Tuesday, March 28, 2006

"Follow me - again"

I came across something that I think is pretty mind blowing yesterday. On Saturday, Joe and I took Shona, Patrick and Shannon to see some friends of ours. Archie and Sandra manage a croft, or small farm, just outside Dingwall, some fifteen to twenty miles from Inverness. They keep sheep, and the last few weeks have been filled with helping the ewes give birth to lambs. There are one or two orphan lambs and one or two ewes that have difficulty feeding their offspring, so the family are helping the smaller lambs by feeding them with bottles of milk. We thought that Shannon and Patrick would enjoy feeding lambs.

The phrase "Feed my lambs" really struck a chord with me, and I took out my bible to read the account of Jesus' resurrection appearance to his disciples when they had gone fishing, caught nothing and followed his instructions to let the nets down on the other side of the boat. Later on in the passage Jesus and Peter have a conversation about love, and Jesus prophesies about Peter's death. Right at the end of all of that are the words, "Then he said to him (Peter), "Follow me!"" (John 21:19)

This was not the first time that Jesus had challenged Peter to follow him. Three years ago, in pretty much the same place, "As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. "Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men." At once they left their nets and followed him." (Mark 1:16-18)

Peter had no idea what he was letting himself in for. He had no idea what the next three years or so would hold - seeing people healed, demons cast out, the dead raised. It was new, and exciting, and the high was higher than any catch of fish from his BC life. It was an adventure.

The second "Follow me!" challenge comes three years later. It comes after the greatest disappointment, not with Jesus, but with himself. For all the miraculous signs that Peter had witnessed, what stood out in his mind was his betrayal. He had boldly proclaimed that even if the other disciples ran away, he would stay the course. He didn't. What Peter can offer Jesus now is not sacrificial love, but the love of a friend - a watered down version of what Jesus is asking for. Jesus accepts it, knowing that the friendship will deepen and the commitment will be to the death one day.

So when Jesus says, "Follow me!" it is like he is saying, "The first time I asked you to follow me, you didn't know what was going to happen. You thought you could climb mountains, and that you couldn't fail. Now you know just how weak you really are, but I still want you on my team. In fact I want you more than ever, because you know just how much you have to lean on me. I am entrusting my lambs, my precious ones, into your care."

We all have those first "Follow me!" challenges, and like Peter we end up face down in the mud, tripping up over our own pride and confidence. We feel that we have written ourselves out of Jesus' plans by our failure. But…there is another "Follow me!" challenge that Jesus gives us. For those of us who have been a Christian for a long time, we have a history of mistakes and misunderstandings and downright rebellions, and we have an experience of the hard times that sometimes takes the shine off our Christian life. Jesus repeats his challenge - "Follow me" - He still wants us on His team, more than ever, because we know how much we need to lean on Him.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Praying with the big boys

We have experienced a wonderful weekend. Friends and leaders from the Wrexham Church travelled up to have fellowship with us. We have strong links with the church there, and Tony Howson provides us with apostolic covering.

They were with us all day Sunday - for the morning meeting, the fellowship lunch and in the evening for a prayer meeting. The teaching in the morning meeting was really challenging, about Moses and the Israelites crossing the Red Sea. Doing things the way God wants, at just the right time is so much more effective than coming up with our own strategies. The fellowship lunch was also good - I played endless games of Connect 4 but only managed to connect once! I was too concerned plotting five moves ahead to notice my opponent just slotting them unchallenged and unhindered by me! There is a mind set that I don't possess!

It was the prayer meeting that really set me alight! I have always thought that corporate prayer meetings are important, but very often, although we are all in the same place, the way we pray tends to be very individual. The prayers are like self contained episodes in a TV series - you don't really need the episodes that come before and after to set the scene or work out what is going on. We are listening and agreeing to what has gone before, but last night they introduced an element of honing and refining and sharpening.

Imagine prayers as arrows. Sometimes what is let loose is a very blunt arrow and it doesn't really penetrate the target. It is a nice enough prayer but something is missing. It is not to do with the words, but to do with the Spirit or the heart or something. Or imagine the bow. If the bow is not strung tight enough, the arrow isn't given the surge of speed to perhaps even reach the target. Sometimes what is needed is someone to recognise the blunt arrow and sharpen it, or see the loosely strung bow and tighten it. You don't bring down strongholds with blunt arrows and loosely strung bows.

Last night was different. It wasn't just firing off as many arrows as we could muster in the time allotted. It was scary prayer - the kind that the devil really runs from!

We began by reminding ourselves that there was a difference between prayers of the flesh and prayers of the spirit. Only the prayers of the spirit bring life. One of the reasons that so many prayers go unanswered is because we are not praying the heart of God, but our own hearts, which sadly do not always beat together! Our pastor had a picture of an egg and the bird inside the egg breaking out. There is a right time for the chick to emerge. It has to reach the point where it is strong enough and developed enough to stand up to life on the outside of the egg. I am not sure where the egg metaphor was going. I don't always listen as well as I ought. What came to mind was the constriction of the egg - the space is just too small and the chick feels it is suffocating and is desperate to get out. Maybe as the shell gets thinner, there are aromas from the outside world that filter through that are too enticing! I just happened to mention about the discomfort the chick felt, and the desperate need to break out. I am sure that it’s a case of "If you stay in here, you are going to die!"

Well, the theme of breaking out prevailed. When it came to confessing areas where we needed to break out - someone else revealed what was on the tip of my tongue as regards how I have felt hemmed in and bound up. My workplace is challenging to say the least. It seems that with some classes they draw the lines through the things that they say and the way that they behave, that push me against walls and into corners where I act defensively. Suddenly I feel exposed and rush to protect myself any way possible. Earlier in the week God had been reminding me about putting on armour, and I had said to Him that I shouldn't have to, that it shouldn't be a battlefield - and that is how things have felt.

It was just like this man, Paul, had read my mind. There was an attempt to reason the whole thing out - if he knows that I am a teacher, he probably knows what kids are like these days…it's bound to be tough. But that really wasn't cutting it - I tried desperately to keep my thoughts under control. The thought of someone knowing what I was thinking was very unsettling.

I had a picture which I kept to myself of a tool box. The workman had particular tools for particular jobs. Each tool fits perfectly in his hand because it has been carefully chosen. When it comes to needing a certain tool, it might not have been used for a while and has got a little bit rusty, so he carefully cleans it and sharpens it ready for the job. It is not broken, but if it is, he fixes it. He doesn't just replace it, because this tool is irreplaceable. There is just not another one like it.

I am speaking faith to myself here in that God has got a specific job in mind. I am the tool that he wants to use to get the job done. He has rooted around the toolbox to get me, notices that I am a little stained around the handle and not as sharp as I could be, so he has sharpened me in readiness! That is how I feel - sharp and held perfectly in the hand of God ready for the task!

You know, in some ways I have been in this place before. It is not a spiritual high, where circumstances will be a pin prick and let all the air out so I get deflated. It is the place of revival. My appetite, my hunger, my feeding not just on the word of God but on vibrant fellowship with the Spirit is what will sustain it.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Waking thoughts

"Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art
Thou my best Thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light."

(Mary Elizabeth Byrne, 1905)

My first thought this morning was not a pleasant one. It was about how much I was not looking forward to the day in school. Perhaps it was not so much the thought as the sinking feeling I had in my stomach. It has been a long while since I have felt this way.

It was brought on by a combination of things. The percentage pass rate for our third year classes was set quite low in our departmental meeting, but even so, I think I may been struggling to make it. I was fretting. Last week I had a very difficult encounter with one particular third year group - things just got really blown out of proportion and it was making me anxious about our next encounter.

A friend at work asked me what I did about my sinking feeling and whether it was still with me. My comment was extremely trite and casual and not at all accurate. I said that I just "slapped myself around a bit and told myself to get on with it and stop grizzling." I missed a golden opportunity to witness. There was no slapping around. I just knelt before God and poured out my concerns.

I want my waking thought to be about the goodness of God. That doesn't happen by accident. I can't be thinking about the goodness of God if my mind rewinding and reviewing the bad encounters of the day. There is a need to settle things and close things down, to allow God to bring something to an end, where I can't seem to do it alone. Only when I am still can I hear God's voice. If I refuse to be still, then I miss out on his affirmation and encouragement.

After spending more time with God when I came home I began to write a poem;-

Too often I forget, Lord
That I belong to You
That in this cold and empty world
I'm merely passing through

Too often I forget, Lord
That You direct my way
The world with all its hollow words
Just shouldn't have a say

Too often I forget, Lord
To gaze upon Your face
To walk in Your anointing
To stand, clothed in Your grace.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

The wise and foolish builders

The dictionary defines wise as " possessing or showing the ability to make good judgments, based on a deep understanding and experience of life."

It also defines foolish as "unwise, ridiculous or lacking in judgment."

A paraphrase of Matthew 7:24-27, based on my activities last night might read along these lines:-

"Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who purchased a flat pack office from MFI. The screws were many and varied; the pieces of wood were large and cumbersome but well labelled; the instructions were, I hate to say it, quite clear and easy to follow. The bookcase and the filing cabinet went together without significant problems because the man asked for help. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man - err, woman - who tried to put the desk together alone. The screws were many and varied; the pieces of wood were large and cumbersome but well labelled; the instructions were, I hate to say it again, quite clear and easy to follow. (On the very first page of the instructions was a clear symbol - two people standing side by side - just how clear do you need to be?) The evening wore on, the sweat poured, the patience waned and the desk fell with a great crash, causing damage to various holes, screws and the laminate finish."

My husband - every optimistic - believes that the pastor of our church - a man with an engineering degree - will make everything better!

I never said that my sweet spot was anything remotely practical! I was fed up with not having a desk to write on. It was all there in bits and I thought I could do it! It wasn't big and unwieldy like the bookcase - or so I thought. I have a degree! I can read instructions! I know how to use a screwdriver! They were very serious about that little symbol with the two people standing side by side - I just didn't realise how serious!

I too can be every optimistic. I however believe that the pastor of our church - a man with an engineering degree - might not be able to make everything better in this particular case!

Monday, March 13, 2006

Behind a locked door

Having been a member of Faithwriters,com for quite a while now, I have notched up a number of entries in their weekly challenges. Just lately, if I don't have the inspiration, I just give the week a miss. I thought this was one of those weeks. The topic was "Lock" and I was mulling it over in my mind. The whole week has been rather busy - I am determined to prepare properly for the third year reports coming out shortly. Sunday was packed full with the church meeting, the fellowship lunch afterwards and a chance to catch up with friends we hadn't seen for a while. By Sunday evening I had nothing to submit.

At lunchtime today, I checked out the Faithwriter's website. They have set the number of entries at 180 as anything more than that is hard for the judges to read in the week. There were still a few spots left to fill, and it was the last challenge of the year's quarter so I donned on my thinking cap and came up with a poem. I made the deadline with about 20 minutes to go. There wasn't really time to tweak - but here is a more polished up version. I think it is still in a state of flux. There are one or two lines that still need to be tightened up - but I like it.

Behind a Locked Door

We hide behind a door that’s locked
Our hearts pursued by fear
Is this our fate - to die like Him?
The One we held so dear?

Our ears attuned to catch the sound
Of steps upon the stair
Our enemy with sharpened sword
Is surely standing there.

All at once the room is filled
With white and radiant light
Our Master stands before us now
A most amazing sight

“Be still, fear not,” His gentle words
He speaks as we bow low
“My peace I give to you my friends”
And joy begins to grow

His hands, his side, to us he shows
The wounds He did endure
He draws us close, and asks we touch
To know Him and be sure

How could this be, that He is here?
This man that we adored
The empty tomb, it was no lie
To us He’s been restored

And yet not man, but God divine
Who else could cheat the grave?
He took our debts and shameful deeds
And all our sins forgave

Faith explodes and life anew
In empty hearts is poured
Fear no longer ties us down
Love-loosed spirits soared

We stand beside an open door
Our lips a message bear:-
That resurrection power is ours
Our transformed lives declare

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Happy Endings

Joe and I went to the cinema earlier this week. George Clooney won a best actor Oscar for his role on the film "Syriana". It was billed as a political thriller and was exactly that. It was about the big companies securing oil interests in the Middle East. They had the power and the connections to carve things up they way they chose without regard for the needs of the local people. The king had two sons - sounds like the beginning of a parable. One son was very determined to bring progress to the people. He was a good egg. The other son was in it for as much money and profit as he could get. Which one was going to be the next king? Which one does the big company want as the next king? How are they going to protect their interests? Guess which one gets blown up? It was not a happy ending.

Muslims were portrayed not as off-their-heads-fundamentalists, but people pushed to the limits. They were on the receiving end of so much abuse from the oil companies that I gained an inkling and a sympathy for the two Muslim suicide bombers who were driven to ram a boat loaded with explosives into the oil terminal. I don't think the teaching to love your enemy or turn the other cheek features in the Qur'an. It was not a happy ending at all.

The big company doing all the manipulating (American of course, but I don't suppose Britain has clean hands it can boast of in the real world) was under investigation but made a deal with the investigators to drop it all in the lap of someone fairly high up in the pecking order, but the top dogs got away with it. It went beyond "not a happy ending" to "evil wins over good".

I can remember watching the film "Braveheart" many years as part of an audience of Scots. There was cheering and clamping and foot stamping as the English got their just deserts in one of the battle scenes and even though Mel Gibson was gutted at the end, you never felt that he lost. OK, technically it wasn't a happy ending for him, but you never felt that he was defeated. At the end, one could sense that if a group of those film goers had met an Englishman on the way home from the cinema, the outlook would not have been pretty. I felt that way about Americans the other night, although I recognise that it's only some of them!

This whole idea of carving up the world to suit me and my needs, and carving up people's lives in the process is just plain wicked! I know that they will not necessarily have their own happy endings when they face God and His judgement seat - but what about NOW?