Sunday, August 29, 2010

Doing What We Can To Help

This email popped into my box the other day.

Dear Melanie Kerr,

Doesn't time fly?

I bet your baby is growing before your very eyes and time is going faster than you ever thought it would? Time is a premium for new parents so I thought I would save you some by writing to remind you that your baby will need some size 2 nappies soon.

Money is the other thing that seems to go faster with a new baby in the house so, as a big "thank-you" for purchasing your real nappies from Littlelamb, I am offering you a discount code to use when you order your new nappies…

Kind regards

Esme


I have to agree, Esme, - time does fly. I have been back at work for two weeks now and the holidays are fast becoming just a memory.

The baby, which is not my baby, is probably growing very fast, but the only way that a person can observe her growth (yes, it’s a girl) is by looking at a scanner. Said baby isn’t yet born. The baby has yet to wear the size I nappies that Joe and I bought the nearly-parents, so she is not quite ready for Size 2.

I also agree with you, Esme, about money going faster, but I won’t blame it on the baby. I would put it down to things like car insurance and grocery shopping. Government cutbacks haven’t helped.

Kind regards

Mel

To put it all into context – Joe and Mel have friends who are expecting their first baby quite soon. Joe asked what we could do to help. We don’t have children ourselves. As Esme reminded us money does go fast in a household with a baby, so we offered to help.

“Nappies” was the reply, along with a request for real ones, terry towelling not plastic disposables that take for ever to decompose on land fill sites. I had my concerns with nappy pins. Maybe I have deeply buried memories as a baby of being poked by one. I knew that companies did nappies with Velcro strips or snappers, so I went on a nappy hunt on-line.

It is important to be able to make sense of the Maths. It is an alarming initial outlay, but there are savings to be made in the long run.

As they say in the Mastercard adverts – 3 hours searching for the perfect product, £££s for the Size I Starter Kit, one week delivery wait, I cup of tea and a tour of the house on delivery to the nearly-parents…the feeling of helping someone – PRICELESS.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Life and Breath

“Find a newspaper article that has something to do with religion.”

It is a challenge that I set every year to groups of young people. In this day and age it isn’t cool to think that religion matters. People listen to Richard Dawkins who insists that religion is outdated and irrelevant, and they nod in agreement, not realising that it’s in our DNA. We are wired to seek after God and find something to worship.

It is probably the only time when I sit down and read a newspaper properly. My husband thinks that The Sunday Post doesn’t qualify as a proper newspaper.

The Daily Record had nothing religious going on. There wasn’t even a Thought for The Day tucked away in a small corner. The Independent and The Scotsman both came up with the goods. One article criticised doctors for having religious beliefs and sharing those beliefs with their patients. Another article was a compilation of comments from letters about the variety of beliefs. Another article reported that a church whose minister had lost his job on account of his sexual orientation were wanting him reinstated.

Pickings were lean.

One story that caught my imagination but had no obvious connection with religion was the one about the baby. A mother had given birth to twins. They were premature. One child, the wee girl, was well and thriving. The other, the boy, had struggled and apparently given up the fight. After 20 minutes of trying to revive the baby, doctors declared him to be dead and handed him over to his mother for a last cuddle before the post mortem. She held him close to her skin for two hours. He twitched and the doctors said it was a reflex action. He twitched again, and again and then opened his eyes. It was all very amazing.

I guess I liked the idea of a mother’s touch doing something that the science of the doctors had failed to do. I liked the idea of skin to skin touching, and the imparting of warmth and the sound of the mother’s heartbeat to the infant’s ears.

“The Spirit of God has made me; the breath of the Almighty gives me life.” Job 33:4

So the mother never breathed into the child’s nostrils and restored life that way. She just held him close. I don’t know if they will ever be able to explain the science of what actually took place during those two hours she held him.

There are times when I feel the need for God to hold me close and restore life to my spirit. I flit into His presence, fidget while I am there, and then dash off to do the next thing. Imagine being in someone’s embrace for two hours. My mother used to boast that she fell asleep every night in my father’s embrace – that was more than two hours, but it doesn’t count because she was asleep all of the time.

Life is more than just breathing. God did not intend for me to simply exist whereby I inhale and then I exhale and nothing much else happens. The baby opened its eyes and began to interact with the world. Living is about interacting. I encounter the world and I change it for the better – that is living.

If God was into accusations – which He is not – he might accuse me of not really living at all. Rather than encountering the world and changing it – I strive to avoid the world and protect myself from the harm that it could inflict. That is not really living at all.

"Life is the ability to exercise all one’s vital power to the fullest; death is the opposite.” (G. Livingston, “The Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament”)

I am breathed upon by God, endowed with the gift of life that is not to be squandered or frittered away. Perhaps, anything less than living life to the fullest is an insult to God.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

My Touch of Faith

I’ve heard the stories of the man
Who has a healing touch
My suffering’s more than I can bear
I need His help so much
I’ve seen so many doctors, and
Giv’n all that I possess
Tried all the cures suggested and
Have had not one success

I find him midst a solid crowd
Their bodies like a wall
Strong, resilient, mighty men
And I – a woman small
They cannot see and cannot know
My weeping wound within
The Law speaks clearly, touching them
I taint, infect, with sin

If I can reach, can grasp his hem…
One touch will be enough.
I fear to ask, I cannot risk
A swift and sound rebuff
Determination gives me strength
I push my way ahead
Outstretched fingers brush and touch
A single woollen thread

My faith is proved, my wounds are healed
And wholeness surges through
What once was rent is mended now
And I am made anew
I stand, the crowd is unaware
This miracle is mine
The locust years of pain are gone
At last I’m feeling fine

But now He turns, “Who touched me then?”
His gaze is on my face
“There’s someone claimed a stir of power,
A taste of God’s good grace.”
I own my deed, my touch of faith
Confess my body sound
How fingers felt His garment’s hem
And wholeness then I found

He smiles, commends me for my faith
Declares that I am well
He gives me leave to share my joy
My story others tell
There is no wall, no barrier
That faith cannot pull down
No hope in a believer’s heart
That tests and trials can drown


(Luke 8:40-48)

Riot Sheilds and Batons

I had a very interesting dream the other night. I use the word “interesting” rather than “disturbing” because although while I was dreaming it, I felt very disturbed by it, when I woke up there was no overhanging cloud that sometimes comes attached.

Very simply put, I think I turned into a porcupine.

I was aware that scales were appearing on my arms - hard, flat, patches of armour. There was a ridge of scales down the centre of my arm, the kind you see along the backs of dinosaurs. Little black spikes began sprouting everywhere, sharp and straight.

They – not sure who “they” were – took me into an operating theatre to see if they remove the scales or the spikes. They managed to pull out one of the spikes. It was no more painful than pulling out a hair. They stuck it under a microscope and commented to one another that they had never seen anything like it before.

Removing a scale was much more painful, and almost instinctively I hit out, clouting the doctor with an arms-worth of scales and spikes, sending him rocketing across the room and slamming him into a glass cabinet. I think they were making plans to incarcerate me when I woke up.

There was no mystery for me about what the dream was about, although others might find more interesting interpretations.

The holidays have come to an end and it is back to work. My husband often laments to see me heading back to work. The house that had been kept clean gradually deteriorates into a pig-sty. There are no more cooked meals to greet him when he comes home. He cannot rely on lifts right up to the door of his work place. Then of course, there is the appearance of “Work Mel”. She doesn’t get left behind at the end of a tiring day, but seems to clamber into the car and come home with me. You know when she is around – the voice is pitched a little louder, sharper and she is more inclined to nit-pick and harangue.

Sometimes work can be a very intimidating place. Not everyone there is my friend, and I can react in ways that are very defensive. The prickles are very easily provoked – sometimes.

I had been reading Colossians 3:12 - “Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”

It didn’t seem to me the most practical advice. I was looking for a riot shield and a baton and Paul was giving me kindness and gentleness.

“You know what, Mel?” said God. “Remember all that stuff about putting on the armour of God? There are times when that is the right thing to do. But supposing you arm yourself mentally with the riot shield and the baton – you are heading into the workplace with the mindset of a warrior in a battlefield. You are expecting to fight. Everyone picks up the vibe that you are armed to the teeth. You have the baton in hand and you are ready to use it. What is their response likely to be? They suddenly drag out their own riot shield and baton to defend themselves. It is kill or be killed. If, however, you were to arrive unarmed – clothed in “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” there is no room for the riot shield and the baton. It is not a doormat mentality where you cease to take authority at all – you just create a different kind of environment to work in. It is far easier to hit someone who is being less than cooperative than it is to show them kindness and patience.”

Some might say that it is just the week-one honeymoon, but they will wear me down eventually. I am not accepting that! I don’t want Work Mel coming home with me. Actually I don’t want Work Mel at all. Work Mel is not who I am, only who I allow the stresses of the workplace to force me to become.

So yes, with God’s help I am clothing myself not with armour but with kindness, compassion, humility, gentleness and patience.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

More Than Bricks and Mortar

It was a church – built for the glory and worship of God. The pews had all been ripped up and replaced by shelves and shelves of second hand books. The pulpit housed a chair for the shop manager to sit in and survey all of his books. The gallery, accessed by a spiral staircase, which probably wasn’t a part of the original fixtures, contained the tables and chairs, and soft sofas of a café.

We were in there this morning. Joe was on the hunt for a book and we had trailed around all of the bookshops earlier on in the week. The second hand bookshop was the last hope – except it really wasn’t any hope at all. The book may well have been there, but finding it was not an easy task. Some attempt was made to categorise the books, but as for displaying them in alphabetical order – it just didn’t happen. As well as the books on shelves there were piles of books on the floor. For someone with a vague tendency to tidy things, I had to resist the urge to start sorting just one shelf into alphabetical order!

There was a wonderful aroma coming from the café – the soup was being made. It was a glorious fragrance and pulled me back there three hours later for lunch. Yellow split peas with turnips and carrots – it was a taste sensation, one of the nicest soups I have tasted in a while.

While slurping soup, and dribbling it down my front from a lack of concentration, I looked down from my gallery table and chairs down the bookshop below. I pictured the place without the shelves and books and the café. It wasn’t so hard. A Sunday morning perhaps, with pews filled with folk in their Sunday best. I saw the wives, rosy cheeks, hats thrust on heads, spitting onto fingers and combing through their children’s hair that wouldn’t stay flat. The first chord of the organ wheezed out and with a scuffle and scrape of shoes, every stood up and the minister climbs the steps up to the pulpit. He preached a rousing fire and brimstone sermon and snatched burning brands away from hell’s fire.

Why do congregations sell off their churches? In my mind’s eye my church was filled to the brim with people. I even thought of revival scenarios where there was an extra meeting or two, or midweek meetings preaching a gospel message. Perhaps the more real picture is a couple of dozen folk rattling around the pews. Maybe that is why they sold the church…because they couldn’t fill the pews.

It offends me to see a church up for sale, or converted into a picture gallery, a pub, an antiques shop or a bookshop. It speaks a message that church is no longer relevant today…that no one needs God anymore.

“Yes, but, what if it is not that at all?” says a still small voice, “How much money do churches spend on the fabric of a building like this one? It may have a history but it also has dry rot, an ancient heating system, dislodged tiles on the roof and crumbling gables. It’s like throwing money into a black hole. So they sell the old building – to a bookshop – and with the money they build a new church, perhaps in a housing estate nearer to where people live.”

It’s not always the case of the church becoming a pub. For many years the function rrom in a pub in the city centre became home to our church. A fish factory in the industrial estate was sold to another church and transformed into a meeting hall and coffee place.

Church should never be about the building, and I have seen my share fair of church buildings.

Church is about the people that God has chosen, changed, equipped and sent out into the world. What kind of building we meet in is irrelevant. What happens when we meet is all important.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Dead-weights and Additionality

My husband had a prompt 9.00 start at work yesterday because it was a training day. As I drove him up to work for Part 2 this morning, he told me what he had learned so far - something about dead-weights and additionality.

When I think about dead-weights I think about people who don’t do their part of whatever it is. They are contributing little and everyone else is carrying them. That might be one application of the term, but not the one he had been trained to think about.

Suppose that you were thinking about making changes to a project. It is not a case of “doing nothing is not an option” because sometimes the doing nothing is the better option. If you chose to do nothing at all you predict what the results of doing nothing might be. Then you look at the changes you want to implement and predict what the results of those changes might be. Then you compare your “do nothing” predictions with your “do something” predictions and decide whether the time and the effort involved in doing something was going to be effective or not. The difference between the two predictions is the deadweight…I think.

Give me a break – he had a whole day to learn this with a million examples, I had a fifteen minute journey and all his examples related to crofting grants which I know very little about.

Take Paul, for example, in 2 Corinthians 2. The plan in chapter I was “to visit you (the Corinthian church) on my way to Macedonia and to come back to you from Macedonia, and then to have you send me on my way to Judea”. By the start of chapter 2 the plan had changed to “So I made up my mind that I would not make another painful visit to you.”

To visit or not to visit – that was the question. The “doing nothing” option for Paul was not to visit the church. The “doing something” option was to stop off and say “Hi” on his to Macedonia and on his way back.

Paul looked at the possible consequences of a visit – “painful”. The trouble with Paul stopping off to say “Hi” is that he wouldn’t just stick to saying “Hi”. I think that the church had begun to associate Paul’s visits with rebuke, correction and harsh words. His actions and words were motivated by love but they were not always seeing it that way. His letters had been hard to swallow and, in the past, had not always led to the positive changes he was looking for. He could see the whole meeting as going down the tubes leaving them all distressed and unhappy. He declared it better for him the stay away. If he came, he would inevitably end up sorting them out, and in the process deny them their own step of maturity in sorting themselves out.

So Paul chose the “do nothing” option – but he wrote a letter instead, so he didn’t really choose the “do nothing” option at all. So maybe it’s not just a choice of “do nothing” or “do something” but also a “do something else instead”.

I like the idea of considering the option of “doing nothing” rather than insisting on “doing something” when you have not really considered whether the “doing something “is really going to change anything.

Of course, applying business jargon and principles to building God’s Kingdom doesn’t really work. The natural and the supernatural worlds don’t always work according to the same rules. Business principles work with the next month, or the next year or even a slightly longer view in mind. God thinks in terms of the next blink of an eye, or with eternity in mind – and not always in the blink of one's own eye, or one's own eternity.

Well, there you go – a little glimpse about the kind of conversations we have on car journeys.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Telling It As It Is

“We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favour granted us in answer to the prayers of many.” (2 Corinthians 1:8-11)

At last! Someone who tells it as it is. Who is this someone who is under great pressure, far beyond his ability to endure, despairing even of life? Paul wrote it, but his words might well describe feelings that I have felt. I don’t claim to be manacled in a prison and under a death sentence, but there have been times when I have reached the end of any resources I thought I possessed and no light at the end of the tunnel gave me hope that there were better days ahead.

Did I inform anyone about my hardships? My knee-jerk reaction is to say “No”, but having thought about it, there have been times when I have shared my hardships with people. There has always been a determination to try not to say anything, to keep silent. Inevitably something will be said, or done, and the floodgates will open.

Paul didn’t give the impression anywhere that he was ashamed of having to admit to such feelings of despair. He didn’t sanitise his words. He didn’t make light of his situation. He didn’t gloss over how he was feeling. He didn’t try to wrap up his faith-children in cotton wool. He shared the reality of his experience.

He didn’t paint a depressing black picture and leave it at that. He went on to declare “this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead” and that “He (God) has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. Sometimes it is all too easy to bring to mind the times when it was not apparent that we had been delivered. Paul had his fair share of being stoned and ship wrecked, flogged and imprisoned. Paul chose to remember the times when he was delivered and declared his confidence that just as God had delivered him in the past, He would continue to do so in the future. Right now, in the present, he couldn’t see it happening – but faith said that it would.

What helped Paul was knowing that his friends and his faith-children were praying for him.

“You help us by your prayers”.

What is the opposite truth to helping someone by our prayers? If we are not aiding someone, supporting someone or serving someone by our petitioning God on their behalf what are we doing instead? There doesn't seem to be an obvious opposite to "Help". "Hinder", perhaps?

If we are not helping someone by praying – I think we are hurting someone by failing to pray. I don’t think that it is just the case that with the absence of prayer nothing positive happens – but I believe negative things are given free reign to happen because we failed to make a stand.

I know that when times of hardship happen I am better able to cope when I know that someone is praying for me. If they didn’t know what my hardships were, they wouldn’t know where they need to make a stand on my behalf. If I didn’t tell them, they wouldn’t know.

Tell it as it is. It’s not negative talk. It is not speaking curses on ourselves. It is a first step. Telling it as should be by faith is our second step. Sharing how it is and how we would believe it will be with others is the not an optional ingredient. It’s the third step

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Beneath the Father's Gaze

You saw my first breath taken as
My tiny fist unfurled -
You and I together part of
Our created world
Our plan conceived in heaven to
Redeem this fallen race
A precious chance for every man
To gaze upon Your face

You saw me in the workshop as
I learned my father’s trade
My fingers rested gently on the
Wood before me laid
You saw me in the Temple
Your own sweet house of prayer
I gathered men around me
My Father’s truth to share

You saw me in the river with
The water and the dove
And pulled away the curtain as
You spoke Your words of love
You saw me in the desert waste
The hunger on my face
The serpent with his twisted truth
I chose not to embrace

You saw me touch the leper’s hand
With everything restored
Then others lame, and blind, and deaf
Your wholeness on them poured
You saw me lift the bread on high
And into pieces break
And watched the thousands gathered there
A precious meal partake

My life was lived beneath Your gaze
You never looked away
Until the final conflict came
That dark and dreadful day
You saw the whip that ripped my back
You saw the crowd that bayed
You saw the nails they hammered in
And knew Your love displayed

And then You turned Your face away
Such loneliness I knew
Lost, alone, forsaken as
The darkness slowly grew
You didn’t see me fix my gaze
Beyond this awful scene
And see by faith forgiveness giv’n
And man made whole and clean

You waited ‘til the angels came
And rolled away the stone
I wasn’t there within that tomb
But stood before Your throne
I looked and saw the smile upon
My Father’s joyful face
No words You spoke, but arms outstretched
I felt Your strong embrace

There's Been a Murder!

“There’s been a murder! Can you follow the trail, solve the clues and unmask the culprit?” Apparently not!

We purchased a treasure trail, "a fun and healthy outdoor activity for all ages", a while ago and seeing as we were child-sitting for the day yesterday we decided to head off to the town and “follow the trail, solve the clues and unmask the culprit”. We were promised 1.5 miles of walking which turned out to be much more than that as we retraced our steps more than once having missed the clue. We were also promised 1.5 hours of sleuthing which turned out to be a lot longer because of all the retracing of steps.

I had my money on Frank Thomson long before we began. His eyes were definitely too close together.

Things started to go wrong at Clue 6. We were instructed to enter the grounds of the Church of Scotland, and find a date above the double doors of the church. The grounds of the church were occupied by a few dozen wedding guests and a man playing the bagpipes. Trying to see the dates above the double door was hindered by the newly married couple and the photographer. None of the dates matched up with the information we had – it turned out we were looking at the wrong double doors of the wrong church!

Clue 10 turned out to be another challenge. “Find the face in the photo” – the photo was a porcelain decoration against something red. We walked the length of the street, and back again looking at front doors, gate posts, garden sheds and there was nothing like the decoration to be seen anywhere. We stopped outside one house to gather round the clue sheet, read the question for the hundredth time and look at the photo.

“Are you doing the mystery trail?” A head popped out of a bedroom window.

“Yes, we are stuck on one clue…”

“Perhaps I can help.”

The woman knew when she stuck her head out of her window that “perhaps” didn’t even cover it. She came through the front door, red faced, carrying the porcelain decoration.

“We painted the shed and never got around to putting the decoration back up,” she confessed.

Clues 11 and 12 eluded us. No doubt we were at the wrong park this time, looking at the wrong information board. There was no mention of flowers, and nothing apart from fouling dogs was banned from the park. We took a guess – flowers and trees? Does Ivy qualify as a flower? Willow is certainly a tree! So we confidently eliminated Ivy Willow from our enquiries.

Next clue had something to do with banks on either side of the main road. We were keeping an eye out for banks – specifically a hole in wall to get some money to pay for tea and cakes. Then we spotted the banks “Ivy Bank House Hotel” and “Willow Bank Guesthouse”.

Another clue told us to look for initials on a “regal” building. Could it be the Royal Bank of Scotland or The Royal Fish Shop? The Royal British Legion wasn’t close enough to the traffic lights to meet the requirements of the clue. None of them had the required initials.

We had been walking around for about four hours up to this point. Admittedly we were walking slowly and we had had a tea and cake stop, but even so, the most enthusiastic among us were beginning to feel frustrated. Ivy Willow being dismissed as a suspect too early on in our investigation undermined our confidence. Mistakes in our reasoning were cropping up. Another photo, quickly found, two initials, F and O, we can eliminate Forbes O’Neil from our suspect list – Oh…we already did…back at the park! We were running out of time and stamina.

All of a sudden I didn’t really care how many identical crowns there were in the Grant Family Crest and was disinclined to walk to the “end of the road down to a small grassy park” to find a fountain. I had had enough.

Then a real life mystery grabbed our attention – the case of the missing car keys. I could have sworn they were in my jacket pocket. We retraced our steps to the coffee house where I had taken the jacket off. No keys had been handed in. We tried the bank where I had withdrawn the money for tea and cakes. No keys had been handed in. I’d sat down on the grass at the park where Ivy Willow had been wrongly eliminated from our enquiries.

I went back to the car, while Joe and the girls resumed the hunt for the killer. I wasn’t quite sure how I could get to my car keys if, as I believed, I’d locked them in the boot. As it was, there they were, dangling enticingly from the lock of the car boot. I thanked God for the honesty of the people who lived in the town, that they hadn’t stolen the car…but then thanked God that the car was of such age and condition that no one in their right mind would steal it!

Joe told me later that he and the girls had prayed that the car keys would be found – and they were.

The trail had delivered some of the promised goods – we had fun (most of the time), we were outdoors (nearly all of the time) and we were very active (some of the time). The car keys might have been found, but sadly our killer and his or her weapon wasn’t. One would hope that it’s not a serial killer we are dealing with.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Showing Off Your Onions

I went to the Black Isle Show today. Agricultural shows and I go back a long way. I seem to remember a school trip to the Royal Agricultural show at Stoneleigh. Collecting as many badges as you could from all the stands seemed to be the main challenge. What sticks is my mind is stepping down from a little electric bus that toured the grounds. I am not sure whether it was supposed to stop, or you just jumped off when you reached your destination. What ever the case was, it wasn’t going very fast. I just didn’t quite make the required adjustment between moving and not moving and fell tip over tail. I am just glad that I was wearing clean underwear!

The Black Isle Show is not so big and there are no little electric busses. I did the usual tour of the “Taste of Scotland” tent. I drank my fair share of tiny plastic cups of whisky and wine (licks lips). I ate (and spat out!) small cubes of cheese on cocktail sticks. I sampled slices of grilled sausage (Mmmm!).

After a quick tour of the animals on show, dodging poo and rain showers in equal measure, I headed for the Flower Show. I have no skill at flower arranging, nor do I wish to have. I wondered for a moment whether the competitors were required to actually grow the flowers they arranged. It was the vegetables that I was itching to see. I give careful attention to the vegetables in honour of my step-father who had an allotment. He used to enter his vegetables at the local village show. I can picture him now washing and drying, wiping and polishing, four onions, perfectly matched in colour and shape. He was a man who knew his onions…and his carrots…and his beetroot. Did we win? If we did we never got given rosettes.

So, there I was, honouring my step-father, paying careful attention to every display. There wasn’t a vegetable in sight that wouldn’t have been out of place on a plate next to roast beef and Yorkshires. My only criticism was that they were just too clean. I like my carrots with a little bit of dirt on them!

Into the home straight and we were faced with fruit. You know, I have forgotten what gooseberries look like? If no one had been around I would have tipped the contents of the plates into my open bag, gone home and made a gooseberry something or other!

How do you choose between almost identical looking fruit and veg? Can someone please tell me how there can be three almost identical paper plates with sixteen raspberries artistically arranged on each of them - one plate has a first place rosette, another has a second place rosette and the final plate has a third plate rosette. OK I can see that on one of the plates, the third placed plate, the raspberries are just a tad smaller – but the other two plates are the same. One set of raspberries was arranged in lines on the plate reminiscent of a legion of Roman soldiers while the other plate had their raspberries in a circle – but size, shape and colour were all much of a much-ness.

Maybe, I thought, there were more than sixteen raspberries to begin with and each judge was allowed to eat one. Maybe it wasn’t so much the look of the berries that won the prize, but the taste.

Maybe in our visual, appearance obsessed culture we need to take a leaf out of the fruit and vegetable show judges.

Taste is what counts.

“Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him” Psalm 34:8

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

God's Agents For Change

Our church has its thumbs into many different community pies bringing support, prayer and insight into the lives of all kinds of people.

On Wednesday mornings we are involved in a ministry called Catalyst. It’s all about being God’s agents to bring about change in some degree or another.

Being on a Wednesday, it’s only during the holidays that I am able to go. For the most part, the times that I have gone have been pretty much an opportunity to meet with other Christians and exchange information and encourage one another. I have made new friends but not really had the chance to minister to anyone – not the yet-to-be-saved. My main reason for popping in this morning was to see if my friend Kathryn was there. The first time we had met, a years or two ago, we connected, talking about our faith, our challenges and our poetry. I hadn’t seen her for a few months and hoped to find her there.

The place was empty but for a couple of people I didn’t know. They were deep in conversation with an open Bible on the table. After the introductions were made we began making connections. One of the people knew me from a few prayer meetings we had both attended. The other person knew my friend Mark and both of them knew Kathryn who was a Street Pastor.

I thought I would give it the time it took to drink my coffee and if Kathryn hadn’t arrived by then I would do some shopping and go home. I may have the appearance of being quite the extrovert but I find new people very intimidating to get to know. I was not part of the “team” and not particularly confident that I had any contribution to give. These people were trained experts to my mind.

A lady walked in. She had carefully read all the posters and notices in the window. This was not just any other coffee shop – not on a Wednesday morning. She came in with the knowledge that people were going to talk to her – perhaps even ask gentle probing questions. She came in with the intention of finding answers.

She joined the two of them on the sofa. I wasn’t any great distance away, but they were talking quietly and my hearing is not so good. I made myself useful by praying quietly – that the woman would feel she was in a safe enough environment to share her heart, and that the couple listening would have God’s wisdom to bring insight and answers.

I was waved over to join with them in prayer. I had heard snatches of the conversation, but not really enough to feel I knew what to pray for so I stayed silent. I heard snatches of the prayers said, but not really enough to understand what the issues were.

How do I explain what happened next? Did I feel sea spray on my face? Were there rocking waves beneath my feet? I just knew that this woman was going through a storm – a bad storm. Whatever strength she thought she had to deal with her trials, it was gone and her ship was about to break apart. Then I pictured Jesus standing and spreading out his arms and rebuking the wind and the waves. There was not gradual stillness, but an instant calm and an immediate peace. So that is what I prayed – the whole scene from storm to stillness.

I don’t know who was most encouraged – the lady I prayed for, the two others on the sofa – or me. I had entered the coffee shop thinking that I had nothing to contribute but God had a different view.

I can’t wait for next Wednesday!

Monday, August 02, 2010

“It’s not poetry!”

I was reading I Corinthians 13 today.

The words are so familiar to me now. Not quite learned by heart, but almost. But as with everything in life, there is always a first time of reading them. My first time was at my mum’s wedding to her second husband. I stood at the front of the small Roman Catholic chapel in the small village of Yelvertoft to do one of the readings. I guess that you can’t help but get caught up in the poetry of the words – and a wedding is such an appropriate time for reading them.

The second time I remember reading the passage was as a part of an English Speaking exam. I had stayed on a school. I was doing just the one “A”level, not yet having discovered an aptitude for learning, so the rest of the timetable was filled with other things. Drama was in there somewhere. It wasn’t a “real” subject in those days, but there were certificates about and this particular one required giving a talk (on volcanoes), reading from a book (the opening chapters of Eric Von Daniken’s “Chariots of the Gods”) and reading a passage from the Bible.

So this morning, I came to read I Corinthians 13. I tend to prefer to read things out aloud, and, there I was, in my imagination, in front of the English Speaking Board examiner, projecting the voice, injecting the right inflection and emotion. Had she been there for real I would have passed.

I got the impression somehow that God wasn’t impressed!

“It’s not poetry!”

Well, we all know that it is poetry. Whatever the original Greek words were, the English translators did a very good job with their word choices and their sentence structure. It is poetry.

For Paul it wasn’t poetry. He had written much in his letter up to this point dealing with issues. His constant criticism was their lack of love towards each other. They were divisive. They were selfish. They were competitive. They were proud. They were, as he says in his opening verses, sanctified and called to be holy, but they were missing the target where love was concerned. Everything that Jesus had been while he had lived on earth was everything that they were not demonstrating in the way they treated each other.

He was lifting love up before their eyes and saying “This is love – this is what we are aiming for.”

Fine sounding words, great acts of faith, noble deeds were all empty of meaning if they did not have love at their centre.

I Corinthians 13 isn’t just for weddings and newly married couples. It isn’t just for inside church walls or for our dealings with other Christians. It’s for us in the supermarket and the queue at the checkout counter. It’s for us on the bus and the person that sits next to us. It’s for us in the car when road works snarl up the traffic, and cyclists go through red lights. It’s for us in the car park when the car is dented and there’s no message left under the windscreen. It’s for us at work when the boss hisses and spits. It’s for us when the neighbour’s party goes on long into the early hours.

As hard as it is for us to get our heads around it - 1 Corinthians 13 isn’t poetry. It is a challenge and a gauntlet thrown down. “This is love – this is what we are aiming for.”