Sunday, July 23, 2017

Friday Fishing

We are a small church.  We don’t have a ministry team that adds up to hundreds, or a whole host of projects and programmes for all aspects of life spiritual or not. We meet to pray once a week and on Friday we fish.

“Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20

On Fridays a group of us head out to the streets of Inverness and other towns nearby. The offer is there to pray with people, sometimes for healing, sometimes for a blessing and often sharing a gospel message or a testimony.

I am not good at fishing. The times when the enemy would whisper in my ear about being a waste of space because I rarely initiate conversations, I tell him that someone needs to be praying. OK it sounds like a cop out, and it often is, but I figure if I hang around with the evangelists long enough something will rub off.

Last time out I prayed a curious prayer. Rather than me approaching the fish with the offer to pray, I asked God that the fish could come to me. The day progressed very much the way it usually did and no fish swam over.

This Friday was different. The fish headed my way. I had made a date with a friend to meet for coffee and cake in town. It had been his birthday. He had been down to Edinburgh to spend the day with family.

“What did you get for your birthday?” I asked.

“Nothing,”

There gets to be a time in everyone’s life when birthdays get overlooked. It might not be appropriate to take over an indoor playpark, send out invitations to friends, eat jelly and cake and take a bag of stuff home when you are into your fifties, but I felt there should be some acknowledgment of the date. I bought a card, and a hat from a second hand shop – he collects hats.

I’d forgotten the time we planned to meet so I turned up early at the rendezvous place. Another friend was there waiting by a bus stop. We talked. She said she had a sore back, so I offered to pray for healing. I didn’t ask her to bend over or twist this way or that, or anything. I just presumed the prayer was answered. She told me about the church on Academy Street that had a coffee and cake afternoon every Friday and I might find my friend there.

These people that I know, I know from volunteering at a Sunday soup and sandwich project. They are the people who have fallen through the cracks. Most of them live one step up from homelessness. They are bounced around between social workers, doctors, the police and court system. They swap stories of who is in prison and who has just come out. There are occasional fights, mostly verbal, but for the most part it’s a nice way to spend a Sunday evening.

We found each other, my friend and I. and sat in the Sunset CafĂ©, which wasn’t quite open for business but Marcin made us coffee as he set out the chairs and tables.

“No one will help me,” was a phrase that cropped up often in the conversation.

Someone once had a picture in a church meeting of little boats tied up to big boats in a storm. He said the big boats, because they are big are steady and less likely to be battered by the wind.  Maybe because they are big boats they have a stronger anchor. The little boats are more vulnerable so they tie up to big boat to weather the storm. There are people, he said, who have a strong Christian faith. They don’t sink in storms. Other people, perhaps lacking any faith at all, tie up to them. They recognise a steadiness in their lives, maybe not making the God connection that’s there.

I thought about that and felt the tying up process of his boat to mine. I wasn’t sure if I could help, or whether I actually wanted to help, but in the end I realised that God was answering my fish prayer. I could help if I chose to. I made notes - I’m a note maker – it helps me to target my prayers. I don’t know if my friend has ever had the kind of conversation we had before. He talked about his loneliness, about being bullied, about sometimes having money and sometimes not. He scorned the money the council spends on silly stuff when it could be doing something to help people who have fallen through the cracks.. There was no clock watching, no sense of how-soon-can-I-leave. I made no offer to pray, but I was praying all the time. He’s heard a gospel message before from me, and from others. I took all the burdens he chose to give me and later that day I gave them all to Jesus.

I left, heading back to the car, carrying the weight of all of his sorrows. I passed the church on Academy Street. They were opening their doors for coffee and cake and, yes, another friend I knew, another Sunday soup and sandwich man was waiting outside. I didn’t need coffee or cake but I went in to sit with him. Another small boat, tying up. He’s not a man that talks much.  I’m not a woman that talks much either so we sat in comfortable silence.

Another small boat tied up, not a familiar face although he claimed an acquaintance. He had been to the Sunday soup and sandwich once and not enjoyed the experience. Perhaps the soup was not up to scratch, or perhaps he didn’t like the “religious bit” or perhaps it was the other people around the table. It might have been one of those fight nights. My quiet friend assured him that lately it had been quiet, no fights, just good food. The unfamiliar face talked about moving to another town. There was an offer of a house with a garden. Did I think it was a good idea? My quiet friend said there was an empty flat near him. A flat, not a house, no garden. It was OK there. The unfamiliar face looked at his watch, said he needed to go. He lived in supervised accommodation and his time limit out was expiring. He’d see me on Sunday night.

More people filtered into the church hall. Some I knew. Most I didn’t. Some like small boats, tied up. They ate their way through plates of cakes and had endless coffee and tea refills. I sat and chatted.

God and I had words when I got home. Prayer – if prayer is someone launching an angry tirade at an omnipotent God and demanding He wade in and make a difference – I prayed. I poured out all the burdens I had collected off people onto his lap – that place where I normally sat. I wasn’t sitting there but pacing the throne room.

I'd picked up a book from a second hand bookshop. I thought it was a poetry book but it was a book of prayers written by inmates in a prison.

“Sometimes, dear Jesus, we wish everything was cleaner and not so dirty.
Sometimes we wish we was real strong when people bug us.
Sometimes we wish we was brave when we is scared of the big kids.
Sometimes we wish we had a bigger house.
Sometimes we wish You were around here more often, Jesus”


Wednesday, July 19, 2017

God's Poetry

God writes his poem not with pen in hand
His ink is nature drawn across the land
His words are there to read in light and shade
In stillness of a wood, a quiet glade
He whispers on the breeze through tree tops high
In leafy summer boughs that shift and sigh
He spells out moss in myriad shades of green
And sings His rhymes through every bird that’s seen
He shapes His letters, paints them with the sun
And crimson brushstrokes as the day is done
Each facet of creation is aware
In every heartbeat, every breath – He’s there

Saturday, July 15, 2017

A Friend Is…

I don’t like bacon flavoured crisps because they repeat on me - the taste of them comes up again into my mouth long after the crisp packet has been consigned to the bin. I am finding the same thing with athe taste of it comes up again into your mouth: poem I read a couple of weeks ago. It has lodged somewhere in my thoughts and keeps coming back to mind.

Since joining with the writers at Pol-Uk I have been hunting down Polish poets and writers.

a friend is someone who comes round to
your house with a stack of books
and cares for nothing least of all
themselves when you ask after their health

a friend is someone who at some undefined
hour comes round your house
and does not leave you with a stack of five or
six books but gracefully
recounts where they've been and by whose grave
they first learnt the truth about themselves

by Eugeniusz Tkaczyszyn-Dycki

If a definition of friendship rested on who came around to visit, either at some arranged hour or an undefined one then I would have to say that I have very few, if any, friends. I am not a “visited” person.  It could be down to people never finding me in when they have come on the off chance.  However, I could claim a friendship with people if it was down to popping round on the off chance.

If a definition of friendship rested on bringing stuff with you – a pile of books for example, then again seeing as I don’t have people coming around in the first place, much less bringing a pile of books with them, I would have to say I have few, if any friends. My husband is of the firm conviction that if we visit people we should take something with us, a packet of biscuits rather than a pile of books.

It has really been the second verse that has done the repeating. I’m not really that good at analysing poetry and looking beneath the metaphors and images to dig out truth, but the line about gracefully recounting “where they’ve been” has hit a chord. It can be an easy option to bring the books and shrug off the question, “And how’s life?” by a casual reply, “I’m fine.” We leave their home with the taste of tea and biscuits in our mouth but nothing much has changed – we have not given anything significant away in terms of where we’ve been, and we’ve not taken with us anything from the other person about where they have been.

It occurred to me a couple of weeks ago that I am perhaps more of the bringing-the-books person than I am of the recounting-where-I-have-been person. I guard my privacy tightly and I dole out “myself” with a lack of generosity. If I am a stranger to too many people, it is my own fault not theirs. Perhaps the lack of people popping in is in direct correlation to that lack of generosity in giving myself to others.

I was challenged to do something about it. A young man sat down next to me at church the other week. It was the usual “And how’s life?” opening. I chose not to go with the response “I’m fine” and talked about some of the challenges I was facing and the need to make wise and loving decisions rather easy ones. We talked at length, him giving me his perspective on things, listening to my concerns, re-thinking his response in the light of them and so the conversation went on. I don’t think he was expecting something other than “I’m fine”. When it came to me asking the question of him “And how’s life?” he would not have chosen the “I’m fine” line anyway. He talked about his plans for college and balancing that with a job and looking after his family. 

It was a conversation without a book exchange, but an exchange of life, truth and experience. 

It was a good conversation. 




Thursday, July 13, 2017

Anagach Wood

forest green, quiet scene
pines straight, majestic, great
bark grey, peeled away
ferns tall, flowers small
air still, bird song fill
breeze stirs, kiss confers
time slows, peace grows
heart at rest, soul blessed


Tuesday, July 11, 2017

One Thousand Dulux Shades of Life

Christian poetry has within it an almost default setting where people tilt their heads away from this world with all of its injustice. The goodness of God is not up for debate and we choose not to look too closely at our damaged world.  Melanie Kerr opens her second collection with poems to prick our sense of what’s fair and make us say “Ouch!”

The world can often be a hostile place but Melanie reminds us that God is faithful. Inspired by the great hymn “Great is Thy Faithfulness” she draws out delightful truths about God and His stepping of Hs throne, putting on our dust and choosing to enter into His creation.

Honest poems, beautifully written reflect a heart that is fascinated with God. Never keeping us at arms-length He invites us to draw near.

Saturday, July 08, 2017

Prophetic Pictures

Our midweek prayer meeting is never dull. It’s never about praying through our own shopping list of concerns but about seeking what’s on God’s heart – the two are not mutually exclusive. There’s time for worship, for speaking in tongues, for listening and for sharing our thoughts with others.  I can sometimes find it difficult to be sure whether what I hear is my own inner voice or His. I don’t think I’m alone in that. Very often I will share and allow others to tell me if there is truth in my words or not. There’s always paper and pens for the more artistic of us and here are a selection of pictures I have drawn, not always then, but later.

Stirring up the heart

One summer I worked with Mission Ablaze in Durban in South Africa.  We spent a lot of time with one orphanage in one of the black townships. One rather unpleasant job was clearing out the cistern and replacing the toilets in the block. The council were quite happy to bring a tanker and suck out all the contents but we had to be sure that the sewage would flow easily. There is always a reason why certain things don’t get tossed down the toilet bowl. Someone had to “go down there” and pull out things that shouldn’t have gone down there in the first place, and stir up the rest with a stick so it moved easily. I didn’t volunteer for the job. God must have a very special crown for the people who did!

I had that memory in mind when I drew the picture. I thought about the need to stir the heart. Perhaps there is too much junk deposited there that the spiritual heart beat slows and the oxygen of God’s power in our lives doesn’t flow so easily through our lives. We have become a little sluggish in our faith walk. Perhaps too little excites us or we've lost the ability to embrace new challenges and all the resources that come with it.

We need to stir our hearts by overhauling our quiet times.

Growing out of our skin

Our church has recently moved venues.  We don’t own our own building and hire rooms in other buildings. When I first joined the Journey we met in music venue in the city. There was plenty of space, but the rent was more than we could easily afford. Big bands played on the Saturday night and very little was done to make the venue suitable for a church meeting on a Sunday morning. Too much time was spent clearing up and setting up afterwards, and paying through the nose to do so.

We accepted the invitation to use another church's building in the afternoon. There were time constraints. We never had enough time to hang around and drink coffee and chat afterwards. There was no time for individual ministry time. We are an outreaching church inviting new and soon-to-be believers and the time to be really welcoming was not there.

So we have moved again. Closer to the town centre, with none of the time or rent constraints. We saw the need to grow and not just number-wise.

Snakes outgrow their skins and shed them. The snake is still the same snake.  It hasn’t become something other than a snake. The old skin is just too small for it.

We wanted to outgrow the old ways of being and doing church – not becoming something that isn’t. Without the time constraints we can embrace more freedom, take time for fellowship before and after the meeting. We have the opportunity to try new things and breathe a little.

Not about to crack

This was a word of encouragement for a friend at the meeting. We all have our own pressures to deal with and our own reservoir of resources to meet the need. There are times when the pressures accumulate. It is one thing piled upon another, piled upon of pile of other things. There is no time to right the boat before the next wave hits. Under the heat of the hard times, the river seems to have dried up and we are struggling with life.

Am I one of the lucky ones? A friend and I on a car journey yesterday were exchanging life stories. It seemed as if we began the race at very different positions along the track. Even before birth we are saddled with a genetic code that writes a narrative before our story begins.

People crack. We can only put up with so much pressure before fractures appear.

I have heard about birds banging snails against a stone. Perhaps it’s sea birds banging mussels to get to the flesh inside. It can’t be a very secure time for anyone feeling knocked about by life, feeling the fractures and fearing the cave-in. It is perhaps more so when you area a person of faith. You think you should be able to endure it all, smiling, praising God and sharing powerful testimonies. It doesn’t work out that way in real like.

I had the picture of the shell of the snail being so hard that it would not break. When God is our refuge and our strong tower there is little harm the enemy can do to us.

When I'm at cracking point – and I do – I run, or crawl into God’s presence. He can hold all the broken bits in His palm without losing any of them.  Who better than the One who created me in the first place to know how the things in me best fit together?

Sunday, July 02, 2017

Lessons from the Street League

It was Friday evening. It was a little bit damp and drizzly. And it was not warm – perhaps not cold enough for a hat, scarf and gloves and thick fleece – but cold enough to stamp ones feet and turn ones back against the wind. It was the final football match of the season.

Months back there had been a request, a plea perhaps, from a young person that I go out and support their team in the Inverness street league. They play football on the pitches at the back of the house. My car had been spotted in the community carpark so he knew I lived nearby but not specifically which house. I agreed to go. They were the boys in the blue and white stripes. I actually knew many of the boys on both teams. They didn’t win that game and, sadly, no one expected them to. Another young friend, pulling up beside me on his bike, informed me that they were the worst team in the league and there were better teams I could support – his own team, for instance. But the
first boy to ask got my support.

The days they played, Mondays and Thursdays, were not the best days for me. I could usually only commit myself to a first half before heading off on the Monday to a creative writing group and on the Thursday the church prayer meeting,

I usually stood on the wrong side of the field, the opposition side, not because the other side was too far a walk to commit myself to, but because at that time in the evening the sun was quite low in the sky and shining on me, hindering my view. I shrugged my shoulders apologetically when my team scored a goal and I cheered and the parents, girl groupies and other parties interested in the fortunes off the opposition frowned at me.

There are a couple of outstanding moments in my supporter first-halves. One of my lads, with a free kick from way back, kicked a magnificent shot that spun high and over the defence, over the stretching goalie and landed in the net. It was a shot worthy of any professional player in the premier league. I told him so later when I saw him next and he smiled. Another shot, there was another boy, a corner kick this time, perhaps just intending to make a good cross. The ball soared and curved and slipped into the net in a really tight angle. I was the nearest supporter. He was delighted and our palms met in a high five!

Becoming the pro-supporter that I was I came to know the offside rule well. I used the jargon like an expert and was able to converse intelligently about the highlights of a game. I shouted the usual “blind ref” comments from the opposition side of the field and nobly applauded the opposition goals if they were good ones.

We were becoming difficult to beat and working our way up the league. I had tried, unsuccessfully, to find a web site that had the current results and league positions. One of my boys told me they were third. This was a week or two ago.

“But you are usually at the bottom!” I blurted.

“I know. Last year we were really bad.” He replied.

“What has changed? What has made the difference this season?” It would have been nice to hear that my support was making the difference, but it wasn’t a realistic explanation of their improved performance.

“We are taking it seriously,” he said, “We train hard and we don’t mess around anymore.”

The last match of the season we didn’t win. The opposition were better and my boys were outclassed. Our goalie was superb. There might have been seven goals that got by him but the tally could have been much higher than that. Yellow cards were being thrown at my boys like confetti. The opposition had got themselves a penalty (for what I considered to be a very mild and harmless challenge). Another goal to add to their tally they thought, but our goalie was magnificent and punched the ball away.

I can think of a whole host of things where “taking it seriously, “training hard” and not “messing around anymore” could make the difference between lingering at the bottom of somewhere or climbing to near the top.

Churches and Christians take note!