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!