightn’t leave some of this til my retirement!

 

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Pastor’s Report February and March

I thought that I would give an update on what I have been up to, partly for the benefit of the church, but to help me to reflect as well.

The first thought that comes to me is that a pastor’s job is a little like plate-spinning (perhaps all our jobs are).  Rather than panicking that one plate has fallen off the stick, it’s more helpful to focus on getting the plate you’re working on back up and running.  If something is worth doing, it’s only worth doing well.  It’s not really worth doing it to a substandard.

After all, the apostle Paul focused on the ‘upward call’ in God.  He said to focus on whatever is lovely, and worthy of praise.

So what new plates am I spinning then?

Due to staff shortages at our school (did you know my official title is a ‘bivocational pastor’ as I am a teacher as well?), I have agreed to work on Mondays for the time being.  Be reassured, this will not be for too long, but it does mean I need to squeeze church work a little, and ensure I get key tasks done on the Tuesday (or at the weekend – some church jobs are best done at the weekend – and one of the challenges for me is remembering that being a church leader is a calling, really, rather than a ‘job’).

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View from the desk – the church office

The other new plate (but not so new I hear you cry!) is the build-up to the Brighton Marathon, coming on the 14th April.  As a first for this, last Sunday I was at the Leisure Centre at 7am, meeting two other very helpful runners and we completed a 16 mile ‘long run’, thankfully before church started.  Yes I did manage to get time to have a shower before I came to church.  It was a very beautiful morning with mist, stunning sunshine and my first run through local villages round to LA, over the arched bridge, and back.  I recommend the new cycle path.  If anyone can tell me why some people have painted stones and tied them to the fence I’d be very interested to know.

Photo from benleney

Early morning February sunshine on the seafront!

What I find hard to deal with, I’ll be honest, is the way ‘random events’ seem to get generated.  Yes, it’s exciting to have different things happening, but why so many, why on Saturdays (just when I need to do my long run!) and why all in March or April? That said, try your best to support what you can, and be prayerful about it.  The thought came to me the other day, that as Christians we’re quite good at generating ‘heat and light’.  We all have our own enthusiasms, and the more ‘diverse’ we are as a bunch, the more enthusiasms we have.  That said, just because someone doesn’t make a session, does not mean that we are not ‘one’ with them.  Let’s be kinder to our brothers and sisters (and leaders!) than we are to ourselves.  Let’s make the most of every time we see each other, and work on loving each other better.

It says in 1 Peter 4:8 ‘Most of all, love each other as if your lives depended on it.  Love makes up for practically anything.’  I’m quite grateful that this is true!

A thought that I think can be linked to fellowship and church life: I don’t think that I have genuinely had a bad run or race yet.  That may have something to do with my attitude towards them, and my general level of fitness.  However, it also has something to do with the amazing people I get to run with, who are always positive, friendly, kind and motivating.  From parkrun to my running club, to the races I have done (which perhaps are more difficult as you don’t quite know who you will see there and they can be more stressful), I have found myself coming away buzzing and energised, and set up for what’s next.

Let’s get a bit more of that into church.  Consider before you come up to the front to share – am I being encouraging, am I looking at what is admirable?  Yes, there IS a time to tear down, and a time to cast away stones: but pray very hard before you start doing that sort of thing to those people you love the most!

March Update

So since I wrote that, I have done another long run, and another week has gone by.  What else has happened?  We have had a fun day doing First Aid Training, and a big thank you both to Tish who organised it, and to all those who gave up six hours on a sunny Saturday in late February to do it!  Hopefully none of us will have to put any of it into practice.

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Getting practice with a defibrillator and CPR

I have now stepped down from the Coordinating Group for Churches Together – it is sad that I won’t see the people in the group (although admittedly the last two meetings I have not been able to make).  I was surprised to receive two rounds of applause at the AGM.  I also didn’t expect to find that I was doing a presentation on a youthwork focus group!  I am still involved in helping to organise meals for church leaders.  I relish this opportunity as it means that I keep a good line of communication going with other people.  I am excited at the opportunities that could be developed in this line – please do PRAY for all the church leaders in the area.  I’m very grateful for Don too who is our current lay rep – if anyone else wants to get involved, just let him or myself know!

We have had a leadership team meeting, and I’ve been able to spend a bit of time with some folk from church.  Our leadership team is amazing – a remarkable group of people, reflecting how diverse and committed our church is in general.   We’ve got lots of opportunities coming up to spend time together, and we should not despise these plans.  In particular, on the 6th and 7th April we have Keith Warrington coming to speak about the Remarkable Spirit, and this will be excellent.

Ticking away at the back of my mind is the decision we made back at our leadership day back on the 15th Sept – this was to progress the plan to get a building that is suitable for our needs.  We had some ambitious ideas at a trustees’ meeting on this, and every now and again I follow up a lead.  I think there will need to be a big culture shift among us to see this materialise.  We are accustomed to functioning without a building, but also accustomed to maintaining one!  What does it mean that we are being led this way, and how can we hold the dream lightly, but at the same time not neglect it?  The whole purpose is for the glory of God.

So I will wind this particular post up, but just to say that I’m very excited about the next stage.  We have had some exciting and challenging prophetic words about being a ‘firestarter’, and also heard about ‘kickstarting’ last Sunday.  For me, I just want to be closer to Jesus.  I know that I need it.  And I know that the ways of getting there haven’t changed: worship, Word, prayer, fellowship, fasting.  Controlling what goes into my eyes, and what comes out of my mouth.  This seems prophetic and a challenge to me personally at the moment:

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food.

This sounds like me – and often, I’m sure, sounds like all of us.  But very quickly, with one mouthful of milk, we are thinking ‘Uuughhh’ and we are reaching for the meat, I suspect.  With this in mind, I am anticipating the prayer meeting tonight – prayer meetings are always the most exciting meetings of a church week, as they are unpredictable when we really pay attention to the Holy Spirit.  ‘Every kind of prayer’ also reminds us that prayer can be as unconscious as breathing, and it promises to be that if we trust ourselves into His care on a daily basis and nurture gratitude, hope, faith and love.

 

 

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Philippians Resolutions: Philippians 1:15

I thought this is an interesting take on a verse I preached on recently in Philippians. We can be like Paul and rejoice the gospel is preached; or we can eye up the ‘competition’ (competition?!) and fall prey to the devil!

Think on This

Some, indeed, preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. –Philippians 1:15

Resolution: Resolved to guard my heart against envy of another servant of Christ by being consciously thankful to God for their ministry, their gifts to the Body, and how God chooses to use them.

In the end, there are two types of preachers. There are those who preach and teach with “good will”, seeking to make Christ known, and there are those who do so for any other reason. Paul mentions the two here, and while the second group is easier to understand, the first group concerns my resolution, rebuking my heart when I feel envy and rivalry, and correcting it back on to the right path. It is interesting that both groups do, outwardly, what Jesus would call us to do, they preach the gospel, maybe even with the same fervor and passion as…

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A fellow traveller

I have found a traveller who got further than me with memorizing Romans, and who I think used a different method as well (perhaps that’s why?!) but I love what he says on this post about Romans 8 and the chapters leading up, and I noticed, just like he did, how themes start and then resurface in the book in ways you just don’t notice if you are simply reading it.

I don’t think memorising is the ONLY way of enjoying the Word of God, but surely it has to be something we take seriously.  There’s no other book like the Bible, after all.  Is there anyone out there who has memorised 1 and 2 Samuel, or Jeremiah?  That’s what I’d like to know….

 

The Everest of Romans

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