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.