Tuesday, December 29, 2009

When Heaven Invades Earth

A friend of mine told me that the Wesley Owen Christian bookshop in town was closing down and so I got up early to go and look for bargains. I have so many books already, some half read, some unread, some with interesting titles, some that months ago seemed to speak into my life…I really didn’t need another book, but I bought one anyway.

“When Heaven Invades Earth – a practical guide to a life of miracles.” I bought it because I thought reading it would help me to catch up with where some of my friends are in terms of anticipating God showing up everywhere and doing miraculous things.

It’s not that I don’t think God does that – it’s just that I have had recent experience of God apparently not turning up and doing miraculous things.

It seems to me that, having read the first chapter of the book, that some of the miraculous things that God does are unimportant things. An account where someone had one leg an inch shorter than the other, and people pray and watch the short leg grow – a short leg is not life threatening. It is inconvenient, yes, but no one dies because one leg is an inch shorter than the other.

Why is God so interested in the length of a person’s leg, but apparently not interested in poison accumulating in another person’s abdomen, shutting down all the vital organs, pushing them down into further levels of intensive care until eventually the heart gives in? Why does He apparently does nothing to remove cancer tumours seeding and spreading and turning someone into a frame of thin bones with skin stretched over it, and then the lungs fill with fluid there’s one last sigh?

Job never knew why bad things happened to him. It was enough for him to know that God was speaking to him.

Just thinking about God speaking – what He is saying to me is that I think too highly of this life, as if it is the only life there is. There is a next life – an eternal life that follows. Just because those that I loved and lost this year are no longer living this earthly life, doesn’t mean that their lives have come to an end. They are just living the next episode somewhere that right now, today, I cannot be a part of.

The miracle – there was a miracle – has been in me. I have not surrendered my faith because the answer didn’t suit me. I haven’t walked away.

Job says it for me - “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him.” 13:15

Monday, December 28, 2009

She Dreamed a Dream

I caught the tale end of a documentary on Susan Boyle the other day. I was just in time to see her (and hear her) singing with the West End cast of Les Miserables. For her it was a dream come true – she dreamed a dream and it happened. Later on in the evening I took a look at her Britain’s Got Talent audition on Youtube. As the camera spanned the audience and the judges, there were so many cynical shakes of the head, and whispers that conveyed minds already made up. Elaine Paige? In your dreams, woman! And then she sang, and eyebrows arched upwards, people were on their feet clapping and the judges were wiping away tears. Susan has her CD, her interviews with Oprah, her fans pushing autograph books under her nose and her website! She dreamed a dream.

We were talking dreams yesterday as we sat drinking tea and coffee and eating homemade shortbread biscuits. They were not so much the Susan Boyle dream of what we could become, or do, although later on the conversation did turn towards “projects” or dreams of what we could achieve in 2010.

The conversation was about the sleeping version of dreams and how much God used them as vehicles for sharing His plans. I have to admit that I have had more than my share of dreams whose content could not have been other than God inspired. They have been so down the line, obvious, not veiled in dream symbolism, technicolour messages that only a fool would put them down to too much cheese. There have been a lot of them. There have also been a lot of plain ordinary dreams that make sense at the time of dreaming, but are gobble-de-gook on waking. Then there are those “could be a message” dreams.

I don’t keep a dream diary. If I remember, I remember. If I forget, I forget. I am not sure that God needs to use dreams to get through to me. I love His word and more than often, His words comes up with all that I need – the challenges, the promises, the rebukes and the warnings that seem to feature in dreams. I suppose that I am suspicious of my dreams because I am suspicious of my imagination. Sometimes the line between what is real and what is imagined becomes a bit too fuzzy. Does that mean I am on the brink of insanity? Possibly! If it’s in black and white and written on the pages of the Bible, it’s something that I can trust – if it’s in pictures in my head, it’s not necessarily something that I can trust.

That doesn’t mean that it is something that I can just cast aside either. Take the other night. There was a short scene, in amongst a lot of other stuff, of myself and my church leader. He didn’t say the actual words “You are a waste of space, Mel,” although he might have done. (On reporting this to the rest of the company there was distinct agreement that he wouldn’t say that – not, I have to say, that he would have no cause to say that!) On waking, I remembered the words “You are a waste of space, Mel,” and I (a) didn’t wonder if he really would have said it or not, (b) didn’t really wonder if this was a God-inspired dream or not but (c) agree that although a waste of space was a bit harsh, it wasn’t entirely unfounded!

I can think of a myriad ways in which I serve God, or have served Him in the past. I don’t warm a pew. BUT..I may not be making the most of the gifts that God has given me. Like the first and the second servants in the parable of the Talents, I am working, but like the third servant, it’s possible that I have buried stuff too – worried that I might fritter it away and have nothing to show for it.

The chapbook that I produced for the November Poem a Day challenge, which I haven’t submitted yet, because I am not sure if it is a chapbook – whatever it is that I have made, this little book of a dozen or so poems really has thrilled me. These are my poems, written, printed, folded over, with a cover, in a little book – I no longer doubt that I have talent. I no longer doubt that the talent comes from God. I am beginning to believe that the talent is not for playing with.

So, when it came to talking about ”projects” for 2010 – mine is poetry and publishing inspired. I am not setting dates and deadlines…I am making no covenants or vows…although yesterday’s reading from Psalm 76 did mention that at the end. I have just moved the pan off the back burner, and turned up the heat a little!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Turkey Issue

This has nothing to do with Middle Eastern politics, but everything to do with the Christmas dinner.

The issue comprises of a number of factors:

• Snow
• A dislike of driving on icy roads
• Frozen turkeys.

No matter how much I plan to get Christmas organised early, it always ends up as a last minute dash around the shops. Add a few inches of snow into the mixture of shopping lists, long queues and the scarcity of goose fat for the roast potatoes and the stress level hits the stratosphere!

I have a friend who just loves driving in the snow. Well, perhaps he doesn’t love it, but he doesn’t cling white-knuckled to the driving wheel with a hundred different scenarios running through his head that all end up with the car upside down in a snow drift. I rarely drive when it has snowed. I tried it on Monday and didn’t enjoy the experience. The car has been left undisturbed for the past few days.

I have been using the busses all week. They just don’t necessarily go to all the places I would like to get to, but the bus driver is better able to negotiate all the roads that have not been gritted and snowploughed than I am.

That gets us to the turkey issue. Our Christmas meal – the preparation of it, the cooking of it and the eating of it, has over the last fifteen or so years taken on a familiar pattern. The menu is the same, the choreography of the dance of the two of us around the kitchen from fridge to counter top to knife drawer to cooker is so well rehearsed we could do it blindfolded!

The turkey, frozen and usually defrosting nicely in the sink in the downstairs toilet (which is far too cold for human use this time of year – visions of bum frozen to toilet seat) hasn’t been bought yet. I have Bernard Matthews’ issues and he seems to have a monopoly on the frozen turkey market. I am not sure just how turkey friendly his farms are. So, one needs to find someone else’s frozen turkey.

Supposing I find the turkey, I have to get it home and in the sink before the end of the day. Tomorrow is too late to ensure the bird will de defrosted. The mechanics of it all – getting it home via the bus system, is a whole new level of stress.

I ran an idea past the husband this morning – the possibility of abandoning a whole turkey in place of a much smaller turkey joint. They do them is little foil trays that you slam into the oven for an hour or so. His face said everything that his lips didn’t say.

“OK, if you have to,” said the lips.

“Christmas is rapidly going down the drain,” said the face.

Despite what the lips said this morning, my husband believes in miracles. He believes quite firmly that I will find a frozen turkey, that said turkey will have no association with Bernard Matthews and be in the sink by the end of today, that the Christmas dance in the kitchen will not have to be re-choreographed and that, somehow, I will stop Christmas from going down the drain.

The gauntlet is on the floor. I can never resist a challenge!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

An Organized Band of Snow?


I am fascinated by the weather report. It is snowing down south. It was actually the phrase “an organized band of snow is on the way” that had captured my imagination. Are the snowflakes in communication with each other?

“This is Snowflake 2,984,220 calling, over. The time is 0500 hours and my grid reference is 234 092, over. Our mission is to close the pass. I repeat…to close the pass, over. Requesting units 500 through to 700 to rendezvous at an altitude of 2,400 metres, over. Wind speed is variable, over. Do you read, over?”

“Snowflake 2,984,220 this is Mission Control. Divert your course, over. I repeat…divert your course. Your new heading is grid reference 579 208. Time of arrival is estimated at 0350 hours. Ground cover is precisely 37mm…I repeat 37 mm, over. Do you read, over?”

“Mission Control, This is Snowflake 2,984,220, over. We are good to go!”

“This is Mission Control. Good luck, Snowflake 2,984,220. Our intelligence tells us that there are a dozen or so snowploughs in the vicinity, over. Proceed with extreme caution…repeat, proceed with extreme caution, over. Over and out!”

“Mission Control, this is Snowflake 45,366,722. Snowflake 2,984,220 is down…repeat Snowflake 2,984,220 is down, over. This is Snowflake 45,366,722 requesting permission to mount a rescue, over. Do we have a go, over?”

“This is Mission Control. Rescue not advised, over. Snow ploughs sighted 3.5 km to the north of your position, over. Maintain high altitude. Over and out!”

“Mission Control, this is Snowflake 2,984,220. We are down, over. We have sustained heavy injuries, over. Enemy is 3.5 km to the north of our position. The wind speed has picked up and we are drifting, over. There’s quite a few of us trapped down here, and snow plough is closing in.”

…And so it goes on…our organised band of snowflakes bringing the highways of the country to a standstill!

November Chapbook Challenge

I am not quite sure what a chapbook is supposed to look like, but I made one anyway. It’s not quite stitched together and all that, but looks impressive anyway!

During the month of November, I joined in the Writer’s Digest Poem a Day Chapbook Challenge. Things in my personal life were pretty grim and I needed the distraction. I think I also needed the discipline of trying to write poetry more regularly than I do, and challenge myself to write less inspirational stuff.

The final hurdle was to choose some of the poems, edit them, and present the chapbook manuscript.

I tend to shy away from editing my poems. I change the odd word here and there, but on the whole, what I write remains untouched. I once went to Creative Writing workshop and during one of the breaks I talked to the tutor about one of my poems, asking advice about how to improve what I had written. She suggested changing the order of the verses, and altering a phrase or two.

Who of us would give birth to a baby and then start rearranging the parts, moving an arm a few inches one way, or swapping blue eyes for brown? That is how I tend to see my poetry – not to be messed with! A poem isn’t a baby – one can rearrange lines and verses if one chooses. I have to stop seeing my poems as things written in stone.

Having been told to edit, and having carefully read through some of the poetry workshops, I set about a bit if rearranging.

One of the suggestions was about re-writing a rhymed piece without the rhyme. I friend of mine thinks that I think in rhyme! I suppose that most of the poetry that I have shared with her, in a church meeting, had been rhymed. I chose one of the poems, tore away the rhymes and the meter, fished about for the essence of what I wanted to say, and then built the poem back up. I suppose that writing in rhyme puts in limitations straight away. I have never been quite so confident that some of my free verse has sufficient structure to call it poetry. I did like the edited version. It has more heart, I suppose.

Another suggestion was to re-write a first person poem in the third person. In changing “I” for “She” the reader becomes more of an observer rather than a participator. It puts an interesting slant to it.

My husband was reading my chapbook lat night. Where I was impressed with the actual construction of it, the page numbering and all that, he was impressed with the poems. He made the comment that once something like a poem, or a story is written down, and someone else gets to read it, the writer ceases to have any ownership of it. The reader brings to the reading of the poem their own experiences and life history. What they read and what the writer wrote may not always be the same.

Take for instance one poem in particular. Among the chosen selection there were some that didn’t get changed, simply because no changes could have improved what I already had.

Shrapnel

A single word
Crammed with insult and innuendo
From lips that once kissed
Detonated inside my heart
A shower of spiteful syllables
Ripped through my soul
Shredding my spirit

Your shrapnel
Left me crippled


When I wrote it, I was responding to a prompt. I wouldn’t say that what I wrote was particularly personal, although I have been on the receiving end of thoughtless and hurtful comments. When Joe read the poem, he thought that it was personal and apologised for anything he had said that had caused so much hurt.

He also said that it reminded him of Siegfried Sassoon’s war poetry. He is a man that knows his poetry, so a comment like that is not easily dismissed!

So, my foray into the world of chapbooks is proving to be interesting!

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Neither Silence Nor Consent


Amongst all the “faith” testimonies of great feats accomplished in the last year, I was sure that what I had done on Friday qualified. In my eyes, it was great, and in my husband’s eyes, but I have learnt from experience that not everyone shares my definition of greatness, or my definition of an act prompted by faith.

On Friday, I closed down my Royal Bank of Scotland account.

I had been following the discussion between the government and the Royal Bank’s directors. The directors want to give large bonuses to key staff members adding up to billions of pounds. The government doesn’t want them to, seeing as they are now the biggest shareholder. It would seem to me that there is nothing about the performance of the directors or their key workers that deserves any kind of reward. They and other greedy banks and money-minded institutions plunged us into recession – and they want rewarded for it?

I had had enough of them. I would like to think the directors would stick to their guns and actually resign if the government sticks to their guns, but I live in a world where compromises happen.

My paltry sum of money is not really going to be missed, no doubt. I confess that it wasn’t my main account. When Joe and I married we set up a joint account with another bank, but Joe never got around to shifting his money in, which means that it’s joint only in name, not in practice. So I suppose that closing my Royal Bank account down wasn’t that heroic or great.

The lady behind the desk asked me why I was closing the account, thinking perhaps there were things she could do to sort things out. I explained most carefully that I had no issue with her, or her colleagues, or any other bank stuff – it was the directors and their big bonuses that I had led to me closing my account. End of conversation really, although we both admitted that it was sad. I got the impression that I was one of very few taking direct action and my stand was barely a whisper on the economic stage.

Plato said “Your silence gives consent.”

I wasn’t silent and I didn’t give my consent.

Was it an act prompted by faith? The Bible speaks a lot about integrity. It may not have an obviously spiritual tag to it, but all of life is spiritual – not just the bits we label spiritual.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Everything Changes

Everything changes
Through this single blow
A nail through a palm
Sufficient to show
In spite of our downfall
From mountain to mire
One comes to rescue
Against sin conspire

Everything changes
Thorns for a crown
Powers and strongholds
That bind are torn down
Blood crimson red
In powerful flow
Here at the cross
Forgiveness to know

Everything changes
“It’s finished” the shout
The sound through the universe
Resonates out
“It’s finished!” the keys
From the enemy torn
Death is defeated
And new life reborn

Everything changes
It starts with a stone
Away from a tomb
It’s picked up and thrown
Angels rejoicing
All heaven’s alight
And God on his throne
Laughs with delight

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Shrapnel of the Soul

It has been a while since I had a splinter in my hand – or indeed, any other part of my anatomy. I can remember one embedded in the palm of my hand many years ago

I would like to think that I have read somewhere that splinters don’t do any harm, and they come out of their own accord if you leave them. I have also probably heard somewhere that if left to their own devices they can do a lot of harm. They are not clean and disinfected little bits of wood or metal.

My splinter was a big one. Despite being big, the tip if it wasn’t really sticking out in any manner of cooperation. I was at school at the time. The secretary at the office decided to have a go at removing it. I think she scraped her long and meticulously painted nail along my palm to try to shift the end out. When that didn’t work, she resorted to digging around with a sterilised needle.

It wasn’t her palm, of course, so she was not feeling the pain that I was. Instructed to stand still in a manner she addressed the pupils was not helping either. I felt sick, maybe not so much from the pain, but from watch someone prodding my palm with a sharp needle. It was like an operation without the anaesthetic.

The splinter surrendered. The secretary refused to give me a plaster to cover up my wound, insisting that the air needed to get to it.

Some splinters are easier to remove than others. Some splinters that get under the skin are just slivers of wood. The wound that they inflict heals.

Words can be like splinters.

I had an unpleasant encounter at work earlier this week. Words were said. Some might have been deserved, but most weren’t. It was simply unpleasant. Rather than just forgetting the conversation, and getting on with the job, it seemed like that ran like a video tape on a loop through my head, and endless circle of rather nasty words.

A lot of what happens to me is expressed in poetry and this was no exception. Apart from the kissing line which is poetic licence, and the reference to s single word – there were many – it’s an account of how I felt.

Shrapnel of the Soul

A single word
Crammed with insult and innuendo
From lips that once kissed
Detonated inside my heart
A shower of spiteful syllables
Ripped through my soul
Shredding my spirit

Your shrapnel
Left me crippled


“You’ve got a splinter in your heart, Mel,” announced God later that night. The old saying about sticks and stones just isn’t true. Words create or destroy. They have power – perhaps only the power that we give them. God created the world with a word.

The splinter was too painful. I didn’t want God digging around with a sterilised needle so I backed off.

The following day I had another encounter at work. This time it was a good one. We are supposed to observe others as they do their job and talk about it later. My colleague had been observing me and there was very little that wasn’t positive. As we talked, I felt so encouraged and it was as if, without being aware of it, my friend had removed the word splinter. God had found another was to get to my splinter.

It was nice to reflect and write a more uplifting poem.

And then there was light

The story of the world begins
When everything is dark
And God commands the light to be
And so ignites a spark
A word from God imbued with power
And miracles abound
Across a void and empty place
From chaos, order found

He speaks another word to me
Into this unlit heart
As light floods through at His command
My darkness has to part
I live my days beneath His gaze
And miracles abound
No longer void and empty now
My Light, my life I’ve found

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Happy Atoms

Despite Joel’s prophecy about sons and daughters prophesying , old men dreaming dreams and young men seeing visions, when it comes to those kind of things happening to me, I confess to being suspicious. I have such an active imagination that I am not sure that the vision or the picture is Holy Spirit generated or Mel inspired.

Last night at a prayer meeting I had such a vision – a snapshot of a picture. We had been praying for a friend who had been to see a doctor about a recurring difficulty in breathing. She was due to go on holiday and was wondering whether she would be fit enough to travel. In the meeting we prayed for her.

As we were praying, I had a picture of two scuba divers. I don’t know how far under water they were, but the air tank of one of the divers stopped working. There was no oxygen getting through and she was in difficulty. The other scuba diver came up close, took a deep breath and then passed the mask over to his friend. The two of them sharing the mask, taking turns at breathing, were able to make it safely back to the surface. My fellow prayer partners found it very encouraging – a picture about air and breathing. God was making up the shortfall of oxygen for our sick friend.

I was in a science lesson once where they were talking about the molecular structure of elements on the periodic table. It had something to do with the number of atoms (?) or protons (?) in outer rings. Where there is an odd number, the element is reactive in the sense that it pinches an atom off another element, or two elements agree to share an atom. They bond. The only ones that really don’t need to pinch or share are the ones with an even number of atoms, preferably eight. Noble gasses on the far right of the periodic table have all eight atoms on their outside ring, so they don’t react – they are happy atoms.

Human beings are not happy atoms. Regardless of our age, race, gender, social or ethnic origin we are always missing that even number. We are always pinching off others, sometimes agreeing to share, because we are missing an atom. We are not complete in and of ourselves.

We are always in need. God made us that way. It is intentional.

When the Psalmist says “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want,” what he is reminding us of is that whatever we are in need of, God will supply. He will meet the shortfall that is in us. My diver could only reach the safety of the water if she remained swimming beside her friend with the working oxygen tank. God’s “oxygen tank” is the only one truly working properly. We “shall not be in want” only according to how close we remain next to God.

Braving the Lions


A while ago I was reading from Proverbs 26:13-14 “The sluggard says, "There is a lion in the road, a fierce lion roaming the streets!" As a door turns on its hinges, so a sluggard turns on his bed.”

What if on one occasion the man got out of bed and left his house to go to work and there really was a lion roaming the streets? The man didn’t live somewhere where lions are in cages in a zoo, or on a TV programme chasing down and eating antelopes. Lions in his world were roaming around the countryside. Perhaps just one morning, it happened. There was a lion. The man was scared. It made perfect sense not to leave the house. Perhaps months or years down the line, he still didn’t leave his house.

We look at things from our viewpoint – we will never encounter a lion roaming the streets, so we assume it will never happen and the proverb is about the ridiculous reasons some people make up to justify not doing something they should be doing. The man should be going to work, but he is too lazy, so he says there’s a lion outside.

The lion, whether real or not real, became the excuse to stay at home, to turn on the bed like the door turns on its hinges. So many things, real or not real, can be the excuse why we choose not to leave our “houses”.

I was thinking about all the things, real or not real, that could excuse me from going to a Streetpastors’ prayer meeting last night. It was cold, very cold, and chances were I would have to defrost the car. Finding a parking space where I wouldn’t have to negotiate my way around a million taxis taking up the road was going to be near impossible. What if from walking out to car park to arriving at the prayer venue I got mugged? I’ve not really been on the ball this week as I haven’t spent time in the word. There are going to be people there who pray a lot better than I do. Their prayers are much more powerful than mine. I won’t be missed.

Above all of that, for me personally, personal circumstances, the last year’s hardships, seemed to excuse me from going. I am not as strong as everyone thinks I am. I am still fragile, easily inclined to burst into tears.

Would I pray just as effectively if I stayed at home? Not at all! Not with Donny Osmond strutting his stuff on “Dancing With the Stars”.

I went.

At this point, I ought to say that we had a tremendous time, pulling down strongholds and setting the enemy to flight. Actually, the smell of toasted sandwiches from the café was driving me nuts, my nose was running and I didn’t have a hankie and the room next door was being used by a Scottish traditional music group.

Just because it didn’t feel like I was pulling down strongholds, didn’t mean that in the heavenlies it wasn’t happening. Something unique happens when a community of believers pray that doesn’t happen when an individual prays alone.

I was part of the community last might.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Should I walk away?

“Poetic Asides”, the poetry blog from Writer’s Digest, has just commenced a “Poem a Day” Chapbook challenge. I am not exactly sure what a chapbook is, but I love the challenge of being faced with a topic and coming up with a poem. I am not entirely sure that I would say anything that I have written so far stands out as spectacular, but as with the April challenge, I am finding that my emotions and my feelings are being touched. In April I was dealing with the loss of Linda, and many of my poems were quite dark and morbid. This time it is Mike’s loss that is permeating much of what I write. Linda’s death provoked in me a deep anger. Hers was a needless death, a result of someone else’s incompetence. Not so with Mike. I am just sad - not angry, just sad.

It seems that people want to remind me of my losses where I would like to put them behind me. The memories are painful and I would rather not poke them. I asked God the other night to keep the memories for me until I am ready to look, just to hold on to them until it hurts a little less.

Anyway, here is the latest poem. The prompt was “Should (blank)” where you fill in the blank with whatever comes to mind. I was thinking about Paul in one of his letters, imprisoned for his faith, worried that he might let God down or his circumstances discourage other Christians.

I suppose that many of us when we face difficult times, we are languishing in a prison created by difficult circumstances look for someone to blame – often pointing the finger at God. It is a different thing to worry about letting God down in those circumstances and failing to be the witness that we have the opportunity to be.

Should I walk away?

The road that You have mapped for me
Has passed through much adversity
The path was steep, a rocky climb
With clouds above me all the time
I am not sure my faith survived
Or at the end I have arrived
I fear that You have asked too much
Not longer feel that I’m in touch
I fear this test might sever me
And lost and drifting I will be
Perhaps it’s time to walk away
Before I speak and You betray
But You are woven through my heart
I doubt if we can ever part
Instead I’ll grasp the outstretched hand
I’ll walk the path that You have planned
I’ll sing a song, a melody
As You, dear Father, walk with me.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

No Empty Throne

I have to confess that I am getting fed up of the “poor Mel” looks and comments that some people continue to come out with in the aftermath of the rotten year I have been having. One death in the family is painful. Two deaths? Actually I am also fed up of the whole reminder that I have been having a rotten year. I don’t need to be reminded of it. I don’t want people to look at the rotten year and think that it’s all I am having, as if to have any light spots, or bright spots, or moments of laughter, or beams of sunlight or times of untroubled joy are somehow against the rules. I don’t want people to alter the tone of their voice or the expression on their face to convey to me that they understand what I am going through. They would like to clothe me in sackcloth and ashes and point to the grey cloud that hovers over my life. I don’t want them to define me, or for me to define myself, according to my sorrows.

My year would indeed be entirely rotten if I wasn’t entirely convinced that no matter the scenery I am looking at, that God is on the throne.

My reading this morning was from the opening verses of Isaiah 6. The first verse states “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple.”

King Uzziah had reigned for a long time and under his rule there had been peace and prosperity. The man next in line for the throne was green around the edges, untried and without a track record. Israel’s enemies were like sharks circling around in the water, smelling blood and drawing in for the kill. There wasn’t a king on the throne and everything was up for grabs, nothing and no one secure.

Sometimes we look at all that is going on around us and it appears that there is no king on the throne. No one is in control. No one is in charge. If someone was in control, if someone was in charge, the rotten year that I am living through wouldn’t be happening. The economic mess that the country is in, the scapegoat blaming of our problems on asylum seekers, the indecisiveness of our politicians, the threat of terrorists – all these things wouldn’t be happening if someone was on the throne.

God graciously peeled back the curtain of heaven and Isaiah was shown that even if an earthly throne was vacant at that moment, the heavenly throne was not. God was seated on the throne, in all majesty and authority, glory and splendor. There was nothing uncertain about the future if God was on the throne.

It’s a picture that I choose to keep in the forefront of my mind. The throne that matters most is not vacant. God is in charge. God is in control. And that is sufficient for me.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Rhubarb and Reward


My rhubarb plant has lived up to all expectations this year. It sits like a queen in a small patch of soil between the garden shed and the gate that leads to the path and the paying field. Whatever weeds have been allowed to congregate elsewhere in the garden, the area surrounding the rhubarb plant has been conscientiously cleared. I have eaten more stewed rhubarb with my porridge than is probably safe and more rhubarb crumbles than the elastic waist of clothes are comfortable with. I have thought about making jam, but I am not a jam person. Next year, I am confident that I will have an even better rhubarb year.

I have planted too many things over the years that have come to nothing. Sometimes the problem has been that I have forgotten that I planted it and when shoots did break through to the surface, they were wrongly identified as weeds and viciously torn from the soil. Sometimes it has just been mysterious bugs that have chomped away at leaves, or invisible things in the soil gnawing on roots.

I can feel the disappointment that God felt in Isaiah 5 when He took time and effort to plant a vineyard in the fertile field. Everything that was needed to produce wine was provided, no expense spared, no reason to anticipate failure. When the time came to harvest the grapes, all was not good – the grapes in particular.

Isaiah isn’t really talking about bad grapes, but a people of God that was bad. He goes on to list all the faults. Bug and bacteria of the spiritual kind had eaten away at the roots and core of the hearts of God’s people. Greed, addictions, false values, injustice and all other kinds of vices had infected them.

Woe to those who rise early in the morning
To run after their drinks,
Who stay up late at night
Till they are inflamed with wine.
They have harps and lyres at their banquets,
Tambourines and flutes and wine,
But they have no regard for the deeds of the LORD,
No respect for the work of his hands.
( Isaiah 5:11-12)

If that is the kind of attitude that leads to exile and abandonment by God, would an opposite attitude result in a people drawing close to God and becoming more intimate. It can be an interesting exercise to re-write a paragraph in the opposite vein and see if there is any truth to be seen.

Blessed are those who rise early in the morning
To run after God
Who stay up late at night
Till they are ignited by His word
As they feast upon the Lord
Their harps and lyres, tambourines and flutes
Burst into worship, sweet as wine,
For they see and appreciate the deeds of the LORD,
And give honour to the work of his hands.

Wow! I am not sure that expected that! Truth upon truth! That sets the bar high and paints of picture of a life walking with God that is worth aiming for.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Meaningless Offerings

Yesterday we were challenged to be consistent in taking our “daily bread”. We were to munch into our toast in the morning, or dip our bread into our soup at lunchtime and remember the bread of life – the word that nourishes our souls.

So, while I was eating my porridge, I was reading the open chapter of Isaiah. God was challenging His people about the “meaningless offerings” they were making to Him. They were fulfilling their religious obligations, but just going through the motions. For all their elaborate prayer rituals and their sacrificing a million bulls, they were not connecting with God at all, and they seemed totally unaware that they were not connecting. They were ticking off the boxes on the worship “To Do” list but nothing was making any difference in drawing them nearer to God, or opening up to them all the resources God had made available.

Meaningless means “lacking any significance, without meaning, purpose, or value.”

I can’t think of anyone that hasn’t done the ticky box routine in church on a Sunday at sometime in their lives. I have turned up, sang the songs, listened to the sermon, said amen at the end of the prayers – but through it all there have been times when I haven’t drawn any nearer to God, or found access to all that God has available for me.

For the people of God in Isaiah, it was not happening simply because they didn’t know God, or if they did they had turned their back son him. They were rebelling against his authority. Their acts of worship were not born out of a relationship they had with God. It was all “lacking any significance, without meaning, significance, purpose, or value.”. Although they seemed to have all the externals off pat, nothing was happening internally.

Nothing was happening internally because internally they were not switched on! Their hearts were empty of true devotion.

If I am just going through the motions on a Sunday, ticking the boxes in terms of external involvement, but my heart is empty of true devotion I am not going to draw close to God or find access to all the resources He has made available

Worship is meaningless if I am not changed and transformed in some way that I reflect a better picture of Jesus. It is meaningless if the window to God’s storehouse of resources remains stubbornly shut and I am left bearing wounds and welts and open sores that are not being bandaged and soothed. When I exit the church door, and enter the workplace, there needs to be some blurring of the lines between what is sacred and what is secular – all is sacred. The passion I bring with me to encounter God in church on a Sunday, has to be the same passion that I bring with me to encounter God in my workplace each and every day of the week. And what I experience of God from Monday to Saturday must be a part of what I bring with me on the following Sunday.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

No puddles!

No, we haven’t got a new pet that we are house training, but a less than new kitchen appliance that, rather like me in some ways, is coming apart at the seams.

A few weeks ago the washing machine began seeping small amounts of water and leaving a minor puddle just beneath the door. It wasn’t a frightening kind of puddle with ducks swimming on it and anglers casting lines into the centre. It was a small, one towel wipe up affair. That was a few weeks ago. Wash by wash the puddle increased in size and volume and the size and the number of the towes required to mop it up changed from hand to bath. Before the ducks moved in and the anglers started to bait their hooks, I called a repair man. The plastic seal, it appeared, had worn through and once replaced, the puddles would cease to appear. I am just amazed how adjusted I had become to plopping the towel down in front of the machine before turning the dial. It had become part and parcel of the laundry routine.

My brother had a washing machine in his apartment in Fuengirola. Not for him a simple towel placement issue to mop up spills! The handle on the door of the machine had broken off. The door closed simple by giving it a solid slam. Opening it was a little less easy. One wiggled a screwdriver in the hole where the handle had been to release the door catch. Interesting!

Our house is full of solutions that began their lives as temporary measures, until we could get things properly fixed, but became rather more permanent than we would have wished!

Take, for example, the bedroom curtain rail. Who knows how many years ago it fell down? I am not one of these people that can sleep in a room without curtains. I am sure it can be very calming to be staring up at the stars, but even the smallest slither of light sneaking through irritates me. My solution to make-do until the weekend when we could fix it properly was simply to use a half dozen or more drawing pins to stick the curtains directly onto the wall. It worked…and still does!

Life would be much easier with a curtain rail…or a washing machine with a handle on the door…or no puddles to wipe up. And yet we persist in dealing with the problem with a temporary stop-gap and stops being temporary. We promise ourselves that we will sort it out later, but seldom do.

The things that break are not usually something we can fix ourselves. My husband is under the impression I can fix anything. Mel’s Magic Touch! I doesn’t exist. A dozen drawing pins keeping the curtain on the wall is not fixing the curtain rail! Repair men exist because most people can’t fix washing machines, or televisions, or cookers.

I know that I can’t fix things but I haven’t yet come to the point where the unfixed thing is really bothering me enough to do something about it.

I wonder where the unfixed things in my Christian life are. Where are the drawing pins keeping something up, or the screwdriver to poke around in the hole, or the towels to soak up the leaks? I need to come to a point when these things really bother me and get things properly fixed!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Asking Questions

I once got into a debate about the first question that God asks Adam in the Garden of Eden – the “Adam, where are you?” question. I have heard it preached that God knew exactly where Adam was hiding. He didn’t ask the question because he didn’t know. He asked the question so that Adam would have the opportunity to confess and open up. My friend argued differently. God, walking in the garden in the cool of the evening – well, that was God in human form, walking, as in Jesus. In human form God doesn’t know everything. In human form he has the same limitations as every other human being. I am not sure that I agree with him.

At the end of the gospel of John, there is another question asked. This time it is Jesus asking Peter whether he loves him. He asks him three times. Some people will pick up on the number three and say that asking the question three times corresponds in some way to the three times that Peter denied that he knew Jesus. There are other people who will delve into the various Greek words for love used in the passage. Jesus was asking for a different kind of love, a self sacrificing love, and all Peter could offer was a friendship kind of love. Eventually Jesus concedes that friendship, for now, is enough. Perhaps Peter had realised in denying that he knew Jesus, he hadn’t shown any of the self sacrificing love then, and perhaps in a similar situation he would behave the same, and Jesus needed to know that. He couldn’t make any guarantees that he wouldn’t let Jesus down again. No more brash promises this time. No more passionate declarations. He knew his limitations.

I got to thinking about this whole question thing. Peter’s third answer contains the declaration “Lord, you know all things.” If God already knew where Adam was, and Jesus already knew the level of love Peter was capable of giving – why do they ask the question anyway?

Sometimes there are questions that we will not ask ourselves. Adam, after he had eaten the forbidden fruit, might have had a lot of questions buzzing around in his head. Why on earth did I eat the stupid apple? What have I done? What will happen when God finds out? How could I have been so stupid? Sometimes when you put something into words it makes it real, not that it wasn’t real before. Words are creative. Perhaps silence is a way of trying to prevent creation in some sense. Until you say it, it isn’t real.

By asking the question, God is inviting us say something that needs to be said so that we can move on. God did not want Adam to spend the rest of his life hiding behind trees in the Garden of Eden. Once the rebellion, the disobedience is out in the open and acknowledged, the relationship between God and Adam is redefined and Adam left Eden to begin a different stage of his life.

Sometimes the question is asked so that we can voice the answer and prove that we know it for ourselves. Peter is not just telling Jesus what kind of love he is capable of showing, but also telling himself. Maybe in the telling other people are eavesdropping. The disciples need to know that in the absence of Jesus that they can rely on Peter to not desert them.

I hesitate to think about the questions that God, or Jesus, might be asking me because I am too afraid to ask those questions myself. Asking questions is like testing and probing and that can be an uncomfortable thing. Sometimes we would rather not know. When my eldest sister was first diagnosed with diabetes, her doctor told her to tell the rest of us to get tested. My mum was diabetic, now she was and perhaps that meant it was inherited. I put it off for a while, but eventually underwent the tests to discover I was OK. Another of my sisters just refused. She decided that she would rather not know.

Maybe all that Jesus really needed to hear wasn’t that Peter loved him, but that Peter knew “Lord, you know all things.” When we know that He knows all things we can be secure.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

A Tale of Two Houses

I seem to remember someone telling me a story a long time ago to describe what happens when a person becomes a Christian.

It’s like a person living in a house that comes under the ownership of a new landlord. Things begin to change. The new landlord for example installs double glazing, so out goes the old wooden frames, which, let’s admit it, were a bit rotten anyway. He has gets rid of the old boiler and puts in central heating. You have nice warm radiators about the place, on a timer switch. You are going to be making significant savings on your gas and electricity bills. The old bathroom suite, with the leaky taps, and the large stains are replaced with something white and gleaming, new wall and floor tiles too. The kitchen also gets the make-over. Gone are the old miss-matched cabinets and the fridge that hums noisily in the corner. He has even put a dishwasher in for you.

Sometimes the landlord consults you about the changes he is making; sometimes he just does it anyway. Like, for example, yellow wall paper in one of the bedrooms might not
be your first choice. You would prefer carpets to the wood flooring and the scattered rugs.

The place is shaping up really nicely. The landlord has invested a lot of time and energy and resources in the house and it has become a really nice place to be.

Then one morning there is a knock on the door. Don’t worry. It’s not the old landlord wanting his property back; although he has been known to shout swear words through the letterbox. The locks have been changed, and he can’t get in, and if he did, the landlord would have him arrested for trespassing. No, it’s the landlord with his arm around a stranger you have never met before.

“Come on in,” says the landlord, “Have a good look around. See what I have done to the house.”

Now this might be all well and good, if you weren’t still lounging around in your pyjamas, with your teeth un-brushed. As the stranger disappears into the kitchen to admire the dishwasher, the landlord turns to you to explain.

“When I became the landlord, the house became mine to do with as I wish. You live in the house, but it’s not really yours any longer. I didn’t make these changes just so you would have a more comfortable life. I want other people to be able to see that I’m a good landlord – the best there is. What better way than to show them your house?”

End of story. I will leave you to work out the meaning.

Early this morning I couldn’t remember what brought the story to mind. I am down to lead the meeting on Sunday and I might have been sifting through sermons I preached a long time ago, forgotten by now, that I could just dust off, breath new life into, resurrect if you will.

“What about part two?” said God, in his most obscure voice. “You know that life isn’t like that, the nice house, the make-over, the dishwasher and all that. What happens five years, or ten years down the line?”

What happens, apparently, is that one morning you wake up with a sore head. You are laying in the hall with a bruise the size of a duck’s egg. You don’t want to look too closely at the cricket bat someone hit you with. There might be blood on it. There’s been a break in.

You drag yourself into the sitting room. The television has gone the DVD player and the collection of DVDs. The ornaments off the shelf, which may not have any value to anyone but you, have been smashed one by one. The sofa has been disembowelled. Offensive graffiti has been sprayed over the walls. In the kitchen, all the cupboards have been emptied, the plates and cups smashed to smithereens, the packets of flour and sugar opened and emptied on the work tops. The microwave is missing and the door of the dishwasher has been wrenched off. The bathroom is bad. They have taken a sledgehammer to the tiles, and that brown stuff on the walls has a particularly foul smell. It’s definitely not brown paint.

There’s another knock at the door. It’s the landlord. Looking through the spy glass, he has a stranger with him. It’s not the man from the insurance. Actually, now you think about it, you know the man. He was the visitor you saw earlier – when you hadn’t had time to dress.

Are you going to open the door this time?

You see, that is my life right now! I had a break in (not in real life). The old landlord perhaps, or a gang of thugs he knew, couldn’t get through the door, so he bashed in a window. I didn’t invite him in, put the cricket bat in his hand and invite him to knock me unconscious. He just did it. He wreaked havoc. He destroyed things that meant nothing to anyone else, but everything to me. He left destruction everywhere.

The temptation is to lock the door. How can it help anyone to see me amidst all the damage?

Yesterday, a friend of mine was brave enough to unlock a door and invite me in to her heart. She had suffered a spiritual break-in and robbery. Her “house” had been ransacked and she was left in tears. She didn’t put a cloth in one hand and a bottle of detergent in another, but I found myself starting to gather up the fragments of the broken ornaments.

It’s what you do in those moments where a powerful testimony lays. I wish we never experience the break-ins, but we do. Let’s not lock the door, to each other, on our messes.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

On being a Sloth

I am not sure if this is an endearing quality or not, probably not after sixteen or seventeen years, but my husband has a tendency to repeat a story, telling it as if he hasn’t already told me. I used to interrupt and provide the ending, but now I listen as he tells me (for the umpteenth time). He gets so much delight in the telling, and I don’t want to spoil that!

Perhaps I am slowly turning into my husband, but I am also repeating stories! This morning I was reading an e-zine, an on line magazine written by Christian ladies. One of the articles that caught my interest was one in a series about the seven deadly sins, not in this case Celtic football clubs back line of defenders!) Today was the turn of sloth.

The emphasis of the article wasn’t about pure laziness or anything, but how it related to our walk of faith. Wikipedia defines sloth as “spiritual or emotional apathy, neglecting what God has spoken, and being physically and emotionally inactive”. The lady who wrote the article defined it as “the failure to utilize ones talents and gifts”. I am not even going to pretend that I can make the excuse that I don’t know what my talents and gifts are. I don’t always put myself in an environment where I can put them to use. Our church is involved in a coffee shop/chat/fellowship event called “Catalyst”, so I headed down to see if there was something I could contribute.

I am not at my most comfortable talking to people I don’t know, but that wasn’t required of me. I fell into conversation with a lady I met there before. After half an hour or so, we stopped talking and my friend looked at me and said, “We’ve had this conversation before!”

How many months ago? Two, possibly three months the conversation had turned to gift and talents, and the things that we could be doing to utilize them. Neither of us are “utilizers”. We know what the gifts are, and can see areas where we can put those gifts into action. But, sadly, that’s where it all stops…at the planning stage. Part of it is that we are not entirely convinced that we can do what we think we can do. What if it all goes belly-up and we are left with egg on our faces?

I was reading about faith this morning – Hebrews 11 faith – that marvellous line up of faith heroes (and heroines!). “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” We may heave learned the verse off by heart, but I living it is a little more challenging. There are no foolproof guarantees that the things we could be doing to utilize our gifts and talents will not go belly-up. But there again, we won’t know until we try it.

I think we both tried to take another step forward – to make ourselves accountable to each other to take that next step. We didn’t really succeed. Neither of us would just say to the other “Let’s go for it and see what happens!” I guess that makes the two of us sloths.

Catalysts cause changes to happen. I rather think this conversation has caused a tiny change in me to happen. I don’t want to be a sloth. I desperately want to utilize the gifts and talents I have. I want to do that much more that I want to avoid egg on my face! We are stepping forward…just a millimetre!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Paul Not With You

My family have a particular way of greeting me when I have gone down to visit on my own. It consists of looking over my shoulder as I walk through the door and saying, “Joe not with you?” There is more than a tinge of disappointment in the voice and the smile flickers just a little. Joe doesn’t believe it happens, but then, he has never been a witness to it happening. He wondered when I went over to Spain to visit Mike whether anyone there would look over my shoulder, as I walked through a door and ask, “¿Dónde está Joseppi?”

I rather think that when Barnabas arrived in Cyprus that there were more than a few people looking over his shoulder asking the question, “Paul not with you?” as their gaze fell upon the strange young man, John Mark.

There had been a strong disagreement between Barnabas and Paul, not about where to go, but who to take along with them. John Mark had let them down before and Paul wasn’t about to trust him a second time. Barnabas was not about to abandon John Mark, so Paul and Barnabas parted company.

As I was reading the account I wondered…

Would Paul have ended up in a prison in Philippi if Barnabas had been with him? I don’t know if Barnabas was Paul’s voice of reason, reigning in his passion and zeal which could be scary at times.

How did John Mark feel about being the cause of the split? I can’t imagine that there wasn’t a lot of side-taking over the whole issue. The congregation seemed to pray over Paul and Silas before they sent them off, but Barnabas and John Mark seemed to leave without anyone waving goodbye.

How did Silas feel filling Barnabas’ shoes? It’s like Alias Smith and Jones when Pete Duel steps out of the role to let the other guy take over. Are there always going to be awkward comparisons?

Did Paul remember the day when Barnabas turned up in Tarsus one morning inviting him to join him in Antioch? The disciples had written Paul off. They were not sure how ex-an-enemy of the church he was and whether he could be trusted, but Barnabas saw something in him to be nurtured and encouraged. Barnabas trusted Paul where others wouldn’t…now Paul was “the others” not trusting John Mark to come good in the end. He came good in the end, and when Paul was in prison, he specifically asked Timothy to send John Mark to serve him.

Would I want to be John Mark with Barnabas, or Silas with Paul? Let me be John Mark any day. I fear that I am a slow learner who needs gentle nurturing, not a wild adventurer that clings on to Paul’s white knuckle roller coaster ride.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

I Sing Because I’m Free

It’s not often that you hear loud, exuberant singing anywhere these days outside of football grounds. Our workplace was privileged to have a group of young Zulu warriors perform a routine of songs and dances.

It was all very energetic. The dances were done to the beat of a single drum and it brought to mind the old Tarzan films, or that golden oldie of a series “Daktari”. It was very atmospheric, even in the confines of a modern hall with bleacher seating. There was nothing sedate about the dances – lots of stamping, shaking spears and shields and scary chants.

In between the dances, they sang some wonderful gospel hymns. One young lady sang a solo “His Eye is on the Sparrow”. It was far better than anything that the X-Factor auditions have come out with. Her voice – she hit every note crystal clear!

The song lyrics are amazing anyway, but when you know that the person singing them has every reason to curse God rather than praise Him, the effect is even more uplifting. The young people come from Kwa-Zulu Natal in South Africa. HIV and Aids are serious problems, dragging families into poverty - no running water, no electricity, no health services and no employment opportunities. It makes you wonder where God is in all of that.

The chorus of the song has the lines “I sing because I’m happy, I sing because I’m free”. Hearing the young lady sing those words, so powerfully, really spoke to me. I had been thinking about singing earlier on in the week. I had been reading Psalm 125, a psalm of ascent. The idea of actually singing while ascending a hill or mountain genearally doesn’t occur to me – I’m too busy trying to breath. The idea of singing while climbing a metaphorical mountain, times of sorrow and hardship, doesn't always occur to me either – I’m too busy wiping away tears!

So, yes, the whole singing thing! In church, lately, I have not participated as vocally as I used to. Partly, it’s the nature of some of the songs – although they might express what I feel, the tunes are a little challenging – moving octaves and stuff.

“I sing because I’m happy, I sing because I’m free”.

I am free, but I don’t always live like I’m free.

I don’t have any visible shackles or chains, but I allow other people to bind me with invisible ones by the way I seek their approval, and mould my life to meet their expectations. I sometimes allow difficult circumstances to tie me up. My freedom has been hard won. It is something to be treasured, not casually or carelessly bartered away.

It’s time to start living like I’m free.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

You’re Amazing!!!!!!!!!!

There was a newspaper article a few weeks ago where Archbishop Vincent Nichols, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church for England and Wales (note the absence of Scotland there!), suggested that social networking websites, texting and e-mails were undermining community life. People were no longer having face to face encounters with real people, but were stuck behind a computer, or hunched over a mobile phone, “talking” to cyber friends. People were losing the skill of reading a person's mood or body language. It was all having a very "dehumanising" effect on our lives.

I doubt that I would ever have found my brother Mike without Facebook. I can’t see that Mike would have written a letter, or made a telephone call or simply just turned up on my doorstep one sunny afternoon. It is more likely that being on the computer anyway, writing one of his witty articles for Costa Life Magazine, he would have popped over to Facebook to see who was posting…and found me.

I confess to liking Facebook! I have 72 “friends” some of whom I have met face to face, some of whom I share more than a few chromosomes with and some whose names I know from the interests we have in common. There are one or two genuine “strangers”.

What I really like about Facebook at the moment is one of the messages that pop up in my notifications. It says, in capital letters “YOU’RE AMAZING!!!!!!!!” It is linked to an on going poll about who likes who! I rarely make the top ten of the best liked among my friends, but I find that the words YOU’RE AMAZING lift my spirit! It may only be a computer generated message to tell me to waste a little bit more time selecting ten of my pals to nominate, but sometimes I just need to be reminded that I am, indeed, amazing!

I have to admit that I would rather someone told me face to face that I am amazing. Over this whole year so far I think I have been pretty amazing! We all need someone to tell us that we are amazing, rather than have them scrutinize our lives to highlight the not-so-amazing things that we do!

I challenge myself! Don’t leave it up to a computer generated message to say to someome “YOU’RE AMAZING!!!!!!!!”

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Because He Loves Me

"Because he loves me," says the LORD, "I will rescue him;
I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.

He will call upon me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble,
I will deliver him and honor him.

With long life will I satisfy him
and show him my salvation."

God loving me is something that to me is a given. It’s knowledge that is so deeply embedded into my heart and woven into my spirit, that I never doubt it.

The times when the storm clouds gather, the sea begins to churn and my little boat of a life is tossed about and on the brink of being engulfed, it never occurs to me that God has stopped loving me.

I have never posed the question “If God loves me, why do bad things happen to me?” Bad things just happen. It’s a fact of life.

Is me loving God also a given? Is the knowledge of my love so deeply embedded in His heart and woven into His Spirit, that He never doubts it?

“Because he loves me…” isn’t “if he loves me” or “when he loves me” or “for as long as he loves me”. God knows my heart. When Jesus asked Peter if he loved him, it wasn’t some insecure person needing affirmation who was asking. When he asked Peter the question, he already knew the answer. He asked it to give Peter the opportunity to know the answer for himself. In knowing the answer, Peter has a security that armed him for the battle to come.

“Because he loves me” isn’t “because he reads the Bible” or “because he prays” or “because he goes to church every Sunday”. I could do all those things and they might not be an act of love at all. Because I love him, I do all those things because they give me the chance to draw near and spend time with the one I love.

Today, when I read the words “Because he loves me..” I knew they were words spoken to me by God. He knows that I love him.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Talking Hands

“When you help someone out, don't think about how it looks. Just do it—quietly and unobtrusively.” (Matthew 6:3 The Message)

This is the bit in Matthew about giving, and not letting your left hand know what your right hand is doing. It’s about being open handed and generous and not keeping accounts, or collecting Brownie points or Blue Peter badges along the way.

I am thinking how hard it is to give quietly and unobtrusively.

My right hand would like to do a bit of boasting to my left hand. My right hand would like to list every good gift given, or deed done, neatly in some leather bound ledger, carefully add up all of the numbers, climb up on a rostrum beneath a million lights and present some kind of medal to itself. Yes, my right hand thinks some kind of reward is in order. My right hand is worried about being taken for granted.

My left hand is trying to remind the right hand that God is more than aware, not just of the gifts given and the deed done, but also the thoughts behind the gifts and the deeds! The state of the heart matters more than the gifts or the deeds.

My right hand doesn’t want to listen to my left hand. My right hand knows my left hand is speaking the truth…but sometimes truth hurts. My right hand wants its five minutes on the soap box! It wants its moment of glory.

My left hand wants all the glory to go to God.

My right hand, deep down, wants the same.

Together, both hands are lifted to the heavens in praise to God. Without Him there would be nothing to give, and no one to share it with!

Monday, September 14, 2009

A single golf ball

Abundance is defined as “an extremely plentiful or over-sufficient quantity or supply”

Take for example golf balls. Just right now we have an extremely plentiful and over-sufficient quantity of them in our house, in a broken brown leather hold-all just beside the backdoor.

A friend of ours works at the city’s recycling centre. My husband mentioned to him in passing that he was on the look-out for a set of golf clubs. Last year sometime, he and a friend at work knocked a few golf balls into a few holes – not a proper round by any means, just a few holes. I don’t think the words “natural talent” came into their conversations, but they enjoyed themselves.

On our next visit to the recycling centre, with the flair of a magician producing a rabbit out of a hat, our friend showed Joe three sets of golf clubs. He chose one set and spent the afternoon, splashing around in the kitchen sink, washing and polishing each club. Only the putter was missing.

Another message to our friend and he turned up in the doorstep with half a dozen putters, the leather hold-all bursting with golf balls and a carrier bag full of multi-coloured tees.

Imagine if Tiger Woods had just the one single golf ball to play his tournament with. Just one little white ball with its two hundred to three hundred little dimples on it. Imagine if his wife told him that if he lost that one ball, his life as a golfer would be over. How would that affect the way he played the game? Would he play any risky shots?

My husband could play a different ball for every hole on the golf course, week in, week out, for the next few years and still have golf balls to spare. He doesn’t need to play safe because he has an abundance of balls in a brown leather hold-all just beside the back door. He can loose balls by the dozen and there are always more balls to play with!

Sometimes we live our Christian lives like we are playing golf with a single ball. We play so safe and take so few risks worrying about loosing the little we think we have. We don’t seem to realize that God has given us access to His abundant resources – like the brown leather hold-all just beside the back door.

We can give, and give and keeping giving to the needy world that we live in and always have more to give away.

Let’s stop playing with a single golf ball!

Mike

Too late, we found each other, you and I
So little time together, then goodbye
We swapped our stories ‘neath a Spanish sun
Comparing scars from battles lost and won

You chose to fight alone, my help refused
Your heart, your spirit often battered, bruised
Our choices made, our paths would rarely meet
I missed you, felt sometimes, not quite complete

One day the door you’d closed was opened wide
Inviting me to come and step inside
Gone was the boy, the brother that was you
The man you were, I never really knew

Too short a time to laugh, to talk and share
To mend the bridges, broken things repair
We are strangers who discover we are friends
And share a sunset as the long day ends

(c) M J Kerr Sept 2009

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Eau de Anchovies

My husband has recently discovered that he likes anchovies. He has taken to asking for extra anchovies on things like pizza. For Christmas I tracked down a tube of anchovy paste, something that looks like a toothpaste tube, and he spreads it on his toast in the morning.

The tube is in the fridge. I wouldn’t say that it is a smelly tube, or that when I open the fridge door, a waft of anchovy smell floods out, but there is some kind of smell exchange going on.

My lunch the other day consisted of a tin of soup, a pot of yoghurt and a pear. The soup was untouched by the smell of anchovy, but the pot of yoghurt, not the yoghurt itself, just the pot, reeked of anchovy, and the pear, which hadn’t been in the fridge, but had nestled up against the yoghurt pot in my lunch bag, also stunk of anchovy!

The fragrance of anchovy was everywhere lunch connected – on the yoghurt pot, on the pear and on my hands! I don’t like anchovies!

One could move on at this point to talking about the woman who broke the alabaster jar and poured perfume over Jesus’ feet. The fragrance filled the room and clung to the fabric of everyone’s clothes. People were marked out, not by anything they said, or did, but by the fragrance that they had been with Jesus.

The fragrance that seems to mark me out these days is sorrow. This week sees the final hurdle, my brother Mike’s memorial service in Rugby. Few of the family were able to travel to Fuengirola for Mike’s funeral and cremation so a memorial service has been organised for family and friends to say their goodbyes. Joe and I still have travel arrangements to make but we will be there.

I would like to think that this memorial will mark the end this year’s difficult time, but I think that would be naïve. Sorrow doesn’t seem to be a clean or precise emotion that is attached to a single event, but much like the anchovy paste in the fridge, it has touched all sort of things and permeated them particulalry in my relationships with firends.

It feels like sorrow can be a lonely road. Prolonged sorrow changes a person and the way he or she look at things. I am still on that road and looking for a way out. Is there a short cut I can take? I don’t actually believe in short cuts. As much as I would like the sorrow to end, I believe that there is precious treasure along the path to collect. By finding a quick ay out, I don’t get to claim the treasure.

I might have longed for the company of more people to walk with me and to comfort me along the way…but God has never been absent. His fellowship has been always sweet. His fellowship has been my treasure.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Covering Up

I often imagine that I am on one of those TV morning chat shows – the ones that leaf through the newspapers and pick out interesting stories of the day. As I leaf through my morning paper (a very rare event seeing as we don’t have morning papers delivered!) I mentally select the ones that I would highlight, and rehearse the comments I might make.

The article I came up with was a commentary on the way in which X-Factor selects the auditions that it televises. Some of the acts, without doubt, are not really up to scratch. We have all seen them, cringed at them or laughed at them maybe. There are some things that aught not to be televised.

Why do people do it? They really haven’t got an ounce of talent for singing, dancing, spinning plates or whatever it is that they are doing. Why do they insist on parading their lack of talent in front of 4 million viewers? Do they really think they are good? Have they not asked an objective observer to check them out first before they head for the stage?

I am glad that I am as old as I am, and that in my day they didn’t have these reality shows. I have a feeling I might have strutted my stuff – or my absence of stuff – before an audience of 4 million had I had the chance! Youth has a way of convincing us of things that just aren’t true. Since I am now grown up, I now see the stuff in a mature and sensible light, and know that the 4 million who saw would have cringed, or laughed at me.

Why do other people who should know better allow them to do it? It seems to me that we live in a world where some people take delight in exposing, and laughing at the weaknesses of others. Someone else’s humiliation should not be another person’s entertainment.

Somewhere in the Bible it encourages us to cover one another’s weakness up – not one another’s sins. Way back in the Old Testament, Noah’s sons walked backward into a room, holding a blanket, to cover up the nakedness of Noah who had got drunk and exposed himself.

If only the producers of X-Factor would walk backwards across a stage, holding a blanket, to cover up the lack of talent in some of their contestants and prevent them from exposing themselves!

Thursday, September 03, 2009

The Need to Connect

Yesterday was not such a good day. I have felt so isolated from people. With my church family it is not so much isolation in terms of yards or miles. It isn’t that I have isolated myself and not talked to anyone about the traumas of the year so far. It is just that it’s not their sister, or their brother that has died. Hugs may reduce the yards or miles to nothing at all, but there is still distance. They may imagine how I feel, but for many imagination is all they have to play with. Their families remain whole and complete, struggling perhaps, but not broken into bits. I have very specific needs that it appears they just can’t meet! They congratulate me for being strong, and they don’t see how perhaps on the inside I am not strong at all.

My own family lives hundreds of miles away. They are close enough to each other to meet up (which they don’t take advantage of), to offer comfort and solace. They feel the empty spaces left behind by Linda and Mike and they can talk to one another.

Last night I just wanted to be down there, with them, gathered together, knowing that they knew how I felt because they felt it too. And I was miles away…isolated.

And then my youngest sister phoned!

Suddenly I felt connected. It was just such a blessing to talk to someone who really knew what I was going through, someone who knew what they could say to me that would really touch my heart and bring comfort and encouragement.

I was smiling by the time I put the phone down at the end of the conversation.

I was reading 2 Corinthians 9:8 - “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work” The timing of the call was so spot on – that was God’s “all grace” abounding to me. All the things we spoke about were all the things I needed to hear. I felt less alone.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

How It Makes Me Feel

It would appear that in the Bank Holiday TV ratings, ITV with its lavish production of “Wuthering Heights” lost out to the BBC with its one off drama “Framed”. I just happened to be watching “Framed” and I have to admit that I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The story began with the National Gallery being flooded out due to a leaky roof. They decided to temporarily store the gallery's precious paintings in a disused slate mine in Wales – which is what Churchill did during the war – and I have been to said diused mine! The curator, played by Trevor Eve, had the job of living in a nearby cottage and looking after the artwork and choosing one of the paintings to be sent back to the gallery in London for viewing every month.

The curator saw the paintings in terms of the quality of brush strokes, the clever use of colour, the arrangement of objects on the canvas or unusual perspectives.

Later on in the drama, the butcher from the little nearby town was allowed to see some of the paintings in the mine. A picture by Monet of a boating lake reduced him to tears, and it turned out that his son had died in the village boating pool and he had been responsible for having the place closed on health and safety grounds. Seeing the picture brought back all the memories. The picture made him feel, not the loss of his son, but the loss of something in himself, a kind of gradual shutting down of so many aspects of his life.

I can remember having “Art Appreciation” lessons at school. Yes, in art classes, we got to play with paint and other forms of media, but there were times when we got to look at famous pictures. They were just prints of the pictures – not the real thing. I just remember that I didn’t get it. I couldn’t seem to see the quality of the brush strokes or the clever use of colour! I failed to appreciate the art!

Looking at the butcher, looking at the Monet picture, and looking at the tears flowing – I got it! Art is about how it makes you feel!

A friend and I had a long discussion over a delicious (and expensive) slice of cake the other day. We were talking about religion. He is not religious and went to great lengths to explain why he believed the Bible was outdated, had been changed often to suit the politics of the day and did I know that men had swapped and changed bits of it to keep the poor, or the women, in their place? I have done a theology degree and I know such stuff. The one question that I didn’t ask was “How much of the Bible have you actually read?”

It seems to me that my friend was rather like the art curator. He could talk about textual criticism and translation and the politics of the day. Me? I am like the butcher. I read the Bible and it makes me feel things.

I see aspects of my own life reflected in its words. I see challenges to tackle. I see solutions to the problems I face. I see questions I don’t know the answer to. I see things that make me cry, sometimes with joy, sometimes with sorrow. Sometimes I feel that I will never measure up – and sometimes I realise that I don’t need to. I see God’s grace on every page.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Where Eagles Soar

In the final weeks of his life, there had been lots of heated discussions about my brother, Mike.

One discussion was about whether sometime in those final weeks he came to faith in Christ. In the red corner were his friends that said, “Definitely not!” If he had made some proclamation of faith, it was the pain speaking, or the drugs. In the blue corner were the evangelicals. They had talked with him and prayed with him. They were there when he took a first, and perhaps only, step of faith.

Another discussion, linked to the first, was about Mike’s funeral. In the red corner were his friends. Having expressed no sense of religious faith to his friends they wanted a funeral where religion was absent and unacknowledged. I can see their point. Whatever else Mike had been, he had not been a hypocrite. He would have despised something marked by hymns and bible readings. In the red corner were the evangelicals. They wanted something traditional, with a church minister presiding. They wanted something sombre and sober, something quiet and respectful.

The red corner won. Mike had chosen the music – Eric Clapton, The Who and some other favourite band. The congregation were invited to write on Mike’s coffin with a selection of coloured pens, and to cover it in flowers before it was taken away to be cremated.

Outside, we made our way back to the cars, ready to drive down to “The Pig and Whistle” for drinks and a buffet. Out of the chimney from the crematorium a trail of smoke was pouring. I wasn’t watching the smoke, but something else in the sky. It was an eagle soaring high that held my attention. In slow, silent circles, the eagle surfed the air currents.

Did you know that as a Christian symbol, the eagle represents salvation, redemption and resurrection?

Some people just saw an eagle.

Some people missed the eagle and just saw the smoke coming out of the chinmey

Me? I saw the eagle and I heard God’s message to me – Mike saved, redeemed and, one day resurrected.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Mad Mike - (What I Said at the Funeral)

My husband, Joe, has this thing that he says to me when we are away on holiday. “What do you prefer?”, he says “Cruising down Loch Ness or teaching third year RE?” or perhaps, “What do you prefer? Walking along the Champs Elyses or teaching third year RE?” The answer is usually a no brainer. Today, if someone were to ask me, “What do you prefer? Speaking at your brother´s funeral or teaching third year RE? The answer for once might be “Teaching third year RE:”

If you are hoping that I will be able to fill in some of the blanks of Mike´s life, you will be disappointed. I believe that many of you know him better than I ever did. Growing up together I was never curious enough to ask questions and he was not often around to supply information. Besides, I am a girl, and his sister!

When Mike was first diagnosed with cancer, I came over to spend time with him and give him some support. He had been admitted to Costa del Sol hospital waiting test results. One Sunday I had taken the local bus out there. I assumed that Mike was fielding a dozen visitors and I could cadge a lift back. It turned out to be just Mike and me, for six and a half hours, sitting on the terrace, drinking coffee by the cupfuls. He was in the mood for talking and I was curious enough to ask questions. On the bus back to Fuengirola, two thoughts came to mind.

Firstly, I really didn´t know my brother at all. Even the things I thought I knew turned out to be very different. After six and a half hours I might have known a few more facts, a few opinions, but I really didn´t know him.

Secondly, after six and a half hours of talking to him, I wasn´t even sure that I liked him very much.

Three or four months down the line, I can still say that I´m not sure that I knew the man, but I am sure that I liked him.

Life, for Mike, at least in the UK, was like wearing poorly fitted clothes. Too tight at the neck. Too short at the arms. He didn´t appear to be comfortable. However, there were one or two exceptions.

He loved school and won a scholarship to Lord Wandsworths College. He was a boy with the brain the size of a planet, and went on to join MENSA. The teacher in me disapproves that such a boy, with such a brain, never really put it to good use!

Michael loved music. He had a ear – two ears, in fact – that lead him to teach himself to play the piano. He eventually joined a band, as all musicians do – a Genesis tribute band. I heard him play once. Mike´s taste in music was very different from my own. I was into Donny Osmond and swooning over Puppy Love. Mike was into something heavy, which played at the right volume, shook the floorboards of the house. He tried to lure me away from Donny, spending hours compiling a tape of music tracks from his collection that he thought might appeal to me. I would like to say that I still have the tape, but I suspect that I wiped it and used it to record a Barry Manilow LP.

Michael loved his son, Elliot. It was his second spell of fatherhood. He was a little older for sure, a little wiser, debateable, and tried not to make the same mistakes as before. He loved Elliot dearly, and was immensely proud of him. He didn´t feel quite the same way about Elliot´s mother. It broke his heart when they parted and he lost touch with Elliott.

Then there was Fuengirola. If ever there was a perfect fit for anyone, for Mike, this was it. The years that he has spent here have been his happiest. The beaches, the bars, and the beautiful women – what more could he ask for? Feungirola became his home, and all of you became his family, and writing became his passion.

Richard and I, on behalf of the rest of the family, thank you for looking after Mike so well.

Finally, a last memory, and one of the most enduring. The year was somewhere between 1976 and 79. I was at university in Durham, Mike was at art college in Gloucester studying photography. The students union has bussed me down to London, to join a protest march. I was not political, I didn´t know what we were protesting about, so I went shopping instead. I was on Regent´s Street, on a busy Saturday afternoon. It was swarming with people! Suddenly I was accosted, attacked even. A bear of a man wound his arms around me and pulled me into a strong hug. It was Mike, perhaps also supposed to be marching, but skiving off.

“Hello, Mel,” he said, “Fancy meeting you here.” The odds against our meeting…well, I´ll leave you to work them out.

I am convinced that, in heaven, just beyond the pearly gates, somewhere along the heavenly equivalent of Regent´s Street, I will yet again be accosted, attacked even. A bear of a man will wind his arms around me and pull me into a strong hug. Yes, it will be Mike again.

“Hello, Mel,” he will say, “Fancy meeting you here.” The odds against our meeting…in my favour this time!

Thank you, every one of you, for joining us to celebrate Mad Mike´s life and to mourn his loss together.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

A Great Wall Builder


It has been almost twenty years since I moved up to Inverness. I left Rugby to work on a gospel outreach team, a Go Team, in 1989 and arrived in Inverness sometime in September or October. It was a challenging year and so absolutely the right place to be for me at that time

I remember a visit from Andrew Owen, who was the pastor of a church planted in Glasgow (who has gone from strength to strength forming the whole Destiny Church movement). There was a GO team in Glasgow at the same time, so I guess he wanted to try to build bridges and offer support and encouragement.

At the end of one of the teaching sessions we had an opportunity to ask questions, not just about what he had been talking about, but about his own personal walk of faith. I seem to remember asking him about what word of scripture he was chewing over and being challenged by. I can’t remember what he said because as soon as he had finished telling me, he turned the question back to me. What word was I walking with right there and then?

If someone asked me that question today I might flounder a bit, but then, there was only one word.

“You have not gone up to the breaks in the wall to repair it for the house of Israel so that it will stand firm in the battle on the day of the LORD.” Ezekiel 13:5

Quite how I had come across it, I don’t know, but it burned in me. So many Christians are not able to stand firm in the battle because of holes in the walls, holes in their knowledge of God. The battle rages and they get injured. Some leave the faith completely, all because of too many holes in what they know about God. I was determined that I would fill in the holes, that I would make the wall strong, so that when the battles were fought, people wouldn’t be needlessly injured.

I would like to think I impressed Andrew!

I didn’t want to just fill in the holes for people, although it did lead to a lot of preaching and teaching, but I wanted to teach people how to fill in the holes for themselves. That approach wasn’t always successful. I had a long history of bible studies and intense prayer meetings gifted me by the Brethren Church. I had a natural ability to study, to read and meditate and shape the right bricks for the right holes. I found the whole process thrilling and stirring, and few people I knew shared my passion.

This morning I sat down with a cup of coffee to just be with God.

“Can you feel the wall against your back?” said God.

“What wall?” said I.

“The wall, that over the last twenty years, you have strengthened by filling in the holes.” He answered. “All that time you thought you were filling in the holes to keep other people safe, you built yourself a solid wall. For the last six months a battle has raged, a serious battle. The wall was built so well, so solidly, that nothing has been able to breach it or to bring it down. You have been safe!”

If God had had a glass of something, water from a rock perhaps, He might have raised it in my direction with the salutation, “To a great wall builder!”

Thank you, God, for teaching me to build walls.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Empty Chair

There ought to be three places to sit in our front room. There is a sofa along one wall, comfortable green leather. It a sofa that is not really for sitting on, but begs to be lain upon, all stretched out. There are two arm chairs, one of which reclines when you pull a lever.

Three places, but only the one, the sofa is really used and most times usable. One chair has been bagged by the ironing. The pile expands and contracts are regular intervals, as ironing is done and distributed to cupboards and drawers, only to be replaced by the next batch off the line. The other chair, the reclining one, is often the dumping place for coat hangers, bags, coats, read and unread newspapers and other stuff.

Yesterday I made a special effort to clear the clutter from one chair. I wanted one of the chairs clear in case of visitors. I had had an especially distressing day. News from Spain was grim. The doctor from the hospice had been in touch to say that Mike’s condition had further deteriorated and the weeks or months we had anticipated had dwindled down to merely days. He told us that it was perhaps time to come out.

I have always known that there will be an end to face. I just hoped it wouldn’t come. I cried, cleaned the kitchen, cried some more, half cleaned the bathroom, cried some more…you get the picture. And I cleaned off one chair, just in case I had a visitor, who would come to cry with me.

My mother used to have a particular bee in her bonnet. She is quite obviously disabled, partially sighted, partially hearing, very shaky on her legs. The church knew that she was not able to make her own way to church, but there was always this insistence that she phoned someone to ask for a lift. My family are usually very good at looking after mum, but things happen, and the shopping doesn’t always get done. When friends in the church find out that she is not being looked after they ask, “Why didn’t you phone?”

Why didn’t I phone and ask someone to come around and sit with me, cry with me? I think it’s because there are some things you shouldn’t have to ask for. It should just come under the label of “family”. If should simply be offered because you care enough to offer it. I am fed of carrying my sorrow to someone else’s doorstep.

The chair remained empty.

An empty chair is not necessarily a silent chair! It just seemed to be telling me how little I was cared for. By the end of the day I had wound myself up tightly into a ball of hurt and resentment.

God talked to the ball!

First of all He reminded me that, sad as it is, people will inevitably let you down. As much as we would like to lean on people, sometimes the fall over and take us with them!

Secondly, in Matthew 5 it reads “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” I liked that! It’s not “might be” or “should be” but “will be”.

Thirdly God spoke about the other empty chairs in other people’s homes. Did I think that maybe I could go and sit in those chairs and cry with other people?

What a challenge! What a ministry! I’m still working on an answer.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

12,000 Hours

According to one of the newspapers today the average woman will spend 12,000 hours, the equivalent of one year and four months of their lives, crying.

I guess that makes me not average! I feel like I have notched up a goodly number of hours of the last six months or so in tears on a fairly regular basis. Does it make a difference too if those tears are gentle weeping that you can mop up with the back of your hand, or the overflowing dam of body wrenching sobbing? The way I have cried recently doesn’t qualify as anything less than a monsoon!

I was talking this morning with a friend, trying not to catalogue all the sad details of Mike’s cancer. She already knew about my sister, Linda and all the heartache of her loss, but she wanted to know so that she could know what to pray for.

As well as myself, my mother and my eldest sister are the only others in the family that enjoy a vibrant relationship with God. I am not sure how well they have weathered the storms of the past six months. There are been no shipwrecks, but a few masts have fallen, and a sail or two has got ripped. It has not been a comfortable ride.

Neither my mum, nor my sister, has had the chance to go out and see Mike and I am not sure if that is a good thing or a bad one. Sometimes what we imagine turns out to be a lot worse than reality.

For my mum it’s not an option. She is not well enough to travel and I think that seeing Mike the way he is would bring back some very painful memories. My dad died of a very similar kind of cancer. For my sister, it is a choice not to go. She thinks that she would cry too much and upset Mike. She doesn’t think she could handle it. Personally I think we are always a lot stronger than we imagine ourselves to be.

Anyway, at the end of talking all these things through with my friend, she reached over and gently touched my arm.

“You do know,” she said, “that God loves you very much.”

I have to confess that I bit my tongue hard. Words would have spilled out!

If this…nightmare…this six month stalking by disease and death is about God loving me…what would it all look like if God didn’t?

OK I know that all this stuff is not happening because God loves me! It’s happening because I live in a fallen world…because these kind of things just happen…because…I don’t really know why it’s happening.

What would it look like without God’s love? I would feel very alone, completely broken up inside, hopeless and helpless.

As it is there are times when He graciously blows away the clouds and the sun shines!