Friday, February 22, 2008

Someone "Going Viral"

My paraphrase of the opening verses of the book of Job might go something like this:-

In the city of Inverness there lived a teacher whose name was Mel. She was blameless and upright; she feared God and shunned evil. (NB Some early manuscripts omit this verse!)

She didn’t have any sons or daughters but taught many children at the local high school. She owned no sheep, or camels, no oxen and no donkeys, but had a gerbil once upon a time. Life might have been easier if she had a large number of servants.

All in all she was a pretty great woman. (NB – some early manuscripts omit this verse too!)

Her classes at school used to enjoy their lessons and they would learn a lot and pass their assessments first time around. Mel would mark their books and write encouraging comments to stir their hearts and provoke them to great achievements. (NB – most commentators agree this is complete fabrication!)

Early in the morning she would pray for each of them, thinking, "Perhaps my pupils have sinned and cursed God in their hearts." This was Mel’s regular custom. (NB – commentators dispute the accuracy of this verse too.)

The Test

One day the angels came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came with them. The LORD said to Satan, "Where have you come from?"

Satan answered the LORD, "From roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it."

Then the LORD said to Satan, "Have you considered my servant Mel? There is no one on earth like her; she is blameless and upright, a woman who fears God and shuns evil."

"Does Mel fear God for nothing?" Satan replied. "Have you not put a hedge around her and her household and everything she has? You have blessed the work of her hands, so that her classes work hard and achieve good exam results. But stretch out your hand and strike everything she has, and she will surely curse you to your face."

The LORD said to Satan, "Very well, then, everything she has is in your hands, but on the Mel herself do not lay a finger."

Then Satan went out from the presence of the LORD.

We all know what happened next. In the original story Job was besieged by one disaster after another and through it all he did not sin “by charging God with wrongdoing.”

I have had a Job kind of week. I have to admit that it hasn’t been one disaster after another – just the one disaster that is fast spiraling way beyond anything I had anticipated.

No Sabeans have attacked and carried off my donkeys. No fire from heaven has fallen and consumed my sheep. The Chaldeans haven’t swept by to take my camels and there has been no mighty wind blasting the houses of anyone I know.

Someone has “gone viral” on me by setting up an internet web page on one of the social networking sites and apparently filling it with unpleasant stuff. I say apparently because I have not been able to access the information – not that I really want to.

I spent the first afternoon in tears. I felt that everyone was laughing at me behind my back and smirking that they knew something about me that I didn’t! Then I got organized! I rounded up a posse and took on the cyber slime-ball! I can’t think that I have ever written memo and emails so strongly worded like that before. If I had been on the receiving end I would have been very scared! I didn’t mince my words or pussy foot around the edges. It has been a week of rallying the troops and stuff.

The result was that the site has been erased, the culprit caught – and one would like to think it is all over, but there are ripples in the water. A friend came by to tell me that he thought I had handled the whole thing really well!

Job was just minding his own business when God underlined and highlighted his life to Satan. He put Job under a spot light and challenged Satan to test him and try to prove his theory that Job’s faith was based on something other that God himself.

I am not Job and I wouldn’t presume to suggest that my week compares with Job’s tragedies. Job's response had implications that went far beyond the physical world. God could turn and rebuke Satan for his foul accusations because in the end “Job didn’t sin by charging God with wrongdoing.” Job proved that possessions given and taken away were not the source of his security, but that his faith was in God alone.

How we handle trials and tribulations isn’t really just about the physical world either. There is a powerful testimony in the heavenlies and to powers and principalities when we come through. We don't always come through unscathed and we might limp for a while, but there is a greater glory being achieved through it.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Who am I?

I was doing a "My Documents" clearout on the computer. I came across this post that I had written but never posted onto the blog.

Who am I?

I bought myself yet another book the other day! This is despite the fact that I have a bookshelf of books that I have not thoroughly read! It seems that I have discovered lately that not only do I enjoy writing poetry, but I also enjoy reading it. The book, “Who am I?” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, is based on a poem of the same name that he wrote while in prison.

Who am I? They often tell me
I stepped from my cell’s confinement
Calmly, cheerfully, firmly,
Like a squire from his country-house.
Who am I? They often tell me
I used to speak to my warders
Freely and friendly and clearly,
As though it were mine to command.
Who am I? They also tell me
I bore the days of misfortune
Equally, smilingly, proudly,
Like one accustomed to win.

Am I then really all that which other men tell of?
Or am I only what I myself know of myself?
Restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage,
Struggling for breath, as though hands were
compressing my throat,
Yearning for colors, for flowers, for the voices of birds,
Thirsting for words of kindness, for neighborliness,
Tossing in expectation of great events,
Powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance,
Weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making,
Faint, and ready to say farewell to it all?

Who am I? This or the other?
Am I one person today and tomorrow another?
Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others,
And before myself a contemptibly woebegone weakling?
Or is something within me still like a beaten army,
Fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?
Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.
Whoever I am, Thou knowest, 0 God, I am Thine!

March 4,1946

The first three verses are about how other people see him. They remind me of a scene in “The Shawshank Redemption” in which one of the prisoners, Red, is trying to describe the main character, Andy. He talks of the way he walks around the prison exercise yard, not as a prisoner, but as someone taking an afternoon stroll in the park. Andy does not take on the spirit of the prison but remains untouched by the cynicism and defeat that clouds all the other inmates. It is the kind of thing that the prison guards say about Bonhoeffer – yes, he is in prison, but he has not taken on the spirit of the prisoner.

The rest of the poem is about how Bonhoeffer sees himself – and it is so different. To others he is calm and composed, smiling and cheerful. Peeling back the surface, he admits to feeling caged and unquiet, worrying about his friends, weary and unable to pray.

As much as I would like to write a poem like his, I am not sure that I could be that honest with myself, or be prepared for others to see that kind of rawness. I think I spend a lot of time protecting people from the pain that I often feel. They have enough on their plate, and they need to be encouraged, so I present them with someone who triumphs over adversity, someone who determines to see a glass half full – someone who always has a the unmoving rock of Christ beneath her feet.

But the truth is, like Bonhoeffer, peeling back the surface reveals a very different kind of person. There is an unmoving rock beneath my feet – I see it in faith, not always in reality. There is someone who triumphs over adversity - but the adversity hurts big time and sometimes the fight is a lonely one. The glass isn’t just half full – but overflowing – but sometimes I am too tired and too bruised to drink.

Just as I am not always who I am, sometimes I don’t think I really allow God to be who he is. He longs to peel back the surface too and be Himself – someone much more impressive, more vibrant, more involved that I allow. He is not the silent partner in the business, but the initiator of all that happens.

If I had a resolution for the year it would be for me to be who I am, consciously living in the company of the God who is who He is!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Lingering

It was a stressful day yesterday. I could feel myself coming apart at the seams. God just said, as I fumbled for the front door key at the end of day, “Come and sit with me.” I dug out a few candles with a nice vanilla fragrance, found a music CD that I hadn’t listened to for a while, and then climbed into bed and chilled. I suppose technically I was soaking. I spent the next hour or so listening to the lyrics of the songs, pouring out concerns before God and praying too about the needs of other people on the prayer list.

I got to a stage where I felt settled and at peace. All the things that had been stressing me out were no longer rocking my boat. I was about to launch off the bed and do a spot or ironing or something when God’s next word was, “Linger.”

When I buy petrol for my car I usually buy just enough to cover the needs of the week. The tank is only ever half full. Very rarely, apart from journey’s down to see my folks in Rugby, do I fill it to the top. It gets filled on a Thursday and by the following Thursday we are into the “red warning light” dashboard thing. There is always just enough and no more.

God was telling me that I am a bit like that at times. I collect what I think will be enough resources for the day in my quiet times. But I don’t have “extra”. I am not necessarily overflowing. His suggestion that I “linger” was about reaching the overflowing stage! I lingered, listened some more to the music, prayed some more.

I was reminded of Joshua in the book of Exodus.

Exodus 33:11 “The LORD would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend. Then Moses would return to the camp, but his young aide Joshua son of Nun did not leave the tent.”

While Moses returned to the camp, Joshua stayed behind in the tabernacle with God. He lingered! I wonder what he and God spoke about, or whether they just shared companionable silences. Joshua developed his own relationship with God and when the time came took over the leadership of Israel.

But before he led, he lingered!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Chosen

Because
God chooses
The foolish things of the world
To shame the wise

Because
God chooses
The weak things of the world
To shame the strong

Because
God chooses
The lowly things
The despised things
The things that are not
To nullify
The things that are

God chose me
Foolish
Weak
Lowly
Despised

I am content
To be chosen
By God

"Go visit someone"

I was settling down this afternoon, after a morning of doing stuff, to open my Bible, dive in and soak. I had my Bible study notes, a notebook and a pen and prayed for revelation – something I hadn’t seen before, or a clearer picture of something that was familiar. I was just about to step on my spade ready to dig when God said, “Go visit someone!”

I am a homebody. I like my own company for the most part. I like me and the empty room. My husband is not a homebody. He likes to be with people, enjoying company and chat. Often during the holidays, he will ask me who I saw that day. He knows how much I indulge the hermit in me!

I decided to go and visit a friend I had not seen for a while and although Joe and I intended to visit over Christmas we never quite made it. The Christmas presents for her and the children were still beside the front door, as they had been for the last few months! I thought that I might as well deliver them! I thought maybe I could induce her to come for a walk. (Weight Watcher’s weigh in night – I put on a pound!)

We talked for a while. We talked about church. I told her all about our involvement with Healing on the Streets and Street Pastors. She was very encouraged by it all and thought that “once upon a time” she could see herself doing something like that, but not anymore. She remembered the days when she was on fire for God, but how with her illness things had become difficult to manage.

We piled into the car and visited another friend neither of us had seen in a while. This other friend is someone who you just can’t help confiding in and sure enough, over a cup of tea, my friend admitted just how lonely she had been feeling. Sometimes making and keeping friends was a difficult business. I know that for many people I am hard work, but my friend is even harder. Part of it is down to her medication and the side effects. She just unloaded all her concerns and frustrations and as we watched we could almost see the weight on her shoulders being lifted! She worked her way through a box of tissues and between sniffs and apologies told us just how things really were.

After an hour or so, there was silence. It was a comfortable silence. I don’t think anyone offered advice. Sometimes advice is not what people are looking for – they just want someone to listen. I could see that things were being mentally taken note of and I knew that once we had left the house lots of the things talked about would be prayed about!

The afternoon that I had planned for myself turned out to be very different. I did exactly what God had planned for me – I visited. A lot of what God wants to teach is on the job. There is a time for reading and learning and there is a time for doing and learning.

Planning for Failure

I have just spent the last half hour or so working out the mechanics of how to do all the things I need to do today and for the early part of the week without the use of the car.

I have never been very prompt about things like MOTs and after lots of nagging from my husband (who doesn’t drive, I have to add), I finally got around to arranging for the car’s MOT this morning. I was faintly alarmed to find out that the garage just did MOTs. There were no racks of tyres just in case of too little tread, no interesting shaped boxes anywhere to cover exhausts and brakes and stuff.

My first thought after surrendering the keys was, “When it fails….where can I take it and how long will they take to fix all the bits that need fixing?” The mechanic assured me that he knew a few people. In all my car owning and driving years I have never had a car pass the MOT first time around.

The next hour was spent kicking around the town, drinking tea, checking my watch and checking that my mobile phone was switched on. It’s a Monday, a Weight Watchers weigh day, so cakes and tea were not on the menu!

I went to the library and got myself a pin number to play on the library computers for a while. There was a notice about switching off mobile phones. I knew that my phone was not switched off and felt very ill at ease and didn’t use up my allotted minutes.

I am not good at waiting! Eventually I decided to head back to the garage.

I was just a street away when the mobile broke into song. The mechanic told me the car was ready to collect. It has passed. Not with flying colours I hasten to add. There was something about the nearside front suspension that right now was fine, but probably would need some attention in the not too distant future.

So, with my mind all busy on covering the bases “when she fails”, I hadn’t given much thought about passing. In my minds eye I had already spent a huge amount on replacing bald tyres and brake pads!

Anyone who cared to flick their front room nets and look out that morning would have seen me doing a short but very heart felt happiness dance on the pavement!

Part of my problem is that I don’t know enough about my car. I find it challenging enough to find the right hole to pour the oil into. I don’t know where all the bits fit together and what things should look like under the bonnet.

When I think about God, and His reaction to my reaction to the trials that test my faith – I can know that He is not planning for failure. He is not thinking about how to “fix” the myriad things that could go wrong. God knows what goes on in the deepest parts of me – those parts that are too deep for me to have an inkling about.

When I get tested, it is not to see which parts of me will break. It is to see which parts of me remain in tact – so that I can know just how strong my faith is, and do my little happiness dance on the pavement.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

HYOC stories and poems

The Highland Year of Culture has just recently come to an end. I purchased a book of short stories and poems written by school pupils. Some of them wrote poetry about aspects of nature – salmon leaping at Shin Falls, the tranquillity of Loch Ness. Other pupils used Highland myths and legends to create their own stories. Still other pupils were asked to create Highland characters and base a story around them.

One boy had written his story about a church minister who moved from the Highlands down to Glasgow in the 19th or early 20th century. He ends up in a wealthy parish with a church full of old people. The writer describes wonderfully the way in which the minister sinks beneath the covers of complacency and looses his passion.

It is quite a sad tale about regret and about the feeling that he let go of his dreams and settled for something less that what he was meant for.

He does one act of compassion towards the end of his life to resurrect his faith, heading down to the sleazy part of the city to “rescue” a prostitute and her child. It doesn’t turn out as he expects. She is convinced she has slipped too far down the path to hell to be worth saving and he cannot persuade her otherwise. She doesn’t turn her life around and thinks he has failed and sinks into despondency. It is not until the end of his life that he comes to realise just how much his kindness touched the life of her child.

It wasn’t the most cheerful of stories, but throughout the story the gospel message was really clearly told. The love of God and His compassion for people was so beautifully explained.

It is so overtly “gospel” and I just love that it is in the book for people to read.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

I'm giving up!

It’s Pancake Day today. Not having all the ingredients to fill the pancakes with, we popped into a shop to pick up some cream. I am well aware that in the good old days lemon and sugar was all that was required, I happen to like mine filled with sliced bananas and a squirt or two of cream.

I asked the shop assistant where to find some toffee sauce or chocolate sauce, which I didn’t actually buy in the end. Once she realised that I was making pancakes, her face took on a very nostalgic appearance. There may be quite a few people who make pancakes, but I wonder whether they know why!

Incidentally, I can remember many years ago, going on a youth weekend thing. It took in Pancake Day so we made sure that we had all the necessary ingredients. It was before bananas and cream filled pancakes! It must have been some log cabin affair as I remember a large beam and a competition to see who could toss a pancake over the beam and land it back in the pan! I didn’t win. My pancake didn’t quite make it over the beam and required someone to climb up and pull it down!

Pancake Day is followed by Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent, the period of time leading up to Easter. You are supposed to give something up.

I suppose I could give up chocolate – but that is a kind of given since I am back to attending Weight Watchers meetings.

I have been thinking that rather than give up something edible I would like to try to be a bit more creative. I am going to give up my negative and pessimistic responses to challenges.

That should make for a very interesting few weeks!

Offensive prayers

Psalm 46 begins with “God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble. So we will not fear.”

We met together for the second time at work this lunchtime for prayer. It was so encouraging seeing most of the same faces from the last meeting, plus a few new faces!

It is certainly good to be reminded that God is a refuge and gives us strength and helps us in our troubles, but to some extent there is a danger of what I call “defensive praying”. There is no doubt that sometimes the workplace gets to be a bit of a battlefield and there are times when we need God to be a refuge and a help in our troubles. We end up praying for courage and boldness – which is not a bad thing. However, the focus seems to shift onto us somehow and how we need to feel a little more secure to step out and witness.

I am reminded of the church in the book of Acts. I would have to say that their praying was “offensive”! They were taking the battle to the enemy and not merely seeking to be fixed so they could play their part.

Because God is our refuge, because God is our strength, because God is always ready to help and not just in times of trouble, we should be released from fear and take the battle to the enemy.

What we do is not as important as what we call on God to do on our behalf!

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Spot-on prayers

Praying together during the Sunday morning meeting, a friend of mine prayed that as I read scripture and spend time in personal worship during this week, I might be have a better revelation of God, rather than a better revelation of “what I must do” in response to what I have read.

This is so spot on!

I read the word and I seek to find out how it must be applied – which is not bad thing! The problem comes when that is all I look for and I forget to see something great about God!

Take James for instance. I was reading the opening few verses where it says that “God..gives generously to all without finding fault.” I wouldn’t say that I totally glossed over that, but what I spent more time thinking about the part that says “he (the man asking for wisdom) must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like the wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.”

How much more built up will I be if I focus on the God who gives generously to all and who doesn’t find fault rather than trying to fix my doubts and wave-tossed faith?

Hairy Tale

I would have to admit that I am probably what is known in the hairdressing trade as a nightmare customer! Two things particularly single me out.

Firstly I am a drifter. I rarely see the same hairdresser twice in a row. I notice people’s hair in a way in which perhaps I am blind to other things. Months, if not years ago, I was standing in the queue at the bank. When it came to my turn, the woman behind the counter had a really nice hair cut. I asked her where she went and she told me the name of the place and the stylist – Emma. I managed to visit Emma twice before Emma moved on to other heads in other salons.

If I particularly broke and in need of a cut and colour and I really can’t make it till pay day, there is a place in town. The average age of the clients is sixty and I tend to have more hair on my head than them and the stylist usually has to pop to the hairdressing shop to get my colour because purple and pink rinses are not what I am looking for!

If I am feeling flush and in need of a cut and colour I will head out of town. There are one or two places that I have been where they cost the earth but they do a good job.

If I simply just in need I head for the nearest salon, the only one in town that has a card written out for me with all the details of previous encounters. The lady that manages that one also runs hairdressing courses at the college, so she allows the newly qualified to build up a bit practice. The question about how long they have been working here is usually met with the answer “This is my second week.” It used to freak me out, but I am consoled that hair grows and paper bags come in all shapes and sizes!

Secondly, the other reason why I probably scare hairdressers comes when I take out the picture and place it on the counter. Despite being something of a wordsmith, describing what I want is difficult, so I have a picture. I don’t demand, “Make me like this!”, but it comes close. I don’t think I have ever been unreasonable. I have the required amount of hair for most pictures I have shown them. I have to say that I can only think of one time when have looked anything like the person in the picture!

So having said all that, I headed to the nearest salon. The girl was just in her second week of the job but…here is the but, the manager was in the shop. The sense of peace that descended was amazing. Knowing that the novice was being watched over every step of the way by the experienced manager made a huge difference to how I felt.

I am sure that is how the man with epileptic boy felt in Mark 9:14-29. The “novices” who had been in the job for not a very long time were unable to cast out the demon. After Jesus comes down from the mountain after the transfiguration, you can almost feel the sigh of relief wash through the father of the boy and the disciples! What they were unable to do, Jesus does.

When Jesus is present with us, there is a confidence in what we and what we say.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

I surrender all

A document was thrown at us at work this week briefly looking at some of the changes we had been making over the last year or so. It made the point that although everyone had adopted the changes on the outside by doing what was required, there were some people who hadn’t changed their thinking on the inside. They were just obeying the “letter of the law”. They were doing it because they had been told to, and probably if left alone long enough and not nagged, they would revert to their old ways of doing things! For other people, the change had happened on the inside and they could see why the changes happened and they could understand all the benefits and they were exploring what else they thought needed to change that hadn’t been suggested as yet!

Let’s guess where along the line I stand, shall we? In terms of my job, I am somewhere along the “seeing why it’s necessary” bit and standing on the brink of “exploring what else needs to change”.

Based on what I said at a recent mid-week church meeting it would seem that I am not even willing to consider just “doing it”.

The change is about the times of morning meetings. The suggestion was to begin meeting in the afternoons or evenings as opposed to mornings. There are a number of issues that have highlighted the need to at least consider the change of time. The conditions under which we rent the venue are perhaps changing, the people that we are meeting through the various ministries we are involved in would be better served with an afternoon meeting. There aren’t any other churches like ours that meet at any other time than in the morning.

There are very few things that I say that I would label as purely immature but my comment, “I will just change churches,” was one of my truly selfish moments! Every church in my thirty something Christian life has always met in the morning, apart from the occasional few months where they trialed an evening meeting. There is just something for me about mornings.

I don’t think there are any theological reasons that I can come up with to support my morning meeting insistence! I know that it was early on a Sunday morning that Mary went to the tomb and witnessed the resurrected Jesus. I would be in a poor state if it was only on a Sunday morning that I witnessed a resurrected Jesus. He is there every day at any time for me to meet and fellowship with.

Even as I was making my stand the words of a song I had been listening to earlier that evening ran through my head. “I surrender all I am. To the Saviour who surrendered all for me.”

I think there are so many ways that our church has changed over the last couple of years. We are just not like many other churches. Not in our size, not in our outlook, not in our vision. I mean al of this is a good way. Being small we are close to one another, we cannot hide in the background or get lost in the crowd. In our outlook we are not inward looking. We don’t need to be repaired and put back together. In our vision we are stepping out of the church walls to heal people on the streets, to get involved in street pastors helping people in a variety of ways. We are a very unique set of people! God uses us – not that he doesn’t use any other church.

To get to where we are has required a lot of disassembling of my long held ideas of what church is about. That word “surrender” keeps cropping up in my life. God keeps on asking me, as he does every other child, to surrender – surrender and hand over what I think matters and allow him to show me what really does matter. It is not an easy thing sometimes to surrender! I don't often go down without a fight - even with God.

Church isn’t there soley for my comfort and my edification. It is there to reach out to the world. It is there for the people who need to be shown the love of God in a rainbow of ways.