Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Street Preachers

I have to admit that I’m not really one that stops to listen to someone preaching in the streets. I will stop and listen to a busker with a guitar belting out a tune. I will stop a watch one of those ‘live’ statues dressed in gold that just shist an arm or leg, or tilt their head in another direction every so often. But street preachers? The don’t tend to catch my attention in the same way. And yet Paul, and Jesus, did it all the time.

Last week sometime, I woke up from a dream where I had been preaching in the streets of Inverness. I think it might have been in one of the wee satellite communities like Smithton. I say that because I recognised one of the people. It was preaching. It wasn’t fire and brimstone and there was no altar call.  I don’t seem to remember a microphone.

The sermon was one I have actually preached decades ago on the subject of turning the other cheek.  In my dream there were Bible verses written on bits of paper. There was audience participation. It was lively and I was in the zone and I gave no one the opportunity to fall asleep. It all came to an end with the arrival of a bus. You know how it is in dreams. It all makes perfect sense until you wake up.

2 Timothy 4:2 ‘Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.’

Years ago, I remember a speaker in the Plymouth Brethren Church I was attending at the time. He had been invited to preach, but I don’t think he had been ‘vetted’. He was a Bible scholar, but not of the same mould. Week in week out, no matter how obscure the Bible passage, there was a gospel message in there somewhere. There was always an altar call regardless of the fact that, as far was we were aware, there were no unsaved people in the meeting. This man, this speaker not of the same mould, told us that church really wasn’t somewhere you brought the unsaved to, that they might hear the gospel message, but a place where you equipped the already-saved to go out and share the gospel with people outside.

It is neither one nor the other, BUT, it is easy sometimes to fall into the trap that it’s someone else’s job – the preacher’s job to present the gospel when it’s all of our jobs to do that.

So back to the dream. I woke with a question. Is that what you want me to do, Lord? Get on bus, go somewhere and preach a sermon? I was already rehearsing my ‘Turn The Other Cheek’ sermon from decades ago. Is this something I need to talk to the pastor about?

The answer wasn’t a resounding ‘No’. It wasn’t an affirming ‘Yes’ either. God simply said, ‘When you are out there on the streets simply talk about Me. Talk about how you encounter Me throughout the day, what we talk about ad what we do together. And then tell them how you got to be where you are in your journey with Me, where it began and how it has moved on. I’ll tell you if a sermon fits or not.’

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Playing With Clay

The last time I created anything in clay was way back some forty years or so as part of my teacher training course. I made a cylindrical vase. It turned out there was a leak somewhere. My mother adopted it and it held her knitting needles. I have inherited both the vase and the knitting needles. The presence of the needles pushed me into rediscovering knitting when I retired. It was only at the weekend that I returned to the clay.

                As I have grown older, I have grown less at home with doing messy things. Maybe that’s why I’m such a bad gardener. You can’t play with clay and not get messy. It encourages a person to let go and have fun. Pinnies are a must have.

                We sat around a table, a group of ladies letting go and having fun. Everything was there that we needed to be creative. The clay at first was cold and not inclined to play. Clay doesn’t want to be held and warmed, softened and shaped. Telling the clay who was boss was our first task.  In the Bible it tells us that we are clay and God is the potter. How many times does God have to remind us that He is the boss?

                Once the clay had got the message, we made a small man, fashioning arms and legs and a head. When God created people, He never spoke them into being like the rest of creation. He formed them from the dust of the earth and breathed upon them. As He formed them, I think He must have anticipated the fellowship He would have with them. I felt proud of my little man. He might not make it through the fire though. I think that we are less fragile than we suppose ourselves to be- and we have our fourth man in the flames with us.

                The next task was to make a vase. The circular base was easy enough to roll out and cut. The wall around it was a bit more challenging. We had ferns and grasses, flowers and thistles to press into the clay and there were plenty of tools to make patterns and write scripture verses. I was plagued with air bubbles. Roughing up the edges of the clay to fit them together reminded me of how people sometimes fit better if they are a little roughed up. Smooth doesn’t always do the job.

                In the concentration of creating things in clay, I was aware of friendships being smoothed and shaped too. We knew each other as friends and church family but we learned more about each other in the doing of something. We were quick to praise and encourage each other as we worked. As ever, it amazed me. Give people to same ingredients to work with and what they produce will be individual and imaginative. God loves variety.

                The final task was a thumb vase. It was something easier than rolling and cutting out, roughing up and fixing together. I am sure that almost every household has a thumb vase made by a child in school. They have pride of place on a mantelpiece or on a desk. There is so much of me that God is still in the process of making. God treasures what He has created.

                The morning was soon over. The things we wanted to keep were placed on boards in plastic crates to dry out. There will be a chance to paint and fire what we have made another day.

                I sometimes think that doing something creative, whether it is painting a picture, knitting a sock, writing a poem, growing a garden or making a vase is a powerful way to connect with our Creator.

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

The Far Side of tge Wilderness

here am I
at the far side
of the wilderness
in a place where
I’m not called to be
falling short of
what God intends

I choose not to hear
the cries of the captives
I’m called to liberate but
He hears

I will not revisit
a previous passion or
dreams drowned in disappointment but
He remembers

I am blind to
miracles and close my eyes
to the possibilities of promises kept but
He sees

I define myself
in shades of setter not sojourner
counting myself discarded but
He knows

here am I
at the far side
of the wilderness
a bush burns
a voice calls
I know where I should be and
I say, “Here I am.”

Saturday, June 19, 2021

It Really Is Well With My Soul

It really wasn’t a day for sitting on the patio. There was no blue sky or bright sunshine. No sense of a warm sun toasting skin a golden brown. It was raining. Not the heavy stuff. Gentle, soft stiff but rain nonetheless. My friend was drinking coffee and I had just clambered out of a taxi.

‘I see you’ve not got your driving licence back then?’ It’s a sore subject. I am falling into a hole with an inch or two of self-pity at the bottom.

We pretended it wasn’t raining and chatted for a while.

Earlier that morning I had been walking the local streets praying and sharing faith. We were upfront about it, no disguise. Christians talking about God, one of us a church pastor. We were asking two questions. One was about lockdown and whether we had come out of it intact, and whether we felt cared for by the community around us. The second question was a direct, ‘Do you believe in God?’ It was raining then too, and people were just wanting to get somewhere dry – the fish weren’t biting.

Even earlier than that, very early, I had been singing a hymn while doing last night’s washing up. But as I got to the ‘It is well, it is well with my soul’ I was poking around in my soul wondering if it was indeed well. Lockdown had frayed my edges somewhat, but I was mostly fine.

I didn’t ask my friend across the table if it was well with her soul. It wasn’t. She had weathered the first lockdown well, but the second one, the one that covered the dark winter months has scuppered her soul. She was signed off work. Her job was not a difficult one, but she just couldn’t face it. She is a formidable lady who faces into the wind and stays standing, usually, but not this time.

It’s the long drawn out nature of the lockdown that unravels us.

 I had come across a poem by Howard Thurman. We all know who Martin Luther King Jr is. Thurman was a mentor to him, someone who had met and talked with Mahatma Gandhi, someone who thought of non-violent protest as a way to change the world for the better.

He had a concern, though. He worried that in the long drawn out nature of campaigning for racial equality and being on the receiving end of vicious maltreatment, that the protestors would become hardened in their hearts. Yes, they might react non-violently on the outside, but on the inside, in their thoughts and emotions there might be a different narrative going on. He wrote a poem, ‘Open Unto Me’.

I wrote my own version picking out some of his phrases.

Open unto me

Open unto me a light to guide my way
Open unto me courage for the day
Open unto me the hope that will not fade
Open unto me a peace that’s heaven-made
Open unto me the joy that flows so deep
Open unto me your strength my course to keep
Open unto me the wisdom I should know
Open unto me forgiveness wide to show
Open unto me a soft and tender heart
Open unto me each day a brand-new start

Inspired by Howard Thurman (1899-1981)

How do we, when we come under such sustained pressure, come out of it singing, ‘It is well, it is well with my soul’? We must not pretend it is well with our soul when it’s not.

I was reading this today:-

‘Since God chose you to be the holy people He loves, you must clothe yourselves with tender-hearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.’ (Colossians 3:12 NLT)

‘Clothe yourself’ is something we do for ourselves. It doesn’t have a fairy godmother’s wave of a magic wand. We have to do it. I’m not sure whether someone can do it without the help of God.  My husband has got to that stage in life when he needs help getting his jacket on. And I think that we need to show ‘tender-hearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience’ to ourselves as much as to other people.

My friend and I, still chatting in the rain, seated at her patio table, moved on to talk about other things – her son is getting married soon and the hunt for the right ‘mother of the groom’ dress has begun.