Tuesday, October 30, 2007

What God has planned

There are some things that God simply intends to do and He does them. God intended to have a temple built in the heart of Israel where His name would be honoured. David had a heart to do it but it was ear-marked as a task for Solomon to fulfil. The temple was built. God fulfilled His plan for a place of worship.

A few months ago, people in our church talked seriously about the need for a Christian cafĂ©. It was to be the best of cafes, with a good selection of coffees and teas, rivalling big brand names like Costa Coffee and Starbucks. It would be a venue for people to talk about God. We had the heart to do it, but again someone else was ear-marked by God to for the task. Java opened its doors a couple of weeks ago. The music – low key – is Christian. There are tiny slips of paper on the tables with an encouraging Bible verse. The quality of the tea, coffee and cakes is as good as the big brand names. The coffee shop is there. God has fulfilled His plan.

Some time last year, “staff well-being” was a term that was being bandied about and a number of activities were spawned. We had keep-fit classes in the lunchtime, and Indian head massages available on appointment. I thought then, and wrote a suggestion to one of the members of the social committee, that prayer might be another avenue to pursue. It was all very well pursuing the physical well being of the staff, but we should not ignore the rest of our being – the emotional or the spiritual. It was hauled up the flagpole and no one saluted! Years ago, when I was more involved in Scripture Union, I used to meet with others each week to pray. I had forgotten how encouraging I found it!

At break time today I was approached by someone wishing to set up monthly prayer meetings. He was aware that the “family of God” in the workplace needed to encourage each other and in praying together we would accomplish so much that couldn’t be done through ordinary channels and by other means. He wanted to know it I would get involved. I had to restrain myself from hugging him!

There is a sense in which I wish I had stuck with my guns and pushed for a prayer meeting ages ago – but, yet again, I think God has given the task to the right person. The young man was talking to me about going to university to do Theology and voiced some of his concerns about dealing with a very liberal curriculum that might have the potential to destroy his faith.

What God has planned, He makes happen!

Monday, October 22, 2007

Copper Kettles Have Great Potential

Have I finally flipped my lid? Have I been reduced to burbling gibberish at long last? The jury is still out on that one! But, no, this isn’t gibberish. It is mnemonics – memory aids like Richard of York and rainbows, and cats sitting on mats and having hysterics – mathematical formulae!

This morning while spending time with God, I wasn’t exactly bemoaning the end of my holidays and the commencement of a new term. Last night I had read the opening chapter on a book about forgiveness and the writer was talking about how expressing so many negative thoughts was equal to cursing yourself – words have the power of life and death and negative words dont produce positive faith. So I wasn’t grizzling. I was looking for equipping for the day ahead.

What sprang to mind, not out of the blue, but a Spirit led progression of thoughts, was Colossians 3. I am not sure of the verses but it is about clothing yourself – Copper Kettles Have Great Potential – putting on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.

Often when I think about equipping myself for day ahead, I think in terms of battles and conflict and I am armed to the teeth with every bit of spiritual armour going. And sometimes there are battles to be fought and I am glad of the equipping. This morning, it was the Spirit’s suggestion that I try a different set of clothing – compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. I was dealing with people – not demons – and where strength and dominion and power simply hit a brick wall of hormones, acne and attitude – perhaps there is a better way.

As the Spirit knows, I am full of good intentions, but in the heat of the moment, I react rather than act. I forget the bible verse that I have been meditating on during the day. The first step was to come up with a reminder of what clothing I was wearing – copper kettles have great potential. I am well capable of memorising Bible verses but I am amazed at how often throughout the day one of those words came to mind.

Too often I allow myself to be at the mercy of prevailing winds. I know I have an anchor but it is only when the storm is over that I wonder why I didn’t use it. Today was a step in the right direction to listen to the directing of the Spirit and to adjust the set of the sail throughout the day.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Appealing to the senses

I think I had a vaguely “golden calf” moment this morning in church.

While we were away for a week’s holiday in Paris, we went to see Chartres Cathedral and, later on in the week, the Sacre Coeur in Montmartre. Perhaps we overdosed on stained glass windows, frescos, candles and statues. There was so much to appeal to the senses and, for me, for the time I was there, it was not a distraction, but actively heralded me into the presence of God.

Sitting in our Sunday meeting, I was struck by the poverty of the appeal to the senses. There was nothing to look at. There was on overhead projector with the words to the songs – but they were just words on a plain blue screen.

There were no pictures, not statues, no stained glass windows – nothing to appeal to the visual senses. There was nothing really appealing in the music – not a symphony of sound from a variety of instruments – just one man and his guitar (not that he played badly!) I just had an “I-would-like-something-stirring-to-look-at” moment. I remembered the stunning fresco of Jesus holding out his arms on the wall of the Sacre Coeur, and thought why can’t I have something like that to look at?

In my student days I used to attend a small Methodist chapel in a tiny village called Middleton-one-row. They had a fresco painted on the front wall. I was just thinking whether it was a stained glass window – but, no, it was a painting. It was contemporary. I am not even sure that I can remember exactly what it was, it was a long time ago. There was a rainbow, a dove, a cross, green fields, blue skies – no Jesus, no angels. It was uplifting and it was constantly in front of you. It did not distract from worship.

A number of years ago I read a book that went through each of the Ten Commandments. The one about graven images was not so much about distraction, but more about how much they limit what God would like us to see. As with the words on an overhead projector screen sometimes binding our hearts, rather that loosing them, when it comes to singing praises, statues and frescos can do much the same. For some people, they never see beyond the marble or the bronze. They focus on the physical, visible things and they never connect with the invisible.

There was almost a gentle reprimand from the Spirit saying “Is that really what you want to see? You want to settle for a picture to gaze upon when you should experience an encounter with the creator of the universe?” I don’t doubt that the one can’t lead to the other – I have experienced it. The one doesn’t always lead to the other – I have experienced that too! The other – the encounter, doesn’t need the picture to make it happen – only the right heart attitude.

God told me to look around at the other worshippers. Hands raised high, heads bowed down – whatever their posture, these people were meeting with God – and so was I!

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Throwing caution to the wind

I am a “Strictly Come Dancing” fan. Every so often my husband and I talk about joining a dance class but it has happened yet!

To get in the mood for the new series I watched the American version last week. It is called “Dancing With the Stars”. The format is pretty much the same, but the Americans seem to be more concerned with entertainment value that getting it right stepwise. Facial expressions seem to go a long way with the crowd, rather than the “hold” and the synchronised footwork.

Once upon a time I used to be a Donny Osmond fan. What do I mean “once upon a time”? I still am a Donny Osmond fan. I would have loved to have gone on the TV programme “Identity” not because I am good at guessing anyone’s identity, but just so I can feel his arm across my shoulder!

Donny’s sister Marie is on “Dancing With the Stars”. I used to follow their show way back in the seventies or the eighties, and I even bought her album “Paper Roses”. I just wanted to see what she was like.

I was impressed. Not with the dancing so much as the spirit with which she got involved. She threw herself whole heartedly into the dances. I think it was the mamba or the rumba they were dancing this week. Whatever the name of the dance – she was required to be sexy and flirtacious. I have seen older ladies in Strictly just not be able to pull it off with these kind of dances. One cringes somewhat as they try to look luscious and curvy. It is painful. Marie was simply saucy! She just threw caution to the wind and she was sensational.

She did not play it safe or cautious. OK she has been in the entertainment business for a while, but she was just fearless.

She has joined the ranks of the women that I admire. I would like to take on board a less cautious approach to life! I like every base covered, every tee crossed and eye dotted, in triplicate, weeks in advance, with Plan B in place just in case. I don’t go into things without some assurance that I will come out at the other end in tact and more mature in some way. I don’t like unpredictable and messy, but delight in order and routine!

I am not as courageous as I used to be. Is that because I am getting older? Is it because I value personal comfort far too highly? I don’t know… I just feel that I need to cast off the cobwebs!

Life in the Spirit

I have to admit that I have found this week to be quite a struggle. Part of the problem has been the absence of my husband who had been away to a training week in Glasgow. Partly I just did not always act in a wise manner and reaped the consequences!

I just dug in real deep with Jesus and spent much more time in His presence. One morning, while reading Romans 8, I was stirred to not just read it is out loud, but to make it personal too. I wrote down each line as a personal declaration.

I am not under condemnation.
I am set free by the law of the Spirit of life.
I can fulfil the righteous requirements of the law because I live according to the Spirit, not according to my sinful nature.
I am controlled by the Spirit.
The Spirit lives in me.
My body is dead because of sin yet alive because of righteousness.
The Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead lives in me.
I receive life in my mortal body through the Spirit who lives in me.
I am not obligated to live according to my sinful nature.
By the Spirit I put to death the misdeeds of the body.
As I am led by the Spirit I demonstrate that I am a child of God.
The Spirit I have received does not make me a slave to fear.
I can confidently call God, “Daddy.”
As a child of God, I am also and heir of God.
I share in his sufferings that I might also share in his glory.

Did I feel better afterwards? That was what I was looking for after all – to feel cheered up! Well, actually no. I was almost treating it like a spell or a magical formula! I could almost see the Spirit shaking His head. This was not about me being cheered up, but about being built up, being reminded of wonderful truths that the situation that I faced couldn’t dismantle.

I would like to say that I did as the Spirit asked – combined the reading of them with faith to make them active in my heart – but I rushed out to work for another bruising day!

I got it right eventually!