Disappointing GCSE Results

Today is a big day – a day which fills young people across the country with fear and dread. It is GCSE results day.

Today, especially, I’m reminded that I got poor GCSE results – the worst in my family:

  • C – Maths Level II
  • C – Environmental Science
  • C – Physical Science
  • D – Design
  • D – English
  • E – Drama
  • E – Integrated Humanities
  • G – German
  • U* – English Literature (*but that’s another story for another time!)

But today, I’m also reminded that since then I’ve worked hard and those grades are just a distant memory. Here’s the story of how a boy from a single parent family on a council estate responded to his disappointing GCSE results.

I left school at 15 (due to an August birthday) with those grades and not much else. I got a job which paid a poor wage, but included a day-release College course for three years. At the end of those three years I could add to my CV:

  • RSA: Level II Diploma in Information Technology
  • City & Guilds: Coding & Programming in BASIC
  • City & Guilds: Application Programming in Pascal

After my College course my pay was increased and I was given a company car. I gained a wealth of experience in the areas of business, computing, and life skills. I took every opportunity presented to me, plus a few which I made for myself, and was eventually offered a job by a company I’d been working in partnership (these days that’s called ‘head hunting’). I accepted the new job, even though it would challenge & stretch me and my skills, and it did! The focus of my role changed from hardware repairs to software development & support (building on my college qualifications).

My next job (third) presented a wealth of further opportunities for learning & development which I grabbed with both hands and made the most of. The experience I had received up to that point (not what I learned at school) meant that I was able to do the job. When I resigned from that job I was able to say with thanks and honesty that the only reason I had the experience to get my next job (fourth) was due to what I’d learned with them.

My next job (fourth) was my dream job & came with a dream salary increase. As a contemporary philosopher has said recently: ‘it’s not about the money, money, money…‘; but actually it is a little bit about the money. It definitely helps when the money increases from ‘can just about afford to keep your flat & car’ to ‘let’s upgrade to a sporty car and still have spare cash at the end of the month’!

At the end of that job another adventure began, which involved even more hard work, and allowed me to add a further qualification to my CV:

  • BA (Hons) in Youth & Community Work & Applied Theology (2:1 – so close to a first that it still hurts!)

I’m now enrolled at the University of Oxford to continue my studies. If you’d told me all this when I opened the envelope which contained my GCSE results, I would have laughed in your face. Whatever the reasons for those poor GCSE results (and there are many!) they have never held me back. It’s been hard work along the way – but it has been so worth it.

So whatever joy or disappointment you received in your results envelope today, please remember that they are nothing but a stepping stone at the start of what can be an amazing journey – are you prepared to continue the hard work?

It’s Friday – but Sunday’s coming!

It’s Friday
Jesus is praying
Peter’s a sleeping
Judas is betraying
But Sunday’s comin’

It’s Friday
Pilate’s struggling
The council is conspiring
The crowd is vilifying
They don’t even know
That Sunday’s comin’

It’s Friday
The disciples are running
Like sheep without a shepherd
Mary’s crying
Peter is denying
But they don’t know
That Sunday’s a comin’

It’s Friday
The Romans beat my Jesus
They robe him in scarlet
They crown him with thorns
But they don’t know
That Sunday’s comin’

It’s Friday
See Jesus walking to Calvary
His blood dripping
His body stumbling
And his spirit’s burdened
But you see, it’s only Friday
Sunday’s comin’

It’s Friday
The world’s winning
People are sinning
And evil’s grinning

It’s Friday
The soldiers nail my Savior’s hands
To the cross
They nail my Savior’s feet
To the cross
And then they raise him up
Next to criminals

It’s Friday
But let me tell you something
Sunday’s comin’

It’s Friday
The disciples are questioning
What has happened to their King
And the Pharisees are celebrating
That their scheming
Has been achieved
But they don’t know
It’s only Friday
Sunday’s comin’

It’s Friday
He’s hanging on the cross
Feeling forsaken by his Father
Left alone and dying
Can nobody save him?
It’s Friday
But Sunday’s comin’

It’s Friday
The earth trembles
The sky grows dark
My King yields his spirit

It’s Friday
Hope is lost
Death has won
Sin has conquered
and Satan’s just a laughin’

It’s Friday
Jesus is buried
A soldier stands guard
And a rock is rolled into place
But it’s Friday
It is only Friday
Sunday is a comin’!

11 year old atheists

The following is a reflection by Sam DonahueChildren’s Ministry Adviser for Diocese of London (and co-Editor of the soon-to-be-released ChildrensWork Magazine) reproduced from their latest Children’s Ministry Newsletter with permission (full credit below):

I was reading a book by James Fowler on how faith develops in children and within it he comments on the something they noticed during their research interviews; a group of eleven year olds who had rejected the idea of God. On the face of it this seems an odd stage in life to expect to find this group, odder still when you consider that they came from faith communities, so what was happening to cause this effect?

Fowler’s theory was that at this stage children are beginning to sort stories into those which should be retained as truth and those that are made up and the God ends up sitting on the rejects bench together with the tooth fairy and Father Christmas. They are all dismissed as things that they liked the idea of as children but have rejected now they realise are not true. It’s easy to see what happened to Mr Claus and his fairy friend but why did God suffer the same fate?

For Fowler the explanation is simple; the God the children were taught about doesn’t exist and by eleven they were old enough to work that out. They had been taught about a God who solves all their problems, stops bad things happening, answers all their prayers and arrives at the last minute to save the day if the situation gets really hopeless. To be fair they are right, that God doesn’t exist. Brilliantly Fowler leaves it at this and doesn’t offer any solutions! So I think I will try and think of some as this is all rather depressing right now!

  1. Be real about your experience of being a Christian. It’s not a matter of everything being lovely all the time and we should resist the urge to try and ‘protect children’ from this. Life is messy and things go wrong and we learn that God is there with us through all of this not just the good bits. So don’t be afraid to tell stories, either Bible stories or stories from you own life where things go wrong.
  2. Don’t spin the Bible. I’ve said before that the Bible doesn’t need us to ‘spin it’ so that children only see the highlights package. The stories of the Bible are supposed to be a resource to help and support us through good times and bad. It we only give children the good bits the Bible fails them when they need it most as there is no resource for the bad times.
  3. If it looks like a fairy story it probably is a fairy story. In our efforts to make the Bible more accessible to children we often lose the grit and reality of the stories and make them feel more like fluffy fairy stories and less like things that actually happened. Next time you look at the story of the Exodus why not get a map out and show the children the journey or use some pictures from the Holy Land to illustrate where Jesus was when he was telling his stories. Doing this helps to imbed the stories in the real world and not the fantasy world.
  4. Beware miracles. I’m not sure how I feel about this but there is a school of thought that says that if we major on miracles understand them to be about magic and then they fall into the fairy tale trap. It is suggested that a more healthy emphasis would be on the motivation for the miracle than the miracle it’s self. For example, rather than concentrating on Jesus’ power to heal focus instead on Jesus’ compassion towards the sick.

Credit: Sam Donoghue is the Children’s Ministry Adviser of the Diocese of London. You can read more from him here.

Sign up to receive the Diocese of London Children’s Ministry Newsletter by email.

Lent vs Social Media

It’s traditional to give something up for the period of Lent. Many people do so – even those without any personal religious conviction or understanding of the significance, which puzzles me a little. I usually struggle to know what to give up (if I should bother at all) and many of the things I’ve given up previously I’ve not ‘taken up’ again – mostly notably sugar in tea/coffee.

A number of people suggested that I give up Twitter for Lent. I told them I thought it was a preposterous idea, but they didn’t understand why. In response I suggested that perhaps they’d give up using the telephone for Lent and they didn’t quite grasp what I was getting at. My point was that for me Twitter is more than a frivolous pastime, but rather a tool & a method of communication. I would no more choose to give up Twitter than I could choose to give up email for Lent – both are a core part of my work/ministry tool kit, and my social make-up. I have made some great friends through Twitter (and other social media) many of whom I’ve met subsequently in person; I have received support from (and been able to offer support to) fellow youth workers & ministers in difficult circumstances; I’ve received news, information & resources I might otherwise have missed; I’ve been able to pray for people I don’t know (and request prayer from others too); I’ve been inspired by the work of others; I’ve been challenged by quotes posted by others; I’ve become aware of pastoral situations I needed to respond to that otherwise would have remained unknown to me. The list could go on…

I have to admit though, that my use of Twitter is not entirely without frivolity. My use of Twitter sometimes gets in the way of face-to-face encounters and other worthwhile activities, as I discovered as I took a step back and analysed my practice. But that is due to the slightly OCD (obsessive-compulsive) side of my personality. I currently follow 342 people/organisations/projects on Twitter – which means that when they post an update it appears in my timeline for me to read. Due to my OCD tendencies I found it very difficult to simply let these updates pass me by without at least skim-reading them. When I was following 20 or 50 accounts this was less of a problem, but as that number increased so did the time it took to read them. And so the problem grew…

Having realised this, and recognising that some accounts have a higher signal-to-noise ratio than others, I decided to try to focus my Twitter use during Lent. I didn’t want to unfollow lots of users, so I decided to set-up a list on Twitter of the people I felt offered the most value, were most challenging, or were ‘necessary’ for my job (young people, colleagues, organisations, etc which I need to keep in touch with). I set an arbitrary limit of 100 for the list, but actually only added 80 accounts. I then updated the Twitter app on my phone & my PCs to only monitor the new list. This list would only limit the accounts I was following/reading, and I decided that I’d still engage with people who weren’t on the list if they started a conversation with me (as it would be rude not to respond). [I should say that I intended to use the time I wrestled back from Twitter to engage in something which would develop my spirituality, but that’s for a separate post.]

We’re almost at the end of Lent so I thought I’d reflect on how things have been going…

Reflections:

The most surprising realisation is just how much of a chore catching up with Twitter had become. I can only see it now, but it had become something that I felt compelled to do (due to my OCD tendencies) but which often seemingly had little value or reward. If I’d had a particularly busy day, when I eventually came to ‘check in’ with Twitter, it would take a large chunk of time to catch up, and if by the end I felt there was little value to it, it’s hard to see how this constitutes a wise use of my time (Ephesians 5:15-16). With the increase in people/organisations I was following came the requirement for an increased investment of time, but seemingly with reduced value/rewards.

I had intended to use the time I ‘reclaimed’ from Twitter to engage in some reading which would be of spiritual benefit to me. I started to read Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster, which is a fascinating exploration of spiritual disciplines. The run-up to this Easter has been a particularly busy time (as it is each year) and so my ‘reclaimed’ time has been spent on keeping up with the to-do list & the ‘day job’, so I’ve not read as much as I’d have liked. But what I have read has been really inspiring and massively challenging, and I look forward to continuing the journey.

Not all the people/organisations I follow provide an entirely wholesome experience. There’s nothing wrong with entertainment & a bit of light relief, but I’m reminded of the words of Paul to the Philippians (4:8): ‘keep your minds on whatever is true, pure, right, holy, friendly, and proper. Don’t ever stop thinking about what is truly worthwhile and worthy of praise.’ {emphasis mine}

The least positive outcome of the way I’ve changed my Twitter use has been that of reduced conversation. As mentioned previously, a lot of my Twitter contacts have become friends over recent months & years; some of whom I’ve met in person, others I’ve spoken to via phone/Skype, and others only via Twitter. In addition, there is an amazingly supportive & creative community of Youth Workers & Ministers on Twitter who utilise the hashtag #ywchat to engage with one another & the wider community (as it would be almost impossible to follow each of them). Throughout Lent I have felt that I’ve neglected some friendships which I’ve come to value (although many made it to my reduced list) and have certainly been unable to properly (perhaps usefully) engage with my colleagues in the #ywchat community. [I hope to rectify this shortly at #coffeeshopcrawl3 – a series of ‘real-life’ #ywchat get-togethers…]

On a purely technical note, one frustration with my use of a Twitter List for Lent has been that the list function doesn’t include native retweets from the people on the list, only their original tweets. So I’ve missed out on a lot of resources, quotes, & challenges which I’d otherwise hoped to receive. However, this has led to extra time being available – so it’s a mixed blessing. Also, due to the software/apps I use, by following a list rather than a general Twitter stream I appear to have lost some of the conversational functionality. As this is a big part of my Twitter use, I’ve felt this loss keenly (but not wanted to invest additional time in finding an alternative).

Response:

I’m still trying to decide on the best way to engage with Twitter once Lent has ended. Clearly I need to reduce the amount of time I had been spending on it previously, but not in a way which diminishes the level of engagement with people . I’ve considered the use of subject-related lists (pastoral, geographical, organisations, resources, etc), but I don’t wish to diminish the level of interaction with people, and I fear that will be the case.

The biggest issue I face is overcoming (or more likely, managing) my OCD tendencies and getting better at allowing things to pass me by.

I expect that my eventual solution will be a combination of unfollowing a large number of accounts, and employing the list-based system outlined above.

Challenge:

  • What strategies have you employed to cope with increased ?
  • Do you have any tips to share?

Post your thoughts in the comments below…

10k Success

On Sunday 4th March I ran in my first 10k race as part of the Milton Keynes Festival of Running. Primarily I did it to raise funds for my role at Spurgeon Baptist Church – more of that here. But it has also been a personal ambition to complete a 10k, for about the last 10 years! So, to quote the esteemed President George W. Bush: Mission Accomplished!

At the start of January when I decided to start training for the 10k, my biggest fear was that I’d be training though the winter. I worried that if it was raining (or worse) I wouldn’t stick to it. But I’m pleased to say that apart from a couple of days of snow, we’ve enjoyed almost spring-like weather since the start of January. Oh what an irony then to wake up on Race Day to discover that it was raining heavily. People said ‘don’t worry – it will soon pass’ – but it didn’t. It rained heavily throughout the race. By the time we were just 3k into the race I’m confident that I could have gone swimming and not got any wetter. It was grim! [but at least it wasn’t snowing – which it was by the time the runners finished the MK Half Marathon about an hour later!]

The start of the race felt a bit slow for me, so I jostled to get a better position and soon settled down into a good rhythm. I was passed by a steady stream of fitter runners who had started further back & who were travelling past me at a good pace which was quite disheartening. The cold from the rain was making my leg muscles tighten, which was a bit of a worry so early on! I found myself following a guy with a silly hat and a woman in an orange jacket who both seemed to be paying great attention to their watches and sticking to a predetermined pace. As the pace felt comfortable for me too I decided I’d stick with them for as long as I could. Before I knew it we were at the ‘feeding station’ and then at the half way marker. At this point (still raining, of course) I decided I still had a bit of pace left in me and decided to over-take the ‘orange lady’ (no idea where the guy with the silly hat had gone by now) and pulled away a little bit. Shortly after that someone ran up behind me and patted me on the back and gave some encouragement: it was Rev. Andrew Gale (Chaplain at Oakhill STC). We had been together on the start line but had separated. He pulled about 20 yards ahead. Then at the 7k mark we were at the lowest point of the race and the finish line was at the highest! So we hit the hills…

I’ve always thought of Milton Keynes as being particularly flat. Which sounded great because all of my training had been alongside the canal, with a total elevation of about 5m at the lock. But at the start Angie Horn asked me if I’d been ‘training for the Fishermead hill?’ To which my reply was a very definite ‘no’! She looked a bit worried for me.

The first hill wasn’t too steep or too long – but it took a lot out of me. I had managed to work hard and pulled back a bit of distance from Andrew. Then it was flat again for a little while before another hill – worse than the first: longer and steeper (a bad combination). Then immediately after that we turned a corner and hit the Fishermead hill – which is slightly shorter and not as steep as the last, but coming on the back of the others it felt like hell! I tried to power through it and nearly killed myself in the process. At this point we were only 1k from the finish line, but that final kilometre felt like five. There were two encouragements for me amongst the hills, the first was that I managed to over-take and stay ahead of Andrew, the second was the supporters I saw.

I had encouragement from Andrew & Angie at the start line, and it was great to see Keelie Lingard who was there to support her Mum, Yvonne, who was also running. Then at about the 2k mark I noticed Neil McGill at the side of the road – although I appreciated his support, his shout of ‘come on, keep going, you can do it!’ felt a bit premature as I was still feeling comfortable at that stage. Then there was a long stretch with no personal supporters, and only a few ‘randoms’ who were clapping anyone who passed. But at the top of the first small hill (the hardest part by that point) it was a real encouragement to see Gareth Chapman & Dee Stevens standing there, looking like drowned rats (as we all did!) and cheering me on enthusiastically. Then at the point which was without doubt the hardest point for me, the top of the Fishermead hill, I saw Terry Horn waiting. I shouted to him before he saw me and his surprised smile lifted my spirit no end – enough to see me through to the final corner almost 1k later. At that point a crowd of supporters had gathered. The first people I noticed were Simon & Nicci Bradley, accompanied by Keelie & her grandparents; they were quickly followed by Gareth & Dee again who had magically appeared at the finish.

I picked up my pace a little as I rounded the final corner, at which point Andrew Gale passed me with another message of encouragement. I decided to sprint (I say ‘sprint’, it was intended to be a sprint, but I was limited by the inability of my legs to respond to what my brain was saying). So my first 10k ended with some friendly competition and honours even as Andrew and I crossed the line together before shaking hands on a race well run. Most people rushed to get out of the rain, but I figured I wasn’t getting any wetter so I decided to welcome in the other runners I knew: Angie Horn, Yvonne Lingard & John Kennedy.

Before we started Angie said she expected me to finish in 57 minutes. I said I’d be delighted with anything under 1 hour 10 minutes – especially as I knew I’d struggle with the hills. For me the 10k was never a competitive endeavour; my aim was to run it all and to finish it. But I can’t deny that I was delighted with my official time: 57 minutes 02 seconds. According to the official results I finished 182 out of 461. I’m happy with that – but Andrew has suggested we aim for the top 100 next time. [next time?!]

On medical advice from the Senior Race Steward I decided to have a quick change of clothes then grab a coffee at Costa and warm up before heading home. Believe me – he didn’t have to tell me that twice!

A massive thank you to everyone who has supported, sponsored & encouraged me! But fear not! Because there’s still time to sponsor me if you haven’t already. You can do it online here (have currently reached 68% of my online target) or if you’d like to increase your sponsorship through Gift Aid, get in touch and I’ll send you a form.

Simon Bradley took a photo of me rounding the final corner and tweeted it in the afternoon:

You can take a look at my stats online at RunKeeper which will also let you check out the route, elevation & my pace at each stage. If you have a particularly strong stomach, you can check out my official ‘finish photo‘ [you have been warned!].

Heaven’s Gates Swing Wide

Last Friday as  I was doing an 8k training run I was listening to ‘Awakening: Live from Chicago’ by Jesus Culture. The track ‘Break Every Chain’ has a fantastic chorus:

All sufficient sacrifice
So freely given
Such a price
Bought our redemption
Heaven’s gates swing wide

 
The last two lines stuck in my head as the run continued. When I got home I posted the follow on Twitter & Facebook:

 
Over the weekend my brother posted a great, simple question: ‘what does that mean?

I guess it was a bit too abstract to stand on its own. So, in short it means that: redemption is available to all & that the gates of heaven are ready to welcome any & all who have been redeemed.

I know, that needs a bit of explaining too. So here goes, stick with it…

When you’re given a voucher for your birthday for your preferred shop the voucher you’re given is inherently worthless: it’s a piece of plastic & ink with a magnetic strip (remember when they were just paper?). It’s probably worth about 25p max. But when you hand it over the shop will honour the promise which has been made previously (when the voucher was purchased) and will exchange the worthless voucher for something of value.

Think of redemption as the exchange of something which is worthless for something which is expensive (priceless even!).

Sinful man (Romans 3:23) was separated from God (Genesis 3) but God made a way for the relationship to be fully restored (John 3:16 & 1 Peter 3:18). The way was open to everyone to return to a full & rich relationship with God forever (Romans 10:9 & John 3:36)

To massively over-simplify for the sake of brevity: God exchanged His Son, Jesus, to pay for the voucher which anyone can claim for themselves, and which will buy their place in heaven.

Something is only worth what someone is willing to pay for it. [source unknown]

Jesus sacrificed His life through excruciating death on a cross in order that you (yes you) could receive the gift of eternal life, at no cost to yourself.

So you will be saved, if you honestly say, “Jesus is Lord,” and if you believe with all your heart that God raised him from death. [Romans 10:9]

Here’s the full song from Jesus Culture:

Check out these two Gospel presentations if you want to know more: