“I’m a bit OCD…”

It’s one of those things we say on Facebook, Twitter, to friends…

We smile to ourselves and laugh at the pernickety-ness of friends. We share a funny post inviting us to complete an ‘OCD quiz’.

It’s a bit like when we say “yes, I’m a bit of a perfectionist…”

We vaguely know there is something unhealthy there, but nevertheless we make light of it.

My own encounter with OCD was short (thank God) and dreadfully, agonisingly painful.

I was at secondary school. I don’t know how it crept in but under cover of darkness, it did. The darkness was my own deep unhappiness. I really only remember it from the point that I knew it controlled me. In a pottery lesson the urge to count to the right number was stronger than listening to the teacher, doing my work, talking to a friend or anything else. I knew – not thought – knew – that if I didn’t count, something dreadful would happen. It had control of my mind, my lips, my attention, my blood pressure, my breathing… It owned me.

I didn’t know the name of this thing that had me, but I knew it was a thing. I’d heard about it somewhere and somehow. The shame of having this thing controlling me was immense and dreadful. I had to stop it before someone found out.

I can remember a science lesson – counting accompanied by tapping – to the right number. And it had to be a secret. No one could see. To not complete the count was hell. I don’t mean just uncomfortable and anxiety-inducing but cripplingly painful to the point of utter panic, I was screaming voicelessly inside.

This is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder – OCD. At least, this was mine. Like a deep well of burning hot tar it seeks to suck you down into its depths, burning and scalding you in the process til there is no more you.

If OCD is a tree, the soil that it is rooted in is utter terror. It lives and breathes through fear.

I made a decision to break it and it was a lonely journey. I think I was at the early stages so it was possible. The shame kept it my secret and meant I had to travel alone. I started cutting it back – tentative attempts to not complete the count and the tapping. Over time the grip it had on me loosened and I began to feel relieved that no one would ever know.

That was maybe 30 years ago.

Now I know that OCD wasn’t and isn’t a failure of mine, a weakness, a strangeness. It’s a very real mental health problem.

When someone says “I’m a bit OCD” though, it still smarts. I know the darkness that it really is.

Oh, and by the way, I also know it isn’t a life sentence.

 

 

 

 

Where is your shameless audacity?

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Asking is a wholly spiritual concept. Jesus himself told us to ask, seek and knock.

For charity people:

Asking is active – not expecting the other person to somehow know the need, not waiting for God to speak to them in some vague spiritual way when he has given us mouths to speak  and words to express need, not feeling fearful of expressing what we need from another.

Seeking is searching – looking under, behind, above and below. Using our brains to think about where best to seek or who to seek, exploring, pursuing, investigating…

Not passively waiting for the donor to be brought to us, not prayer without action, not wasting expertise, experience and ability.

Knocking is finding a barrier and instead of turning away, seeking a way through. It is persistence, devotion, not giving up, banging on closed doors, being noisy, even being a nuisance.

Too often I see Christian charities NOT asking, seeking, knocking. Ironically it is often the non-faith based charities that are best at this stuff!

Now, I know Luke 11 and Matthew 7 are about asking God for what we need. But Jesus draws a parallel, saying that the neighbour who is ‘shamelessly audacious’ gets what he or she needs. In these verses I see a challenge to our timid mindset and low asks. If it is God who supplies the needs of his people, through other people (donors, the church) and through charities and missions, then should we also not be shamelessly audacious in our asks?

My pastor tells a story of a church he visited in Africa. The collection was taken up amidst much music, dancing and joy and the collection plate was eventually returned to the minister. He took a look and said “not enough” and sent the plate round again!

Are we willing to send the plate round again – not for ourselves, not for our organisations, but for the people God has called us to serve.

Are you, am I, ready to ask boldly – without fear? Can we seek out, pursue, find what we need? Will we knock down barriers – the ‘it might not work’, ‘what if I upset…’, ‘we’ve never done this before’?

Where is your shameless audacity?

The Journey is the Destination

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The death of a friend has left me reeling.

When a loved one dies we are stopped in our tracks and suddenly all we thought we knew, we realise we do not.

What is my life here on earth for? I know eternity comes after, but what about now? What am I supposed to do with this time?

On Sunday an answer came. It stands against all ambition, desire to achieve, wanting to be successful – all the messages we are bombarded with in school, as a young person, starting out in life, and even today as a relative grown up.

It is mind-bendingly simple.

  1. Start with Jesus
  2. Stay with Jesus
  3. End with Jesus

That’s it.

The journey, and the person we journey with, is important.

Where the journey takes us to? Not so much.

The journey is where we are going.

That I do it with Jesus – that, my friends, is the crucial part. That is what will make my journey meaningful and joyous and lovely.

In my grief I thank God that my friend ended with Jesus.

 

Know your Enemy – 20 min sermon

At the end of August I spoke in my own church in Peterborough.

We had run a series over the summer with different people reflecting on the book of Nehemiah in the Bible.

Click here to listen or download my talk from 21st August.

I was drawn to the opposition faced by Nehemiah on his mission to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.

May God bless you as you listen. And may He equip you to deal with the opposition you face on your mission.

 

Parachute-makers

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I recently read about a factory making parachutes during the Second World War. The managers wanted to make sure that the people sewing the fabric, packaging the parachutes, sweeping the floors, didn’t just think they were making parachutes. They wanted them to understand that they were saving lives.

For the factory workers the work was repetitive and tedious. They were at sewing machines for hours on end, sewing together huge shapeless pieces of fabric, all the same colour. The work seemed to go on and on.

The managers began to call everyone together each morning as the working day began. They told the staff approximately how many pilots, co-pilots and other service-men had worn their parachutes on missions the previous day. They told them the number of men who had jumped to safety from hit planes, because they wore their parachutes.

This factory held one of the highest levels of quality on record. The workers were motivated to work hard and to a high level of quality because they saw the bigger picture. They understood that the parachutes they made saved people’s lives.

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In charities the behind-the-scenes staff, such as the supporter care officers, the fundraisers and the administrative staff, can be the people who most rarely see the impact of their charities work. Where the work of the charity takes place in other countries, and it is expensive to send people, this is often the case. However, what we then risk is having a staff team who see only the parachutes they are sewing, and not the lives saved because of them.

To motivate those who work hard at repetitive and challenging jobs – processing donations, answering phone-calls, and asking people for money – we need to show them what their work ultimately leads to.

In the charity I work for, we gather daily in the morning – just like those factory workers. We gather to pray for beneficiaries and donors, for the work we are doing, to give thanks – but we also gather to share stories. Our Programmes staff who frequently visit the countries we work in take the time to tell us what is happening there, who is being helped and how. It is so often this that spurs us on!

We have a scheme to send non-programmes staff – such as Human Resources personnel or those who do administration – to the countries we work in to meet the people they are helping through their everyday work back in an office in the UK.

There are rich rewards for investing in your ‘parachute-makers’ – in telling them the difference they are making and where possible, in showing them. The rewards are a team who feel that their work is worthwhile, it changes lives, and that they are needed. Quality of work will naturally improve, creativity will increase, staff retention will be boosted.

What can you do in the coming weeks to show your parachute-makers the lives they are saving?

Therefore, we do not lose heart

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This week my lovely friend and colleague died. I wrote this a couple of weeks ago and I dedicate it to her. This is for you – my beautiful friend.


 

As I write this piece, a dear friend and colleague of mine is very sick – she has cancer. In recent weeks I have seen her lose weight and become weaker, her body is failing. She has fought cancer before – 3 years ago – but it has returned and this time there is little that can be done.

It is a curious thing to feel the immense sadness of seeing my friend suffer, to know how short her time with us may be, but also to know deep in my heart that this is not the end for her and that the glory of eternity awaits her. In our humanity, grief can be overwhelming. I think that is why our loving God has taken me to 2 Corinthians 4 this morning. And for you, as you experience the pain of loved ones struggling with sickness and disease, Abba says “do not lose heart”.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

(2 Cor 4:16-18)

It occurs to me that as our bodies age, and as sickness takes hold, outwardly as we waste away something miraculous is happening inside. Inside, we are growing closer to glory. By the grace of God, we are being renewed – daily made new. ‘Renewed’ means repaired and healed, mended, restored, refreshed, and revived! In God’s sight – made new.

18 And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

(2 Cor 3:18)

As we gaze on the glory of our risen saviour we cannot help but be transformed into his likeness. Our ‘wasting away’ bodies, hide an incredibly beautiful transformation inside. ‘Ever-increasing glory’ means that it doesn’t stop – not ever. Another translation says we are being transformed “from one degree of glory to another”. On and on, daily renewed, transformed with ever-increasing glory, until we receive the eternal glory lavished upon us by our Abba, through the blood of the lamb.

The eternal glory that awaits our dear friends and loved ones far outweighs the pain, suffering and sickness of this life. And for us, when our bodies fail, we can fix our eyes on the unseen, but eternal, transformation within us.

We can love our friends in and through their sickness and their suffering. Just as Jesus grieved for his friend, so we will grieve and feel the immense and searing pain of losing those precious to us. But because of Jesus, we need not lose heart. Because of Jesus, in our grief we can whisper “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Cor 15:55).

 

 

 

 

Don’t give a donation to charity

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No, don’t.

A charity is just an organisation. People working together. Offices, computers, telephones ringing…

Instead, give a donation through charity

In changing one word, we put a charity in its rightful place – a conduit, a catalyst, a bridge between the giver and beneficiary

When we give through charity, we are giving to the person or cause in need. We are giving through the organisation that can convert compassionate giving into practical help. In the charity, money given is miraculously turned into safe places for abused people, clean water, a helpline for the distressed, food, medical aid, and much, much more.

Charities – don’t ask people to give to you. Don’t say ‘please make a donation to (my charity) today’. Say something that is far more accurate – ‘please make a donation to help people who are… (fill in the gap) today’. Speak for those you serve. Be their voice. Keep them at the heart of all you say and do.

Remember, we (the charities) aren’t important – but those we serve, and those who give so generously, absolutely are.