Monday, 25 September 2017

Everyday learning? by Fiona Lloyd

There’s a scene near the beginning of Ursula Le Guin’s book, A Wizard of Earthsea, where the newly-apprenticed wizard Sparrowhawk is discouraged by the amount of time he spends performing apparently mundane tasks.

“When will my training actually begin?” he asks Ogion, his master.

 Ogion’s answer is short, and surprising. “It has begun,” he says.

This is wholly unsatisfactory to the hot-headed and impetuous Sparrowhawk, who subsequently takes ship to the wizard school on Roke at the earliest opportunity. It is only many years later, when he looks back on his time with Ogion, that he recognises the less tangible lessons – and deeper understanding – that his former tutor wanted to mentor. 

I recently read a quote (which I think was from Dallas Willard) which talked about discipleship not just being a Sunday thing. He argued that if we are taking our spiritual growth seriously, then what happens during the rest of the week is equally important. If we can’t learn how to be more Christ-like at work (or at home, or in the supermarket), then chances are what we do on a Sunday isn’t making that much difference, anyway.

Gulp. I’ve never been of the view that following Jesus is for weekends only, but seeking to learn how to grow spiritually through my everyday experiences seems challenging. What about that driver who cut in on me the other day when I was driving to work? Or that person I came across online who expresses political views diametrically opposed to my own?

It’s made me think about my writing, too. It’s easy to see that whatever we write, we should seek to do it to the glory of God (which doesn’t necessarily mean it has to be “religious”). It’s harder to understand how we can use our writing experience to help us become more like Jesus – but I’m willing to give it a go. What do you think?

Fiona Lloyd works part-time as a music teacher, and serves on the worship leading team at her local church. Fiona blogs at and at You can find her on Twitter at @FionaJLloyd. Her first novel, The Diary of a (trying to be holy) Mum, will be published by Instant Apostle in January 2018. Fiona is vice-chair of ACW and is married with three grown-up children.

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Hidden Stories 2—Words and Deeds

Last month, in Rich man, poor man, I mentioned that while, in the Gospel parables, teaching is hidden inside a story, in the Letter of St James, there are stories hidden inside the teaching. I thought I’d share another little story with you, this time based on chapters 2 and 3. I hope you won’t mind that it’s a bit longer.

Part 1

It’s the Sabbath after the one when Elder Yakob gave Brother Sophron a rather painful telling-off. Sophron is again on the bema of the synagogue that he helps to run, the one that broke away from the Jerusalem community to follow Yeshua Mashiach. Worship has just ended. That well-dressed stranger with all the rings who came last week didn’t come back. Sophron is disappointed about this, but two other things are very cheering. Firstly, Elder Yakob isn’t there either: perhaps his rheumatism is playing up. And even better, the chap with shabby clothes has come again, despite Sophron’s curtness last time, and has obviously profited by his visit. He joined loudly in the prayers and hymns, and, gratifyingly, paid close attention to Sophron’s word of instruction. It was his first such address, specially devised for people like that.

He still feels bad about the way he made that ill-dressed guy sit on the floor. This would be a good opportunity to make him welcome and get to know him a bit. I wonder what he will have to say about the teaching? With a bit of an inner glow at that thought, Sophron makes his way over to the man, who’s all by himself. The other congregants are chatting to each other all around him. I can be the first to make him feel at home, thinks Sophron.

‘Welcome, in the name of Mashiach Yeshua, my friend. I am Sophron bar Zakkai. May I know your name?’
‘My name is Elazar bar Adam, sir,’ says the man. He does look rather haggard, thinks Sophron. Hope he’s not unwell.
‘Brother Elazar, I noticed how keenly you participated in our worship. And you followed the teaching with great concentration. I hope you found it nourishing to your faith.’
Elazar’s eyes light up and his thin face breaks into a grin. ‘Yes, my brother, I am so hungry for the Word. I have been hungry for much of my life, but now I have found the Bread which really satisfies and does not perish.’
Sophron’s heart melts with pleasure. Here’s the real thing. One of the lost sheep of Israel, returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of souls.

There follows a wonderful conversation about the Faith. They talk about how all of us who are faithful to Mashiach are set free from everything that the Law of Mosheh could not set us free from—loosed from a burden which we were never really able to bear. (And how much more this must have been a burden for a poor man like you, than for a son of the priesthood like me, thinks Sophron.) How Mashiach fills the poor with good things, while the rich are sent away empty. This was very much the theme of Sophron’s word of instruction, but it’s more alive and heartwarming to share it.

‘And now brother,’ says Elazar,  ‘when Sabbath is out I will have much to do, as I am not a wealthy man, so I must leave you. I thank this brotherhood for its welcome and you for your words of edification. Until next Sabbath, peace be with you.’
‘And with you, Brother Elazar,’ says Sophron, ‘go in peace, keep warm, and be filled with all good things.’

It’s Brother Shimon’s turn to tidy the synagogue and lock up, so Sophron is soon striding down the alleyway, humming cheerfully to himself. Rounding a corner of the dark alley, he is suddenly knocked heavily into by another person coming the other way. He staggers, loses his balance, and lands sprawling in the dust—and the more unsavory stuff. The man who cannoned into him is sitting on the ground nearby surrounded by several large well-filled bags. A wineskin has burst, loosing a dark stain into the dirt, and near it several small flat loaves are scattered. The other man is wearing a deep hood so that his face cannot be seen, though the end of a grey beard peeps out.

Sophron’s whole body feels sore and he is slightly shocked and rather angry. ‘What on earth were you thinking of, you reckless idiot? Why can’t you look where you’re going, you stupid fool? My clothes are filthy and I’ve got bruises all over! May Heaven judge between us!’

The other man gets up slowly, evidently with some pain in the joints. He puts back his hood. Sophron’s mouth suddenly goes dry. It’s Elder Yakob.

Embed from Getty Images
Part 2

Elder Yakob limps over and extends a hand to Sophron, pulling him up from the ground with surprising vigour for a man of his age.
‘Blessed be the Lord of Glory, Brother Sophron! May he judge mercifully! I apologize for knocking you over. I was in a great hurry.’
‘Blessed be he for ever, Brother Yakob, and thank you...’ In a state of confusion, Sophron casts around for a safe subject of conversation. ‘You were not at prayers today, brother? I was hoping you would appreciate my short word of instruction.’
‘No,’ says Yakob, gathering his bags one by one. ‘I am on an errand of the Lord Mashiach, to deliver these supplies to someone who needs them. Perhaps you would assist me,’ he continues, handing several large bags to Sophron. As there seems no way out of it, Sophron follows the older man up the alley.

‘It seems you are now a teacher of Israel,’ Yakob says over his shoulder. Oh dear, this is going to be one of his monologues. ‘Not many of us should become teachers, my brother, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. We all stumble in many ways—as we have just been shown quite painfully. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.’
‘Brother Yakob, I’m well aware that I’m not perfect, but teaching—’
‘You know, Brother Sophron, the tongue is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.’
At the word ‘hell’, Yakob stops abruptly and turns round, so that Sophron nearly bumps into him again. Looking straight into his face, Yakob continues:
‘With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father—blessed be he—and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. I rather think I heard you do both just now, did I not?’
‘Well, I—was taken rather by surprise, and—’
‘Brother Sophron, out of the same mouth—yours on this occasion—come praise and cursing. My brother, this should not be!’

They go on down the street. Hoping to change the subject, Sophron asks, as mildly as he can, ‘Brother Yakob, where are we going with these bags?’
‘To visit a certain Elazar bar Adam, who you may remember from last Sabbath prayers. He is a poor man and has a sick wife and three small children. These supplies will keep them going.’
‘That’s excellent, Brother Yakob. Brother Elazar came back again to prayers today and we had a wonderful talk afterwards.’
‘About what, may I ask, brother?’
‘About faith. He has the most perfect grasp of salvation by faith in Mashiach. Really, there was nothing I could teach him about faith!’
‘There you speak truthfully, brother.’
‘I hope I always do,’ says Sophron, a bit resentfully and wondering what he’s implying.
‘Elazar is without clothes and daily food, and your final words to him were something like “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed”, were they not?’
Oh dear, is this the preternatural insight that Elder Yakob has a reputation for?
‘Er, yes, brother—’
‘But you did nothing about his physical needs?’
‘Well, no, the subject didn't come up.’
‘And what good is faith like that?’
‘How do you mean?’
‘What good is it, brother, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead!’
‘Heaven forbid, Brother Yakob… I am sure I have a living faith...’
‘You believe that there is one God. That’s good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.’
‘Brother, you have faith, you say; I say that I have deeds. Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. Now I’m afraid I’m going to call you what you called me just now, but—Heaven judge between us—with justification. You stupid fool! Do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless?’
‘By all means, Brother Yakob,’ says Sophron hoarsely, knowing that it will come whether or not he wants it.
‘When was our father Abraham called righteous? When was the scripture fulfilled, the one that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness”, when he was called God’s friend?’
‘I suppose, when he offered his son Isaac on the altar, brother.’
‘So you see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And what about Rahab, Brother Sophron?’
‘What, the prostitute?!’
‘Yes—was she not considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction?’
‘Well, I suppose you might call that—’
‘So, brother, you see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone, don’t you!’
Before Sophron can reply, Yakob stops in front of a door in the wall. He bangs on it with his fist.
‘Here we are, brother. Thank you for helping with the bags. Just leave them here. Go in peace, and remember,’ he continues with a smile, ‘as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.’

Somehow less keen to meet Brother Elazar just then, Sophron quickly heads home.

Next month, DV, a third story about Sophron, ‘Moth and Rust’.
If you enjoy (or can stomach) my unorthodox orthodox thoughts, you can find other faith-related ones in my blog Ecclos.

Saturday, 23 September 2017

The Me Too Moment - by Helen Murray

Earlier this month, a fellow ACW member reached into the hole I was sitting in, took hold of my hand and gently pulled me out.

I'm quite sure she didn't know that she'd done it, and it's possible that she'll be amazed when she finds out. When God takes our words and uses them for something unforeseen his creativity quite often astonishes us.

In her post, Deborah Jenkins speaks of her desire for her writing to touch people. To offer them comfort and encouragement as they navigate the ups and downs of life; to point them to God. The day I read her words was definitely a down kind of day. I can't remember the weather but let's say it was dark and cold and rainy. I was cross and miserable, feeling defeated and overwhelmed. Through that post, Deborah noticed me in my hole, stopped and spoke to me and offered me a hand.

Those of us who write do so for a huge variety of reasons, and I suspect that no two people's motivations will be the same. We write because we have something to say and we need to get it out there, because we are trying to earn a living, because we are called to, compelled to - because we can't not write.

I write because it's how I process things; I feel better when I've expressed what's in my mind and my heart and in the process of arranging words on a page I find the internal confusion subsides a little as well. Of course, I don't need a 'Publish' button to do this; most of the meanderings of my mind are not for public consumption. I journal, I scribble, I make notes. What actually goes out for people to read is the tip of the iceberg.

For me, it's about the 'me-too-moment'. A precious point of shared experience, where I read someone's words and something inside me responds, yes! me too. How powerful that can be. A moment where you feel a little bit less alone, less different, less isolated.

Life is difficult, much of the time. I firmly believe that not even the people who appear to have it all together have it all worked out. Nobody does.

We're all making it up as we go along, but we all feel intense pressure to pretend otherwise. The world can be a dark place, and not just when a hurricane blows off the roof and cuts off the electricity. In the middle of abundance we can be in utter poverty. I heard a speaker at a conference recently say that she sees people living in mud and dust in the wilds of Mozambique that have greater wealth than many in the cosmopolitan cities of Great Britain. Our problems are many and varied but one of the biggies is loneliness.

You can be lonely because you have no friends, you can be lonely in a auditorium full of people, you can be lonely sitting on your own sofa surrounded by a loving family. You can be lonely when it feels as if nobody understands.

And then how wonderful is it when you find someone who does? That's when a me-too-moment gets it's capital letters.

I write because I am awed at what God has done for me, and I look around and I see people just where I was. I want to reach a hand out to some of the people who are in the dark. Not everyone makes such heavy weather of life as I do, but there are other over-thinkers out there; other night-time worriers. Other people who have believed the lies that I have believed, and for whom it might be the wake up call that they need to hear that there is another way, a fresh start, a clean slate.

Nothing is wasted for God. Just as each of the troubles and difficulties I negotiate each day will hold a lesson for me, if I'm willing to learn it, there might be someone else who reads what I write, sits back in their chair and whispers, 'Oh, Me Too,' and feels a little bit less alone.

'Thank God it's not just me'.

Sometimes God has to tell me something scores of times before I pay attention. It could be a gradual understanding or a sudden, eyebrow-raising, penny-drop kind of moment, but those times where I have come across someone who has been where I am, who has found a way through it, something in me responds on a deep level.

To connect with someone (whether they ever know about it or not) has been a powerful catalyst in a healing process brought about by God himself. Real, shared experience is more profound than any number of theories or self-help books.

If I can do that for someone else, even if I'm never aware of it - how great would that be?

So what must I do? I am learning that I need to be honest and stand up for what is true in a culture that encourages us to dissemble. I need to say, 'No, it's difficult,' when I am supposed to pretend it's easy. I need to leave off the virtual make-up in order to reassure someone that it's ok to have blemishes and scars. I need to drop my defenses, let down the guard and reveal my vulnerability. That's a bit scary, but you know what else I have learned?

God provides the necessary courage.

Several times someone has told me how brave I am, and yet I don't feel one bit brave. It takes me much more courage to walk onto the poolside in my swimsuit than to write down what Jesus has done in my life. I haven't gathered up my courage to tell people my story - I know that God has helped me. And this is how I know for sure what it is I want to do with my writing.

I want to reach out to people and tell them that they're not alone. I have found someone who can help, and if He can help me, He can help you. God doesn't want me to keep that to myself.

I want my words to say: You're not on your own.  I did that too. I felt that way too. I believed that too. And you know what? I am precious and priceless and loved, just as I am. Really. God loved me too much to leave me in that mess, and He loves you too: yes, you. Here's what you need to do: don't look at me, look at Jesus.

I know that not everyone thinks or feels like me. Some people will read my words and think they are too emotional, too raw, too touchy-feely. That's fine. It doesn't mean that there's anything wrong with you or me. We all speak - or write - in different voices, even if we all do it in English. You connect with people your way. Me Too Moments come in all accents and dialects.

So Deborah reached into a hole and hauled me out into the sunshine. She says she wants to shine the light of Jesus into people's lives and that's exactly what she did. And I sat back in my chair and said, 'Me too, Father God.'

Helen Murray lives in Derbyshire, England, with her husband, two daughters and her mum.

As well as writing and reading, she drinks coffee, takes photographs, swims, breeds Aloe Vera plants and collects ceramic penguins.

Helen has a blog: Are We Nearly There Yet? where she writes about life and faith.

You can also find her here:

Pinterest: @HelenMMurray
Twitter: @helenmurray01

Friday, 22 September 2017

What's in a Lampshade? By Emily Owen

I went out for dinner this week but, while the food was good (I had seabass risotto), the thing which really grabbed my attention was the lampshade.

That’s right; the lampshade.

The outside of it was very plain but, inside, it was rather beautifully book-lined.

As I looked, I realised that lampshades can deliver lessons.

How often have we heard, or said, or felt; “I have a book/poem inside me which is just bursting to come out”?

Externally the same as ever but, inside, where no one sees, there is a book idea germinating away.
A book-lining.

But what’s inside our book-lining?  What’s inside our life, our work, our writing?

Just as inside the book-lined lampshade was a light, so inside our hopes, inside our dreams, inside our plans, inside our writing, inside our lives, should be the Light.

The light of Christ.

Illuminating all that we have and are.

Shining out from us.

I recently attended CRT for the first time and do you know what struck me most?  In amongst the speakers and books, every person I met shone the light of Christ.

This was perhaps especially evident at the Awards ceremony.  As person after person went forward to receive recognition for ‘shop of the year’ or ‘book of the year’ or ‘volunteer of the year’, the awards themselves were that beautiful book-lining. 
The shining light inside was celebration. 
Everyone there celebrated everyone there.

Rejoice with those who rejoice. Romans 12:15

When we truly rejoice with those who rejoice, with the joy that comes from God, the light of Christ dwells in us. 
And the light of Christ shines out, lighting up all around. 
It really does. 
Just ask anyone who was at the Awards ceremony at CRT.

So, what difference, if any, would it make to our lives and writing if we were like that lampshade; keeping the Light central to all we do?

Consciously remembering to ‘walk in the light of the Lord’ (Is. 2:5)?

Letting His light shine on every step. 

Every thing we write.

Every situation we encounter.

Every response we give.

Let's try it and see…

Thursday, 21 September 2017

The Lord orchestrates the battle

"'Write the vision and engrave it 
plainly upon tablets that everyone who passes may (be able to) read 
(it easily and quickly) as he hastens by.  

                           Habakkuk 2:2

In August I felt the Lord commissioned me to write daily on my blog for 40 days using the above title and verse, and doing that I gained greater understanding of the battle raging over our land.  When I read 2 Timothy 3 the title was “The Last Days” it certainly described the state of our nation today.  However, the Bible also tells us that the battle is the Lords.  Eph.6 says “we don’t battle against flesh and blood, but powers and principalities in heavenly realms”.

I believe the Lord is calling up His people to join His army. Unity isn’t uniformity, but a need to stand together and know we are “reading from the same hymn sheet.” It is essential we understand how much God loves us, resides in us and desires to bless us.  He doesn’t want us living in fear, but to know His voice, to be His watchman and be obedient to His call to play our part in these days.

Which brought me to consider that those in a battle had to be trained just as those in an orchestra. There are different instruments, as there are people. We often group together with those of like mind, and  He wants us to take our place to be ready to play our part and release the fullness of all He is in us.  Our heavenly Father is the ultimate conductor of creation amd we are made in His image.  That makes us a diverse, unique and a gifted people who He desires to use to bring His Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.  

In the Father’s orchestra He is our tuning fork, and we need to know His perfect pitch. From an individual learning an instrument, to reading music and joining a group, there is a musical score to follow.  And when the groups come together their instruments make the harmony fuller and richer. It is the blending with others that the composer and conductor hear how to bring out the best sound to bring forth a symphony to delight the listener.  However, if everyone plays the notes they think are right, joins in when they desire, it is unlikely many will find the music uplifting!

I saw that our church denominations can be like that. It doesn’t matter if there are a variety of backgrounds, understanding and worship, but it appears some churches have lost the Biblical score. For those both inside and outside the church that brings confusion, because the harmony intended for the body of Christ to be seen and be attractive, has been lost.

It is wondeful there are organisations like ACW which have the ability to cut across God’s divided army and find agreement in the basic Biblical truth.  It is God’s vision for all His people to love, serve and unite.  And despite our diversity of belief it is good to enjoy fellowship and encourage one another as we write to reveal the rich fabric of life the Lord can bring..

Our part, our battle is to tune into His melody, and become that sweet, sweet sound in His ear.

Ruth Johnson
Author  www.

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Where do I start? by Sue Russell

Someone once likened writing a novel to wrestling an octopus into a mayonnaise jar. I didn't have one of those, but I thought an empty olive tin might do just as well.

I'm in the process of concocting a new story, and if we are continuing with this telling image, I have to admit that several tentacles are trying to escape as fast as I am trying to shove them in.

I ask myself why I am finding it more and more difficult to get started the more novels I write. The first one was easy, because of blind and more or less blissful ignorance. I leapt in, blundered around, and got on with it. (A lot of editing was needed later.) The second and third were parts of a trilogy so the principal characters were established and the story told itself. Four and five were a little harder, but the beginnings seemed to present themselves logically. Six was a problem, and I had to get some help from my writing buddy, who is a mile better at structure than I am.

But six, while not yet even available on Amazon, is for me a thing of the past. It's always the way - by the time it gets to the reader it's been through many edits and proof-reads both before and after being submitted for publication. I hope that whoever reads it will find it fresh and adequately gripping, but for me it's done and dusted, and I'm keen to get my new story onto the page. This one's still fresh and gripping, but it's also intractable - just like that slithery eightfold sea creature.

The story is not just in my head; it also exists as many notes and I have done quite a lot of research. I'm certainly more knowledgeable that I was, whether or not this knowledge ever becomes part of the book. I have got to know my protagonist better and better with time. So what's holding me up?

I'm suffering from overwhelm, and I don't quite know how to reduce the mass of thoughts into a manageable list of scenes. If anyone has a similar problem, or indeed has found a solution, I'd be grateful to hear it. Meanwhile, in order to persuade myself that I really must buckle down, I have bought a book.  Will it help?

Sue writes as S.L.Russell and her latest novel 'A Vision of Locusts', published by Instant Apostle, will be released on 20 October.
The others can be found in the usual places as paperbacks and to download to Kindle.

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Feeling the burn, by Veronica Zundel

Irregular verb: I am sensitive, you are touchy, s/he is a fusspot.

Have you ever been told you are 'over-sensitive'? Apparently when I was a baby, a complete stranger looked in my pram where I was bawling my head off and declared firmly, 'Ah, artistic temperament'.
 My mother never tired of reminding me of this incident throughout my subsequent life!

But does the writer or other 'creative' actually need to be more sensitive, to have deeper, and yet more easily accessible, feelings than other mortals? Are we born without that extra skin that enables the less 'artistic' to imitate a duck's back and let life, like water, roll off them? Sensitivity can be an excuse we use to make others do our bidding ('only the tiniest bit of chilli for me please') but if we really are more impressionable or even more fragile than others, it can be both a curse and a blessing.

A curse because, inevitably, life is going to send us tough stuff and we may be more affected by it than those with thicker hide or who bounce back quicker. A blessing because - well, actually for
exactly the same reason. We who make books or paintings or music or dance can take the tough stuff of our lives, in which we get so easily immersed, and transmute it, given time and effort, into something with the potential to feed or heal or inspire others. And equally important, we can take the good stuff which we enjoy so intensely and communicate it to others in a way which will, if we are lucky (and experienced!) allow them to see it in a new light or to feel its heights and depths as we do.

Of course, if sensitivity is a necessary attribute of the artist, it has its downside - we may be perennially closer than others to tipping over into the fearful territory of mental illness or breakdown. It surely is no coincidence that so many of our great writers/painters/musicians have suffered psychologically as an accompaniment to, or perhaps the price of, their creativity (or its inspiration?). You can be a highly sensitive person without producing any artistic output whatever, of any quality, but I'm not so sure that the converse applies.

There are always the glorious exceptions, writers and artists full of unquenchable joy and humour, who enrich our lives with laughter and hope - surely P G Wodehouse, for example, a writer of enormous talent, had few if any moments of despair or overwhelmedness - although you could argue
that he was exceptionally sensitive to the ridiculousness of everyday situations.

For most of us, however, if we want to create for the consumption of a human race almost all of whom will experience suffering, and most of whom will have moments of extraordinary bliss, we will have to live through both pain and pleasure ourselves, and we may have to experience them at a greater intensity than the average. Or is that just me?

Veronica Zundel is a freelance writer whose latest book is Everything I know about God, I've learned from being a parent (BRF 2013). She also writes a column for Woman Alive magazine, and Bible notes for BRF's New Daylight. Veronica used to belong to what was, before it closed, the only non-conservative, English speaking Mennonite church in the UK, and is currently playing at being a high Anglican. She also blogs (rather occasionally!) at