Friday, June 27, 2008

Safe

“Red Sea to the front of them, Pharaoh at the back – here they were stuck in the middle with God”

It was all about God setting the scene to display His glory, not necessarily to His people this time, but to His enemies. The whole of Egypt was about to learn that there was no messing with God and what God claimed as His own.

The Israelites didn’t see it that way. As far as they were concerned they were stuck between a rock and a hard place. The impenetrable barrier of the Red Sea was in front of them, and the Egyptian army was coming up behind. They didn’t see any way out.

It was a complaint they were going to lay at Moses’ and God’s feet throughout the next forty years – about them dying in the wilderness, brought out of “safe” Egypt to be massacred, and that life was much better before Moses interfered.

Egypt became synonymous with safety, and yet there wasn’t any real safety there at all. Where was the safety in sons being put to death as they were born? Where was the safety in their working conditions as they built whatever it was they built? Perhaps there is a certain safety in “business as usual”, in familiar routines, unpleasant though they may be. People have coping mechanisms that are adequate for a particular setting.

God’s “safe” didn’t have any appearance of being safe at all and yet it was the safest place in the world. It doesn’t look safe but it is, not because of any of the externals, but because of the presence of God.

As I was reading the account in Exodus, the news was buzzing in the background. The report was about the elections in Zimbabwe. The leader of the opposition party had stood down leaving Robert Mugabe a clear path to power. As I was reading it was like the political situation in Zimbabwe was overlaid on the story of the Exodus. The people in Zimbabwe are as much between a rock and a hard place as the Israelites were. In front of them was the election process, behind them were the supporters of Mugabe – intimidating electors, killing more than a few, insisting people turn up an vote for someone they didn’t want in power, but powerless themselves to make a difference.

I don’t know enough about the politics of this country, let alone the politics of another. I don’t know why there is so much silence from those that could raise a banner in support of free elections. I don’t know when living to fight another day becomes more prudent than dying for a cause.

I found myself praying for God to intervene – much like he intervened for the Israelites. Both groups of people were denied freedom. Both groups of people are in need of a deliverer.

One of the on-line newspapers said that “Mr Mugabe has said "only God" can remove him.” It is almost a challenge, isn’t it? If only I were God…

Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Mechanics of Hugging


I learned to hug some time between 1982 and 1987.

Our family wasn’t really a demonstrative family. We didn’t hug, or hold hands, or cuddle or stand side by side with arms draped across shoulders or round waists. We were just not touchy feely people. It wasn’t quite all stiff upper lips and ramrod backs – but not that far from that. We just didn’t hug and didn’t feel inclined to!

In 1982 I headed off to Cyprus to teach in a small Christian school with very close links to the Brethren Church. They hugged a lot. Greetings were not exchanging handshakes or air kisses on either cheek, but a solid, and at times quite crushing, embrace. They were tactile people!

Quite accidentally, I started hugging my sisters. It wasn’t intentional. I just forgot that I wasn’t in church. I had been home for the holidays and was all packed up waiting for the taxi to take me to the train station when I turned around and pulled my sister into an embrace. I hugged her.

There was a moment, a look of total surprise on her face, a slight inclination to pull away before she surrendered and joined in the hug. Now it has become part and parcel of meetings and departures. I think my eldest sister enjoys them most and had become the initiator rather than just the recipient. It is a race to see who can hug who first when we meet!

I was dreaming last night about hugs – or, perhaps more significantly, the lack of hugs. I am not sure where I was, but a meting had been arranged between me and a friend. She was my best friend at secondary school and over the years we had lost touch. In my dream we were seated in a room and the whole meeting was permeated in awkwardness. We were not comfortable with each other’s company. In the real world we haven’t seen each other for twenty years or more, and for all but maybe on or two letters and a score of Christmas cards, we really have lost touch. In the dream she was surrounded by her family. I wasn’t married, but somehow had a son called Nick. (There is something not nice about waking up to discover that you don’t have a son called Nick – I know he doesn’t exist but I really miss him!)

Conversation was stilted between us. It was painful and embarrassing and all of us wanted it to end soon. I think it was me that eventually excused myself and stood up to say goodbye. As is my habit I reached out to give my friend a hug. She just didn’t seem to know what to do. Her arms were held stiff against her side and she looked at me with a perplexed expression. It was more than about why we should be hugging when we didn’t seem to have any relationship left that warranted a hug, but more about not knowing the mechanics of hugging.

How do you teach someone how to hug? Isn’t it something you just so? Apparently not in the dream world! I can remember in the dream world having to position her arms – one going up and over my shoulder, the other going down and around my waist. Then we hugged. It was like a re-run of my first hug with my sister – that brief moment of holding off before surrendering. Then it was real – it wasn’t just the physical meeting of two bodies in an embrace, but we made connections on all levels. It was a good hug!

Then I was aware than my hand was resting on her head and I was praying for her. I don’t know what I was praying, but it was fervent and passionate and powerful.

“Hug me too!” I was dazed as my friend and I broke apart, to be met with the other people in the room wanting a hug. And then I woke up…

We need to feel connected to people. Too often we live disconnected lives. Even as Christians, meeting in the same church body, we don’t always make the connections. Sometimes the hug is a substitute for really getting to know someone properly. It is not enough without the background relationship – like jewel rolling around on a workbench that ought to be in the setting of a gold ring.

As I think about the dream, I am challenged to think about all the connections that I make with people and what I can do to make those connections good hugs. It is out of the connections that perhaps we are drawn to pray for people more fervently, passionately and powerfully.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Strong Deliverer


I am not quite sure just what it was that I saw last night. I could have done with a button to rewind and play the scene through slowly. There was a car. There was something in the middle of the road that made the car slow down. There was a seagull swooping down in front of the car and picking up whatever it was in the middle of the road. The seagull then dropped whatever it was carrying onto the pavement. The thing that it dropped turned out to be a very small black bird that made a very loud racket once it had been dropped. It seemed to be unable to fly away by itself and hopped along the road, chattering to itself. Finally, just as I was about to try to pick up the blackbird and put it somewhere safe, a man came out from his garden and picked it up, crossed the road and put the wee bird into the hedge.

What I would like to think happened is that the little bird was in the path of the car, unaware that it was about to get run over. A seagull saw the danger and swooped in to rescue it, dropping it neatly on the pavement. Yeah, I know that it is an unlikely scenario. It is more likely that the seagull thought it was a tasty meal, about to be splattered by the car wheels. It swooped down to pick it up and then got a bit of scare when the meal began to loudly protest!

I mention this because, in the middle of a worship meeting last night, I had a flash back of the gull swooping down to pick up the wee bird.

Sometimes worship goes in an unpredictable direction. It is not always comfortable. The challenge gets a little bit scary. Suddenly, it doesn’t feel safe!

There was a moment when I felt like that. I wasn’t sure where things were headed and not sure I liked the challenges being set. I was getting unsettled. That is when I had my flash back. It was my scenario that I felt applied – this time I was the bird on the road, the car wasn’t the worship itself, but the feelings that it provoked, the seagull – as it swooped down to pick up the bird, I felt God saying, “It’s OK! I will keep you safe from any danger.”

A line of the song we were singing at the time contained the words “strong deliverer” which I thought was really appropriate for the moment.

Walking with God is always an adventure. It is comforting to know that all the time I am with him I am safe. Not physically safe, it doesn’t mean that I can’t come to any physical harm, but it does mean that no matter the circumstances I can feel secure.

Seeing the Picture

Toilet facilities in workplaces can be very functional. Someone in my workplace has added a table and a houseplant to brighten things up a bit and there are a few posters on the walls. Some of them are about aspects of women’s health, but the one that catches the eye is an optical illusion poster. It is one of those posters that has a series of wriggly lines across the page. There is a way of looking at it and you are supposed to see the proper picture.

I have never been able to see anything beyond the wriggly lines. Someone noticing my bemused look will tell me to focus on a point, cross my eyes over, and other such helpful instructions but I never see it. I put it down to astigmatism in my right eye!

Not being able to see what someone else can see is very frustrating. What seems obvious to someone else is not always obvious to me.

A few weeks ago, we had a mid-week meeting. It came about because a couple in another church had been to Lakeland, Florida and been touched by what had happened there. They wanted to see the same thing happen in our local churches. They had “seen” something and wanted to share that experience with others.

I am not sure if I could stick a label on the kind of meetings that we have been having since them. There is a lot of worship and a lot of prayer and much more than that. It’s different every week.

I always think that it is so exciting when God’s people get together and the barriers are down. Not all of us come from the same church – we are a real mix of church backgrounds. The people that meet together, many of them are involved in practical ministries like the Healing on the Streets and Street Pastors. They are enthusiastic and zealous.

I often think to myself – what power there is in the room! These people are one in heart and mind and totally involved. They are like a spiritual SAS team – dynamite. (I don’t say “we” because I guess I see myself as tagging along and I am not so involved!) A group of people like that in God’s hand is a mighty weapon. It is important that God is allowed to wield the weapon in the way He would like.

Proverbs 4:25 from the Message reads, “Keep your eyes straight ahead; ignore all sideshow distractions.” What qualifies as a “side show distraction”? Distractions take away our attention from what is important. Before I went to the meeting, I was spending time with God. I am not sure what I supposed to be seeing at the meetings. What was important, and what wasn’t? I can handle the worship, and the prayer, but not always the other stuff. I worry that we major of feelings and experiences to the detriment of something greater.

My question to God was, “What is it that I am supposed to see?”

His reply was, “Me glorified!”

And did I see it? Oh yes:)

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Programme Full

A couple of weeks ago, just before heading out to a mid-week meeting, I remembered to set the video recorder to record the next episode in a series that my husband and I had been following. Pushing the buttons as usual I hit a glitch! The screen came up with the message “Programme Full”.

This was not something I had seen before and I wasn’t sure quite what it meant or what to do about it. I seem to remember on a previous machine we had that there were a certain amount of lines for programming and there was a way of deleting them, to empty the memory banks.

Somewhere in a box, in a cupboard, in a plastic polly-pocket, if I had an hour or two to spare, I could track down the manual for the video recorder. The alternative was to randomly press every button on the remote control to see if it made a difference. I am not technically literate and pressed the buttons somewhat cautiously wondering if I was about to do some un-doable damage! However, my plan worked and the screen was filled with lines of dates and times of previous programmes we had recorded. I had no idea what to the next step was to delete all the dates, and the remote gave no clues. After another flurry of random button pushing I managed to delete everything ready to begin again!

Lately I have been feeling a bit like my video recorder. When challenged to do something a message pops up in my brain “Programme Full”. Just as the machine was stuffed full of old programming and wouldn’t do anything new, I feel a bit like that! I am full of the sediment left over from dealing with the stresses and strains of work accumulated over the last few months and there is just no space left for anything new!

God is not like me. He doesn’t need to randomly push my buttons to see what works! He is not content for me to wait until the holidays and miss out on the opportunities that come my way over the next week and a bit. I might be content for me to do that! God wants to de-clog me. (That sounds something painful that they do to Dutch shoemakers or something!) As I sit in His presence and enjoy time with him, I unwind. The lines of old programming get deleted and I am ready for the new things.

Talking with some friends about my “ask me in two weeks time” response to things, one of them said that sometimes we don’t think we can to what God asks us to because we are thinking about out own lack of resources and strength rather than looking to God to supply all that we need.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Resonation


I have to confess that I haven’t really hooked myself into the various God channels on Sky TV. Usually when I am home from school I will tune into one of the Radio channels – the UCB UK channel is one of my favourites. I like the music they play and I try to expand my repertoire of praise and worship songs through listening.

Some friends we met on Sunday were enthusing about the live programmes from Florida with Todd Bently. “Normal” TV doesn’t happen in their house any longer and they talk about “feeling the love” and being “blown away” by the healing that is happening as they watch.

Last night I tuned in. These friends are not the only people I known that are enthusiastic about the programmes, and I supposed I wanted to know what it was that was appealing to them. I watched for less than fifteen minutes. I am not sure why it didn’t appeal, but it just didn’t.

Anyway, seeing as I was in amongst the God channels, I flicked around to see what else was on offer. Lots of the channels featured preachers, usually black, standing behind pulpits. There were a couple of cosy sofa discussion programmes too.

The programme that held my attention though was a worship meeting. It was recorded live at the Victory Church in Oklahoma in the form of a music and dance presentation called “Resonation” – the idea of worship resonating in people’s hearts.

I danced once! At college, our Christian Union, took responsibility for an evening meeting in the local Salvation Army hall. We sang a number of upbeat worship songs, and worked out a couple of dances – twirling things in floaty dresses and artistic poses.

The dance choreography was perhaps a little more adventurous with almost snatches of quite crisp street dance routines. In some ways it could have been any kind of concert – spectacular shifts in the lights, big screens. Then when you started to listen tot the lyrics – you knew this wasn’t just any kind of concert at all, and when the camera spanned the congregation and saw the faces of the people lifted in worship – you knew that they were connecting with God.

It was powerful stuff. It was so professional. The music the lights, the dancing – if you had paid to be there you would not have been disappointed.

That is where I wanted to be – not in Florida with Todd Bently. However, I came to the realisation that I am a poor worship leader in the sense that I don’t have enough musical talent, no matter how much my heart is in tune. I can’t hold notes for that long. I can’t switch into harmonies. I can’t really do the spontaneous stuff. It is not just a case of if I keep practising it will come. I just don’t have the basic talent! I am better than I used to be, and maybe five or ten years down the line I will be better than that – but the bottom line is that I am not gifted musically. Music is not my passion. Worship is my passion, not necessarily worship leading.

Psalm 33:3 has these words “Sing to him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy.” There are people that really dismiss the bit that says “play skillfully” and major on singing a new song and shouting with joy, but I saw last night what a huge difference it makes to have someone play skillfully – whether that be the musical instruments or the vocal chords. You can’t dismiss skilful and draw people into a powerful place of worship.

There is almost something kind of liberating in realising just what it is you can’t do! It allows you to move on I suppose. I will never be a great musician and I am happy with that! I will not pack away my worship leading hat, I may not be great, but I am not that bad either. I hope I don’t hinder people on their way to the throne room. I am however going to stop piling the pressure on to try to be gifted in that area when I am not.

I love being drawn into the presence of God by a good worship meeting – a gifted leader, skilful musicians and a well chosen selection of songs. Watching something like that, and then thinking about the kind of worship many churches offer, we need to aim for something more glorious.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Detox, Diets and Who is really in the Driving Seat

The talk at work amongst my colleagues has turned to diets and loosing weight. One of the ladies has begun a four day jump start diet thing. I hate the word “detox” but I am guessing that it is something like that. It is just for four days and each day’s intake of food is very strictly defined. Yesterday’s lunch was two boiled eggs, a plate of green beans and a glass of tomato juice. Today she ate a salad made up of green beans, melon and tomatoes. She didn’t look the least bit happy eating it, but assured us that for four days she could put up with anything.

My brother once asked me, a number of years ago, if I was still watching my weight. My very sour reply at the time was, “Oh yes, I am watching it go up!”

I am floundering at Weight Watchers. Since I returned in the New Year, while other fellow joiners are well into the second or third stone, by my current reckoning I am averaging a pound a month in weight loss! You haven’t mis-read that – a pound a month. We are fluctuating badly. Yo-yos have more stability than my week by week progress.

I just cannot bring myself to eat Nimble bread and I am loosing the battle against “foursies” – that must-eat feeling that hits me when I get home from work! I guess that I have a lazy attitude towards weight loss, I’m not focussed enough or exercising enough will power. Targets that I set myself never actually get reached!

The conversation at work moved on to talk about people we knew had lost a lot of weight. One lady was mentioned for being a size twelve now when she was once a size eighteen. Apparently her face is gaunt looking and she has drooping jowls. Another lady had also lost a lot of weight but her strict control over her food had become an obsession and she had “gone too far”. She was pale and unhealthy looking.

The next shift in the conversation was about how some people feel that so much of their life is out of control that they begin to think that the only area where they can establish any control is in what they eat. In that one area they are the boss!

As I was listening a wave of gratitude washed over me. I don’t have to worry about being life being out of control. It is God who has responsibility. He is sovereign. I am held very safe in his hands, and although things around me may be in a kilter, I am held secure. I don’t need to be in control because His is! However, he expects me to take control over areas of my life that need tweaked, but gives me the direction and strength necessary to do it properly.

I think I need to try to stop doing this weight watcher thing without His direction and strength!

Monday, June 09, 2008

The List

There is a list in my head. It is not frequently read. It is just there. Every so often something happens and the list gets a little bit longer. Sometimes when I remember it is there, and I read it, or I add to it, I feel a little less happy than I felt before.

Yesterday my husband and I were invited to witness the baptism of the two daughters of friends of ours. We are not talking her about babies and christenings and a sprinkling of holy water. Our friends are members of a church that practises adult baptism through complete immersion – although it being not a very deep paddling pool, the complete part of it didn’t really happen.

The father of the household had the privilege of performing the rite of passage! He stood beside them in the water as they proclaimed their faith in Jesus. It was by his hand they went under the water (almost under) and by his hand that they were raised up.

It is inevitable that he should be there at their first, natural birth, but quite something precious to be there at their second, supernatural birth. The first time was the result of a conception, the joining of egg and sperm. The second time – a supernatural conception – the joining of the human spirit to divine Holy Spirit. My friends have faithfully lived out their walk with Jesus before their daughters, and now they are seeing the fruit of that.

Because I am not a parent, this is something that I can only see others do. There are no sons or daughters, for me, to baptise. And – yes, that makes me a little sadder than I was. It has been added to the list of things I won't get to do because I am not a parent. Parenthood is not part of my journey.

There are so many things that parents get to do – some perhaps not really what they want to do at all. But not having children really excludes you from a whole plethora of experiences.

My biggest realisation is that I will never be anyone’s grandmother. There is not another generation of Kerrs waiting in the wings. My biggest fear, an offshoot of all that, is ending up alone.

It is a fear, thankfully, that will never come to fruition! Being a part of the body of Christ, planted into a local expression of His church – I don’t get to end up alone. If I do, it’s either a bad church or I am making the choice to isolate myself!

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Serenading God


A serenade is “a composition performed for a lover, friend, or other person to be honored, typically in the evening and often below a window.” There is a scene in a film starring Mel Gibson that features a serenade. Mel Gibson’s character has been accidentally frozen in an experiment and he wakes up fifty years later. His sense of etiquette is fifty years out of date. He tells a young boy who is in love with a girl at school to sing to her. Time is too short to wait and sometimes you just leave it too late and the moment is gone. So the boy climbs a tree and sings “You are my sunshine” to her. The girl is somewhat embarrassed, but also delighted at the same time.

I have more than a few romantic bones in my body and that kind of thing would really appeal to me! If I had been a boy, I would have serenaded a girl – maybe. I did entertain the idea for a short while of persuading a guitar playing friend to join me outside my husband’s window – before we were married – and accompany me as I sang. My friend would have been up for it – but I am chicken-hearted at the best of times. Having been married now for some years, my husband wouldn’t have appreciated it. It might have been the death blow to our blossoming romance!

I was listening last night to a new worship CD I bought. It contains new Spring Harvest songs. Some of them are not new to me, but different arrangements of things we sing in our fellowship. It is a double CD. The first disc is very stage performance orientated – like it would sound if you had a wide variety of musicians. The second CD is a selection of some of the same songs,and some different, but much more acoustic – one singer with one guitar.

One of the tracks “Ever Faithful God” brought a picture to mind of a man standing beneath a balcony, guitar in hand, singing his heart out to the one he adored. In this case the one he adored was not a woman, but God.

I just love the picture of worship being like a lover serenading the one he loves. He or she may be in a room of a hundred or two hundred, but in his heart of hearts, he or she is alone, beneath a balcony, singing exuberantly.

Psalm 66:2 reads “Sing the glory of his name; make His praise glorious!

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Twitching


I am very glad that our kitchen window looks out on to the back garden. There are no other houses, just the whirly gig washing line and a bright orange fence. Beyond that there is a row of trees, and beyond that there is the playing field. You can’t see the playing field for the orange fence and the row of trees!

Had the bird feeder hanging from the whirly gig been in the front garden, it might be a very different story!

A month ago, or more, I bought a book from the book company that, every so often, visits the place where I work. It was a bird watching handbook. It is a beginner’s guide, designed for a child, with a page for each bird. There is a picture of each bird with a short description of what it looks like and what is sounds like. There is a space to stick a photo and a few lines to write where you saw said bird, what time of day it was, what said bird was doing and something about the weather conditions.

Quite why I bought the book, I don’t know. It was dirt cheap! I have always envied people who knew that names of birds. You would think that having been brought up in a country village I would be less ignorant of those kinds of things. I know what magpies look like, but that is about my limit.

The book recommended a bird table. I thought that a bird feeder on the whirly gig might do instead – it’s not so expensive for one thing. It is only in the last few days that the birds have discovered that it’s there!

I have found that my attention is consumed with watching the birds on the feeder through the binoculars. The book isn’t the most comprehensive of books and I’m not sure that the birds I am watching actually get a mention. The closest I have got to matching up the picture in the book with the bird hanging pecking away at the peanuts is a coal tit. There are lots of little brown birds too – thrushes maybe?

The only time that I have paid any attention to birds was a long time ago. The night before I had watched, was it Alfred Hitchcock’s film, “The Birds”? There is a scene in the film where, just outside the school, there is a climbing frame, and it is all covered with birds which attack the children as they come out from school. I kid you not, the next morning the climbing frame in the playing field that our back garden looked out onto was covered with birds – just like the scene in the film. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up!

So, yes, I’m twitching!

Looking at the antics of these tiny little birds I am reminded about Jesus teaching – “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”