Sunday, September 25, 2005

What does God see in me?

Despite not needing to be at church early today, I still managed to wake up early and after a few minutes of trying to induce myself to fall back to sleep, I decided to get up and have my usual Sunday morning soak in the word. I had read about a paragraph before the Holy Spirit pulled me up, for just not preparing my heart properly! This wasn't some page-turning novel that I had just picked up, but something that was life changing and I needed to be alert and responsive! So I prayed and then went back to reading.

Song of Songs was probably one of the most disputed books of the bible when it came to establishing which books made it into the Bible and which didn't. It doesn't mention God, but it does mention intimacy between a young man and a young woman. I am sure that Christian marriage counsellors can dig deep in the book and come up with a millions things that as Christian couples we need to be doing to make our relationship with our spouse deep and fulfilling.

What really struck me though was the picture it painted of the intimacy that God wants with his people. How many times does the man simply describe the woman? I counted at least three times. The man just reels off a list of her virtues - her eyes, her hair, he neck, her throat, he just works his way down her body! Think of the things he doesn't say. He doesn't say that her grey roots are showing and she needs to visit the hairdresser. He doesn't say that she has bags under her eyes, or a maze of wrinkles, or hairs poking out of her chin. He doesn't say that she is overweight and sagging. If I had a husband that said that and nothing else to me, I would not be happy. Yet how many times when we are spending time in God's presence do we brace ourselves for the inevitable conviction about some aspect of our character or behaviour that we expect God to point out that in his strength we can overcome or deal with? If the man can say nice things about the woman, and this is a picture of God and his people, then surely we ought to be listening to nice things that God says about us!

We seem to be consumed with our faults - whether that is as the Body of Christ, world wide, or our local expression of it, or our own individual walk with Jesus - we seem to be forever nit picking. I am not saying that there are not areas where we cannot improve - we are not perfect, but there are areas where we get it right and we totally overlook them.

When I thought about that this morning, that I am not a miserable failure that gets it wrong time after time, but someone that actually succeeds and triumphs time after time - I have to admit that I cried!

When God spoke to Gideon, he called him a "strong warrior" or something similar. He didn't say, "Hey, Gideon, you pathetic coward, skulking around in a winepress cutting corn." God saw what Gideon had the potential to be and chose to focus on that, not what he was right now. God sees what we will become, not just what we are right now.

I think we all need to tune into God's positive description of us!

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Rats and hedgehogs

I was listening this morning to the radio. One of the items concerned one of the Western Isles, being over-run by rats. The rats were not lurking in the corners of people’s houses or anything. They were decimating the local bird population, by raiding nests and eating eggs. One particular species of bird was on the brink of extinction. Traps were being laid all over the place that even involved some people absailing down the sides of cliffs. No details were given of the kind of traps being set, but they didn’t sound rat-friendly.

Not so long ago, on another island, the same decimation of the bird population was taking place. This time the culprits were hedgehogs. They were committing exactly the same crime as the rats – eating the birds’ eggs and reducing certain species of birds to near extinction. Talk of “culling” the hedgehogs was enough to rouse the animal right campaigners out of their chairs. It is not as if they are a species that are endangered, but all of a sudden people were being called on to rescue the hedgehogs and have them packed off to the mainland where they could be re-homed.

I don’t see anyone crying out on behalf of the rats! What makes us fight for the hedgehogs, but ignore the rats? Neither species is close to extinction! I know that rats can carry disease, but hedgehogs probably carry their fair share of stuff, including fleas.

I collect hedgehogs – not real ones – fluffy ones, ceramic ones, glass ones – I have all sorts of hedgehogs. Birthday cards and Christmas cards that friends send are littered with hedgehogs! I like hedgehogs and I like the idea of rescuing them. I once encouraged a fourth year pupil to rescue a hedgehog that was being picked on by an ugly big seagull!

Why don’t I have the same passion for rats?

It speaks to me of the value that we assign things. Rats are not assigned value, hedgehogs are. You don’t protect things that have no value to you. You don’t fight for things that have no value to you.

God values people. He values ALL people. It is not just the good people He values, but the bad people too. It is not the rich people He values, but the poor ones too. It is not just the Christians he values, but the Muslims, the Hindus, the Sikhs and people of every philosophical stance you can come up with. God assigns equal value to people. He doesn’t have his favorites!

Until we see people the way that God sees them – as infinitely precious – and value them the way that He does, we will not fight for them the way that God intends us to!

Monday, September 19, 2005

Servants of the King

Remember that I was down for leading worship, knowing there were no musical instruments. A couple of years ago, I had had piano lessons for a short time. I wondered whether, with excessive practice, I might manage a tune or two. Yeah right! As if that was ever going to happen! In the end we just opted for singing. There was just the one tune that I pitched too low! It was not bad!

Another lady had been asked to bring the word, but she had not been well during the week, and meeting together on Friday, to plan strategy, we both decided that we would be more relaxed and laid back. The meeting would become a time of sharing, testimony and encouragement. That makes it sound as if all of our Sunday meetings are not like that – but they are.

God had said to me on Sunday morning, as I was preparing my heart, that we had a unique opportunity presented to us. There were no barriers and nothing to hide behind and we could explore for ourselves how we wanted to worship God that morning. We had a special kind of freedom that morning to make the time intimately personal and real and relevant – so we moved in that freedom and shared with one another.

People that are usually quiet took the opportunity to share situations and feelings they were facing. It was amazing how many of us were facing the same kinds of feelings.

The meeting highlighted two areas that I think I need to think about more closely. One was how I worry about silence. I suppose part of it is about how long silences should be. How long is a piece of string? When does silence become uncomfortable? I admit that I have a tendency to step in and fill a silence to prevent it becoming uncomfortable for me! Silence can be as long as it likes when I am alone – but with other people?

The answer to that question is my second area. I recognise that I don’t know people as well as I should. I don’t know people well enough because I don’t spend enough time with them! Outside of formal meetings, I don’t often just “pop over” to visit folk. I am not sure if I want to be in and out of other people’s homes all the time. I don’t think that I should know everything about everyone. I am challenged about how much time I spend in fellowship with folk. The more I know about the issues people are facing the more I am able to pray more effectively for them! Too often we wait for people to take the first step in sharing, or asking for help when we should be on the look out to “see” what help is needed and be swift to offer.

There is a story in the book of Jeremiah, when he is lowered in to a pit of mud because he keeps speaking God’s truth and the leaders don’t want to hear it. A man called Ebed-Melech, whose name means “the servant of the King”, has his ear to the ground, finds out about it and petitions the King to release Jeremiah. We are all servants of the King, with access to Him. How many of us have our ears to the ground, know about the needs of other people and petition the King to help them?

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Sing a joyful song!

When given a choice between leading worship or preaching a sermon, my inclination is to lead worship. Please don't get the wrong impression if I say that leading worship is easier. I spend time with God and listen to what he is saying and try to pick out songs that reflect that. I wouldn't class myself as a singer. I sing, but I am not trained in anyway and over the years I have been told that I have improved!

Preaching stretches me far more than leading worship. At the end of the day there are no song words or music to hide behind and everybody is listening and taking notes! I probably work harder to bring a word than I do to lead worship.

Given that - if I had a choice this week of what I would prefer - I would opt for preaching! In a small church we have a select number of musicians and next Sunday, all but the drummer are away for one reason or another. That kind of makes things quite challenging! Even with a keyboard player I don't always hit the right notes! Quite how things will go without one I really don't know!

Some twenty or so years ago I used to attend a Plymouth Brethren Church. The evening service included the use of a piano, but the morning meetings were music absent. There was a selection of a dozen or so tunes and each of the hymns in the book could be sung to at least one of them. There were moments when we sounded nice. I think there are also moments when the angels just joined in! There were other times when it was dire. Whoever started would begin at a nice cracking pace and then things would begin to slow down.

I googled "worship without music" just to see if anyone could give me any hints about how to handle Sunday. The first up was an article "Ten Ways to Worship Without Music - Building worship into your daily life." We all know, but tend to forget, that worship as in singing and music is just one facet of worship. To quote the article "Worship is the process of surrendering your entire life into God's hands. Everything you do can—and should—be an act of worship." Prayer is an act of worship, as is obedience to his word. Sharing your faith and serving others are also demonstrations of worship. This is nothing that I don't know already - doing it is another matter!

Another quote that is worth repeating - "Fellowship without the spirit of worship is just "hanging out." Discipleship without worship is nothing but a fruitless mental exercise. Ministry without worship is called "spinning your wheels." Evangelism without worship is a misplaced sales pitch. Worship isn't simply one area of your life; it is your life."

Excellent stuff, but not what I was looking for. What I was looking for was "How to lead worship when all the musicians, bar the drummer, are away!"

Another article focussed on the whole idea of having musical instruments in church as being unscriptural - sounds like my Plymouth Brethren Sunday mornings. Musical instruments may feature in the Old Testament but, according to this article, "Christ never authorised mechanical instruments of music in the New Testament to be used in worship of the church," and "It is a historical fact according to early church history, no mechanical instruments of music were ever used in church worship until about the year 670 A.D."

Spurgeon once said "Sing unto him. This is the sweetest and best music. No instrument like the human voice." Wesley's words on the matter - 'I have no objection to instruments of music in our worship, provided they are neither seen nor heard."

We do rely so very much on the music to set the mood and draw us into the presence of God. The times when we have deliberately set aside the instruments have been awkward and uncomfortable. When I think about the times at home when I break into song - and I often do - I don't pick up a musical instrument before I do so - I just sing. If I can do it at home on a Monday or a Wednesday, I should be able to do it at church on a Sunday! Right?

Maybe we will be joined by a few angels - keeping the time and the key for us!

Monday, September 12, 2005

Birthday Bhoys

It was Joe's birthday on Saturday, so it was treats all the way, including a weekend away in Glasgow, clutching our tickets to the football match between Celtic and Aberdeen.

Two dates cropped up in the programme. On September 10th 1960 - the day Joe was born - Celtic lost to Rangers 5-1 at home! I don't know whether Joe's dad was pacing up and down the corridor of the maternity ward at the time, or there at the match!

The other date was September 10th 1985 - the death of Jock Stein who at one time was the Celtic manager. Through his leadership Celtic brought home the European Cup. They were the first British football club to do so. He died of a heart attack.

Just before the beginning of the game, there was a memorial to him. Some of the players from his era walked onto the pitch. Rather than have a minute's silence to honour Jock Stein, they had opted for a minute of cheering. With a silence, you always get a few people ignoring the silence and demonstrating disrespect - and it is noticeable. It was very atmospheric - people waving scarves and cheering. It was very uplifting and fitted the mood well. It was a really wise move!

The game itself was good. Although we were way up with the birds in the rafters of the stadium, we had a view of the one of the goals. There was a pillar in the way that restricted some of the viewing.

I am never quite sure if I like going to football matches. I miss the commentary you get if you watch the match on TV, or listen on the radio. Being so far up, the game is a like a step up from watching ant milling around below. Even with my new glasses and their vari-focal lenses I had a hard time identifying players. I kept having to ask Joe questions about who had done what.

I relied heavily on the commentary of the surrounding supporters. I had to filter out the expletives that came thick and fast when Alan Thompson or John Hartson, in particular missed an important pass.

I was very impressed with the Aberdeen supporters - the small corner of red jerseys in one corner of the stadium. They made a lot of noise and looked as if they were enjoying themselves, even though they eventually lost.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Jesus your'e my superhero

The kids in our church, and many of the adults, are bouncing around to a song about super heroes - "Jesus You’re my Superhero…" It has a catchy tune, and enthusiastic actions.

I was watching a programme a few nights ago about the ultimate top twenty super heroes. They basically fall into two categories. There are the ones like Superman, Spiderman and the Fantastic Four who all have some kind of super strength. They are not normal people. The other group of super heroes are normal people. They have gadgets that make them super - like James Bond and Batman. They don't have any super abilities beyond what the technology they have allows them to do. Incidentally one of the most bizarre super heroes on the list was someone called the Tick. He was dressed in blue and had two feelers. I am not quite sure what he does.

So which category does Jesus fit into? He didn't get a mention on the programme! I suppose that like Superman, Jesus is not of this earth, but unlike Superman, Jesus didn't wield super abilities. Jesus had gadgets!

Joe and I were singing last night a golden oldie song - "You laid aside your majesty…" Jesus when he left heaven to come to earth, left all his glory behind. He took on human form, with all of its frailty. What made him a superhero, for want of a better word, was his openness to allowing God to demonstrate his power through him. Jesus had access to all of God's resources and took a hold of them through prayer and wielded them to bring down the enemy strongholds - death and sin.

I have access to all those resources Jesus had access to - so that makes me a potential super hero - or heroine.