Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Unused gifts

There is nothing worse than unused presents – Christmas or birthday or any other occasion. I cringe when I think about the things I have asked Joe to buy me. There are some things that have been well used and other things that have not been so well used.

I asked for an MP3 player this year and last night I spent a bit of time learning how to use it. I uploaded the only CD I had to hand at the time – David Cassidy! I spent the rest of the evening bobbing up and down and singing out my favourite lines as I plugged myself in! This morning I added a worship CD to the list of stuff on the player. I feel “cool” and “with it”, although I have to admit that finding a comfortable place in my ear for the ear plugs takes me a while!

I was thinking earlier on in the week about the gifts that the wise men brought to Jesus. I am not aware that Jesus ever used any of them. When I think about a time when he needed money to pay taxes – he didn’t use the gold to do so, but sent a friend to catch a fish and the money needed was in the fish’s mouth. He didn’t use the frankincense – the gift of the priest - as he didn’t go into that part of the temple to burn it before the altar. He prayed on hilltops early in the morning and ministered to the lepers and tax collectors that the other priests had no time for. He didn’t get to use the myrrh either. A woman anointed his feet with perfume before his death, and before the women got to the tomb with their anointing oils, Jesus had risen from the dead and there was no body to anoint.

There are traditions about what happened to the gifts. Some traditions have Mary and Joseph selling the gifts to make ends meet and pay the bills. Another tradition had Judas lusting after the gold and stealing it. Another tradition had the boxes the gifts held being revered in a very old church in Russia somewhere.

There is also another story that talks about the baby Jesus giving gifts to the wise men. According to one tradition, Jesus gave them stones. They didn’t see the usefulness of the gifts and threw them down a well. The well exploded in a ball of fire and they realised that what was given should not be treated so shabbily. I did read on to the end of the story – but the bit about being given a gift and how I treat that gift matters really touched me. To treat a gift in a casual and careless manner says something about how you regard the gift giver.

Any way, back to Jesus’ unused gifts – what could you give to Jesus that he would make use of?

The Spirit’s answer? Yourself!

In Jesus’ hands, the gift of “myself” would not go unused. It is when I take myself out of Jesus’ hand that I become unused.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

"Triphina" living

This week, in our ladies Bible study, we were looking at the life of Lydia. She is the first convert in Philippi, a business woman and a leader in the community. The study we were doing assumed that she became a leader in the church too, so we talked through the role of women in the church. Just how far does the leadership role extend?

I have been thinking quite a lot about a lady called Triphina. When I was in South Africa a number of years ago and one of the most vibrant churches I visited was in a black township on the outskirts of Durban. It had been lead by a man for a number of years, and when he had died, his wife assumed the leadership role. She was wonderful.

My thoughts have not really been about her role as a leader in the church and whether it is biblically sound or not – my thoughts at the time! I have been thinking about just the way she lived her life.

The black township was a place of poverty. It was reflected in the community. Apartheid had come to an end perhaps three or four years earlier, but the thinking was still in place. The black community did not think themselves equal with white people. They did not have the same opportunities or chances. There was a mentality that said “This is our place in life – accept it!” I think for many they had ceased to dream.

For them their whole environment was an excuse not to succeed in life. It was a kind of “Why bother? Nothing is really going to change,” attitude that pervaded everything they did. I realise that I am making some sweeping generalisations here.

Triphina was different. She had not made her living conditions an excuse not to triumph in life. As well as leading the church, she also ran two businesses. One was a sewing business, making and selling dresses. The other business was running a small shop. She grew vegetables and sold them – or gave them away to really needy people.

She lived in the black township, with all the limitations that everyone else had with lack of decent sanitation and clean water – but again, her home was as neat and tidy, comfortable and clean as possible. It was painted and decorated, unlike any homes in the township.

It was like she was flying a banner to say that you don’t have to live according to your circumstances. You don’t have to let the environment dictate the way that you live, or the way that you think. She was acting as salt and light – very powerfully.

I am so challenged by her lifestyle right now. I can make so many excuses about why my testimony is not as powerful as it could be. If I had nicer pupils, if I had new desks, if I was not teaching in a prefabricated hut – all these things are irrelevant. Triphina didn’t make excuses. She shone regardless.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Choosing to walk

I suppose that my husband had a very valid question this week. Last weekend, at church, we were being encouraged to get involved in each others lives, to ask for help, to offer to do something with or for someone We had written things on small slips of paper, and then looked through all the things on offer and chose one.

Why on earth would I choose to go for a walk with someone after a whole week of walking back and forth from school? I think the “choose” was the answer. All the other walks, I hadn’t really chosen to do. With the car off the road, the choice was made for me and the route was well walked and predictable. Here, I was choosing to walk, with someone I wanted to get to know better, somewhere I had not walked before.

We headed off to Tomatin Woods just outside Inverness. There were lots of very clearly marked trails. We walked in a circular route for about an hour, talking of all sorts of things. All that was missing was a dog, although one joined us for a wee while – a black and white spaniel type of dog, extremely wet from playing in the puddles!

We talked about jobs, and holidays, families and weddings, people we used to know and we talked about God. It was a satisfying conversation in lovely surroundings.

What came to me was just how much nicer walking is when you are with someone! I have a tendency to just do stuff myself, not really thinking of inviting anyone to join me. Sometimes I just like my own company, but often it’s because I don’t think they would want to come. It harks back to my pre-marriage days and not having a huge circle of friends, I would just take off by myself, simply because, if I didn’t, I wouldn’t ever go anywhere. I have got used to doing stuff by myself and it is nice to be reminded that sharing the experience makes it more satisfying.

However, walking with someone does have its limitations too. I kept to the path, where had I been on my own I would have wandered off the path – that is how I get lost so often! I see something interesting and have to go and have a closer look. I am tactile – I pick up stones with interesting colours or textures, I swirl my fingers around in puddles and stroke the bark on trees. And I dream…I work out plots of stories in my head, write opening paragraphs for a novel, or make up rhyming poetry couplets.

I shall have to find a fellow writer for my walks then I can have the best of both worlds – the company that I really did enjoy, and the freedom to touch stuff and to dream and make up poetry – which I missed.

Maybe that is the part of getting to know people better. Once I know people better I can drag them off the path to touch the bark on a tree and invite them swirl their fingers in a puddle with me!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

An army on the move

It is that time of year when the birds head for warmer places, but yesterday they did it in real style.

It was about quarter past eight in the morning. I had just walked into school – yet again! It was probably the sound that caught my attention first. Birds can make a lot of noise – but this was A LOT OF NOISE.

Right above my head the sky was full of birds. I don’t know what variety of birds, but there were lots of them. It took a good few minutes for the flock to pass. It was wave after wave after wave. I seriously thought about saluting – as if it was a squadron of bombers heading out for a dogfight with the Germans over the English Channel or something!

Just in front of me hopping around on the path was a couple of other birds. They may be flying south at a later date, or maybe they just stay around all year.

If I had been one of those birds hopping on the ground, I think that I might have been rather awestruck at the huge noisy flock heading south. I think I might have been a little bit envious that they were part of something huge, and obviously with a destination in mind.

I think sometimes I get to be a little like that in my Christian walk. There are some people that are just on the move and I am busy hopping around on the path! They have responded to a call which I don’t seem to have heard! They are spurring others on to reach a specific destination, perhaps a closer walk with Jesus, or a clearer understanding of the word, and I am hopping around on the path looking for worms!

I found the birds’ flight yesterday very inspiring! There is a call deep inside for that closer walk with God. There is a desire to be on the move and heading for a clear destination and I will be up there! Not by my own efforts, though. Not by straining and struggling and striving to be up there – but when the Holy Spirit says, “Now!”

Saturday, December 09, 2006

The mouse and the messages

I was seriously tempted on Tuesday night to take the car – which the AA man had told me not to drive under any circumstances – to the supermarket down the road. We had eaten our way through the contents of the fridge, the freezer and the fruit bowl. The tins in the cupboard were fine as a part of a meal but not a meal in themselves. What stopped me from going shopping was the fear of not being able to get the car started on the homeward journey and having to explain to the AA man – it would, naturally, be the same man would arrive to rescue me – why I had blatantly ignored his instructions!

Cheese and beetroot sandwiches loose their novelty eventually – and cheese is a weight watcher’s nightmare in terms of points. I had a genius idea of shopping on line. I have often thought that my mum’s problems of having to rely of my sister to do her shopping would be history if she did it all on line and it was all delivered to the door for her. The problem is that she wouldn’t spend enough on the shop to qualify.

So, I prepared to forage on line. It wasn’t time saving like they promised. Part of the problem was the dying mouse. The computer mouse is not as fast or as nimble as he used to be. Trying to get him to land on the tiny little squares to put ticks into certain boxes was not working well. After two hours I thought I had done the shopping and proceeded to the checkout. Naturally, it was only as I was leaving the virtual shop that I realised I had forgotten the toothpaste! They don’t let you pop back in for the one forgotten item!

It was an experience! This morning the bags were delivered to the door. For the most part I got what I asked for, apart from one or two things they didn’t have so they had given me something similar instead.

Was it more expensive? Probably yes! You don’t get a chance to pick out the things that are reduced because their sell by dates are due. And then there is a delivery charge to deal with too.

Will I do it again? Possibly yes! With Christmas marching toward me, and visions of end to end trolleys at the checkout, I think I may well go back to the virtual store

Friday, December 08, 2006

Slowly slowly

At the International Friends meeting – where I help out with an English language class for the Polish community (and others too), we were learning about jobs. Right at the end of the class for a fun activity, we were doing charades – acting out jobs so that the other people in the group could guess what we were doing.

Andre, one of the Polish men, picked the card with “Joiner” written on it. Quite of few of the men there are in the building business, many of them joiners. I think Andre might also be a joiner. He began his acting out by pretending to light a cigarette, smoke it for a while, drink a cup of tea and then knock in some nails! There was no haste involved – but the job got done eventually.

I think that the people who are repairing my car are cut from the same cloth. Despite making arrangements to pick up the car last Friday, they finally collected it on the following Wednesday. It now appears that I won’t be mobile until next Wednesday – two days (the original estimate of when I would be back on the road) has turned into something much longer.

I have been walking back and forth from school and to mid-week church meetings and I can safely say that the novelty has worn off! I might be accumulating some Weight Watcher bonus points but, to be honest, I walk at such a slow pace – particularly on the homeward journey – that I am probably not earning that many extra fro the time involved!

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Missing Abdul

Didn’t I say that I was car illiterate? I called out the AA yet again. This time I was the required quarter of a mile from home, so they came to get me. What I thought was a flat battery turned out to be a little more serious.

Work is being done on the new school building – just preliminaries. The builders have fenced off a bit of the school car park. Although the builders are not supposed to park there, they do. This morning, one person had parked his car skew-whiff, abandoning his car in such a way to make four of the parking bays unusable. I thought maybe I had been too busy muttering about it this morning to check my lights!

The AA man recognised the car, and me – he has changed the tyre once and jump started me twice! This time, however, it was bad news. It was something to do with a cracked gasket and he explained perfectly what has been happening to the disappearing water. The dryness I mentioned weeks ago was nothing to with neglect from me. That’s kind of comforting!

The AA man went through all the little things that might have been happening over the last few weeks – curious smells, smoke coming out of things, disappearing water, white residue on the top of the water cap. These little things that you maybe notice but don’t really register all add up to one big thing that costs a lot of time and money to fix.

You see, this is where being car illiterate, or a mechanical numpty, really gets you into trouble. I could be driving a death trap and not know about it. When I moved back to live with my parents after coming back from Cyprus, I owned a mini. It was red and it was wonderful and I loved it dearly. The man across the road, a Sikh gentleman, called Abdul, loved my mini too. He used to spend hours tinkering under the bonnet and he knew everything about cars and stuff.

Right now I miss Abdul! I don’t have an Abdul. No one tinkers under the bonnet of my cars anymore. Abdul would have known what all the little clues added up to. I would have been warned about a huge repair bill looming over the horizon.

Well, the conclusion of it all, apart from cancelling Christmas, is that a mechanic from a garage is coming to collect the car tomorrow, have a look at it and start ordering bits. Yet again, Cinderella’s carriage becomes a pumpkin and I get to walk. There is an upside – I should loose some serious weight with all the exercise!

I am pretty much feeling like drowning my sorrows with an Indian takeaway – it memory of Abdul.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

It's just a phase

I can remember when, at the exciting age of eighteen, I gave my life to Jesus, I was so enthusiastic – not that I am not still enthusiastic! My enthusiasm demonstrated itself in picking fault with everything everyone was doing. Their actions just didn’t match up with what Jesus expected of them and I was bold enough to tell them so.

My mother retreated behind a mantra – “It’s just a phase she’s going through.” The phase has lasted quite a while now and I would like to think that I have softened a little since those early days!

I think my body has been repeating that same mantra since I began attending Weight Watchers – “It’s just a phase she’s going through”. It may well be right! Up till now I have always lost something, even just the half pound – but yesterday I stayed the same. I had not put on any weight, not taken any off.

A part of me would like to blame the jumper I was wearing! It was a winter jumper of thick wool and cables! I had dressed for walking to work in the morning, and after school I walked around to Weight Watchers. The truthful bit of me would blame the curry and nan bread at the weekend, and the slice of chocolate cake to celebrate someone’s birthday!

I think I may just have hit the part of the diet where the body doesn’t like it anymore. The novelty of counting points and eating Nimble bread has worn off and it craves chocolate! It is not about to be pawned off with a drink of Options low-calorie hot chocolate. That is a poor substitute. It wants to old Mel back! It was at this point in my previous attempts to lose weight that I gave up as it all seemed too hard to keep going.

I can’t think of a time in my walk with Jesus that I have ever some to a point of really thinking about giving up. I have thought about giving up with churches, or with individual people – but my faith? No. I love the person that Jesus reveals me to be through our relationship – I see what I am becoming and what I am leaving behind, and there is no comparison.

I suppose weight-wise I also like the person I am becoming – the one that does not need to head for the “Plus” rail in the dress shop! Which is why I will fight on!

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Dry days

Not so long ago we got labelled as a health promoting school. It wasn’t just about introducing healthy options in the school canteen but also raising health awareness among the staff. There was a rash of things for staff including a lady that came to do various massages, classes for yoga and meditation, and a million leaflets scattered about the place about diets and dealing with stress.

A friend was leafing through one of the leaflets to compare her eating habits with the “ideal”. She decided that she was probably eating too much protein, enough fruit and vegetables, and possibly not enough of the complex carbohydrates! She was pretty much convinced that she was not drinking enough water.

When I first joined Weight Watchers, I did try to increase my water intake. It seriously disrupted my carefully timed toilet breaks! In any other environment, toilet attendance is probably not so strictly worked out – but my life is directed by bells. In my pre-weight watching existence, toilet breaks coincided with break time and lunchtime. After trying to drink more water, things went a little awry! There are some classes where I need to be in the room when they arrive. If they are allowed access to the snibs on the door – they will lock themselves in and grin at you as you helplessly knock and wait to be let in. I could afford to allow a first year class to wait for me, but not a fourth year class. My bladder did not seem to be able to make the distinction so I returned to my old water drinking habits!

I still try to drink more but recognise that my body is probably in a permanent state of dehydration! I am not sure that my body would know what to do with the excess!

It came as quite a shock to discover yesterday that my car engine was seriously dehydrated too! The plan yesterday was to join some friends for a friendly quiz night at King’s Fellowship in Culloden. Driving to pick up Joe on the way, I noticed the temperature gauge in the car was not just steadily rising but overheating at a tremendous rate. It was well into the red bit, which I assume is not good. In a panic I drove home. I wasn’t sure what the car might do, but I envisioned that it would involve lots of smoke and a huge garage bill.

A friend told us that it sounded like the water in the radiator needed topping up, and at the end of the evening, at half past ten at night, bonnet up, in the torch light, checked out his theory. He was right – extremely right. Bone-dry so it was.

You see I am not mechanically literate. I had hoped long ago that my wonderful husband would learn to drive, pass his test and take on the mantle of car maintenance. It’s a boy thing – along with “slugs and snails and puppy dog tails”. Car oil levels, spark plugs and radiators – it’s boy stuff. I can do the air freshener that hangs from the mirror, and keep the glove compartment relatively tidy – but underneath the bonnet, all those tubes and stuff – that is boy stuff! And yet as the driver of the family I have the responsibility thrust upon me!

May be it is time to enrol in the car maintenance class and not just think about doing it!

There is a refrain from a worship song that is running through my head “Your word is a lamp unto my feet, Your Spirit like water to my soul.” In the body water flushes out toxins and joins the blood in transporting red blood cells and oxygen around the body, in my car the water keeps everything cool and prevents the engine from overheating.

The water of the Holy Spirit does a similar job – taking the oxygen teaching of Jesus and transporting it to nurture my spirit. He flushes out the toxins – attitudes and thoughts that if left unchallenged would prove harmful. He prevents me from overheating, by being the small still voice of faith and reason that keeps me from loosing it!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Silence is golden

My friend and I, in our weekly bible studies are working our way through women in the New Testament. This week it was the turn of the woman who gate-crashes Simon the Pharisee’s meal to weep before Jesus and anoint his feet with perfume.

In the middle of the story is the parable about two people who owe money. One owes just a little, the other owes a great amount. Both have their debts cancelled. (Actually, that is kind of relevant for my third year classes – we are looking at the Debt Crisis and the Drop the Debt campaign – cancelling debts!). Neither could pay their debt – so it did not matter who owed the most. If you owe someone ten pounds and you don’t have the money, you might as well owe them a hundred pounds – you still don’t have the money.

What really struck me about the woman’s encounter with Jesus is her silence. She never said a word. Simon did not say much either come to think about it. The woman never confessed her sins to Jesus. She never tried to defend her lifestyle or the choices that she had made. She never blamed anyone or society for the way things had turned out. She never spoke at all, and yet through her actions she spoke volumes!

Her silence challenges me. She doesn’t list the individual crimes or give details about when they happened or who was there. To stand in front of someone knowing that they do not need to know the details – they know how bad it is, and you know how bad it is – and that is enough, is something so humble.

Words put limits on things. The minute you begin to use words to describe something, you set up boundaries. No words – no boundaries. The bad state of things is just too bad to put into words. We are so careful that people don’t think the worst of us that we are careful to describe exactly what we have or haven’t done.

She is allowing him to think the worst of her. I know that God knows everything about me, but deep down I also want him not to think badly of me. Her silence says – “Think what you will. I can offer no excuses. I simply come before you. Do what you must.”

Jesus accepts everything – the silence and all that it means. His grace reaches out and embraces her.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The dog ate my homework

I managed to shave off just a half a pound last week on the diet! I am sure I heard somewhere that the older you get, the less easy it gets to loose weight and that is true for me. I have just a half a pound left to reach my first stone gone!

Jo, the class leader, was talking yesterday about making excuses for ourselves. We can justify why we are as overweight as we are – it’s the medication that we are on, or we are just big boned people, or it’s in the genes or …. you know how it goes! These things are just excuses and they don’t really hold up under scrutiny.

I was praying this morning. I spoke on Sunday about asking for help. The basis of the word was the story in Acts 3 where Peter and John are God’s instruments in healing a lame man. I made the point that they had passed the man on a number of occasions and never noticed him. Indeed, it was the man himself that initiated the encounter by asking for help. Peter and John were just walking by. Why did they not see him? Why did the Spirit not provoke them into action?

I think too some extent that beggars around the Temple were so common place that people accepted their presence without thinking. It was just normal life and just the way things were, so they didn’t question whether there was an alternative. The beggars were part of the scenery and almost invisible.

I was challenged about what things have become so acceptable to me they have become invisible and unquestioned. We have a family where the mother and her children are part of the church family, but the father isn’t. I accept his absence when I shouldn’t. Just as it grieves God that this is an incomplete family in the church, it should grieve me too. There is a history – an unpleasant history – of his encounter with the church in earlier years that wasn’t good. It left wounds and scars which have not really healed.

This morning as I was praying for the family, I was focussing on what we as a church had done wrong so many years ago, and apologising to God for making His job that much harder. God spoke clearly about the problem no longer being about us. We were not the same bunch of people. The problem was that what had happened long ago had been made an excuse not to become involved.

It is far easier to maintain what you think to be the truth about a group of people, or an individual, rather than to seek a fresh view. To think that the person you knew five years, or ten years ago, has never changed is unrealistic. People change – but we hold on to who we think they are from our past experience. We make it an excuse to polish the grudge, or sharpen the hatchet.

We have a choice. We can forgive and move forward, or hold resentment in our heart and stay stuck in the mud of stubbornness.

I am learning to forgive.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

What are you doing this weekend?

The school staffroom is becoming a very interesting place to be. For a while there was not a nice atmosphere as staff griped and grumbled about how hard life was and how heavy the workload was getting. It really was unpleasant! Since then we have had a influx of four new staff – all young folk who have lives outside of school! They talk about what they are going to do at the weekend – and the M word (marking) doesn’t get a mention!

When they are discussing weekend plans they ask around. My answer to the question of what I was going to do at the weekend was “I have a sermon to prepare as I am preaching on Sunday.” I wouldn’t say that I am a closet Christian by any means, but no one had ever asked me before about my weekend plans, and it just so happened to be me preaching. They were fascinated – what was I going to talk about? How many people would be listening? Did anyone have any problems with a woman preaching? How often did I preach? What was my church like? It was an open door to a flood of questions.

It was also an open door to a flood of comments about their own church experiences. One of the new teachers had a father who was or had been a lay preacher. Another teacher had attended a Plymouth Brethren church for a short while. It was interesting and very animated.

My sermon is all ready! Our church leader, Mark, has introduced a new structure for people involved in preaching and worship. The preacher needs to pass on the topic a week in advance so that if the worship leader wants to link in songs they can do.

My first inclination was to think the structure left no space for my usual last minute preparation and wasn’t it all stifling to the Holy Spirit? The Holy Spirit answered quite promptly, “I can fit in with a weeks notice. Don’t you worry about me, Mel!” So out went the “What if God doesn’t talk to me a week in advance?” misgivings, and in came a confident declaration that, yes, the Holy Spirit can fit in with the week in advance! The topic flowed from a (phone) conversation I had with my mum and the bible context and verses came from another (cyberspace) conversation. It has all been pretty painless, but rather exciting too. I guess I am learning to simply listen and not agonise.

And to top it all – I don’t have five pages of notes with a million Bible references. I did a mind map! One single side of A4 paper with colour coded boxes and lots of arrows! Cool or what? I have preached the sermon a dozen times to an invisible audience in my head and there were no hecklers! See how flexible I can be if I try?

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Is Something Wrong?

This is something that I read on FW. Glen is a good friend of mine and I hope will not mind me posting it here. I found it very thought provoking.

Is Something Wrong?

by Glenn A. Hascall

What if we’ve created an illusion of what Christianity is supposed to be?

What if we’ve convinced ourselves that grace doesn’t mind intentional sin?

What if we’ve convinced ourselves the filthy rags we wear are something grand and glorious?

What if we’re wrong?

Have we been so busy fashioning a world that caters to our needs that we’ve forgotten we are warriors in a strange land?

Have we forgotten we’re on a journey while we set up a paradise on earth?

Have we forgotten our Captain while we crown other sheep?

What have we done?

The church today provides a coffee shop and cafĂ© while the world outside the doors thinks we’ve dedicated a country club to ‘our kind’.

The church today makes youth group so cool that even non-Christians can come and still miss out on their need for something more.

Christian radio is so cool the whole family can enjoy it.

We wield political power – we lobby for our cause – we mobilize those who should be sharing their faith into a force for political change.

We gather with God’s people by satellite feed and miss face-to-face interaction.

We relegate those gatherings to one event a week.







We are NOT strangers in a strange land anymore. We have forgotten how to read our maps so we’ve settled for a second rate hotel in the low rent district – never sharing good news – never weeping for the lost – never longing for home.

What draws us deep into a relationship with Jesus? A four-minute song, a five-minute devotional, or a two-minute radio thought or a touching video?

How much is enough?

Have we found it too much?

Do we yearn for more?

Do we?

Can we?

Will we?

Flat batteries

Apparently I have done it again – left the car lights on and drained the battery. However, because the car is parked outside the house, and not a quarter of a mile away, the AA can’t help me. I did consider whether it was feasible to push the car for a quarter of a mile just so it qualified for assistance – but getting myself, let alone the car, a quarter of a mile away from the house is a challenge!

Actually I am not sure who has the flattest battery – me or the car! Joe spent the latter part of the week coughing and spluttering everywhere. Doing my Florence Nightingale impersonation was enough for me to catch the cold. I am a bit bunged up and my brain is slowly turning to mush. I admit that I don’t fight these things off, or put up much resistance. I pretty much roll over and surrender. One or two days off school has its attractions.

The trouble is that all the nice things I think I will do during those two days – like catch up with some writing, or reading a book or making in-roads into the ironing pile just don’t happen because I feel too unwell!

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Pulling the red chord

I was talking to my mum this afternoon on the phone. My sister Carla was around visiting, with granddaughter, Kira, but it wasn’t until they had both left that my mum began to share some really personal issues that she felt she couldn’t say while my sister was there.

On thing that underlined the whole thing was the issue of asking for help. My mum had been so independent for so long. Even with failing sight and hearing, she refuses to give in and admit weaknesses.

She moved into sheltered housing a number of years ago, and with all the government’s penny pinching and cost effectiveness, there is no longer a warden for the scheme. There are still red triangles on strings around the flat that my mum can pull on and help arrives eventually, but she because she doesn’t know the people who respond, she doesn’t want to be a bother. She will have her bad moments when she needs help but does not ask. I was trying to tell her that only by pulling the red chord as often as she needs to will the authorities realise that she needs the care.

Part of the problem is that she does not want to enter into a deeper level of the care system. She always said that once she lost her sight completely, then she would go into a proper nursing home. There are so many other areas in her life that she is not coping with and I think she is beginning to think that perhaps the time has come to evaluate where she is at.

My family are marvellous in their support, particularly Carla’s family. They take her shopping once a week, clean the flat for her once a week and pop around every so often. My mum knows that she can phone them anytime and, for the most part, they will come. My brother, Richard, is also close by and contactable.

I think what is really eating my mum up is that she feels that she is becoming a burden to them. I know that when I came back from Cyprus, I lived with my parents for a couple of years, and much as my mum loved having me around, she wanted me to have my own life and not end up looking after them both. She wants us to live our lives without worrying about her.

We had a good chat about different agencies that could take some of the pressure off. Between visits, my mum is pretty much housebound. She is shaky on her feet and very anxious about moving among people. I don’t know what level of service something like Shopmobility can provide. She also has money worries. She gets a care allowance that she doesn’t make the best use of, and the bank would like her not to keep so much of it in an easily accessible account.

My mum is a courageous lady, but her courage is just leaking out. She is becoming afraid of different aspects of life.

We also talked about church. Different people in churches have different gifts, and I thought maybe someone with money sense could help her make the best of her money, and just watch her account. I know that Joe’s brother, John does that for my mother-in-law. Again this idea of asking cropped up. My mum thought she would burst into tears is she had to talk it over with someone. If you can’t cry in front of your church family – where else is there?

I got to thinking about whether I feel comfortable crying in front of my church family. No one feel comfortable crying, let’s admit it, but there has to be somewhere you can just take off the amour, put down the sword and rest from the battle. I have a wonderful church – and, yes, I can and often do burst into tears when things get a little too much. But why wait until things get too much? Why wait until the burden is unbearable? Why do we keep things hidden for long? Why don’t we pull the red chord more often?

Is it a pride thing? Or a trust thing? Or a message that the church is giving out that it shouldn’t be?

I thought about whether it was time to perhaps think about moving back to Warwickshire. I don’t think for a moment that I can offer anything more than Carla and Richard do, but I really feel powerless to help. Maybe the best help I can be is to give her a chance to simply off-load the issues that are building up, much like a pressure cooker valve. A book I am reading at the moment suggests that women when they talk about their problems are not always looking for solutions, they just want to talk and have someone listen.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Pure, honest and blameless

I was reading 1 Thessalonians 2:10 yesterday morning. “You yourselves are our witnesses—and so is God—that we were devout and honest and faultless toward all of you believers.” The version that I read it in used the words pure, honest and blameless. I found it very challenging that Paul could use those terms so confidently.

I have no problems with thinking myself honest. Pure and blameless, however, are much harder words to use. Because of the redemptive work of Christ God considers us to be pure and blameless, but in the world we do not always behave in a manner that is pure and blameless.

What came to mind when I was reading that Paul was careful about his behaviour. He thought about the effects his actions might have on other people and acted wisely. Wise behaviour doesn’t come naturally. Too often we act without thinking about the effects of our actions and then have to deal with the mess afterwards!

How much heartache we would save ourselves if we took careful thought of the things we did and avoid having to deal with the consequences of thoughtless actions all the time.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Together in the storm

Yet again, another worship song stirs in me today. The song was “Jesus, lover of my soul.” The line was “Jesus I want You to know I will follow You all my days.” As I was singing it, I felt God asking me – “Will you follow me out onto the water?” I wrote a poem:-

Will You follow me
And walk on water?
Will you leave the security of the boat
Cast aside your comfort
And join me in the storm?
Will you believe
As you commit yourself
To the first step,
That I have called you
To walk beside me,
That the wind and the waves
Won’t swallow you?
Will you keep your eyes
Fixed on my face alone,
Not allowing your gaze to wander
And leave the boat behind?
For I will hold you
Firm as a rock
On the shifting waves
And I will steady you
Strong and confident
In the whistling winds
I have made the impossible possible
And as You and I
Walk together in the storm
You will demonstrate my glory
And the invisible God
Will be made visible in you
Walk on water
With me.

Where is the water that Jesus would have me walk upon? I have been invited to join with the other teachers and preachers in our church to study together and seek to listen to what God is saying. We are planning to sharpen the gifting that we each have so that we pass on clearly God’s word and direction.

I can probably preach a word at the drop of a hat, but just recently I have felt that the revelation coming through our leader has been slightly out of my reach. I suppose that I have a choice – I can stay in the boat, in my comfort zone, or I can step out and start walking on unfamiliar ground.

I found as I wrote the poem, that it took on a prophetic tone. Jesus will be there to hold me safe and secure, and will steady me when things feel like they are shifting.

Peter’s walk on the water enabled the rest of the disciples, and those of us that read the account in the gospels, to have confirmation about who Jesus was that they, and we, would otherwise not have. Nothing is said to Peter when he and Jesus get back into the boat. There are no slaps on the back, no applause, no congratulations and no high fives for Peter. There attention was directed at Jesus. Their words and worship were reserved for Him – “Truly, you are the Son of God.”

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Early birds and no worms

I finally have the excuse I have been looking for! Now I know what to say to my next door neighbour who looks disapprovingly at my un-mown lawn!

This morning I was listening to Radio 4. I have no idea why the radio is tuned in to Radio 4. There was an item about birds. There is apparently a decline in song thrushes, house sparrows and starlings. People are building patio’s and paving over their gardens to make it easier to manage. I confess to being guilty of that although there is still a lot of grass left. However, when the whole garden is paved over there are no worms and insects for the birds to eat. Even small gardens are home to 700 different species of insect - and many of them have crawled over my arm as I have dug out weeds!.

In fact, the RSPB recommend that you leave a little bit of your garden alone entirely – let the grass grow long because it is good for insects and that means that is good for birds too!

Thankyou, RSPB, for giving me permission to ignore my lawn mower!

To boldly go

I seem to remember many years ago reading a holiday advertisement about following the route Moses took through the wilderness. The “holiday” promised lots of sand, camels, an oasis or two and lots of nomads. I was interested but it was entirely out of the question as I quite broke at the time.

This morning I was reading Numbers 33. It is itinerary of all the stops and starts along the route to the Promised Land.

What caught my attention came quite near the beginning of the chapter. In v 3 it reads “The people of Israel left defiantly, in full view of all the Egyptians.” That’s the NLT version. The Egyptians had been their enemies, mistreating them for many years, but after God had intervened with all the plagues, culminating in the death of the first-born, the threat that they posed was gone. There Egyptians no longer had power to dictate their lives.

I loved the word “defiantly” and the phrase “in full view”. The Israelites did not creep out of Egypt in the middle of the night, on tiptoe, with their camels hooves wrapped in cloth to stop them making any noise. They did not leave the country apologetically, sorry that they were leaving buildings unfinished. They left “defiantly”!

Other translations of the verse are really worth reading too.

“They marched out boldly in full view of the Egyptians.” (NIV)

“They marched out heads held high and confident…and the Egyptians watched them go.” (The Message)

“The Israelites went out of Egypt with a high hand and triumphantly in the sight of all the Egyptians.” (The Amplified Bible)

Defiantly, boldly, with confidence and triumphantly are words and phrases that paint a strong picture. Their enemies watched and could do nothing to stop them from leaving.

Satan is our enemy and when he was forced to hand over the keys of Hades to Jesus, he could only watch as hell emptied. He could do nothing to stop the souls he had imprisoned there from following Jesus. I bet they all marched out defiantly, boldly, with confidence and triumphantly!

God delivered His people from the hands of their enemies and in Christ, through His death on the cross, and His resurrection from the grave – God has delivered me!

I want to walk each day defiantly, boldly, with confidence and triumphantly letting the enemy know that he has lost. He has no authority over me and he cannot dictate how I should live my life! I want to stop being apologetic about my faith. I want to stop walking on tiptoe afraid to disturb people.

What enabled the Israelites to be so defiant and bold was not in anything they had done, but in everything that God had done for them. God had secured their freedom just as He has secured mine.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Child of Prague

When Joe’s mum, Alice, moved into sheltered housing there was a lot of stuff that she couldn’t take with her. Her collection of dolls was accidentally thrown away, so when Joe started talking about a Child of Prague, I thought he was meaning some kind of doll in Czech national costume!

I think he was amazed at my ignorance. I claimed a Roman Catholic upbringing so I should have known. He seemed to think that every Catholic home had one!

While we were in Prague we visited the Church of Our Lady Victorious which is home to the original Child of Prague. It is a statue of the infant Jesus made of wax dressed in a bishop’s garb and wearing a small crown.

Joe remembers that they used to have a Child of Prague in his home when he was younger, and it had either got broken or lost, so he thought it would be an opportunity to buy one for his mum. He also bought one for his Aunty Agnes, and one for us. You slip a silver coin beneath the base. I suppose it is like wearing a St Christopher when you travel – that kind of thing. I confess to being unsure about that part of it.

Joe also bought three more smaller versions but didn’t tell me. I think he knew that I didn’t really know what they were about. Being a charismatic, Pentecostal type of Christian who had forgotten her Catholic roots, he thought I might have objections!

He took them into work yesterday and gave two of them away! For the girls that work in his department, he had bought other souvenirs – little wooden Prague houses that fitted nicely on top of their computers. The Child souvenirs were for people he knew to be Roman Catholics.

He was amazed at the effect the gifts had. He expected wreathes of smiles and thanks for being remembered, but when he gave one Child to a lady in another part of the building she burst into tears. She thinks Joe is wonderful anyway, but the gift of a “Child of Prague” was beyond wonderful.

Another Child was given to a pub manager. The man has been very kind to our church providing us with a venue for our meetings, and Joe knowing that he was a Roman Catholic gave him a Child. Like the lady in Joe’s office, he was very touched by the gift, and taken aback by Joe thinking about him. He also thinks Joe is wonderful, and treated him to free pint of beer!

I love my husband! I love him because he is kind to people! It is not in the big grand gestures that he demonstrates his kindness, but in small things. Isn’t that just like Jesus?

Monday, October 23, 2006

To The Ends Of The Earth

Singing the Hillsongs' worship song yesterday, "To The Ends Of The Earth", there were certain words that really captured my heart. The whole song is really challenging and I wasn't even sure that I could sing the words and really mean them.

I am not sure that I would go "to the ends of the earth". The heart would be willing but the flesh would be weak. I was thinking…just where are the ends of the earth? I find it hard enough to go to the end of the garden path and initiate a conversation with my next door neighbour!

Where are the ends of the earth?

For a long time, my family, because I wasn't married, and I had a zealous passion for God, expected me to become a missionary. They could picture me in a canoe, making my way up the Congo river. A far off country where the pygmies live was where the end of the earth was. However, I believe that the "ends of the earth" have little to do with the geography of the earth and more to do with the geography of the heart. I think they change and shift with time and maturity.

About eight years ago I spent four weeks of my summer holiday working with a mission in Durban, South Africa. It wasn't a huge mission, perhaps just a half dozen or so workers. They had many fingers in many pies in terms of ministry, but the one that I spent most time with was working in an orphanage in a black township. Early in the morning we drove around various supermarkets in the area to collect out of date bread and vegetables which we delivered to the orphanage. While the women used these leftovers to make stews for the children, we busied ourselves about the buildings making repairs to broken windows, emptying clogged up cisterns and washing and playing with the children

My particular "end of the earth" came when I encountered the smell of the place. It was not a clean, hygienic smell. Some of the younger children in particular smelt overpoweringly of dried urine. There were one or two children that had diahorrea and rather than swathe them in nappies that they would have to change, and couldn't afford anyway, they were left naked from the waist down.

All children love affection. They want to be cuddled. My "end of the earth" was about whether I wanted to do the cuddling. Could I really get beyond the unpleasant smell to show compassion to these children. I found that I could not hold them at arm's length and picked up the children to carry, sat them on my knee and played pattacake and let them run their sticky fingers through my hair.

In the course of the afternoon, I became just as smelly. There was nothing to distinguish them from me.

I found it quite distressing and when I returned to the Mission house, I spend ages in the bathroom, scrubbing my skin, and washing my hair. The smell seemed to linger, no matter how much soap and water I applied.

I felt God speak to me, telling me that he understood how I felt. After all, didn't He leave the glory of heaven to become human? He took on the smell of humanity. He embraced all of the sin and the deprivation of humankind - and on the cross there was nothing to distinguish Him from any other person, so God turned His face away.

He did not want to be tarnished by sin, but because He loved people, He was willing to embrace all of man's dirtiness.

Because he loved people.

It is love that enables us to do tremendous things.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Roast pork, dumplings, red cabbage and life

Joe and I have just been out to lunch with a friend of ours and her two children. We went to a place that has an indoor play area, with climbing nets and pits full of coloured plastic balls and spaces to crawl through. I think it is a shame that these things are only for kids. I think that adults would love to play in something like that too.

Ordering lunch was a mammoth task since we had a selection of menus – the ordinary one, a light lunches one and the kid’s menu. We were ordering something from each one! In Prague we didn’t have the luxury of three menus, each with a huge variety of tempting options. The food faire tended to be very heavily weighted towards pork, with various kinds of dumplings and either sauerkraut or red cabbage. We also worked our way through soups and sausages. It was heavy stuff, designed for lining the stomach, on cold winter days. Italian and Chinese restaurants are beginning to spring up, but for the most part it was traditional Czech food.

No matter how nice the dumplings, or tasty the pork, after a while, it does not appeal. I found myself hankering for an Indian takeaway! I like variety! One of the Weight Watchers leaflets emphasised the need to have variety even when you were on a diet. Tuna baked potatoes may be nice for lunch but not every single day!

I think variety applies in the spiritual realm too! When God gave instructions for the anointing oil to be used by the priesthood, there were five or more different ingredients. Each of the ingredients had symbolic significance, but the fact is that only the combined ingredients together were good enough.

I think that very often my spiritual life takes on the equivalent of the “tuna baked potato every lunchtime”. I might congratulate myself that I have quiet times, or go to every church meeting and do a Bible study with a friend every week – but it sometimes has the feel of the predictable Czech meal of roast pork, dumpling and red cabbage. I don’t think the disciples woke up every morning thinking, “Oh, another blind man to heal today,” or “Let’s listen to the parable of the Good Samaritan one more time.” Everyday was an unexpected adventure. It wasn’t about what they were doing but who they were with that coloured their days. There were so many experiences to taste – walking on water, catching huge nets of fish, witnessing a transfigured Christ on top of a mountain and feeding five thousand people. My life doesn’t measure up to the challenge that Jesus issues.

When everyday of my individual walk with Jesus is an adventure, this has to have a transforming effect on the corporate body. There are times when church meetings too become like the Czech menu. Perhaps for the Czech’s it has to do with what ingredients are available, or the lack of skills of the chefs to cook something innovative or maybe it is just about playing safe. For the Christian in hi or her own walk with Jesus, and in the church life together we have all the ingredients we need, the skill of the Holy Spirit to be innovative and playing it safe never was God’s strategy.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Names on a wall

I have just returned from my holiday in Prague. I am missing the clinking sound of the trams running up and down the street, and the smell of sausages being cooked by the street venders. I am not missing the cobblestones or the excessive walking that we had been doing! Just about half of all the tourist leaflets I saw featured the word “Walks”! I suppose that with it being a quite compact medieval city it makes sense. So many of the groups of people were following someone brandishing a stick with a small flag telling you everything you needed to know absolutely everything! Joe and I did our own stuff!

I kept a journal, faithfully writing stuff in it at the end of every day. I don’t think it has the potential to be a best selling travel book on Prague, but Joe found it entertaining – mostly with the mistakes! The biggest mistake was mixing up Franz Kafka, the author who lived in Prague with Frank Capra, the movie man – how similar are the names?

I knew very little of Prague or of the Czech Republic before I went – and too some extent I am not sure if I know that much more now.

The one place that probably affected me most was one of the Jewish synagogues. It has become a memorial to all of the Jews in Prague and the surrounding areas who were killed in concentration camps by the Nazis. I had read the blurb on the leaflet about names written on the walls, but nothing could have prepared me for what it was like.

Thousands upon thousands of names of people with their birth dates and death dates were written neatly in row upon row. At a glance it could have been wallpaper. One Jewish family had faithfully researched who had been lost during those years and made sure that they were not forgotten. Each name was a person that someone knew, passed in the street, chatted with, drank coffee with – they were real people.

For a while I have been thinking about whether I am as tender-hearted as I could be. So many things that seem to touch some people have left me relatively unaffected. I stood looking at all these names on the wall, and I cried. These were not people I knew, they had all met their death long before I was even born – and yet the only word that I could come up with was “Sorry.” I just stood there, tears streaming down my face, reading out the names of total strangers and saying sorry.

I looked at some of the white spaces on the wall, the plaster above the arches and prayed that they would stay white – that there would never be another occasion where so many people die so needlessly that their names need to be recorded on the white bits of the wall.

I hope that we never reach the point where someone says that events like the Holocaust should not be remembered. The Bible is littered with memorials – not always to help people remember the good stuff – but also the bad stuff. If we do not remember the bad stuff, we will be in danger of repeating it.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Clearing out

The first two or three days of the October holiday have been clearing out days. I took a black bin liner into the wardrobe and I filled it!

There are one or two things that probably ought to be in the bin liner but I talked myself into a stay of execution! I can’t imagine that I will ever wear them again but, they have memories attached.

There is a black flowery top and skirt of obscene smallness of waist that I wore to my engagement party. For a long time I entertained ideas of slimming down – but even though I am slimming down, the outfit is not your classic style that never dates. It has shoulder pads, Dynasty style.

There is also a kind of terracotta suit that I wore for my going away outfit after the wedding. The skirt part of it is pleated and quite short – those were the days when my legs were more shapely than they are now, no doubt. Yet again I can’t picture myself wearing it, but I am loathe to get rid of it.

There is a black T-shirt with Paris emblazoned across the front. We were there for my fortieth birthday and I actually may wear it one day. It is a weight loss goal that is achievable and the t-shirt is less liable to date.

Another T-shirt, a red one this time, marks an achievement in a health and fitness club – my attendance at 35 tummy tucking sessions! I am reminded that I was that disciplined once upon a time, that I took exercise seriously.

A jumper that I knitted didn’t make the path back to the wardrobe. (The black bin liner is still in the spare room, so a pardon is still possible!) It reminds me that I used to knit, once upon a time and I wore what I knitted with pride! I had one particular pattern that I used over and over again and adapted.

I confess to being a hoarder. As I have mentioned before I am one of those people who collect the plastic toys from Christmas crackers “just in case” they turn out to be useful! I have held on to clothes “just in case” I slim down sufficiently to be able to wear them.
I hold on to letters and notebooks that I never read “just in case” I want to walk down memory lane.

It all takes space up though. Put all the stuff in a box and you have to put the box somewhere. If that space is filled with boxes, then there is less space to put things that are currently in use!

If my physical life is full of stuff that I no longer need or use, or will ever need or use again – does the same apply to my spiritual life? Are there doctrines that are out of date, or revelation that his been superseded by something new? Am I resolutely hanging on to things, knowledge that I think might be useful one day when it clearly won't ever be?

Does theology become outdated? Do the things I believed twenty or thirty years ago actually have a “best before” date attached?

I find myself unwilling to take the black bin liner into my heart and fill it. There are no things in there that I don’t use. There is a verse somewhere in the gospels that talks of the wise man taking new and old treasure out of the store house.

I guess it takes real discernment to know what to let go of and what to hold on to.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

A Glorious Fire

I know that I shouldn't really do this! I just have to hope that I don't get any FW visitors to the blog, and/or they don't tell one me. The Fathwriter weekly challenge topic was "Fire Fighters! I never thought that I would be able to come up with anything that I woud be proud of. I have written a few things that I really wish didn't have my name attatched! Then I had an excellent idea but not really sure that I could pull it off. I wrote a poem based on an story in Numbers.

A Glorious Fire

You should have seen the fire
It was glorious!
Blazing with a blistering heat
Furious flames
Choking smoke
And all it took was
Just a small spark

An abundance of
Driftwood in the wilderness
Exploding out of Egypt
It tumbled around barren places
Rebellious attitudes
Rumbling complaints
Snarling and sniping
Dry spirits
Parched hearts
And arid souls

And I lit my match
As I whispered in the shadows
“Why him? Why not you?”
And their covetous eyes
Gazed lustfully on Aaron’s staff
“Why him? Why not us?”
Their shout echoed among the sand dunes

The ground split
The earth opened its mouth
And swallowed the jealous ones
And fire roared from heaven
Consuming men who envied
And people ran from the flames

Embers glowed dull red
Sparks quietly hissed
Not extinguished
The fire smouldered
I whispered again
To twitching ears
Fanning the flames of resentment
“They were the Lord’s people…
And Moses killed them.”
And they gathered
And they grumbled

God’s wrath was ignited
Flames of a different kind
Licked at His stiff necked people
Disease crawled over their faces
Gouging holes
Ripping flesh
Seeping poison
Weeping blood

And I danced
Among the fallen bodies
Skipping lightly through the flames
Laughing riotously
“Did You really think
You could do it, God?
Take a sin-stained people
And find your image in them?
Look at them!
Look at you!
Yet again I win
You lose!”

Then I saw a man running
Into the flames
Was it water he carried?
Armed with incense
And fire from the altar
Ran into the plague pocked crowd
Making atonement
He stood between the living and the dead

And a shadow fell
Hinting at
Another time, another fire
Another place, another plague
Another man running into the crowd
Making atonement

And the fire stopped burning
The plague ceased
And all wounds were healed

It was a glorious fire
While it lasted!

(Based on Numbers Chapter 16)

Thursday, October 05, 2006

One thing you lack

I decided to catch up with my City Gate friends and their daily bible study. They are working their way through the gospels in chronological order – so you get to read different perspectives on the each of the stories as portrayed in each of the gospels on consecutive days. Frequently I think “I read this yesterday.” and I did, but yesterday I read Matthew’s version and today I am reading Mark’s view!

The story is about the rich young ruler. Mark doesn’t call him a ruler – just a man. He doesn’t even call him rich – just a man. Mark is the only one that says that the man ran up to Jesus just as he was about to leave town. He is also the only one that says the man threw himself on the ground before Jesus. It made me wonder if there was anything that would be so urgent in my life that I run after someone and throw myself on the ground in order to ask my question. There ought to be!

The bit about selling all that he has, giving the money to the poor and following Jesus cropped up in a third year lesson not so long ago. We were exploring Jesus teaching about poverty and riches. We had discussed the difference between treasure in heaven and treasure on the earth. I had described treasure in heaven as acts of kindness, though I am sure that it involves a lot more than just being kind.

One pupil turned to another pupil and commented that she thought that his treasure in heaven was non-existent because she never saw him do anything kind for people. He looked quite alarmed by her words and it seemed to have struck a chord. For the rest of the lesson he was kindness personified – picking up dropped workbooks, offering to sharpen pencils, run errands and refusing to become involved in other people’s silliness. At the end of the lesson, he turned to the girl who had challenged him and asked whether she thought his had earned any treasure in heaven yet!

It strikes me that just one forty minute lesson of doing kind things makes very little impression. The man was asking Jesus what he should do with his life. What Jesus was asking of the man was a complete change of lifestyle. Selling all that he had was not just going to affect his life for the next forty minutes but was a long term change of priorities.

I found a quote on a sermon page on the internet:-

“I think he is inviting the rich young man to join him on his journeys, to become one of the disciples who enjoy the immense and unspeakable privilege of spending time with Jesus and learning from him on a day-by-day basis. What a wonderful invitation!”

Thirty years ago I received that same invitation – to join Jesus on his journeys and enjoy the immense privilege of spending time with him. I think the “sell all you have and give the money to the poor” might have been the first of many challenges that Jesus set him.

There is a sense that every day we run to Jesus, spurred on by a sense of urgency, falling on our knees before him, asking him “What shall I do with my life today?” Sometimes we don’t do that because we are not sure what he is going to ask and not sure that we think we want do it.

Jesus said to the man, “One thing you lack.” What was it he lacked? Was it “treasure in heaven”? Was it courage to follow his heart and turn his back on materialism?

If Jesus turned to me and said to me, “One thing you lack,” would I know what he was talking about? If I am in Chrsit - can I be lacking anything?

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Talk Talk

Yesterday in our study together, a friend and I encountered a verse in Malachi 3:16 – “Then those who feared the LORD talked with each other, and the LORD listened and heard.” We were generally talking about how little people talk about things – and if they do talk it is always after the event, when things have been resolved rather than during the event. We are happy to share with others our masterpieces – the finished product – but rarely allow people to see the work in progress.

Joe is not really a great talker. He will talk volumes about things that interest him, but he rarely talks about personal issues. He assures me that it is a West of Scotland mindset! The idea of writing a blog or keeping a journal horrifies him!

There are times when he is more inclined to share heart – usually in the really late hours of the night. I grunt my responses in a hope that he might catch on that I am half asleep – but more often than not, the Holy Spirit will poke me awake, warning me that Joe is about to reveal something that matters to him!

He was talking about guilt. He often remembers and event in church a number of years ago. Joe had invited a friend from work to come along to the meeting. One of the leaders was given a word of knowledge to share about someone in the room. It turned out to be about Joe’s work companion. It was something straight from God, that the leader had absolutely no way of knowing in the natural and touched this person’s life. Talking about it afterwards round the lunch table with friends, we all confessed to moments of anxiety that something about our lives was about to be revealed. Each of us has brought to mind recent failures and falls in our faith that we really didn’t want advertised! All of us, that is, apart from Joe. He knew where the spotlight was about to be shone. Someone had laughingly commented that he must have a really clear conscience, but Joe was more convinced that his conscience must be seared! Some people in the room were real “spiritual giants” and yet they had all looked to their own lives and he hadn’t. I am never quite sure just how worried he is about the state of his conscience.

I think that it is a part of Joe’s catholic upbringing to feel guilty. Needlessly so for the most part! He talked last night about his mum. He shared a wonderful picture of one of his visits to her in the nursing home. He had arrived at a meal time and rather than come back in half an hour, Joe was given the last of feeding his mother. Everything she eats now is liquidised and resembles baby food. She is not always cooperative and it was a battle to get her to eat anything. Suddenly Joe saw things the other way around. Once upon a time it had been his mother pushing the food into his mouth and him pushing the spoon away. He was doing for her exactly what she had done for him all those years ago! She battled through his tantrums because she loved him and wanted the best for him. She met his uncooperative ways with patience. Now he was in that position – not with a child of his own, but with her – loving her and demonstrating such patience. Such tenderness, such love. That to my mind is when we discover who we really are and what we are made of.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

"Winging it"

I have often had dreams set in school where I am not prepared for a class. Either it is a group of pupils that I am not familiar with, or teaching a topic that I know nothing about, or I cannot find the classroom. Sometimes I am just late arriving in school and miss the first lesson.

Last night I had another one of those dreams where nothing seemed to be going right – but this time I was supposed to preaching in church! I had a sermon prepared and tucked away in a polly-pocket. I seemed to have a million other polly-pockets, some with song lyrics in them and they were all mixed up and I every so often I found the one with the sermon in it, simply to lose it again.

We were meeting in a hotel and there were lots of people there that have since left the church. The previous church leaders were there – Charlie and Richard Green. Cliff and Michelle, great friends of ours who worship with another church were also present.

We had a short time of very dynamic worship, and then it was time for the sermon. I took out my notes and discovered that all the Bible references that I had printed out were all in the King James version with the most complicated sentence structure that even I could not make head nor tail of.

There were lots of people from the hotel that joined us. I was conscious that they were just ready for harvesting – but my sermon notes kept disappearing , the microphone wouldn’t work and every time I went to speak, there was no volume in my voice! It was frustrating. At one point Charlie or Richard stepped up to tell me that we would just keep on worshipping seeing as I was unable to do my bit! I insisted that as nice as the worship was, it was not going to convict people and bring them to repentance, and they needed to hear my words! But could I say anything – no! I remember singing a very prophetic song and the Holy Spirit was just saying to me “Follow my lead, you don’t need the notes, you don’t need the microphone – just follow me!”

At that point I woke up! I never got to preach the sermon. I was convinced that the sermon was based on something either in Micah or Malachi, so at four o’clock in the morning I was trying to hard to read both books, forcing my eyes to try to focus on the words trying to find out what I had been about to say.

I was prompted to pray. I am not sure quite how lucid my prayers were at four o’clock in the morning but I was praying for the voice of the church. We have something to say that will revolutionise the way that people live their lives and yet too often we are too quiet – there is not volume. Too often we get sidetracked by the music and the performance side of things that people become just an audience and not participators. People never reach a point of decision because they are not challenged to do so. So that was kind of the direction of my prayers.

Then I started by praying about my own inability. It wasn’t just someone else in the dream that was having problems speaking – but me! I like clear cut paths and things to be mapped out and planned. I like to know exactly where I am going and how to get there and what to look for along the way! I prayed that I would be able to drop all of that and just unhesitatingly follow the prompting of the Spirit. That is not to say that I just launch myself out blindly. There is a preparation that comes beforehand – the time spent in the word, in communion with the Spirit and in meditation where I am being equipped. The equipping isn’t so that I can just follow a particular path on a particular map, but that in any situation I come across – off the path so to speak– I will have an answer for.

I am watching the Ryder Cup in snatches between cleaning and stuff. The players know how to play the game. How they play the game is about using the knowledge they have effectively – the wind direction, the slope of the greens, the choice of club and golf stroke. If they only ever played on one golf course, and the holes were never shifted – they would always choose the same club, hit the ball in the same way and would be guaranteed to pot the hole in the same number of strokes. They will have learnt to play with a set pattern. They would get as result!

However, if they never played the same course twice, or the holes were shifted regularly – they would always have to be adapting what they knew to meet the conditions of the course. Their choice of club and choice of stroke would be chosen carefully depending on the wind conditions, the lie of the grass – so many variables to factor in. But who is playing the real golf? The man who has played the one course so many times, he could do it blindfolded? Or the man who is a stranger, who just knows his clubs and his strokes well enough to meet any obstacle?

I guess what I am trying to say that I believe that I have been equipped by the Spirit. I should be confident to “wing it” trusting that I have all the resources that I need for any task. I don’t need a map of where I am going because I have the presence of the one who has scouted out ahead. I just need to be more spontaneous in my approach to the things of the Spirit.

Children of Men

Last night Joe and I went to the cinema to see the film “Children of Men”. It was labelled as sci-fi simply because it was set slightly into the future, but there wasn’t much in the way of science to it. It was quite a depressing view of the future. Apparently women have lost the ability to reproduce, though no explanations are given as to how. Society falls apart and Britain seems to be the only part of the world where there is some kind of structure. Illegal immigrants flooding into the country looking for some kind of hope are herded up, caged and transported to refugee camps.

Into all of this a baby is born. You would think that the birth would be celebrated but because it is not born to a white British couple, but a black refugee, everything has to be done in secret.

There is a high body count, lots of blood and lots of swear words. Not much in the way of humour, not much in the way of kindness and compassion – except from some of the people in the refugee camp. It was a hard film to watch in that every bad character trait that the human race of capable of demonstrating was present! There was no Dunkirk spirit. No sense the “we are in this together and we will triumph!” It seemed like the lack of children brought out the worst in people. Knowing that the human race was dying out – they were not going to go with dignity and nobility, or a stiff upper lip!

So much seems to be just below the surface in life and the film says that it does not take much to strip away the veneer. I suppose the death of the human race and the fact that no babies are born is more that “not much” – but what is on the inside inevitably finds its way to the surface.

I was reading earlier on in the week that what condemns a man isn’t what goes into a man, but what comes out of his heart. The Pharisees were pretty much of the thinking that as long as the outside looked fine, what went on in the inside was of no concern. As long as they kept the traditions – tithed their herbs, washed their hands and turned up on street corners praying – it didn’t matter that inside they were seething with envy, or resentment or unforgiveness.

Maybe that is the problem with a world without children. Jesus says “Unless you become like little children…” – if there are no children, where are your role models? Too quickly we grow up and forget what it is like to be a child. If we don’t have children around us to remind us how we should behave – then we are in trouble.

Monday, September 18, 2006

The things I didn’t eat!

I lost just one measly pound this week! For all my stumbling over fallen logs and wading through bog pits for two hours the other day – just one measly pound! It is just not a fair reflection of all the sacrifices I have made this week!

Can I just tell you about some of things I didn’t eat? With the curry on Thursday, not only did I just eat half the portion they served me, but I didn’t have any nan bread. That to my mind is the best part of any curry! I didn’t have any toffee pavlova for dessert either.

Joe has a large packet of fun-sized Mars selections. It was one of his birthday presents. He did not take it with him when he went to Glasgow. Did I dib in at any point during the week? Well, actually, yes I did – only the fun-sized Malteser packets, but they were carefully accounted for in my points tracker!

Saturday morning is usually a full Scottish breakfast – with all the elements – bacon, sausage, egg, beans, mushrooms and a well fired roll. Two toasted crumpets with peanut butter just don’t measure up. The usual afternoon cake with a cup of tea while watching the big race – even that was sacrificed in the name of dieting!

Sunday was a beautiful day for a picnic at Whin Park. It was warm enough for an ice-cream, but did I indulge? No I didn’t! I went blackberry picking instead!

Normally, I would not give it a second thought. I love food. I love the variety of tastes and textures on my tongue. I actually don’t mind giving these things up if - IF - I can see some rewards in it. One measly pound is not a big enough reward in my mind.

This is exactly why I gave up Weight Watchers the last time – the measly one pound losses after careful counting and saying “No” to treats. Two weeks and I am discouraged. I know that all the one pounds add up over the weeks. I know that it took years of over indulgence to get me to where I am today and the excess pounds are not going to shift it in a few short weeks. I know all that in my head – but my heart fells short changed. This little voice in my head says “I bet you could probably have eaten the nan bread and you would still have lost the measly one pound.” I should never listen to voices in my head – but they are kind of compelling!

Discipline is hard! As someone once quoted Joe, “A sacrifice is not a sacrifice unless it costs.”

Saturday, September 16, 2006

When You touch me

I’m coming to the cross again (When You touch me)

I’m coming to the cross again
The place where all the sin and shame
Of what I do
Was squarely placed on You
The pressure’s more than I can take
I’ve tried to walk in my own strength
I lay it down
Before your thorny crown

I’ve tried so hard to be someone
That You’d be proud to call Your son
To earn the love
I know I don’t deserve
When I think I’m standing tall
The greater height the bigger fall
Now all I see
Is my futility

But when you touch me
I feel the burdens slipping down again
And when you touch me
Can’t stop the tears from falling down like rain

I feel the shame of shallowness
The kind of measured holiness
That seems to fit
The life I want to live
How much of this is wood and straw
I want to work for something more
Than piety

When the words cut like a knife
And harsh rejection haunts my life
I tell myself
This was the pain You felt
You walked this road a thousand times
The victim of the cruellest crimes
And left for dead
By every friend You had

When the accusations came
You refused to play their game
No words of hate
To set the record straight
And when they taunted at the cross
If You are God then save yourself
You set Your face
To free this fallen race

(c) Stuart Townsend 1999

I treated myself to a new CD. As I was peeling wallpaper off the bathroom wall I was listening to it. I just felt when I got to this track that God did some peeling off of His own!

It is the kind of poem that I wish I had the sensitivity to God's Spirit to write - the honesty of admistting that I am not where I should be, and that a lot of what i do that I pass off as holiness is just "wood and straw".

And then God touches me. I wept as I thought of God's grace towards me. Even when I think I am standing tall, God knows so well that in reality I have fallen over and still He comes to restore.

Friday, September 15, 2006

"Babe in the Wood "- it's no pantomime!

It is amazing the sense of peace that a stick of wood with a yellow arrow on it can create!

Because of the curry last night I was way over my Weight Watcher’s points, so I decided to try and claw a few back by going for a walk. The plan was for a half hour walk around a pleasant little wood I passed on the road a couple of days ago. About five miles away from there was an herb garden that does teas and coffees – a nice end to a busy week.

That was the plan! The Forestry commission are very good about making the best use of the woods. Usually beside the car park there is a big map of the place with all the various trails marked on it, telling you how long the yellow path is, or the blue one, or the red one and whether it is easily accessible or not. Tomfat Wood doesn’t have one.

I figured I would just walk along a path and after a while, take a left, and then another left, and another left and that by my reckoning would be like a big square and should get me back to the start. Earlier this afternoon I borrowed a book out of the staff library about the differences between men and women. Men have a great sense of direction, dating back from the cavemen times, while women don’t! I should have paid attention. I did the right amount of left turns but did not end back at the start! After about half an hour of walking I was lost. I suppose I could have retraced my steps, but I had come down some steep hills and I did not fancy climbing up them! I met a lady with three dogs and asked her for directions back to the car park.

She was very good telling me to follow the path I was one, past a small quarry, through a very big puddle and up a steep hill. That bit was fine. I wasn’t sure whether she said to turn left or right at the cross roads. I turned left. It looked a perfectly fine path, but after twenty minutes or so turned in a bog of squelching mud. Did I turn around and retrace my steps? Well, it had been mostly downhill and I was almost through the boggy ground. And I could see daylight through the trees. I figured that at worse, if I walked around the edge of the wood, I would find the car park eventually!

Did I ever? I just got more and more lost. There were no paths, no people, no dogs, no car park and the light was fading! I began to be just a little bit anxious. At this point I had been walking for an hour and a half! There was nothing to tell me whether I was walking in the right direction.

I saw a deer poking around in the trees, which I wouldn’t have seen if I had not been lost. I saw a variety of mushrooms and toadstools, and I saw some very small brown frogs hopping along the path earlier – so that was nice!

I felt very much like the lost sheep though, and although I didn’t pray properly I think God must have read my distressed thoughts! Suddenly there was a path and a stick with a yellow arrow on it! A path marker! I was no longer lost, but on a real path. A sense of relief washed over me and I followed the path back to the car park

My half hour stroll along a clear path had turned into a two and a half hour clamber over fallen tree trunks and wading through bog marshes!

I had to restrain myself from kissing the bonnet of my car once I had finally returned to the car park.

I think I fully earned the packet of Maltesers I ate when I got home - fun size, of course – just two points!

Dutch biscuits and rosehip syrup.

It is amazing the kinds of things that trigger memories. I remember years ago going out for a meal with Joe to a local pub. At the end of the meal we had tea and coffee. Balanced on the edge of the saucer was an individually wrapped biscuit. It was a caramel, ginger, finger sized biscuit. Once unwrapped, the smell of it evoked really strong memories of childhood. My father was part Dutch and used to visit Holland a few times a year. He always brought back gifts – headscarves with windmills or tulips printed on them, very small wooden clogs that you hung on a hook on the wall and packets of “speculars” – Dutch biscuits in the shape of windmills that smelt of ginger and caramel. I am not a fan of anything with ginger in it apart from stirfrys, but I adored these biscuits! The memory was so strong – I just sat there with the biscuit held to my nose, and a glazed look over my face.

A couple of days ago I had another memory moment. I had gone out for a long walk. Joe and I had planned to go out for his birthday meal – an Indian restaurant that the just recently opened up in the city. I needed points to play with – since joining Weight Watchers one just cannot eat something without working out how many calories or grams of fat one is dealing with. I intended to go for a walk, pick some blackberries, stop off at the shop to buy some apples and stew them up. Well, there were no blackberries in sight. There were lots of the most wonderfully coloured mushrooms or toadstools!

It was the rosehips that did it! Back in the 1960’s there was a government thing about collecting rosehips. We were encouraged to collect them, send them somewhere, and they got made into rosehip syrup. I think it was something that was good for you, like cod-liver oil but much nicer tasting! I can remember our primary school class going off for many an afternoon with our containers to collect rosehips.

It was a nice memory – being out of school, walking over the fields, knee deep in grass and avoiding the cowpats and the nettles to get to the rosehips. I don’t suppose the government today would want children out in the fields collecting rosehips. They probably wouldn’t know what to do with the rosehips anyway. They have probably decided that rosehip syrup really isn’t that good for children either compared to some other chemical collection masquerading as vitamin supplements.

Memories matter! The Bible has a lot to say about remembering things – listening to the reminders. I was reading this morning in Hebrews about the experiences of the Israelites being written down as a reminder for everyone else to learn from their mistakes. After sending in the spies to look out the land, they got very cold feet and wanted to head back to Egypt. God was not impressed and the only thing that stopped him disposing of the rebellious horde was Moses’ intercession. The people survived that day, but only to die another day on the journey through the wilderness. There fate, written down in detail, reminds me that to not trust God, to complain, to reject his claim on my life or to forget his mighty acts in my life is to court disaster.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

To the next three and a half pounds

I think that very often the first step in making a change in our lives begins with admitting that there is a change that needs to be made!

For too long I have swithered about doing something about my weight. My nieces wedding last year although it provided motivation to loose weight, did not actually get translated into real action – so the weight never got lost. I just went up a dress size so that I would feel comfortable in whatever I wore for the day!

I have become quite lazy in some areas of my life and need to establish a bit of self control. So I joined Weight Watchers last week! A friend of mine joined a few years ago and has lost a tremendous amount of weight. People who have not seen her for quite as while no longer recognise her!

I hate Weight Watchers! I hate paying money to climb onto scales. ( I lost three and a half pounds this week.) I hate the discipline involved. Weighing out portion sizes to see what I ought to be eating has been a real eye opener. To some extent I do eat healthy food – I just eat too much of it! I think what I hate most is having to admit that on my own I can’t do anything that is as effective. On my own I have failed! I don’t have the required will power to say “No” to Indian takeaways! (Incidentally that does not make me a bad person!)

I am going to WW simply because I need to make myself accountable to someone. Left to my own devices, I have good intentions, but I don’t hold a whip over myself to make sure that I do it. The lady at Weight Watcher’s does!

It is not a sign of weakness to enlist the aid of other people to help us to do the things we cannot do for ourselves. It is recognising that we have weaknesses that need to be dealt with and that other people can provide the support we need.

I am sure that this translates into the spiritual realm somewhere.

Confession - Joining WW is like making a confession, openly admitting to thirty or so women in the room with you that, as far as eating is concerned, you are out of control. I don’t think we do enough confession in the church setting. We do not always openly admit that there are areas of life that we are struggling with.

Accountability – By joining WW I am making myself responsible to someone each week and have to report back on my successes and failures. Someone else knows what is going on in my “eating” life. To some extent she only knows what I choose to tell her – but if I don’t tell her, the advice that she gives is not the best advice to help me. I don’t believe for a moment that she is going to share my secrets with the rest of the women, or point the finger and laugh at me. I trust her. In the church setting we need to be accountable – to be more open and more vulnerable.

Support – It is not just what the lady at the front says that makes the difference but the conversations that I have with the other women. They are “normal” like me – with all their wobbly bits still in place. They are not success stories that make me feel I will never get there. Support in the church setting is not the prerogative of the pastor alone. It is all of us working together.

Friday, September 01, 2006

So cool!

This is so exciting! Thinking about the poem and getting an illustrator and a publisher – I took it a step further!

I don’t know any children’s illustrators so I “googled” it and arrived an internet directory of illustrators. They list loads of names and as you follow the links they showcase their work. I just picked a name at random, a name I liked the sound of (that is how I pick out my horses!), and someone living in the UK. I thought that if things came to anything, I would be able to contact the person easily.

I emailed the lady to explain about the poem, the illustrations and the publisher. I confessed that I was winging it and had really no clear idea how to go about it. I thought that if she just turned me down, I had lost nothing really. I was just pushing the door to see if it opened.

It opened! She emailed me back saying that the poem evoked very strong images and carried a deeper message too. She gave some suggestions about the options I might want to consider.

I could send it to a publisher and if they accepted it, I could tell them that I have an illustrator in mind. It might end up in an anthology, in which case the publisher might already have illustrators.

I could commission the illustrations and send the whole package – the poem and the pictures to the publisher. It might make a limited edition book for specifically Christian market.

I could go down the self publishing path, buying the illustrations and negotiating with the printers. I get the book I want, but they don’t manage the sales side of things. Contracts are drawn up between the writer and the artist about royalties and copyright at stuff.

I think that she is certainly interested in being involved!

So, I am well excited! I have great ideas but rarely take steps to make things a reality! It all looks so possible and not just pie-in-the-sky dreaming.

I am going to have a good talk with Joe about it and get his advice and talk with my friend, Mark, who may know how to contact a publisher.

This is so cool!

Absolutely delighted

As you know, I have been a member of for a few years. Most weeks I try to participate in the weekly challenge. I probably do get more caught up in winning and loosing than I ought to do – it is the competitive thing in me! Yesterday I was really delighted find my poem had won top spot.

A few of the comments made by the FW family said that I ought to try to get the poem published. As I wrote it, I could envision illustrations, but I am no artist. Maybe that ought to be my next challenge – to find a children’s illustrator and to find a publisher!

What, little tree, will you be?

Little tree, little tree
What will you be
When you grow tall
No longer small?
What, little tree, will you be?

I’ll be a crib
For the Saviour child
The holy babe
So meek and mild
I’ll rock Him gently
Through the night
Beneath the moon
While stars shine bright
That’s what this little tree
Will be!

Little tree, little tree
What will you be
When you grow tall
No longer small?
What, little tree, will you be?

With billowing sails
I’ll be a great ship
On a flurry of waves
I will rise and dip
And the Saviour
Will sleep
As I bear him along
Sturdy and strong
Upon the ocean deep
When winds start to toss
And clouds march across
The blue sky
Will I shake him
And wake him?
Others will, not I
He will raise up his arm
And the storm will calm
At his powerful word
In awe men will quiver
And demons will shiver
At what they have seen and heard
That’s what this little tree
Will be!

Little tree, little tree
What will you be
When you grow tall
No longer small?
What, little tree, will you be?

There’ll come a day
So dark and grey
I’ll lift him up high
As they watch him die
Mankind so cruel
To fashion a tool
Like this cross
As they hammer a nail
Through flesh soft and frail
They feel no loss
No regret and no shame
Not caring, or knowing
His crimson blood flowing
He’s bearing their shame
They witness his cry
“Abandoned am I!
And darkness steals over the sky
God’s face turns away
On that evil day
Then He hears his Son say
“It is finished”
Then falls his Son’s head
The Saviour is dead
And sin, the foul curse, melts away
That’s what this little tree
Will be!

Little tree, little tree
Do not weep or mourn
On the day the Son rises
All creation‘s reborn
Now hold we our breath
And eagerly wait
For His glorious victory
So awesome and great.

(c) Melanie Kerr 2006

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Not at home

Jonathan Edwards made a resolution that he would live in such a way hat when he looked back on his life when he was old, he would have no regrets. There would not be a sense of wishing he had done something that he had the chance to do, but never did. I, sadly, do have regrets.

I regret not attending some of the weddings of my brothers and sisters. I was newly a Christian at the time of some of them and deeply disapproved of the chosen lifestyles and choices of husbands/wives. I was brash enough to think that I was right and they were wrong. I didn’t go to the weddings because…if you have seen the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, the scene quite near the end where Catherine de Boer and her daughter keep away from the wedding of Darcy and Elizabeth – well, that disapproving look says it all. That was me! I cut my nose off to spite my face and it didn’t change anything!

I would like to think that I am different now. I am less harsh and down-the-line, hopefully more generous. When a friend of ours invited us along to the Mormon Church to witness her baptism, Joe and I chose to go. The Mormon Church and I have a bitter history. While I was asking Jesus to be Lord of my life, my sister was becoming a member of the Mormon Church. At the time I visited her determined to “set her right” and push her onto right path. Things did not work out that well and we didn’t speak for a while afterwards! Looking back over the years, I still cannot see that her faith has enhanced her life – but that is another story!

I guess I must have had an invisible sign hovering over me – the body language speaking very clearly – “Don’t even attempt to witness to me!” No one approached, except in the most friendly and inoffensive manner. I know our friend was delighted to see us.

I have rarely felt so uncomfortable in a place or worship. Part of it was probably the baggage of attitude that I brought with me, but seriously, I never felt the presence of God. I don’t really know enough about Mormonism to pick holes in their theology. I just know that they have some very different views from mainstream Christians. The people were nice, but, for me, the Spirit of God wasn’t there. The reality of a life producing faith just wasn’t there. Not for me, anyway.

The service lasted about an hour. It was very serious and …I am trying not to say the word “dull” but that comes to mind. A small choir of men sang a wonderful hymn “The Lord is my Shepherd”. Maybe it is the worship leader in me but it wasn’t exuberant enough. Such wonderful words needed heart and soul and spirit. I wanted to say “Is He really your shepherd? If He is then why aren’t you exploding with joy?”

Part of the service included watching a DVD called “The Witnesses” – fifteen witnesses to the truth they had found in Mormonism. They thankfully stopped at number five. Ninety percent of what they were saying, I could go along with – but the ten percent of other stuff was not scriptural. Joe said afterwards that for him that kind of “church” is the most dangerous kind. There is so much truth that the error sneaks in. It is like getting someone to eat an unpleasant tasting tablet by sticking it in a banana! The banana is easy to digest, but you don’t notice the tablet. Tiny though the error might be, it infects the rest of the truth, twisting it to something it is not supposed to be. We are all susceptible to twisting the truth, but the Bible acts as a plumb-line, and the prompting of the Spirit keep us from error.

I felt really sad was that our friend had been unable to find her answers in our church. She had been a member of our church for a while many years ago. I felt sad that we had not managed to meet her needs – we failed to be the body that she needed. Actually, the problem might not lie with us. Just because you are being the right kind of body, does not mean that people wish to fit themselves into it.

Incidentally – to go back to places of worship where I have felt at home – amazingly enough – one such place was actually a Muslim mosque! Just a few miles away from the airport at Larnaca, in Cyprus, there is a small mosque. It is on the edge of a salt lake. It is surrounded by trees. Inside it is just one big empty space with carpets. I felt the presence of God there so strongly. It may have been just the silence and the peace of the place, but I felt close to God there.